Assimilation: Two months

31 05 2010

It has been 2 months since activation. What can I hear now?

Animals seem to have taken over my world. I have a large leafy garden and can hear birds all day long, not just blackbirds, but magpies, starlings, a lovely orchestra of TWEET TWEET, TRIILLLLL, CHIRP CHIRP, PING PING, COO COO, PEEP PEEP. I love sitting outside listening to them. At the moment I am hearing around ten different types of bird calls. One night I cracked up laughing. I could hear 3 birds singing to each other, they sounded like a phone ringing, knocking at the door and the doorbell. When night falls, all the birds fall silent. Then the dog next door starts barking and carries on for an hour. Then my own dog starts barking in his sleep. I have also heard our cat miaow. I haven’t heard our foxes yet and we have plenty!

Lower frequency sounds have started to come back. I can hear the rumble of traffic and the bus engine. Sounds I am enjoying listening to are male voices. Those sexy, rumbling, low, growly voices. I’m fascinated by how different they are from female voices. Who woulda thought a voice could be so attractive?

I have been able to hear a teeny bit on the phone. No special equipment required! I use my implant as normal, on 100% T-mic microphone, pick up my mobile phone, and put it to my ear as any hearing person would. The T-mic mimics the hearing ear as it is positioned at the ear canal, aiding directional listening by collecting sound in a more natural fashion than a hearing aid or other brand of cochlear implant. I do need lots more practice in discriminating words before I can use the phone easily. Considering I have been deaf all my life and have never used the phone, this blows my mind. I love hearing voices as it is like the captions have been shoved straight into my brain, the understanding is just there. It seems so effortless when it happens.

I have been able to hear speech in other situations too. Last weekend, I was the 2nd photographer at a wedding, working with Amanda, the 1st photographer.

Michelle and Lee, the newly-wed couple, were standing in an archway. Amanda was taking photos from the inside of the building whilst I was taking photos from the outside.

Michelle and Lee were kissing for this shot and they kept kissing. The kisses became slower and longer. More lingering. I didn’t really know where to look. I started thinking “Hey guys, maybe time to get a room?”

Then out of nowhere, I clearly heard Amanda shouting “Again! Again! Again!”

“….. Slower!”

Situation heard and understood!

The street is incredibly noisy. I use Advanced Bionic’s ClearVoice to reduce sounds in noisy environments such as the street, train station, on the train. It’s fantastic, and I can pick out voices around me as unwanted background sounds drop away. I tested ClearVoice in a wine bar, and was able to lipread and listen to other cochlear implant users with ease. I heard one lady who came up to my dog and said “Hello darling”. I actually heard her say this behind my back! (I had to double check with her to make sure I had heard her right – I don’t trust my new hearing yet.) I noticed that the hearing aid users were unable to participate easily, they looked stressed and were often left out of the general conversation. This was how I was 3 months ago and I felt sad for those people. The cochlear implant users really had to make the extra effort to include the hearing aid users in the conversation. We totally understood, for we had all been there.

At work, with my office door shut, I have been able to detect my colleagues Calum talking in his soft Scottish brogue in the office next door and Karen coughing as she walks down the corridor, the photocopier room door squeaking next door, the photocopier spewing out paper, people’s footsteps as they walk past my office, people talking outside the building. I was able to pick out clear (albeit echoey) voices in the kitchen as we gathered together to celebrate Robert’s birthday – it is no longer a wall of horrendous mushy sound. I am still loving the sound of the clock ticking on my office wall.

Today I tried my hearing aid in my other ear for the first time in 2 months. An aeroplane flew overhead and I could clearly hear it approaching with my cochlear implant. To my shock, it didn’t even register with my hearing aid. My own voice sounds deeper and much quieter with my hearing aid, and I can only hear bits of it. I put the television on and set it at a volume that was nice and loud for my cochlear implant. However, I could not hear it at all with my hearing aid. The quality of the sound is different between the two hearing devices – higher pitched with the implant, deeper with the hearing aid. I am horrified at the difference and at how much sound is missing with the hearing aid – which I used to wear in my better ear.

How much I have missed the sounds of life – without even realising it. I have a lot of catching up to do!





Let’s be deaf for 5 minutes

26 05 2008

Last week, someone asked me ‘What’s it like to be deaf’? I find this a very difficult question to answer. I said it’s like permanently having a very bad cold, and hearing constant noises in the ears after spending too much time in a noisy nightclub. It’s very difficult to explain to hearing people what it is like to live with imperfect hearing.

Caroline of Irish Deaf Kids brought this simulator to my attention. It’s a great tool for raising awareness of deafness, blindness, dyslexia and autism. I worked my way through the hearing impairment simulator. You’ll need Shockwave for the simulators to work, and don’t forget to switch on your computer loudspeakers.

The main problem hearing loss creates is an inability to cope with background noise. I can’t screen out unwanted sounds or filter voices so I can’t concentrate on one person speaking, I’m hearing all the background sounds as well. Check out this demonstration of background sounds – click on the clock, the pencil, the computer and the printer.

Demonstration : Annoying background sounds in the office

Who would believe that a deaf person can hear all these sounds? Yes, we can! Add on top of that, trying to listen to a person’s voice. So, a learning point here: always try to minimise background sounds – move to a quiet room. This is easy enough to manage in a working environment, but try doing this in a social context – when you’re out on a date and trying to listen to the other person ….. (can’t think of anywhere quiet, can you?!). I was surprised to learn that people with autism have this problem too.

Demonstration : Trying to listen to someone against background sound

I have a complete hearing loss in the high frequencies. This means I can hear the vowels in speech but I can’t understand speech, as I’m missing the consonants (high frequency sounds), therefore I need to lipread. Your voice sounds just like baby talk. This also means I can’t understand the TV or listen on the phone.

Demonstration : High frequency hearing loss

The next demonstration is of low frequency hearing loss. I also have a low frequency hearing loss, although I do have some residual hearing in the low frequencies. This demo has 4 buttons – I thought 2 of them weren’t working (high frequency, low frequency) as I couldn’t hear anything at all – a perfect demonstration!

Lipreading is really very tiring but it’s a necessary evil. There are many factors affecting my ability to lipread someone, and this is something that is often controllable by the deaf person. Being very tired will mean lipreading is much harder as I’m not alert enough to sustain the high level of concentration required.

Relying solely on my eyes means I have one channel of incoming information rather than two (eyes and ears). This makes learning and taking in information much more difficult and time-consuming. I find I learn much better at my own pace and with lots of printed material to take away with me. Obviously, that means I need more time to revise and reflect on this information. It’s also harder to remember material that is received in a visual way and not in an auditory way as well.

Demonstration : Taking in information in an educational setting

And remember, there’s always that pesky problem of distracting background sounds, and tinnitus which is like having a permanent headache, except you hear it. Mine is luckily fairly quiet so I can ignore it, but gets louder when I’m tired or stressed. Tinnitus is often one of the most upsetting side-effects of hearing loss as it can’t be cured, it can only be managed. I find the management tactics that help the most are being relaxed, having other noise in the background such as a very low TV, and concentrating on other things instead of worrying about the tinnitus.

Demonstration : Tinnitus
(thanks to the British Tinnitus Association)

I also have musical hallucinations and loudness recruitment where some sounds are too loud for me. This is because hearing aids amplify a range of sounds around the frequencies used in speech. In order to amplify speech, environmental sounds are made louder as well. So it’s actually quite a noisy old world out there!