This was what I thought would happen at my cochlear implant switch on: I would hear, with wonder and excitement, all the sounds that Carol, my audiologist played. I would hear simple environmental sounds, and would leave the session amazed by the sudden loudness around me.
It did happen – a week later at my first re-mapping session!
So I missed out on that powerful “WOW! I can hear!” switch on moment with my family. But I have been privately (and sometimes not-so-privately) marvelling at the ever-increasing number of sounds I can hear with the implant.
There have been a few surprises, the biggest being that buttering bread makes a sound – a very, very subtle sound, but it qualifies.
After my second re-mapping session, I started to hear even more sounds with just my implant: my hand dipping into the washing-up water; the swish of a broom; cars passing on the street; water boiling in a pot. I could even hear my daughter playing violin two rooms away!
I have progressed with my rehabilitation programme from understanding individual animal names (what is a chinchilla??) to full, allegedly commonly used, sentences (“A sullen smile makes few friends”).
Still, I get frustrated when I make mistakes, as I did during my last visit with Carol. To reassure me, she admitted that I had exceeded her expectations: she thought that at this stage, we would be in the children’s room trying to identify sounds using toys. She did not expect that I would be up to words and sentences. Yay, me!
It’s not all roses: because I am hearing a lot more through the implant, and the quality of the hearing is a little muffled and electronic, my comprehension when wearing both my hearing aid and implant is actually reduced. In some ways, it feels like a step backwards. I need to persevere and be patient: it can take many months for the brain to normalise the sound from the implant.
Having said that, some of the simple sounds I started to hear after switch on already seem normal.
What I need is motivation! I have been reading about neuroplasticity and have picked out these two points that I think are relevant to my situation:
- Achieving plastic change in the brain requires focussed attention. So just walking around wearing the implant isn’t going to cut it.
- It seems that after a stroke, the brain can be forced into using an injured limb by constraining the good one. By taking the good limb out of the picture, the brain is compelled to re-learn how to use the damaged limb.
So… I’m spending as much time as I can at home wearing just the implant, forcing the brain to rely on the bad ear… and I’m still plugging myself into the computer, focussing on my rehabilitation. You should see my poor kids trying to talk to me when I am just wearing the implant! “Uh… about 11, sir.”*
A lot of people ask me how the implant is going, with such a hopeful look – they want me to say that it is fantastic and life-changing. I want to say that too, and maybe I will be able to in a few months. Right now, I feel as though I am studying for the mother of all exams.
So I am standing in the kitchen, listening to the kids’ breakfast cooking, marvelling at how far I have come in two weeks…. And realise that one sound I can’t yet hear is the egg timer. Oops…
* Just in case you don’t get that reference