Monthly Archives: February 2013

Finally believing

When the surgeon at Sunnybrook gave me the news that I would be a good candidate for a cochlear implant, I heard very little after that sentence but I did hear this. He was leafing through my files and noted the results from the first time I was tested for an implant back in early 2004 and said, “We don’t know how you have managed all this time.” What he and the coordinator of the implant program meant was, we don’t know how you have managed to get through each day hearing so little.

I remember tucking this nugget away, more for an acknowledgment that I was right. I really was deaf, the tests proved it. I had been struggling for a very long time but it was sometimes hard to help others believe me. “But you do so well.” they would say, “I didn’t even realize that you were deaf.” I am such a good lip reader and really good at fudging and filling in the blanks that others had difficulty believing me when I said I couldn’t hear; or that I couldn’t manage in a restaurant; or that I couldn’t cope with yet another meeting because there were too many people.

Five months after my implant was first activated, I have experienced some major differences in what I am able to hear that make me realize the comment the doctor made was true.

Two weeks ago I travelled to a colleague’s home on a snowy evening. I walked and, as the snow was really coming down hard, decided not to wear my external processor in case it got wet. Those of you reading this who have implants will be shaking your heads, as the processor is a pretty hardy device, but I still treat it as if it were fine china.

In any event, I arrived and was talking with my host as I put on the processor. As soon as the processor was connected, the sound multiplied literally ten-fold. There was such a clear difference between hearing with my hearing aid alone (really very little and very soft sounds) to hearing with my implant. No straining, no stress and once the meeting with the four of us was finished, no fatigue.

I was in the front passenger seat of a car the other evening and carried on a conversation not just with the driver, but also the person sitting in the back seat. It was dark. I couldn’t lip read. I heard without lip reading. This has not happened for longer than I can remember.

I wanted to listen to some short two-minute podcasts of speeches. The podcasts came without captioning so I assumed that I would have a lot of trouble and geared myself for a challenge. Of the four speeches, I heard two clearly and missed only a few bits. The other two were too difficult because one person spoke very quickly and the other too softly. I learned later that others had trouble hearing the person who spoke quickly as well.

I had mentioned in an earlier post that I have started doing telephone work with family and friends using my implant. I had a conversation with my brother-in-law the other day and he said something that I couldn’t quite catch. I heard the gist of it and then realized that he was being ironic. So I joked that my brain had not yet learned to pick up ironic tones on the telephone. Catching nuances such as irony were just not part of my cochlear implant experience up to that point.

There are still challenges of course.

My telephone work is currently just with people I know and I do find that I tire out pretty quickly after 10-15 minutes. I’m not yet ready to talk to strangers on the phone using my processor. That will come.

The group size I am comfortable with is still pretty small but it is growing.

Sounds are still somewhat artificial but much less so than in the early days.

Music is still a huge challenge. When I hear a choir singing just using my implant, there is no music, just speech. I only hear the words, not the musical notes. Music is a complex auditory skill and while I can hear single notes now, Mahler will need to wait a little longer.

I now understand what my surgeon meant. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed either. My implant is not just working. It is beginning to change my life.

Read My Lips!

We all lip read. If you wear glasses, take them off and find out how well you can hear without being able to lip read. Your ability to understand will be hampered by your inability to see. Even though I have way more hearing now because of my cochlear implant I still need to lip read to catch a lot of what is being said.

When I am introduced to someone, the polite little voice inside my head tells me to face the person to whom I am being introduced. But then I often miss hearing the name because I need to lip read the person who is doing the introductions.

So here is my dilemma – be polite or hear the name. What I generally do is a quick head swivel dance back and forth between the introducer and the person being introduced. It can make for some rather strange sights, made even stranger if there is more than one person to meet and I still may not get the name. And if I don’t get the name it can be awkward especially if I see the person again. If there is time I will say “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name”. Then as soon as I think it appropriate, I let the person know that I’m deaf and use lip reading to help me hear, so need to be face-to-face. It’s not perfect and I’d like to hear your ideas.

I am lucky that the people I am with most often understand that I need to see in order to hear. When I am in meetings around a rectangular table, it’s fine if I sit at the head or foot so I can see all the faces. Well, at least it’s fine most of the time. I remember attending a meeting with members of a community group, several of whom had not met me before. The chair of this meeting knew me and invited me to sit at the foot of the table, a space normally reserved for one of the regular members. I don’t need to tell you about the habit we humans have of always sitting in the same place at every meeting. This caused some ruffled feathers, even after I did my usual shtick and explained why I needed to see everyone. Those of us with hearing impairments need to have thick skins at times!

Sometimes when I tell people that I lip read, they immediately start speaking much more slowly. This happened to me yesterday at the hair salon. I had a new person washing my hair and I need to take off my hearing aid and external processor for my implant while my hair is wet. She knew I couldn’t hear but could lip read. She wanted to wish me a good weekend and said it v…e….r….y s…l…o…w…l…y. I wished her one back and we both smiled. It’s really okay to speak as you normally do and much easier for me.

One of the big challenges for lip readers is that words often look the same. If I can’t understand something you said, rather than repeat the word again, it helps if you use another word. I am doing some telephone work now with my cochlear implant and find the same thing, only with sounds. Not that the words sound the same but that I can’t understand the sound. Finding another word often helps. My sister and I were having a telephone conversation last week and she said something about the Smart Phone. I didn’t get it and likely would not have understood if we were speaking face-to-face either. She changed the word and said “intelligent”. “Ahh” I said, “Smart Phone!”