Coffee cup thoughts

25 10 2012

This is the first time I’ve followed up lunch with a couple of painkiller tablets. I had lasagne in one of those polystyrene containers.

The sound of the fork scraping against the box, the sound of the lid eeeeeeking against my brain every time I moved the box, was just too much to take. It’s a nasty, nasty sound. It’s right there at the top, worse than screaming babies. Could anything possibly BE more horrendous?! I wonder if they use this sound to torture people, it sure would work for me!

Sound all around

5 06 2012

PhotobucketI’m still taking part in a clinical study to improve speech perception by reprogramming my cochlear implant based on pitch. My left cochlear implant’s ability to discriminate speech on its own has jumped from 48% to 70%. My right implant is still a work in progress. Bilaterally, my speech perception score has jumped from 57% to 84%.

One of the things I’ve never been able to do is to discriminate which direction sound is coming from, as you need two good ears to do this. Wearing an implant on each side of my head enables me to tell if a sound is coming from my left or right.

But how accurate is this ability to discriminate directionality of sound with bionic hearing?

Let’s look at what it actually means to hear the direction a sound is coming from. It is quite a complex process. A number of factors combine to help the listener detect direction – time lag, difference in volume, wavelength, and tone of the sound.

** TIME LAG.   Sound coming from one direction will reach the ear furthest away 1/500 second later than the closer ear.

** VOLUME.   The ability to hear differences in volume depends on the sound frequency. It is easier to detect the direction of high frequency sounds than low frequency sounds. It is more difficult for high frequency sounds to reach the other ear, as they are blocked by the head, so the closer ear will need a higher volume. The head does not block lower frequency sounds quite so easily.

** WAVELENGTH.    The human ear is less sensitive to volumes of low frequency sounds, so it is more difficult to detect sound direction. Low frequency sounds have wavelengths greater than the distance between the ears, and the head will not prevent the sound waves from reaching both ears. Higher sounds have shorter wavelengths and the head acts as a screen if the sound comes from one side.

** TONE.    There is no time lag between the ears if the sound comes from above, below or in front of the face. The outer ear helps the listener to work out the tone of the sound. Height information is given by sound (especially high frequencies) reflected off the back edge of the ear lobe, the frequency changing with the angle of the source of the sound.  Motorcyle riders find it difficult to tell where an ambulance is coming from, as the helmet reduces the ability of the outer ear to detect the tone of the sound.

Sound takes 1/500 of a second to travel the distance between your two ears. Try listening to the following clip and see if you can hear which ear you hear the sound in. It is best to use headphones, but will work if you sit between your computer speakers.

Click on this sound clip

You will hear three sound clips: pure tones, a voice, and part of a Madonna song. Each sound clip is repeated three times. First, the right and left audio channels are identical. Second, the left channel precedes right by 0.5 ms. Third, the right channel precedes the left by 0.5 ms.

The surprising conclusion is that it’s difficult to tell which direction the pure tones are coming from, but it’s easy to tell which direction a more complex sound, such as the Madonna song, is coming from.

So now we see that simple tones are harder to locate, we can wonder why sirens use them. A high degree of accuracy in localising sound is only possible when the sound is complex and made up of a majority of frequencies in our hearing range. The brain cannot accurately locate simple pure tones and it is surprising that alerting devices use them.

Source: Stanford University

How does this translate to bionic hearing? Studies have shown that bilateral cochlear implant users perform better than unilateral implant users in discriminating direction of sounds;

Ear Hear: April 2002 23(2):137-49. Sound-direction identification, interaural time delay discrimination, and speech intelligibility advantages in noise for a bilateral cochlear implant user. Van Hoesel R, Ramsden R, Odriscoll M.

Ear & Hearing: February 2007 – Volume 28 – Issue 1 – pp 73-82. Sound-Direction Identification with Bilateral Cochlear Implants. Neuman, Arlene C.; Haravon, Anita; Sislian, Nicole; Waltzman, Susan B.

I have inadvertently added to the body of evidence supporting this, through my testing in this particular clinical trial. One month ago, using speech as the sound stimulus, my ability to detect which direction sound comes from had been scored at 28%. Now, my ability has been scored at 70%. Wicked, don’t you think? 🙂

Let me have a two-can string telephone

24 03 2011


Did you play with string telephones as a child? This is a game that deaf children most likely don’t play…. unless they can lip read the length of a string.

I got my chance last week …. it was thrilling! A client was giving a presentation and his topic was an invention : antennae. He used cans and plastic cups as an analogy to show how antennae works. His prop was a pair of tin cans with string between them, and a pair of smaller plastic cups with string between them.

He made a sound into a tin can, the sound went into the can, travelled along the string as a transference wave and came out of the other tin as a sound wave again.  How the antennae works is pretty much the same.  An electrical signal goes into the antenna, the antennae converts to a radio signal and on the receiving end converts it back to an electrical signal, and that would be music or image. This is the basic principles of how antennae works.  It is a form of transducer that converts one form of energy into another.

The really exciting bit was that when he spoke into the can, I could understand every word he said.

Eyeballs straight ahead! – I had my head at 90 degrees! – I swear!

I was amazed. Unexpectedly, the two pairs sounded different too. Why is this?  A micro strip antennae allows you to reconfigure frequency. This antennae allows you to reconfigure the personal frequency which means, say, a radio wave would work at 15 gigahertz but a mobile would be 20 gigahertz, they work in different frequencies.  The antennae, the configuration has changed.  In this case, it became smaller so the plastic cup works at a higher frequency than the longer tin can, which means the plastic cup would be better for female voices compared to the longer tin can which is better for male voices.  So this antennae allows you to reconfigure its personal frequency by employing a very small patch of capacity. This highlights why voices can be harder to understand on the telephone.

Antennae is a really important invention, you’ll find one in every telephone, mobile phone, computer, wireless computer, wi-fi. It was really cool to have an expert explain to me in layman’s terms how antennae work, and to allow me to have the opportunity to listen for myself. This is real hands-on hearing!

Bilateral implants

19 10 2010


I’m enjoying being able to hear with my implant but as my hearing has improved, my perception of sound has shifted in my unimplanted ear. The hearing aid makes life sound truly awful now – if I can hear anything at all. The difference between my two ears is stark.

Last Thursday I wore my hearing aid all afternoon. [Do I get 5 stars?] The earmould burned my ear for 30 minutes but I kept it in. I wanted to explore the difference between the cochlear implant and hearing aid. Wearing them together in my silent office, nearby sounds suddenly seemed too loud, low and harsher. Putting my mug on my desk sounded like a crash. Ugh.

This is my first ‘hearing’ autumn, and it’s BEAUTIFUL! I took my dog to the park for a walk. With my implant, I was able to hear the autumn leaves crunch crisply and beautifully beneath my feet, the trees rustling in the wind, the traffic driving past the park, people talking and laughing as they walked past me, aeroplanes flying overhead, my footsteps on the path and other footsteps approaching and receding, my dog panting, the clicking of his nails, his ball *thunking* on the ground, the soft swish of grass under my feet, the birds sweetly tweeting.

I flipped the implant off and switched my hearing aid on.

Flashback to seven months ago.

All I could hear was the faint sound of my own footsteps. Around me was silence.

I felt so disconnected. So alone.

On the outside, looking in.

Just like I used to.

I put my implant back on and the rainbow came back. Some days I really do feel as if I have half a head of hearing. I feel as if I have an abyss on my right side. There’s nothing there to hear. Sometimes it feels as if I’m not really present. Disconnected. Unreal. So I’m thinking of getting a second implant. In the UK, this means paying for it myself, either here or abroad. Sooooo …. what’s it gonna be? An implant or a house deposit? An implant or a Porky? I’ve not yet met a bilateral user – I only know of two in the UK. Meeting a unilateral user was my tipping point a few months ago. I’m wondering what’s going to be my tipping point this time. Too much furniture? My crap driving?

The next NICE review will be in February 2011. I’m hoping they will approve bilateral cochlear implants for adults in the UK, but I’m not holding my breath. A second cochlear implant gives the user localisation of sounds, improved listening performance, and improved listening against background noise. Advanced Bionics are offering a webinar on bilateral cochlear implants tonight.


Advanced Bionics press release –

It’s no surprise that two ears hear better than one. Just as we are born to hear with two ears, using cochlear implants in both ears (bilateral cochlear implants) gives you or your child the best opportunity to hear more naturally. Whether you are considering implants for the first time or have used one implant for years, today’s cochlear implant candidates and recipients experience many benefits of hearing with two ears. Find out if you or your child may be a candidate for bilateral cochlear implants. Hear first hand accounts from those who know best, cochlear implant recipients and their families.


Online. Oct 19, 2010. 6pm Pacific/Los Angeles (9pm EST/New York, 2am GMT/London)


Captioning will be available.

Phone call #5

24 08 2010


I called Michele today. Afterwards, she emailed;


You got them all right – just the tiniest pause on the mascara!!! *dancing the jig*!!

  1. My mascara is black.
  2. My lipstick is red.
  3. My eyeshadow is blue.
  4. My nail polish is pink.
  5. My hair brush is yellow.

Fabu fabu fabulouuuuuus!!!!

I have to say, it was tricky. Words just don’t sound like they used to. Of course they wouldn’t! It’s like listening to a robot talking (sorry Michele) but I’m being straight, that’s what a voice on the phone sounds like.

I’m digging out some samples of CI simulations so some of you can hear what I hear – stay tuned!

She sells seashells by the seashore

4 06 2010

We’ve had gorgeous weather for the past few days so I took an opportunity to visit the English seaside and test my baby cochlear implant. This is a little wish I’ve had for some time, to feed my soul and revisit a memory. A day of walks, ice creams, salty sea air, happy faces, and the soothing sound of the waves.

I grew up by the seaside. It was a cold, rough, Irish sea, mesmerising in all its tempestousness, its savagery, its cold hard beauty, its sudden mood changes from sky blue to grey to black and even to white in fierce, majestic storms. Scary in its calmness in an orange sunset, for I knew it was dark and dangerous beneath the vast surface, taking lives at random when it chose. Enticing on a hot summers day with gentle waves lapping at your feet, for we had the longest whitest sandy beach in the north – visit this link and feast your eyes. I almost drowned when I was eleven, and I’m still a water babe, but have a real fear of water, deep water, when I can’t feel the ground beneath my feet. Walking along the pier at the mouth of the River Bann still scares the bejesus out of me, as you can see the water is so deep on both sides, and so so close. But somehow, I still have a fascination with and love of water.

I walked along the promenade and recalled the sound of the sea from memory. shhhhhSHHHHHHshhhhhhSHHHHH. Quiet. SHHHHshhhhhSHHHHshhh. Calming. shhhhhSHHHHshhh. Reflexive. SHHHHshhhhSHHHHshhhh. I listened hard for this sound as I walked with my dog.

There was a constant loud ROAR …… ROAR and I tried to work out what it was, thinking “Bloody aeroplanes!”. I was puzzled because there was no airport nearby.


I scanned the sky but couldn’t see any aeroplanes.


Must be the traffic, then. There was a road behind the promenade but it was a quiet day and I couldn’t see many cars.


I looked around and scanned for moving objects that would match up to this sound. Then it hit me.

It was the sound of the breaking waves!


waves on beach

I could not BELIEVE how loud they were. They were teeny tiny itty bitty waves but they crashed with a sound that did not match their size.

Is this normal? Or is the volume magnified by my new-found awareness of sounds? I am just blown away.

The quality of the sound is so different as well. It’s no longer a quiet soothing shhhhSHHHHshhhh but a harsher sort of frantic bubbling, or crackling with the hard edges taken off.

You can see what a hard time I am having, trying to describe simple sounds. What I am hearing is my own version of reality, not yours.

It’s very hard to explain sounds when you haven’t heard them before.

It’s also hard to explain to my audiologist what I’m hearing, so that she can adjust the program appropriately on my cochlear implant.

I was talking to Paul in Seattle about this sound recognition and progress with our cochlear implants. Paul had normal hearing prior to getting his cochlear implant. He was activated one day before me. He says;

I find it amazing and fascinating reading about the hearing experiences of people who had a long term profound loss and used hearing aids before getting a cochlear implant. Many, who felt that they accommodated quite well (by lip reading, speaking, etc), seem awestruck by what they hear with the cochlear implant. While I feel, at 2-months myself, that the quality of the sound from the cochlear implant has a lot to be desired (remember, I KNOW what “normal” or “near-normal” hearing really sounds like) it is leaps and bounds better than what the hearing aid can provide one who has a profound loss. While I had “normal” hearing at one time, it’s been a very long time. My hearing has declined since the 1960s. It’s had its ups and downs but it was a long slow decline nonetheless.

Most people with mild to moderate loss really do benefit from the hearing aid. But a profound loss is in a class by itself. I find it hard to describe some sounds to you because either you never heard that particular sound before in your entire life OR what you heard with your hearing aid was a very bad representation of the sound. Of course, you wouldn’t know that what you heard was crappy because you had nothing to compare it to. How do I describe a sound to you when you’ve never heard that sound? How do I describe color to a blind person?

Sometimes I wonder what babies really hear in their first couple of years. Is it all mangled sounds like the first few weeks of a cochlear implant? At the same time that their brains are trying to make sense of associating sounds with what they are seeing they are also trying to figure out how to verbalize sounds themselves. What marvelous things our brains can do!

How exciting. I can’t wait for the next big storm. I used to love watching them whilst my dad hid under the kitchen table. It’s going to be a fantastic 3-D experience!

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!

The unbearable loudness of hearing

25 04 2010

It has been one month since activation and my world has changed beyond recognition and exploded into a kaleidoscope of sounds. Some are old sounds which sound different, some are completely new. The world sounds different through a cochlear implant and it is starting to sound much better.

Each time I have a mapping, my bionic hearing is adjusted – at the moment we are still focusing on increasing the volume. For the last week I have been listening in awe to the (surprisingly noisy) birds, the crackle and pop of rice krispies, my office clock ticking, the ssss of my perfume atomizer, the jangle of keys and my dog’s clinking collar tag, and all the little sounds my dog makes when he wants something! I am discovering that some things, heretofore silent to me, actually do make a sound. The photocopier touchpad beeps, the door of the room next door squeaks (and now annoys me immensely), my hands rasp when I rub them together and so does moisturiser when rubbed on my skin, running my fingers up my arm makes a soft rasping sound too.

I have been utterly shocked by the cacophonous ssshh of brakes and beeps of doors on public transport, the roar of traffic, people in the street, the sharp crackle of plastic bags and paper, the clatter of crockery, the flushing toilet, the microwave nuking food, and the kill-me-now roar of aeroplanes (unfortunately, I live near Heathrow). Last Saturday was the first day in my life that I was able to hear all the birds so I sat in the garden, in the sunshine, and listened. This also happened to be the first day of the airline stoppages due to the Icelandic volcano eruption and the skies were silent. I only realised how much noise airplanes made this week when the airports re-opened for business. Over the last three days, I have become quite overwhelmed by the loudness of some sounds, now that my implant’s volume is nearing an optimum level.

I went to a social event a few days ago and although noisy, I was able to pick out peoples’ voices more easily which made lipreading easier. I heard this strange sound behind me and turned around to see a woman playing a harp. It sounded totally different from what I expected, like a soft guitar.

The strange thing is that high frequency sounds seem much louder to me than other sounds. A person with a hearing loss cannot screen or ‘filter’ out sounds in the way that hearing people do, so everything seems loud. This is why noisy places are so problematic, as hearing aids and cochlear implants amplify all sounds so that environmental sounds are as loud as voices, and the hearing impaired person is unable to filter out the background noise (the cocktail party effect). Now that the high frequency sounds are so new to my brain, these seem extra loud to me, my brain is going WOW What’s This?, sitting up and taking notice, and is only now listening to low frequency sounds again. The world is starting to sound more normal. Voices still sound tinny so it’s a struggle to understand speech.

I can now hear the dial tone on the phone. I started off by listening to phone sounds (these work on both pc and Mac) and will next try listening to a script I’ll give to a friend.

There are four levels of auditory skill development according to Erber’s model – awareness of sound (presence v absence), discrimination (same v different), recognition (associating sound/word with meaning) and finally, comprehension (using listening for understanding). As I was born deaf and have been deaf for 40 years, I’m going to struggle harder and for longer to climb up this ladder.

It is a common misconception that we hear with our ears. In fact, the auditory system, from the outer ear to the auditory nerve, merely provides the pathway for sound to travel to the brain. It is in the brain that we hear. If a person developed hearing loss after learning language (postlingual hearing loss), the brain will retain an “imprint” of the sounds of spoken language. The longer a person is deaf, the more challenging it is to recall these sounds. In the case of a person who has never heard (hearing loss at birth), or who has had very limited benefit from hearing aids, sound through a cochlear implant will be almost entirely new. That person will need to develop new auditory pathways, along with the memory skills to retain these new sounds. Whatever a person’s history, rehabilitation can be very useful in optimizing experience with a cochlear implant.

Being able to detect sound, even at quiet levels, does not mean that an individual will be able to understand words. Norman Erber developed a simple hierarchy of listening skills that begins with simple detection: being aware that a sound exists. An audiogram indicates detection thresholds. Although thresholds with a cochlear implant may indicate hearing at 20 dB to 40 dB (the range of a mild hearing loss), the ability to understand words can vary greatly. The next level of auditory skill is that of discrimination; that is, being able to determine if two sounds are the same or different. For example, one may detect the vowels oo and ee but not be able to hear a difference between the two sounds. The third level of auditory skill is identification. At this level, one is able to associate a label with the sound or word that is heard. Key words may be clear, such as cloudy or rainy, within the context of listening to a weather report. Erber’s final level of auditory skill is that of comprehension. Words and phrases provide meaningful information rather than just an auditory exercise. At the level of comprehension, a person is able to follow directions, answer questions, and engage in conversation through listening.

(Source: Advanced Bionics)

I’m still at the stage of detecting sounds and trying to move into the next stage of discriminating between sounds.  Two weeks ago, I was unable to tell the difference between PAT and BAT, TIN and DIN, FAN and VAN. With the practice I have done, I am now able to do this with almost no errors. I am now working on listening for the difference between MACE and MICE, and DEAR and GEAR – which is difficult as D and G sound so similar. I don’t know what to listen for so am hoping the brain kicks in at some point!

My speech perception is improving slowly. I have tried to make discrimination practice fun, by listening to Amanda on Skype. She will give me a colour, or a month, or a day of the week, or a number between 1-10. Maybe next I will try tube stations or football teams, whatever I think I can cope with, to keep it fun. We decide which closed set we will do – using Mac to Mac, the in-built sound (and video, for lipreading) quality is very good, aided by my use of a direct-connect lead to my processor. I am trying to work towards ‘open sets’ – unknown sentences – by asking people to put a hand over their mouth and give me a sentence. Patrice gave me my first sentence this week : “Bob and Kirby are waiting for me in the car park” and I got it correct except for the word “car”. She gave me a second sentence and I got that spot on. With practice, I will improve. We tried a discrimination exercise – I am now able to hear the roadworks behind the office – they had been working there for a year and I had missed it all (lucky me). So when they hammered, drilled, or dug with a spade, Patrice told me and I listened for the different sounds.

Music is improving too. I am finding that rock with vocals louder than music wins hands down. Opera sounds good, piano/flute/guitar sound quite good. There are musical resources specifically for CI users. Advanced Bionics offer Musical Atmospheres (free for AB users) and available online or on CD, where new music is discovered through 3 hours of recorded musical examples, each containing increasing levels of complexity in musical appreciation, helping to establish a firm foundation for musical memory. They also offer A Musical Journey, through the Rainforest and Music Time for children. Med El offer Noise Carriers, a musical composition available on CD from – see Listen,Hear! newsletter no.20 for further information. Cochlear don’t seem to have any resources but they do offer tips.

I am finding that I am feeling soooo much better than I did with hearing aids. I used to have headaches almost every day, I was always exhausted from the constant effort of lipreading, reading the palantype (CART), concentrating to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and stressed by the thought of any social event.  Now, I’m not exhausted every evening, I’ve had one headache since activation, lipreading is somehow easier as I’m getting more audio input even though people still sound like Donald Duck, and I feel much more relaxed overall, and more positive about communicating with ducks people.

I’ve finally discovered the noisy world that everyone lives in. This noisy world should get a bit quieter this week when I get ClearVoice, which will automatically reduce background sounds so I can concentrate on voices. It’s almost a magic wand for hearing loss. All I will then need is to be able to comprehend speech, and I’ll do a convincing fake of a Hearing Person.

I’ve lost the clouds but I’m gaining the sky. And the sun will shine. You’ll find me out there, in the Hearing World, shining brightly with happiness. And as the video below nicely demonstrates, I want to kick your butt!

Platform 9 3/4

3 04 2010

It’s been one week since switch-on and what a start it’s been to my journey to better hearing. It’s been nothing like I dreamed it would be, with unexpected twists and turns, and I’m sure, many more to come.

I was delighted when the beeping faded and real voices started to come through. I had been pumping the volume higher and higher and finally requested an early tune-up from my audie last Friday. Now I was able to hear the keys being depressed on my Blackberry (not the tone sounds, but the actual key depressions themselves), cutlery on plates, and traffic just as it whizzed past me. I was happy with the increased volume but as I left work on Friday evening, I stepped out of the building and this loud whine started up in my head. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. It didn’t go away. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. I couldn’t hear anything else, just this loud EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. What was it? Was there something wrong with the cochlear implant? EEEEEEEEEEEE. Or my brain? EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. I ripped the implant off after 30 minutes as I couldn’t stand another minute of EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. It just did my head in.


The next day, I turned the volume down quite low and this was a relief, as I was busy taking photos all day in Covent Garden, it was very busy with lots of people around, making for lots of background noise. I didn’t want to take the cochlear implant off as in order to maximise success, particularly in the learning stages, the user should wear the processor for every waking hour possible. This is not a ‘Nazi’ view (as one ignoramus has accused me of having) but a strategy recommended by cochlear implant centres. A cochlear implant is not like a hearing aid at all. It’s a completely different animal. The more you wear it, the more your brain becomes accustomed to sounds, the more synapses your brain will create, the more sounds your brain will recognise, and the better your hearing will become. It’s like training to be an athlete – an hour here or there when you feel like it will not help you to become a world-class athlete, but regular and consistent training will.

On Sunday, I turned the processor up again. I was thrilled to hear my dog ‘talk’. He talks a lot! Erasing my notes, I was shocked to hear the eraser scrape across the paper. It moves ….. ergo it makes a sound. I heard a racket and discovered this to be pigeons and doves in my chimney. I heard the door unlock and the light switch click, in the bathroom next door. I could even hear myself breathing. Stunned was probably how I felt that day.

It was Monday morning and I slapped the processor on my head. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. I couldn’t hear anything else, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, couldn’t stand this for another second, EEEE – took it off, and hightailed it to the hospital. The processor was checked and the impedances were fine. I was given a new mapping and the whine was still there, quietly in the background, so the audie turned the high frequencies down to 5% and switched my HighRes Fidelity 120 from HighRes-P to HighRes-S which has softer high frequencies. She reckons that I have pushed too far, too fast, and my brain is protesting at all the new high frequencies I haven’t heard before. This new programme seemed to work. I got a shock to hear a colleague preparing her lunch, she was using a knife to jab holes in the plastic wrapping of her microwave lunch, it sounded like loud gunshots. I picked up the sounds of my dog sighing (like, every 10 minutes!), my footsteps on carpet, and the beeping of the supermarket till in an otherwise silent supermarket.

My tinnitus decided to make a comeback in my unaided ear and gave me this lovely loud drilling sound for the next three days. I haven’t been wearing my hearing aid as I want to give the cochlear implant 100% and get this up to a high standard before giving my brain mixed signals to cope with. Sounds from hearing aids and cochlear implants are very different; the brain does acclimatise to cochlear implant sound but some people’s brains do not like mixing the two. This is something I may try when I am ready, perhaps in six months time. In the meantime, my brain does not like having no stimulation in the unaided ear, and is giving me merry hell with tinnitus. It has, however, been quiet for the last two days – until I start my Clix soundwork. Fickle brain! Clix listening activities are available from The Listening Room, where you can practise listening skills on your own or with a coach, and record your progress.

Over the last couple of days I have been able to pick up new sounds from downstairs – voices and rapping on the TV. I’ve also been able to hear footsteps coming up the stairs and a bottle cap being unscrewed from the bottle. AGC (Automatic Gain Control) is another thing I’ve noticed. This is a process whereby the hearing aid or cochlear implant automatically reduces all sound for a few seconds when a loud noise is heard. So when I call Smudge, my world goes silent for two seconds. It’s a very odd experience.

I listen to a chapter of my audio book every day, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, read by Stephen Fry. This book was recommended to me as Stephen Fry has a very friendly, clear voice which is easy to listen to. At first his voice sounded like a whine with gaps for the spaces between words, which was very very tiresome to listen to. Now it sounds clearer, I can tell there are words in an English accent, however I am still unable to understand what is said. Today I was able to pick up on when Stephen uses different voices for the characters, and on the emotion in each voice, which makes the story come alive. Voices still sound tinny and not quite normal, but I expect this to change soon. ESL-Lab will help as this website provides lots of different voices to practise listening to.

It’s truly amazing to reflect on how much has changed in the space of one week. From nothingness, to hearing all of this.

My ticket looks promising. I had better run and catch the train to Hogwarts – has it left without me? Wait up!

Dancing into a new life

29 03 2010

It’s been four days since switch-on and my bionic hearing is changing quickly. On Wednesday, I was able to detect a few sounds but they were all beeps. I started to pick out people beeping around me like little birds, items being banged set upon my desk, pages being turned in a series of beeps, the phone ringing in a beep. I had been given three levels of sound on my processor, which was expected to easily last me until my next visit to the audiologist’s, in five days time. On the second day, the volume of the beeps was getting quieter and quieter, and I kept increasing the sound. I started to detect my work colleagues’ voices, with an accompanying beep. I was able to detect a glass being filled with beepy water and draining down the sink’s plug hole, a kettle boiling in mini beeps and switching off with a ping, a crisp packet being beepily rustled. I was getting rather beeped off!

By Thursday evening, I didn’t have any more volume to add on my processor and I didn’t want to wait until Monday’s audiology appointment and miss out on any progress. So there I was on Friday morning, banging on my audie’s door, and she gave me a big increase in sound levels on the processor. She can’t believe how fast I am progressing and has told me to slow down, that my brain needs time to take it all in or I might hamper my progress. She thinks it is because I have done so well with my hearing aids that my brain is very well developed at listening so is able to make sense of the new cochlear implant sound more quickly. My audie said a lot of people take a month off after switch-on to relax at home and take in the new sounds, then they have a shock getting used to their usual routine when they go back to work. Considering I am facing a month of crappy sound whilst my brain adjusts, I reckon returning to work is the smartest thing to do. Just before I left the audie’s office, I realised she wasn’t beeping when she was talking to me.


It was Friday afternoon and I was back in the office. I was shocked to find that I could make out my colleagues voices without beeps over the top, their voices sounded distant, in high tones, but I could make them out. It was happy tears all round and a very emotional day. I was amazed that I was able to hear through a computer in my head.

I received a very kind gift from Patrice, Bob and Kirby – a pretty seashell for my New Ear Day, very appropriately reminiscent of a cochlea – and beautifully polished until it shone. I have spent the three days since activation working as normal and that means listening and taking in sound from clients all day, chatting to my interpreter, colleagues and friends, going to the usual noisy cafes for lunch. I think all this has really helped me to ‘acclimatise’ to listening through a computer. It was wonderful to hear a voice and not a beep, and it really helped with my lipreading – which I found a lot less stressful.

Voices now sound quite weird as my brain adjusts to the new sound, and I am having great difficulty understanding what is being said today. I expect to go backwards sometimes as I adjust but to carry on moving in the right direction. I can see that there are so many different shades of hearing. Moving from silence, to sensations or beeps, to detecting some environmental sounds, detecting voices and life around me, moving on to comprehending sounds and then – finally! – understanding speech. My Holy Grail is to understand speech without lipreading. A bonus gift would be to enjoy music. I’m on Advanced Bionic’s HiRes-S with Fidelity 120 program and will get an additional program in May 2010 called ClearVoice, which is revolutionary in having the ability to reduce background noise or the ‘cocktail party effect’. So now I have my goal in sight.

My sound database is now constantly being populated with a drip-feed of familiar, new and sometimes surprising sounds. Familiar sounds I can now hear are the dog barking next door, cars passing me, and sometimes footsteps. When I walk through a busy place such as the cafe in our office building, I don’t experience the usual wall of indecipherable echoey loud white TV noise that hurts my ears and makes me want to scream very loudly, but instead I detect the quiet chirping of people’s voices. (I know from Amanda, the cutlery will become my new sound from hell). At the moment my window of sound is still quite small, because I would not be able to cope if the audie let me have it all at once. It is a mountain that I have to climb slowly, take a rest now and again, acclimatise myself bit by bit. So at the moment, I am only able to hear high frequency sounds that are not too far away from me. I have tried listening to my iPod and music sounds absolutely rubbish, however the volume is set much lower (my hearing aid required the maximum iPod setting and hearing aid setting). I’ve bought my first audio book, Harry Potter’s first book, and find that very hard to listen to as the sound makes no sense – what I am hearing sounds like a long wail with gaps. But I’m holding the faith! Here’s why ….

New sounds from my cochlear implant are the Blackberry / Mac / remote control keys clicking, cutlery on plates, plastic bags rustling, scissors cutting plastic, clicking fingers, bus doors thumping shut, my dog panting and whining (he sure whines a lot!), using an eraser, the bathroom door lock and light clicking from the room next door, the doves and pigeons making a racket in my chimney, my own breathing and sniffing, zips, Amanda’s jaw cracking every time she opens her mouth – all these tell me that the cochlear implant is already outperforming my hearing aid. And it’s only been FOUR DAYS! I am realising that when something moves, it makes a sound. The first sound I could hear clearly, sounding normal and without any pesky beeping, was my shoes scraping on the tarmac when I walked my dog yesterday morning, and I took great pleasure scraping my shoes (and dancing) all around the park. Unfortunately, I now need a new pair of shoes.

I am amazed that I put up with such crappy hearing for so many years.

Bye bye, Crappy Hearing Aid.

Hello, ‘Borg with new shoes.

New, polished, and shining with pride. ~ Come dance with me!