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.