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!


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