Listening in Stereo with my Cochlear Implant

I’ve been a bit neglectful of my portraits in the last few weeks as I have been pre-occupied with my new Cochlear Implant. A lot of people have been asking me how it is going, so I am blogging off-topic today…

Background

I have been deaf in my left ear for as long as I can remember. For the most part, this has been no more than an inconvenience: I might miss some witty repartee from a dinner guest sitting to my left and as a child, I was completely rubbish at the pool game Marco Polo.

As I began to lose hearing in my right ear, having one useless ear started to become a problem. I made enquiries about getting a cochlear implant in my deaf ear about four years ago. The advice I received at the time was that, due to the length of time that I had been deaf, the most I would be able to hear with an implant would be environmental sounds. In short, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Instead, I bought a better hearing aid for my “good” ear and soldiered on. By the start of this year, my hearing had deteriorated to a significant degree, and the advice I was receiving had changed.

It seems that some people with long term deafness have now received good outcomes after a year of practice and auditory training.

The earlier concern expressed by professionals that the artificial, electronic hearing provided by the implant would clash with the natural hearing in the other, better ear has also fallen by the wayside: it seems that over time, the brain assimilates the artificial hearing with the natural and perceives all the sounds as “normal”.

Now, I was being told that I had nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain.

So on 3 October 2012, I had Cochlear Implant surgery in my left ear.

Cochlear Device: Internal Component

This is what is in my head

Photo source

Switch on and Day 1: 24 October 2012

I was extremely anxious this morning before my switch on. I had been dreaming all night that I couldn’t hear through the implant. My dad, brother, David and husband, Paul, came with me … and tried to calm me down!

When Carol, my audiologist, first started playing the sounds to me, I couldn’t hear them. Or rather, I didn’t recognise that sounds were being played. Eventually I noticed a sensation which coincided with Carol playing the sounds – this was my hearing!

I became very concerned, as I had heard of a few people with long term deafness who had not been able to progress beyond this point. I had really hoped to be able to confidently say I could hear something, even if I couldn’t hear it clearly.

Carol played the “scale” of the electrodes – but each electrode sounded the same to me.

She then tried some sound and word recognition. When I managed to distinguish “or” from “shh”, the relief in the room was palpable. Beyond that, I had quite a lot of difficulty.

Despite all this, when Carol asked me to put my hearing aid back on, I immediately noticed that my overall hearing was louder and clearer.

Still, I left the switch on disappointed and slightly dejected. I had foolishly hoped for more.

Dad, David, Paul and I went for lunch at a café on a busy street, an environment where I would normally struggle to hear. It didn’t seem to be as difficult as usual…

Later, I sat at home in the quiet, typing on the computer and noticed that I was feeling a sensation on my left side which coincided with each tick of the clock. I took out my hearing aid and stood very close to the clock, listening only with the implant. I concentrated very hard and felt that I could actually discern the sound of the ticking. Not just feel it. I became a little excited.

I tried playing some notes on the piano, but couldn’t hear them. Paul then suggested I try a louder setting on the implant – and suddenly I was hearing, or at least sensing, the sound of the notes on the piano – and the low notes sounded different to the high notes!

When the children came home from school, I asked them to help me with my word practice. I would get them to say a choice of two agreed words and I had to guess which word they had said. To make it more difficult, we progressed to three and then four words. I found that I was already improving and felt sure I was hearing some of the sounds, particularly the hard letters like “k” and “t”. Also  a few vowel sounds. I couldn’t hear SHH or S or F… but could hear OR.

“Shark” sounded like “ar’K” (I heard a distinct glottal stop before the K… the K sounded almost like a click)

“Crocodile” sounded like “Cocodi”

“Elephant” sounded like “e-e-anT”

“Dog” sounded like … a hard sound then an O sound.

As the evening progressed, I started to notice a low beep when I changed the volume or other setting with my remote – almost like a “clack” sound.

If this is actual hearing, there is hope that it will improve.

 

Nucleus 5 Cochlear Implant Processor

Nucleus 5 Cochlear Implant Processor: this is the external component

Photo source

Days 2 – 4

I have gradually noticed that I can now hear simple sounds like tapping,  the clack of computer keys, knocking and footsteps – if the feet are wearing noisy shoes!

I can hear speech but not understand it. It sounds very mechanical but  I can see how it could turn into speech. It feels like it just needs to be unravelled. Like learning the phonetics of a foreign language with the benefit of already having the vocab and grammar.

I had a very exciting moment doing word practice on day 2. I had the idea of recording the word list Carol gave me onto my iPhone. I plugged myself into it and when I played the words, I found that “elephant” and “crocodile” sounded correct, just muffled. The other words we had practiced were beginning to be recognisable too.

ON DAY TWO! After not hearing at all at switch on!

The next day, a friend of mine who works at Cochlear sent me a link to an auditory rehabilitation website called “Angel Sound”. I have been working on that for about an hour a day since. I have noticed that, while the main sound I am hearing is a weird, mechanical sound, I am now perceiving a hint of more natural sounding speech underneath. Let’s see if I can get my brain to focus on that rather than the mechanical stuff.

On day 4, I went out to the city wearing both my implant and hearing aid. I noticed two things on the train:

  • I could understand a girl talking who was on my left side in the seat ahead of me
  • I could very clearly hear a girl tapping her  sunglasses –  4 rows in front of me!

Ok – maybe you need to be deaf to understand how exciting these things are! 🙂

I can’t wait for my appointment at the implant centre on Wednesday when I will be re-mapped. Now that I am starting to make sense of what I am hearing, we can adjust the implant and I will hopefully start hearing more sounds.

Then I will start practising like a crazy person!

 

 

 

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6 Comments

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6 Responses to Listening in Stereo with my Cochlear Implant

  1. Aaron

    Fantastic Julia! FYI Angel Sound was implemented by a researcher from the House Ear Institute (House is famous in our field) who lost his daughter to drowning (about a year ago I believe) – hence the reference to the Emily Shannon Fu Foundation on the website…

    • Thanks, Aaron. Angel Sound is a great program! I have been concentrating on the animal word discrimination as everything else is too hard for me at this stage. Today I noticed that some of the vowel sounds are coming through now as well as some consonants. Today I managed 83% accuracy (out of 25 questions)… but it requires a heck of a lot of concentration!

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