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.
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.