My Journey to Sound

My Journey to Sound

Tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow I become the Bionic woman, I join the CIborg collective, I get my first (hopefully not the only) cochlear implant. I won’t lie; I’m as nervous as H – E – double hockey sticks. I don’t like the idea of surgery to begin with, but the thought of having wires installed in my head is, frankly, kind of creepy. That being said, the chance to be able to hear again is a huge driving force for me. 

So, what is a cochlear implant, you ask? To put it simply, it’s like prosthetic ears. It’s rather quite amazing in actuality. A cochlear implant is the only technology in existence at the moment that can functionally restore one of the 5 senses. What I find remarkable, is that this technology has been around since the 80’s! In fact, my cousin was one of the first to ever receive a CI. Back then, he had to wear the processor on his belt or in his pocket, like a Walkman (remember those?) and he had a wire connecting the processor to his headpiece. Now, they are so compact, most people won’t notice I’m wearing it. Oh, and by the way – I’m the last in my family to get a CI –  two of my brothers have them (one is bimodal and one is bilateral) and 3 of my cousins are part of the CIBorg collective. I guess you could say it’s hereditary and my family has blazed the trail well for me to follow suit. I even chose the same brand of implant – Advanced Bionics

The way it works is a microphone captures the sound and transmits it to the external processor (looks like a big hearing aid) which converts the sound into digitally coded signals. The headpiece (small magnetized external component) which is magnetically aligned over the implant, receives the signals from the processor and then rapidly sends the signals through the skin as radio waves to the implant. The implant receives the signals and interprets them and then sends a specialized pattern of electrical currents down through the electrical array into the cochlea where the implant emits it as electrical stimulation pulses to the nerve receptors (similar to the work of the tiny hairs in a person with normal hearing) in the cochlea. 

I’ve been profoundly deaf for almost 4 months now. Totally deaf in my right ear with 110db hearing in my left, and let me tell you, that amount of hearing doesn’t do much. Without a hearing aid in my left ear, I hear nothing. With my hearing aid, I can hear some sounds and speech is likened to an episode of Charlie Brown when the teacher is talking. Prior to losing all my hearing in my right ear, I was classed as severe to profoundly deaf. I always struggled, but managed to get by. While I had to rely heavily on speech-reading (aka lip reading), I could still enjoy music and obviously hear things happening around me. Life is so much more different without sound.

It’s important to note that a cochlear implant does not cure deafness. I will always be deaf but the cochlear implant will allow me to hear again, as long as I wear the external processor. I may never gain the fully functional hearing of someone without hearing loss, but with a lot of practice and training, I hope to be able to carry on a conversation without lip reading, enjoy a movie without captions, talk on the phone, and maybe even enjoy music again! That hope is what inspires me to undergo the surgery. 

Noise? No problem!

Noise? No problem!

My ears are better than your ears! Na na na na na na… A childish taunt, I know. No, I’m not stooping to bully level to tease others, I’m not really a meanie. However, after my experience last night, I can’t help but make this statement as there’s a lot of truth in it. Mind. Blown.

Last night hubby & I attended our township’s annual wine & cheese business mixer. It’s a great event that brings people and businesses from our region together for an evening of networking. I’m the current president of our local chamber of commerce, so I kind of have to go to these things. I have always cringed at these events because I spend most of the time pretending like I know what’s going on when I don’t have a clue what people are saying. 

A visual of hearing in this setting.

Conversations overlapping conversations, overlapping conversations. Throw in poor acoustics and a bit of an echo and it’s a tough situation for even the best hearing. When you’re practically deaf, you have to rely on speech reading so it becomes a ping pong match of trying to follow the transitions from one speaker to the next. It’s utterly exhausting. 

Anyway, back to last night. When we arrived, the room was already crowded with people and it was rapidly filling as more showed up. We began our mixing and mingling. It was crazy loud and confusing and everyone was struggling to understand each other, myself included. 

See? A lot of people in a crowded room. (Photo courtesy of our mayor, Eric Duncan)

Then I remembered my ultrazoom program. I quickly tapped the program button and moments later I had amazing clarity on those speaking near me. The background din had completely faded. 

Another visual to show how it sounds with ultrazoom

It became apparent rather quickly that I was actually faring better than most of the normal hearing people! A gentleman had asked my hubby a question and because hubby couldn’t understand, the guy had to repeat himself three times, yet I understood him the first time. This became a common theme throughout the night. During another conversation between two people, he couldn’t understand her (again, I understood the first time). She mentioned to him that he needs to learn to lipread like me! I kind of chuckled at that, because I was understanding WITHOUT lipreading. 

I do suppose that my lipreading ability did contribute to my success, but the majority was due to my amazing new ears and the awesomeness of my processors to filter out that extra noise. The coping in noise skills I have honed over the years seemed to have set me up for amazing hearing in noise now that I have two working ears. 

Even my hubby (with very good hearing) marveled at how well I was understanding things. He made an interesting comment – he said, “my hearing is just going to get worse as I get older, but yours won’t!” How cool is that? To think that as most people’s hearing continues to decline with age, mine may actually improve with better technology!

I continue to marvel each day at just how much better my life is with 2 working ears. What a blessing and what an experience to be doing so well. I will never cease to be grateful for this. 

Learning to listen

Learning to listen

A cochlear implant is not an instant fix nor is it a cure for deafness. It’s a tool and a completely new way to hear. Because of this, the brain actually has to relearn how to listen. 

Activation day is different for every person. Some people only hear whistles, beeps, buzzing, static, or screeches at switch on. Others, like me, are super blessed to be able to hear and understand words, but often describe voices as sounding robotic or like chipmunks, Mickey Mouse, helium voices, or aliens. I can best describe what people sounded like to me in the beginning as Alpha (from the movie UP!) when his collar was broken. You can take a peek at what I’m referring to here: 

Alpha is the Doberman (3rd dog that speaks). 

In case you’re curious, here’s a video of my right ear activation. 

My own voice in particular was crazy to hear. I would end up in laughing fits because I would laugh at something but the way my voice sounded to my new ear was like a maniacal cartoon villain which would make me laugh even more hysterically. It really helped to have a good sense of humor during those first few weeks. 

Everything sounded strange at the beginning. It was impossible to tell what was making a particular sound simply by hearing it. I was constantly asking anyone around me what was making a particular noise. It was so amazing to hear my brain adjusting the way I perceived sounds. For instance, when I was newly activated and sitting in my audi’s office, I heard a rustle of a piece of paper. The sound was very mechanical at first but then the next time I heard it, it sounded just like I remembered it!

The process of identifying sounds and connecting them to what I was hearing was a big part of my training in the early days. I would turn on the water faucet and focus on what I was hearing and then think really hard on what I remembered running water sounded like. Sometimes I could actually catch the sound changing in the middle, it was really that pronounced! 

Thankfully there are tons of programs, websites, and apps available to help with auditory rehabilitation. In my early days, Angel Sounds and Hear Coach were my go-to programs for ear training. Angel Sounds not only had practice for speech discrimination, but also environmental and musical sounds. Having an app at my fingertips made it much easier for me to do active training and I tried to get in at least 2 hours a day. Both of those apps track your progress and give you your score at the end of each “round”. 

They also have levels that get progressively more difficult and even add in background noise. Since I’m highly competitive, I would constantly be pushing myself to do better than the last round. I found that the training really helped improve my listening skills in the real world too. My real eureka moment though was when I was working through a level with background noise, I suddenly realized that the background noise was actually background chatter (as if in a cafe with people having conversations all around you). All along, I had just heard static!

Music has always been a big part of my life and was probably one of the things I missed most when I lost my hearing. When I was first activated, my hubby played a song off his phone to see if I could understand it. Well, it sounded really bad and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I was hearing. Turns out he picked a song that he likes, but I never listen to! No wonder my brain couldn’t make sense of it! 

I wanted my music appreciation back though so I started training heavily with music. I created a special playlist on my phone with 20 of my favorite songs and I would play them over and over. The first couple of days, they sounded horrible and I couldn’t guess what song was playing without looking. Then, pretty soon I could tell what the song was if I heard it from the beginning, but if I started a song in the middle, I was lost. So I kept starting songs at random points until that became easy. 

Then one day, about 2 weeks after activation, I realized I was understanding the lyrics! Not all of them, but I was able to pick out words here and there. It was around the same time that I started to enjoy music again. To be honest, it wasn’t like I remembered it, thinner and not as rich, but it was better than nothing. I did find listening with my hearing aid in gave a huge boost to my enjoyment as the hearing aid was able to amplify the bass in a way that my CI couldn’t. Now that I have 2 ears though, music is unbelievable! It’s so close to what it used to be – maybe even better, because for the first time in my life, I can understand most of the lyrics!

This whole learning to listen with a CI is a big process. It hasn’t been easy or perfect despite my amazing activation. Frankly, I’m STILL learning to listen and I expect my hearing will continue to improve over time. After all, I haven’t even reached a year with my right ear and have only had my left for a little over a month. All that being said, it was worth every moment of training to get to where I am. I still train to help improve my comprehension in noise and I expect that that area will get better too. I’m happy to say that all the robotic, mechanical sounds have normalized and things sound the way I remember them. At times I find it easy to forget that I’m not hearing naturally. It’s been an amazing journey so far. 

If you’re looking to get a cochlear implant for yourself or someone you love, remember to be patient with the process. With practice and a good sense of humor, I believe you’ll get there!

One month, two ears

One month, two ears

Time is an interesting thing. Ever notice how one event can feel like an eternity but at the same time feel like it only happened yesterday? This is how I’ve been feeling with my bilateral hearing. On one hand it feels like I was only just activated, but at the same time it feels like I’ve been hearing with my two ears for ages. In actuality, it’s been 1 very blessed month. 

We had some fun during the Great American Solar Eclipse – even though we only witnessed a partial eclipse, we projected the eclipse on my processor with a giant lens.

Two weeks ago I took my kids to see the Emoji Movie. I was actually pretty excited because I wanted to see how well I could hear streaming to both ears. The theaters around us are pretty good for deaf & hard of hearing people in that they offer both captioning devices and Assisted Listening Devices  (little boxes with headphones attached that stream the audio to the headphones). What’s great about this though is I can bypass the headphones and plug the ALD directly into my compilot and stream to my processors that way. I always ask for both the ALD & the CC box because I rely so much on the captions. Well, this time, I was so excited to try streaming bilaterally that I completely forgot to ask for the CC device. Would you believe I didn’t even miss it?? I got through the whole movie – a cartoon, none-the-less – without using captions and understood it just fine! Unbelievable!!

Every day I marvel at how amazing it is to hear with two ears. With each mapping my hearing in my left ear has improved. I had my 1 month mapping appointment today and as I was preparing for the visit, I was having a hard time thinking of anything I wanted to change. This was kind of a “shoving the baby bird out of the nest” appointment as I won’t be going back until November for my next mapping. Because of this, I needed to make sure I’m good to fly alone for a good while. The only thing I could think of is just a bit more volume in my left ear as the right still felt a bit stronger. 

When I got there, Sylvie and I chatted a bit on how things were going. I got the impression that my results at this point with the 2 ears is pretty rare. It reminded me again of how blessed I am to not only have 2 ears, but 2 that are working so well together. We talked a bit about how my tinnitus still plagues me. I think we’re both holding onto the hope that in a few months it might still improve. Then we hooked up my processor and Sylvie bumped it up by 10. Bingo! The two seem almost perfectly balanced now. 

All that said, there’s still lots of room for improvement. It’s not perfect hearing but it’s such a huge boost to be able to hear with two ears. I seem to be able to locate where sounds are coming from – maybe not perfectly, but pretty good. A few weeks back, I walked into one of our large, echoey rooms and heard a cricket! Well, not only did I hear it, but I was able to zero in on where it was making its incessant chirping. Let’s just say, the cricket was quickly silenced. 

I also discovered what it means to have stereo sound. WOW! It’s so cool!! My compilot streams in stereo so when I watch a Netflix show on my tablet that has stereo, I can tell where sounds are coming from in relation to what’s happening in the show – so if a car drives by from left to right on the screen, I hear the sound travel with it from left to right. It’s so much more immersive! I suppose this is something normal hearing people are just used to so its no big deal, but when you hear it for the first time, it’s phenomenal! 

I’m so grateful to have this blessing to hear with two ears but I honestly struggle with feelings of unworthiness. I often find myself incredibly emotional and wondering why I was chosen but thanking God for my 2 ears. I wish it wasn’t such an impossibility for adults here. I will never take for granted those who made this possible for me and I will do everything I can to help others in my position to get 2 ears too. 

Three days of two ears

Three days of two ears

Day 3 of being bilateral is now in the books and I must say, I’m so happy with how far my left ear has come in just these few days. I have spent at least 2 hours each day with just my left processor on and have used a variety of “active” training activities during this time. I use a couple of iPhone apps; Hear Coach & Angel Sounds; and listen to a couple of good, clear audio, podcast channels. The podcasts are more challenging as I don’t have texts to verify what I’m hearing so when I started, I just tried my best to understand what was being said. I could actually catch about half of the words at the beginning. Then I’d listen to the same podcast again. This time understanding a bit more. It took me about 5 times of listening to the same podcast but I actually understood it. With my left ear! Just my left ear!! 

I also spent a lot of time running through my playlist on my iPhone. From the get-go, I could identify the song and understand a lot of the lyrics. I’m still shaking my head at this one. Music is SOOOO much better this time around. I also try to keep my ear passively engaged too – so if I’m not actively listening to something, I stream music to my ears to keep it working. 

Now all during my training sessions, my right ear would throw a hissy fit and crank up the tinnitus on me; like a jealous sibling trying to sabotage the other. Good ol’ lefty persevered though and I’m happy to say that I am now acing all my rehab words in quiet! I can also listen to an entire podcast with just my left ear and catch the whole thing. I might miss a word here or there, but with the context I’m good. 

This does not mean that I’m able to stop my training. Lefty still sucks in noisy settings when flying solo so that will be my next phase of training. I’m floored at how quickly the left is catching up with my right. Thrilled would actually be a better word. 

I had my first mapping post activation yesterday. We cranked up the “volume” level as I was already bumping it up to my max level on the processor. I think Sylvie said we went up 20 points. It’s still a flat map where my right has each electrode tailored to my preferences. With that said, my left is almost at the same level as my right which is surprising it’s that close already. Next mapping we’ll tweak each electrode. Oh! I also got one of my switched off electrodes turned on as when the impedance was ran, it didn’t show open anymore. This gives me hope the last one will get to be turned on too. Admittedly, I didn’t really notice anything different. 

My AB goodie bag. I love AB!

I finally got to bring home my backpack and all my cool accessories. It’s funny how the audis don’t like to give you everything on activation. I’m trying to decide if it’s to keep the excitement high or simply not to overwhelm. Could be both! Anyway, I got the myriad of cables and t-mics and my most exciting accessory – theAquaCase! 

Tonight I tried out my AquaCase in the shower. I will argue that it was to test it to make sure that everything works properly before my camping trip next week; but let’s face it, it’s a new gadget and I just couldn’t resist any longer! First, I have to say it is really easy to set up. Except opening the dang thing. I swear you need 3 hands and 6 toes to get the little locking mechanism held back to flip the latch. (It does get easier once you’ve done it a couple of times.)

I got it all hooked up and then triple checked that I wasn’t wearing anything NOT waterproof (like my left processor). What a weird experience. The shower has always been my cone of silence. Stepping in and HEARING the water hitting my head was surreal. The strangest thing was when water hit the mic and slightly muffled the sound, I actually had the sensation that I had water in my ear! I probably won’t be using the set up in the shower again, simply because it’s a bit of a pain to wash your hair with a headpiece on. I knocked it off 5 or 6 times. I can totally see kids using in in the tub though and I’m really looking forward to going swimming with my kids and HEARING them. 

My AquaCase fresh out of the water
Since I only have one AquaCase, I set it up with my right processor and obviously can’t wear my left processor into the shower so I had just my right ear for that brief period of time. Well, I felt so lopsided with only my right ear! I am amazed that I experienced that so quickly. I think my left ear really likes hearing again. I know I certainly like having two ears!

My processor, safe & dry in the AquaCase.

My first 3 days of 2 ears have far exceeded my expectations. I hope things keep progressing and that I’ll gain even greater clarity in noisy surroundings. I am also looking forward to testing out my spatial awareness to see if I am able to tell what direction sound is coming from. I’ll have to devise a way to test and hone that ability. My new super powers! It’s amazing what you can do with 2 ears!

Let there be sound!

Let there be sound!

I am officially a bilateral listener! While my activation was not quite as stellar as my first round, it was still quite good. Since I never got into the nitty gritty of activation day here on my lovely blog, I figured now is a good time while everything is fresh in my mind. 

My 2 “ears”. Not exactly symmetrical, but pretty close. Excuse my frizzy hair.

My appointment started with Sylvie (my amazing audiologist) showing me my new processor. Since this is my second one, she didn’t have to spend much time there. Then she checked my incision and I asked her to peek in my ears as my right ear had a perforation since the previous surgery. Her scope couldn’t see the area with the perforation though, so I’ll just have to be prudent and careful to keep water out just in case. Next she checked the magnet strength on the headpiece to make sure it was strong enough. Much better this time as I only needed 4 magnets – for my right ear, I had so much swelling still at activation that I needed 6 (now I only need 3). 
Then it’s time to get hooked up. My processor gets connected to the computer by a special USB cable and then I put it on like normal. You would think with all the practice I’ve had with putting on my right, that my left would be a breeze… Nope, I fumbled with it almost as much as the first time I put on my right one. 
The software then runs an impedance test on my electrodes to make sure they’re all functioning properly. Mine showed all but 2 were fine so Sylvie had to turn off electrodes 6 and 9, I believe. I’m not exactly certain why the two wouldn’t work or whether it is a short term issue or permanent, but I’m sure I’ll find out eventually. The good news is, having a couple electrodes turned off is not a horrible thing. It’s not like I’m missing out certain frequencies, apparently the sound spectrum just shifts to accommodate the missing electrodes. My brother has 4 electrodes turned off due to them causing facial twitches and he hears really well, so I’m sure I’ll be fine. 
Back to the activation process. So after the settings were adjusted to match my right ear (programming wise – the volume was turned all the way down), she had me take off my right processor so I would only be able to hear with my left ear. Gradually, she started increasing the sound on my left. She had given me a numbered chart laid out kind of like a thermometer with numbers from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. This is the sound level “comfort” chart ranging from 0 (off) to 10 (extremely loud). My job during this gradual increase in volume was to rate the sounds according to what I was hearing to find my most comfortable level (6). She proceeded to talk to me as she raised the volume. 
At first there was nothing… Just my roaring tinnitus. Then I heard some very faint tones, kind of like the beep test in the sound booth. It was strange to see the tones tied to her speech. As the volume continued to increase, I started to hear a very shrill whistle/squeal, just like the feedback I used to get from my old hearing aids. But I still wasn’t getting anything that sounded like words. 
So we kept moving the volume up and then it happened. I heard words! They were so faint under the squawking sounds, but they were there and it wasn’t as mechanical sounding as my first activation. Sylvie brought the level up a bit more and we all talked a bit to give my brain some time to adjust. The environmental sounds were still squeaks and beeps and there seemed to be a lot of static, for lack of a better description, that overlaid the speech. The amazing thing was that I could differentiate Sylvie’s voice from my hubby’s voice. 
After a bit, I asked if Sylvie could raise it up a bit more and I felt I gained a bit more clarity and while the voices still sounded quiet, the other sounds were pretty loud so I didn’t want to go to far and go crazy because it was too loud to wear. Then came my “test” time. We started with simple sounds: “ah”, “oo”, “ee”, “sh”, “ss”, “mm”. Sylvie then covered her mouth and proceeded to make the various sounds and I had to point to the sound I thought she was making. It was HARD! I still did pretty good though and got most of them right. Then we moved on to colors. She wrote a bunch of colors on a sheet and said them (with her mouth covered) and I had to point to the ones she said. I did really good on this, except blue did not sound like blue and purple sounded like elbow! Part way through the list, it was as if my brain shut down and threw a tantrum like a spoiled 2 year old. I lost all discrimination of what she was saying. It was a really strange feeling. But within a min it came back. I chalk it up to my brain being super confused and not knowing what to do with these sounds. 
After that, we moved on to days of the week and then the months. I’m happy to say, I know them all well, and I did a pretty good job of understanding them too. One cool thing when she grabbed the paper to write the months, I heard the rustle of the paper just like it should sound! 
We chatted a bit more and Sylvie asked if there was anything that I didn’t like about what I was hearing. I didn’t have any complaints. Then I finally got to put my right processor back on and I got to experience stereo sound for the first time in ages! What a sensation… Almost instantly I gained the clarity from my right ear. My tinnitus quieted down (oddly, I noticed it more in my right ear) and while it was still very much there, it was far less prominent. 
We chatted some more so I could get used to the two ears and make sure they sounded balanced. It was very cool to be able to hear from both sides. I can certainly see how bilateral users tend to not rehab their second as much as their first. It sounds SO good with the two together and very lackluster with just the new one. However, I’ve promised myself that I will commit a couple hours a day to train my left ear alone. I figure I owe it that much. 
Sylvie saved my program for my new processor and I got unhooked from the computer. As an afterthought, I figured we should test my compilot to make sure it works with the new ear since that’s what I use for my training. I grabbed my phone and linked to my compilot and started streaming music. WOW!! Blown away!! The sound was AMAZING!! I think that was hands down the best experience of the activation (of course I had told hubby to shut down the camera so we didn’t get my reaction on video). I’m listening to music now. It’s so much richer with two ears and I still can’t get over how clear lyrics are. And the more I listen to a song, the clearer the lyrics become. I’ve been switching back and forth between right and left only and it is wild to see the difference in what each ear is “hearing”. It’s definitely not the same, but the two together really sound good. 
I still have my work cut out for me and lots of mapping and rehab in my future to reach my max listening potential. Even so, I’m convinced and hope that I am proof that two ears really are better than one!

Almost there…

Almost there…

August 8, the day I will experience sound in both ears. Ironically, it is also the date that was initially given to me as my surgery date. If you had told me 3 months ago that I would be hearing in both ears before summer was finished, I would have laughed. Hysterically. I never imagined it would happen at all, let alone so quickly. 
To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. I’ve been dreaming of being able to hear out of both ears for such a long time. It’s been an emotional roller coaster to get to this point – from not qualifying 5 years ago when I first tried to get implanted (scored 1 or 2% too well on my speech comprehension – I think I was just a really good guesser); to finding out Ontario only gives one implant to adults; to losing my hearing in my good ear; to my first implant; to losing my hearing in my bad ear; all the while dealing with my demon called tinnitus; to the miracle of being told my other ear would be done; to my surgery date being bumped up!
Whew! Quite the ride indeed. I can only say how richly blessed I feel. I know that I am literally one in a million (ok, maybe not a million, but one of the very few) to be gifted hearing with in 2 ears in Ontario. I hope that I will be able to make a difference here and perhaps my story will help inspire the powers that be to give the gift of hearing to anyone that needs it. It is something that too many people take for granted. 
I still don’t know how well I’ll be hearing out of my left ear, or if it will calm my tinnitus. Honestly, if I have to deal with T until my dying day, I will do so with grace and thanksgiving now as this curse is what brought me access to sound times 2. For some reason, it actually does make it a bit easier to accept. 
The wait to activation is brutal. It’s kind of like anticipating your first day at a new school or job where you don’t know a soul – no idea what to expect. It could be absolutely amazing or totally terrible. My first round, I was blessed with a rockstar activation and was understanding speech from the get-go. However, just because that happened with one ear, doesn’t mean it will happen with my second. In fact, I’m trying really hard to keep my expectations low because the chance of another activation like that will be tough to match. 
Even though I know what to expect this time in terms of the process, there’s just no way to predict the results. That has to be the hardest part of being a CI surgeon or audiologist. They simply cannot predict or guarantee results. Maybe that’s why there are so many that oppose or resist CIs. 
Regardless of my actual results on this one, I’m prepared to do everything I did the first time. I’ll have to commit to wearing only my left processor for a fair amount of the day to force my brain to relearn hearing with that ear. I’ll also have to start back up with the rehab. It’s going to be tougher this time because my hearing with my right ear is so good now, that I’m not going to want to go back to the chipmunk voices, crazy sounds, and awful music. My surgeon thinks it will be less rehab since my brain’s done it once already. Sure hope he’s right and that my ears like to play together nicely. 
As I’m writing this, I’m listening to music from my phone, streamed straight to my brain – no one is wiser to my grooving tunes. The thing that I find myself marveling at is how much better I can understand lyrics now. Before I had no chance of catching lyrics unless I looked them up. Now, I find myself getting a good portion of the lyrics in most songs. Pretty cool, if you ask me. Wonder how things will sound 6 months from now. 
For now I must sign off, a big day is awaiting tomorrow. I’ll report back to let you know how activation #2 goes. 

Benefits of Bilateral

Benefits of Bilateral

It’s been just over a week since my surgery and I’m happy to report things have gone far better this time around. I never even opened my heavy-duty pain meds and managed just with extra strength Tylenol. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still pain & discomfort, but it’s manageable. I also had no problems with my taste buds this time. I think that might be my biggest relief – it really sucked not being able to taste my food for 5 months! This time I took off the nasty crusty bandage on the second day and replaced it with a nice fresh one. That one has since been removed as well since there has been no bleeding/leaking issues since the 3rd day. 🙂 I’ve managed to bathe AND wash my hair (keeping the incision dry) a few times thanks to my totally awesome undercut hairstyle. It’s amazing how much more human you feel when you’re clean. 

I still have to take it easy and have been doing a fabulous job of becoming one with my recliner. Unfortunately, my sleep patterns are totally messed up and I find myself unable to drift off until 3 or 4 in the morning. I’ve been passing the time with Netflix marathons and have almost completed the first 3 seasons of “The Blacklist” among a few random movies/shows. 

If you know me or have read my previous posts, you know how big of a deal it is that I received my bilateral implant. As I mentioned in a previous post, I owe it all to my amazing audiologist. I’ve been spending a lot of time in thought and am continually overwhelmed with gratitude to my audiologist as well as the people at Advanced Bionics. It’s a very powerful feeling of indebtedness (in a good way!) that you get when someone is responsible for giving you your life back. So today I decided I had to figure out a way to show my appreciation. 

I came up with this design (disclaimer, I am not the creator of this concept; I had seen it on Facebook) and decided to have it printed on nice stainless steel travel mugs. Took me a good while to find a place to have them printed but finally did. So, I took a picture of my processor and threw this together in Photoshop. The mugs should be in by the end of the month, just in time for activation day! I really hope they like them and find them useful. The design is significant to me because the 2 processors represent bilateral hearing and the heart shape indicates how much I love the world of sound that they will bring me. I really can’t wait to give them their mugs!

I have also spent a LOT of time thinking of being bilateral this week. Obviously, I’ve been dreaming of this for years, but as the time draws near for me to actually hear in both ears, it has dwelled in the forefront of my mind. 

Hearing bilaterally is natural. That’s why God created us with two ears. There are numerous benefits of bilateral hearing that most people probably don’t even give a second thought to. To start with, there is less “hearing fatigue” and it’s easier to hear in noisy settings as you have two ears sharing the job of listening. Sound location is also made possible with 2 ears. Stereo (surround) sound (capturing sound from all directions) is only available when you have 2 ears. There is an increase in speech comprehension as well, when you have 2 functioning ears. All that stuff comes naturally to those with normal hearing. 

I’ve been severe to profoundly deaf in my left ear since I was a teen so I grew up relying totally on my right ear (even though it was moderate to severe). I would watch people talk on the phone, switching from ear to ear with envy. I had to be positioned on the left side of the classroom so that my right ear was facing the teacher. I always had to think about where I sat at a table to maximize conversation comprehension. Even my friends knew not to talk to me on my left side. When one ear doesn’t work, you also end up with “head shadow effect” which means sounds originating directly on the side of your bad ear are missed because your head blocks the sound. 

Going bilateral will hopefully give me all those great benefits I mentioned above but also a few more. The most important benefit, to me, though is redundancy. I will now have two implants & two processors in the event that one malfunctions or breaks. This single benefit, in and of itself makes the whole surgery worth it in my opinion. It is a huge reassurance knowing that the failure of both devices at the same time is a very slim possibility so I will hopefully always have access to sound. 

With my upcoming activation day, I am doing my best to keep my expectations in check. Because my left ear has always been my weakest ear, the likelihood of a stellar activation like my right is slim. Plus, I have had no stimulation of the auditory nerve for about 6 months where my right only went just over 4 months without stimulation. Neither of those factors are good. However, my surgeon indicated that sequential bilateral implants performed within a year of each other show comparable success to simultaneous bilateral implants and faster rehab in comparison to sequential with more than a year in between. 

You may think that since I have 1 brain and it’s already learned how to hear with a cochlear implant that a second one would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have to prepare myself for another long haul of training & rehab to hopefully bring my hearing up to par with my right ear. I’ve committed to doing just as much rehab as I did with my right (more if necessary) as I want to maximize my ability to hear. There is also a slim chance that both ears will hear equally well as typically, CI users still favor one over the other. Regardless, there is almost always a marked improvement in speech comprehension, especially in noise, with 2 implants over 1. The biggest hope with all this though is to gain relief from my Tinnitus. At the least, it should help mask the roar, but perhaps with both auditory nerves receiving stimulation, my brain may finally quiet. Only time will tell just how well I will be able to hear with my left ear and I am anxious to find out! Just 3 more weeks to activation!