things heard

One Lonely Drum

We’re going to be crossing the one-year mark of Lindsay’s implant surgery and activation in the next couple of months. I truly don’t understand how a year could go by so quickly. But I do know that this has been an exciting one.

Yesterday, in the car, I was memorizing some lyrics to a song I was performing with some friends. We were coming home from a road trip – Lindsay was driving, and I put the song on the car stereo and started following along. When she asked me what some of the lyrics were, I wondered just how many she could make out on her own, without reading my lips. An experiment! Here’s the song:

One Lonely Drum
(Kevin O’Donnell)

Stop the parade but leave the streets all closed
Tell the children to remove their brightly colored soldier’s clothes
Oh please, let one very lonely drum still drone.

Set baby on your shoulders and let his balloons rise up
Still hold your post; the marching won’t let up
The sun is still above but no eyes will blink
The shiftless crowd will know and wonder what to think.

May the wind blow cold and make our mouths close
The old and wise don’t know what history has told
There’s nothing new in death and ends all come again
So stop and hear the leaves underfoot… were once green.

So much remains the same
Even as so much as changed
A thousand men and women and children… change.
May the fifer’s lungs leave last song unsung.

I went over each line, sometimes in sections, sometimes even down to a single word. The song was perfect as a hearing exercise, because the lyrics are a little esoteric. This killed Lindsay’s preternatural ability to decipher sentences from context, a skill that all lip-readers have to have. With lines like “May the winds blow cold and make our mouths close”, she couldn’t guess what the sentence was, she had to work hard to hear it.

A year ago, even with her hearing aids in and cranked to the max, she might have made out one or two words of the song, total. And most of those would have been lucky guesses. But 10 months into living with a cochlear implant, by my (very un-scientific) estimation she could repeat about 60-70% of what I read to her, with no lip-reading.

There were sentences that she got immediately. “The old and wise don’t know what history has told”, for example – sentences with more hard consonants, in general. Then there were pieces of phrases that she could make out, but got stuck at more ‘nasal’ phonemes (“mouths”, “unsung”). And there were words she didn’t know at all, like “fifer” (a word that very few people know, probably, unless you’re into tiny flutes). She had to give up on that word completely, but before she did, she tried words like “night” and “bike” and “life”. She was getting the “aye” sound pretty clearly.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is completely kick-ass. It may seem like a small feat to some of you. It’s not talking on a telephone, or following a movie without captions. But it’s a whole world of difference to the both of us.

“So much remains the same… even as so much has changed!”. Hell, yeah!


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