Monthly Archives: September 2013

My Cochlear Implant Journey: the year that changed everything

A year ago today my cochlear implant was activated and I began my journey to hear again. While preparing for this anniversary edition I read through the early posts and I am amazed at how far I have come. I had my first annual hearing test with the implant just a week ago to see how much I am actually hearing with my implant alone and with my implant and hearing aid together. Prior to being approved for the implant two years ago I took a number of tests, most particularly one that tests your ability to hear sentences over cocktail party noises. That time I got one right. This time I managed to get about half of them right with just my implant. That is the proof of the pudding. Now these tests are in a controlled environment; the speakers enunciate clearly; and the noise level is not that loud so I can’t compare this with real life. Still from a success rate of 2% to nearly 50% tells me that my implant is working pretty well!

During those first few weeks after the implant was activated I practiced hearing words without reading lips. Now I can manage a telephone conversation of 30 minutes or more using my implant. Granted, my conversations are only with people whose voices I can easily understand. The sound is scratchy and not always clear but I can hear pretty much everything. And they are real conversations, gossip and all.

But the other more telling proof for me in some ways is that I can hear the phone ringing from other rooms and other floors in the house just with my implant alone. Before I received the implant and using only my hearing aid, I could not hear the phone ring unless I was in the same room. The same for people knocking on my front door. Pre-implant when I was expecting someone, such as a repair person or neighbour, I had to sit in the living room close to the door because otherwise I wouldn’t hear them knock. Now I can hear the knock from just about anywhere in my house.

Some other firsts:

This past weekend I watched a bit of the Davis Cup with friends. The volume was not loud enough for me to hear what the commentators were actually saying but I heard the thwack of the tennis ball – first time for that.

As a passenger in the front seat of the car, I carried on a conversation with the person in the back seat. It was dark and I could not lip read. This has not happened for many, many years – perhaps even before I lost my hearing some sixty years ago. It doesn’t happen every time. It depends on the speaker’s voice and the environmental sounds inside and outside the car. But it was an amazing breakthrough for me.

I still have challenges hearing in groups but I’m convinced that will improve over time. I have started a new computer therapy program (see note below) that involves trying to lip read a speaker against a lot of background noise. This program boasts up to a 40% increase over the period of a year in a person’s ability to understand speech in noisy environments. We’ll see!

Others have remarked on how much more relaxed I appear. The worry lines and stress caused by straining to hear what was going on that showed up on my face seemed to dissipate as the year progressed. Perhaps I was even looking younger! And my dentist, who hadn’t seen me for six months thought my pronunciation was crisper. That makes sense to me. If I can hear myself better, I can also correct my own speech automatically.

During my first year review last week with the audiologist, as she was testing the implant’s processor I kept hearing a swishing sound. I thought there was something wrong with the processor so I mentioned it to her the next time I heard this sound. What I was hearing was the pneumatic sound of a door closing down the hall. This was a brand new sound for me.

A month or so ago, I was working in my office, windows open to catch the summer breezes. I kept hearing sounds that would last for several seconds, then stop for a second, then start again. Now I should tell you that I live in an old house so assumed at first that these sounds were ‘house sounds’. I decided to walk around the house to try to figure out what the sounds were. At one point I looked outside. What I was hearing were voices of some people on the sidewalk. I couldn’t distinguish what they were saying but I heard them.

Until recently when at a restaurant, I always looked for the seat against a wall to muffle the background sounds behind me, allowing me to concentrate on the voices in front of me. Now, as long as I can see the faces for lip reading (and that usually means 4-5 people), it doesn’t much matter where I sit.

Music has been a major challenge because it is such a complex auditory process. I could hear individual notes fairly early on with my implant but not a more intricate piece of music. About six months ago I listened to the choir at church singing an anthem using just my implant and did not hear ANY music at all. All I heard were the voices speaking – sort of like a Greek chorus. This past Sunday I tried it again and actually heard some musical sounds. The sounds were an octave lower than normal and were similar to the buzzing noise from the day my implant was activated – just like they were when I first tried to hear individual musical notes. But I could hear differences in tone and could tell higher notes from lower. I must admit I did not have a lot of hope that I could hear music with my implant. I worried when I lose the hearing in my better ear and would need to rely solely on my implant, music would be lost to me. Now I know that won’t happen. It may take another year or even longer, but I will hear music.

There were so many firsts this past year. Some sounds are still robotic and unclear. The implant is loud and my brain is still working on filtering out extraneous sounds. At the moment, blasts from a noisy room still create hearing challenges and the fatigue that follows straining to hear and understand. But it is eons from a year ago when I found it challenging to understand just a few words in a quiet environment.

The day before my surgery last year I wrote a very short post on my blog about the sound I was most looking forward to hearing once my implant was working. It was the call of the loon. While I have not been near a loon to test this out, I have no doubt that I could hear it now.

I have discovered that keeping things in perspective is an important component of success with cochlear implants. The other day a retired teacher of the deaf, on learning that I was approaching my first anniversary with the implant said, “Oh, it is still very new for you.” I realized that a year is just the beginning and I have many more successes to look forward to. Stay tuned!

NOTE: Some of you have been asking about the computer program that helps with background noise. It is called Read My Quips and you can find out more at http://www.sensesynergy.com

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