Jumping the banana

8 04 2010

Having been assessed as deaf enough for a cochlear implant, and passing the associated tests, I was wondering how much of an improvement in hearing the implant has given me.  Lots of new high frequency sounds have been popping up whilst low frequency sounds have only just started coming back. It has been exactly two weeks since my cochlear implant has been activated and my world has certainly changed in that short time.

I went for another mapping session to increase the volume and tweak the settings. I can hear music fairly well, rock and piano music sound scratchy with the singer sounding as if he has laryngitis. Not a good sound. However, I discovered that opera sounds good and there is plenty of that on YouTube. I am able to follow a melody and detect when there are words, but not understand them. Japanese music also sounds passable at the moment. I spent a long time on iTunes trying out different styles of music to discover what was pleasant to listen to, as I believe in the power of music to help achieve great things. I have purchased Ravel’s Bolero, Grooploop – Piano (Japanese Animation: Studio Ghibli Soundtrack), John Kaizan Neptune & Také Daké : Asian Roots.

Remember my activation video, two weeks ago, when I couldn’t hear the bells? I can hear those bells now, no problem! I can hear the blackbirds in the trees outside my house. I am now hearing the trains and traffic that have been missing for the past two weeks, as my brain focused on the new high frequency sounds. The tinnitus has largely disappeared in my bionic ear but is still present in my unaided ear (mostly mad musical performances).

Today, I had a hearing test, and I’m jumping bananas. Speech bananas, that is. Whoop!

A speech banana is the shape on the audiogram of all the sounds of speech or phonemes of all the world’s languages. I have never been able to hear most of the speech sounds within the banana, even with hearing aids, so I relied on lipreading and became very good at this.

My new audiogram had my jaw hitting the floor in shock. For once, I was speechless.


Blue circles : my left ear as it was up until two weeks ago.
Green circles : bilateral hearing with hearing aids (Note: bilateral scores higher than unilateral)
Red circles : left ear with cochlear implant.
NR : No Response

I have yet to be tested wearing a cochlear implant plus hearing aid together, which will increase my speech comprehension scores.

CUNY test (lipreading with sound) > Nov 2009 : 91%

CUNY test (lipreading with sound) > Apr 2010 : 85%

BKB test (listening only) > Nov 2009 : 24%

BKB test (listening only) > Apr 2010 : 18%

As everyone still sounds like Donald Duck, I was not expecting to do very well in my speech perception tests. With daily practice at listening, these figures will improve. I also have yet to receive a lot more increase in sound stimulation, I’m about half way to my target in this respect. So …. *shrugs*

So why am I showing good results in the hearing test, yet a poor performance in speech perception? And how do these results translate to the real world? A hearing test is always carried out in a soundproof room. A hearing test is performed using pure tones, but speech is made up of complex sounds. Add background sounds in the real world, and speech perception becomes even more difficult. Add the cocktail party effect, and it’s not easy to manage in noisy environments with a hearing loss, as you then lose the ability to discern speech in noise. Such measurements however do offer audiologists a way of measuring progress. I now have a baseline to start from (BKB 18%, CUNY 85%) and can monitor my progress against my new figures. Later on, I also expect to be tested in noise. In the real world, Advanced Bionic’s new ClearVoice software is going to help me with the cocktail party effect, and I expect to get this next month.

Donald Duck aside, it is going to take some time for my brain to decode the new stimulation, especially in the high frequencies where I had no sensation before.  An analogy would be (re)learning the roman alphabet, only to have written French instead of English on the page. According to my audiologist, the best strategy to manage this is to practice daily listening to an audio book and follow the unabridged text at the same time. I have collated several links for such rehabilitation work on my cochlear implant rehabilitation page. My audie says, the more work I do, the more new pathways my brain will create, and the better my brain will become at deciphering the strange new sounds. For someone who was born deaf, like me, this process can take up to two years. I need to remember three key things – patience, persistence and practice. It really has helped to have a mentor throughout the whole process to ask questions of, to give you encouragement at every stage of your cochlear implant journey. You can find a UK mentor here and a US mentor here.

My world is opening up and all the colour is flooding in – at last!

(I still can’t get over that darn audiogram!)

Sounds – imagined and real

27 10 2009

This story illustrates the nightmare of tinnitus and noise sensitivity known as The Hum. Article after the jump with some interesting comments.

I find my best coping tactics with tinnitus have been a few painkillers and a nap, trying to be philosophical about it so I stay in a calmer frame of mind, having a low noise source to take away my mind’s focus on the tinnitus, and keeping busy so I am distracted. It’s always worth talking to your doctor and audiologist.

Flying Fridays

17 04 2009

It’s Friday evening and everyone heads to the pub. One of the popular haunts of my work colleagues is the cafe at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). Everyone wants to chill and let off steam after a busy week. So they head out for a nice relaxed evening. For me, it means more concentrating, more work as I have to lip read and try to understand what’s being said. It’s very tiring and no fun at all at 5pm on a Friday. I’d rather be in a hot air balloon and soar off into the sky with a bottle of plonk and a couple of people to talk to – hey it’s QUIET up there!

The problem at places like RADA is that there are too many hard surfaces – walls, tables, floors, ceiling – which bounce sounds off surfaces. There is too much background noise echoing off these surfaces – people talking, plates, cutlery, glasses, chairs scraping, coffee machine – and the resulting noise is very loud, it’s actually almost unbearable at times. When you’re tired, this is harder to cope with. Hearing people forget that by 5pm, a deaf person is going to be shattered from concentrating on communicating with hearing people all day (unless they work in finance, hiding behind a computer).

The solution?
1) Turn off hearing aids and rely totally on lip reading. Do-able if speaker is clear (not usually!) and I’m not too tired (meaning I can’t keep this up for very long).
2) Find somewhere outside to drink as it’s quieter.
3) Pick a clear speaker to talk to.
4) Make it a very short drink and concentrate very hard on lip reading, ask people to slow down, then vamoose.
5) As a last resort, do the deaf nod. I used to say yes to everything but that got me into a few scrapes! I think a lot of deaf people do this.
6) Meet up with a bunch of deaf people instead. They totally get good communication.
7) Go home. Have a bottle glass of wine. Chill. Properly.

Tinnitus sounds like …

11 01 2008


Play this to your family and friends to raise awareness and increase understanding. (You might even get some sympathy!)

You can obtain this sound file on CD from the British Tinnitus Association. They also supply white / pink / brown / green / purple noise recordings on request.


0800 018 0527 free of charge – from within the UK only
0845 4500 321 local rate – from within the UK only
0114 250 9922 national rate within the UK
+44 (0)114 250 9922 outside the UK


0114 258 5694 from within the UK
+44 (0)114 258 5694 outside the UK


0114 258 2279 from within the UK
+44 (0)114 258 2279 outside the UK

Write to:

The British Tinnitus Association
Ground Floor, Unit 5
Acorn Business Park, Woodseats Close
Sheffield, S8 0TB



Traffic noise reduction

9 01 2008

DEFRA (The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) launched the London Noise Map Web Viewer in 2004. This map shows road traffic noise levels across London. Like a weather map, it shows hotspots (noisy areas) and cooler spots (quieter areas). The purpose of noise mapping is to map and monitor noise pollution, and then put into place noise reduction plans. The maps will be used to test the effectiveness of the noise reduction methods employed.

The cost? From 10p to £1 per person in the area being mapped. That translates to approximately a total cost of GBP £6 million to GBP £60 million for the UK.

I find £60 million is a shocking amount of money. Wouldn’t this be better spent on the NHS? Or on hearing aid services?

Digital hearing aids

2 05 2007

I’ve worn my new Oticon aids for 3 months now and I’m still picking up more sounds as my brain adjusts. So what’s new?

I was amazed yesterday when I walked my dog Smudge along a fairly quiet road, it was quite hot, and I realised I could hear him panting. Wow. I must have looked so silly, walking along with a huge grin on my face.

Recently, I was cooking chicken in the pan and could hear the crackling as it cooked. I didn’t realise that frying food would make a sound. I’ve been yelled at before for overcooking things – ‘can’t you hear that? it’s burning!’ – does it get louder as it burns? does it sound different? or what? I’m curious. Now I will have to burn something and find out. (Yep, you guessed it, I’m a super cook these days!)

My experience of digital aids is getting much better. I listen to my iPod on the way to and from work almost every day. I think this has helped me to get used to things sounding a bit different. I’m picking up instruments in musical pieces that I hadn’t really noticed before, just that nice little beat in the background, that extra rhythm, boom chicka boom boom – don’t get me started! Voices sound ‘normal’ now and I can follow people just as well as I used to, and I don’t have problems with understanding anyone. I was horrified however to find I can’t understand my dad. Is it the Belfast accent? The low voice? We’re experimenting!

I’ve discovered something useful. My aids have a volume control dial. I have a program which quietens background noise so I can concentrate on speech frequencies, but I don’t hear much difference. What works better is to turn the aids down to level 1 and I can still pick up speech (although it is quieter), whilst background noise is greatly reduced. I can turn the dial past 1 and it will click to ‘off’ if I want absolute peace.

I’m pleased I’ve stuck with them. All I need now is to be able to hear Smudge steal food wrappers out of the bin and when he farts in business meetings – I can only tell by a nasty smell….

Bombs and bangs

7 04 2007

Is it a rock? Is it an old doorbell? No, it’s a landmine. Kyle sent this photo from the Libyan desert where they are drilling for oil, these are just left as found. Oooerr!

In Northern Ireland, where I grew up, bombs and bomb scares were commonplace.


The Irish have a different way of dealing with them than the Libyans 😉
(The robot has since filed a deafness claim….)

When the bombs fall, and then all is silent, the lives of the survivors may also be silent. Bombs are very loud. Noise levels as high as 110 to 130 decibels have been documented in bombing practices. (Other war-related sounds can be painful, such as shotgun blasts or the sound of jet planes taking off from as little as 100 feet away). Being exposed to sound that loud, even once, can cause hearing loss. Any sound above 85 decibels is considered a potentially damaging threshold.

During World War II, many people acquired hearing losses due to exposure to bombing raids. In Northern Ireland, many people have gone deaf from the noise due to bombing. Bombing exposure may be responsible for at least some cases of sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) in babies born to mothers who have lived through war. During the war between Iran and Iraq, more children were born with unexplained hearing losses, and their mothers had been exposed to bombing. Other terms for the effect of bombing on ears are blast injury deafness and acoustic trauma. Explosive sound can damage all parts of the ear (it can tear membranes and move bones around), leading to either temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Did you know, a man’s hearing was saved by his Apple iPod earphones in the recent London terrorist bombings! Oh yeah, and you know, one of the great advantages of having a hearing loss is that I can listen to my iPod all day, as loud as I want, as my ears are wrecked anyway! It’s not advisable to use earphones for long periods at loud levels.