activation

Little Things

She now hears what she calls “pretty” things: church bells ringing, solo piano pieces, certain voices that have a clear and resonant quality. Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, for example, which has always been one of her favorite things. (Woof! Sorry.)

She hears the dogs’ under-cut toenails as they scuttle across the hard wood (vinyl) floors. She had no idea they made so much noise. This is also kind of annoying, she thinks, and I have to agree, but it’s neat that we can share this annoyance now.

Garbage trucks and other street cleaners, airplanes and buses: she heard them before, sometimes, but now she hears them down the street, around corners. She has to ask what some of the sounds are, but I don’t mind.

Last night she heard the waitress, standing behind her, ask a question. She answered without turning around. She doubted what she heard, out of habit, but she was pleased that she was correct.

And more and more she hears me: the timbre of my voice (tenor-pitched, a nasal tone). When it’s quiet in the house she sometimes answers questions that I don’t look at her to ask. And it’s almost like living with a different person when that happens.

But it isn’t a different person, and I have to remember that no matter how good she gets at this, I can’t get lazy about communicating with her. And it’s still the beginning.

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activation

Lindsay Doesn’t Squeak Any More

She used to, though. That is, her hearing aids did.

Every time she had to wear hats, or if someone put a hand to her ear, or sometimes even if she yawned too vigorously: the microphone in her hearing aids that sampled her world and sent that sound to her ear would feed back, causing an audible “squeak”.

But she hasn’t worn a hearing aid in many months. And while her CI does have a microphone, it isn’t amplifying any sound externally, so…

She might be getting some really nice ear muffs for Christmas.

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activation

So Turned On Right Now

This post is long overdue. It’s been, let’s see… carry the one, add the the four, okay… over three weeks since I was turned on. Damn. That’s practically two periods and three-fourths of a box of tampons ago.

Sorry!

Being turned on wasn’t what I expected at all. Mickie the Audiologist placed the processor on my ear, slapped the magnet on my head, and hooked me up to her computer. She then sent a series of tones to my implant so that she could set my thresholds. At first, I didn’t realize that those vibrating shocks inside my head were these tones. I thought my head was spinning and humming because I was about to pass out from nerves. But no. I quickly realized that the feeling in my head was sound. I burst into tears. Not because I was touched by the beautiful magic of the experience, like a unicorn getting its horn stroked for the first time. Not because I was disappointed, like, oh, this is what I’ve been waiting for? No. I cried because I was totally. freaked. OUT.

My hearing aids have always amplified sound for me in an external-ish way. The cochlear implant was utterly internal. I could even feel it in my chest. A freaky, foreign sensation.

When someone–let’s call him Peter–tickles your foot, you laugh and say ha ha ha stop ha ha ha. Peter continues tickling your foot. Panic creeps into your voice and you’re like, ha ha? stop … no really, STOP. Peter stares at you with those empty black pools that he refers to as his eyes, picks up a scalpel (I guess Peter is a doctor–his mom must be so proud), SLICES YOUR FOOT OPEN, and proceeds to tickle your foot from the inside out.

That’s kind of what hearing with the implant for the first time was like. Taking a sensation to a whole new disturbing, fucked-up level.

I spent the first few days squinting and wincing and having panic attacks. I could barely focus. My brain was functioning in slow motion, but the world around me felt like a Baz Luhrmann movie. Heightened, frenetic, over the top, not enough John Leguizamo. Every noise, every movement, every light was just too much. I wanted to hole up in a dark room by myself. And I did, for long stretches. The first week was physically and emotionally exhausting.

I think part of the reason why it has taken me so long to write this post is that I’ve been struggling so much with understanding this experience for myself that I couldn’t imagine how to explain it to others. To be honest, I’m still not sure how to tell everyone what this is like. But I’ll try, little by little, as this experience unfolds over the next few months.

At first, it sounded like there were crickets inside my head. Loud, angry, sexually frustrated crickets. CHIRP CHIIIIIRP CHIIIIIRP CHIIIIIIIIIIRP. It was, to put it mildly, maddening. But now, three weeks later, thank GOD, the crickets have gone. The ones inside my head, that is. The real ones are still out there, making actual noise.

I went out to dinner with my parents and Matt one evening. When we returned home, they heard a particularly loud cricket down the alley. My dad asked if I could hear it. I instinctively went to say “no” but stopped myself when I realized that YES, yes I could hear it. Very clearly, in fact. Matt followed the sound of the cricket and discovered it a couple hundred feet away. You know what that means? I could hear the cricket from two hundred whole feet away! Curious, I turned off my processor and tried hearing the cricket with only my hearing aid. Nothing. I walked closer… closer. 100 feet. 50 feet. 25 feet. 10 feet. There! Finally. I had to practically be on top of the damn thing to hear it. So, to summarize:

cricket to hearing aid: 10 feet; cricket to processor: 200 feet.

Neat, huh?

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activation

Breaking the Silence

…of this blog, that is. It is true-it has been a long and eventful week, and it has taken a while to process.

I know that Lindsay will write about the experience of being turned on first hand, and that’s the more important post to be reading, but it has been an emotional week for both of us. Because it’s the beginning of a journey for her, and in turn for me, too, and everything around us is a part of it: the newly-experienced sound of Penny the dog sneezing, a more specific noise attached to the simmering of onions in a pan, and so much more.

She was very nervous on the way to the hospital. More nervous, really, than she was when she got the implant itself, which was a three hour invasive operation. The operation was something that she could quantify: you go in, have a surgery, go home, recover. But the activation of the implant, and whatever changes/additions this much simpler process would bring, was unknown, and therefore more frightening. But my wife is a practical person. She doesn’t make decisions lightly, and takes all changes cautiously. She didn’t go into this process with expectations, which gave her sort of a level playing field to work with.

But she was surprised by what happened when Mickie the Audiologist turned on the processor for the first time. She did cry, a little – perhaps partially from the overwhelming experience of hearing sound internally for the first time in a while. But she also had sort of a mini panic attack brought on by the new signals sent to her brain. And afterwards, leaving the doctor’s office and heading out into downtown Chicago, she seemed stoned… unable to concentrate, distracted by everything. We immediately went to Big Star for margaritas.

She was worried that she hadn’t been honest enough about the initial mapping, and she had asked Mickie to set it too low, because the implanted ear seemed quiet and muffled compared to the ear with her hearing aid. But as the week progressed we decided that it was just different, not worse. It’s still different. My theory is that she’s hearing more dynamics in the sound, compared to her hearing aid which simply magnifies any and all sounds. And my other theory, that she has been sort of imagining sounds – the noise that shaking a box of sugar cubes makes – might be true. “That’s different than I expected!” she said, shaking vigorously.

On that first day I just wanted to look at her. I just watched her as closely as I could, as if by watching her every move I could glean some idea of what she was hearing and of what she was going through. I wish more than anything that I could be inside Lindsay’s head this past week. I’ve rarely felt more unable to help her with something. I know that the first frequency mapping has to be flat so that she can get used to the device. And I know that there is such a long way to go for her to make sense of these new sounds. But it drives me crazy that I don’t have the ability to suggest “you need more mids in that mix” or agree that “yes, those high frequencies are a little harsh”. If they are. She’ll have to figure those things out for herself, in her own time.

Next? More adjustment of the processor, more getting used to the device. More listening and asking questions. I asked her the other day whether I was allowed to be excited when she noticed those onions simmering on the stove. It’s her time to ask questions and I don’t want to be pesky about all the small changes I see when she’s going through so many big changes in her own head.

But she said yes, I was allowed to be excited, and I knew that she was excited, too.

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