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!





Clear voices

20 01 2010

voicesI have been getting to know a lady called Amanda with a cochlear implant and seeing how she copes. She has a blog about her cochlear implant, Journey Through Advanced Bionic Cochlear Implant UK, but it’s so much better to hear about the CI experience at first hand.

I have been amazed as she is just like a hearing person.  Before her CI, she was just like me, profoundly deaf and lipreading what she could. She has had her CI for one year. What has been interesting to see is how she interacts with hearing people and I … um… don’t.

I worry about talking to hearing people because I know it is likely I won’t be able to understand them. Plus, they might not be able to understand me. So when I go to social events or have to network for work, I am petrified.  Lipreading is soooo hard. Most people mumble, talk with food in their mouth, look away when talking, maybe they have a moustache or beard, there is too much distracting background noise, the list goes on and on. When networking, I don’t know what to do, how to behave, or what to say, because I have never heard other people network a crowd.  Why doesn’t someone teach deaf people how to do this? It’s not a skill that I can just pick up by observing other people, I have to be told how to do it.

We went to the SWPP exhibition in Hammersmith.  Amanda is a wedding photographer and offers a unique service producing captioned wedding videos. Amanda was networking with the exhibitors, networking with a capital N. She made it look so easy. She had no trouble hearing people and she was firing responses right back at them. Afterwards, she said it was so funny, I was stood there like a rabbit caught in the headlights, watching them, back and forth, back and forth. I didn’t have a clue most of the time what was being said.

The same thing happened in a pub. We went to a large brewery-run pub and I had my hearing dog with me. The bar staff said I couldn’t bring my dog in. I explained he is a hearing dog and just like a guide dog, he is allowed everywhere. She kept saying they have food and don’t allow dogs. I couldn’t really understand her as she had a foreign accent, so Amanda did the talking. The bar staff kept going to speak to the manager and she said we could go elsewhere or sit outside. Outside? In the freezing cold, snow and ice on the pavements, and it was dark …. why should I want to?? I said you are discriminating against me, because you are telling me I can’t have my hearing dog with me, and I need my dog for my disability. She said she isn’t discriminating against me. I don’t know how she worked that one out. In the end the manager came out. I couldn’t understand him either so Amanda did the talking. In the end he apologised and said he had looked up hearing dogs on the internet and it is okay to have him in the pub. He said, however, that the bar staff was only doing her job. Oh really…..  ! It is up to them to know the law and that there are 7 different kinds of assistance dogs and they are all allowed into places with food, as long as they have their coat on. I tried to explain but both the bar staff and manager kept talking over me and talking to Amanda. Amanda said my voice is too quiet and they couldn’t hear me, so they wouldn’t respond to that but prefer to respond to her, as she could speak more clearly and loudly than I did. I always forget that you need to raise your voice in noisy places as I can’t tell if someone can hear me or not, I can’t tell if my voice is too quiet or too loud.

So how we project ourselves and how we respond to other people talking, really affects the communication between a hearing and deaf person. The hearing person needs patience and understanding of the difficulty and communication tactics, they need deaf awareness; and the deaf person needs understanding of what is difficult for the hearing person and how to project their voice, they need hearing awareness. Not enough training going around, is there!

The CI will really help to bridge this communication gap as I have seen with Amanda. With the CI, there is still difficulty for a lot of people with discriminating voices in noisy environments. Advanced Bionics, who I have chosen for my CI, have a new software programme coming out in the UK in March, called ClearVoice. This automatically analyzes and adapts to different situations, separating noisy sounds from speech. Just what I need!  I tried listening to a ClearVoice demo with my hearing aids and I could tell the difference even through my crappy hearing aids. I’m really excited and can’t wait to try it out for real. Whoo wooo wooo!

To find out more about ClearVoice, go to ClearVoice demonstrations.