My “Switch on” day has arrived!
I was handed a board with numbers on it rating the volume of sound were e.g. 1 indicated “inaudible”, 4 was “Medium soft” and 7 was “Loud but comfortable”. I learned later on that this gives the audiologist an idea of how much volume I can cope with for the first week. When we finished this it was time for the “switch on” moment. I was asked to turn off my left hearing-aid. Silence. The first sounds came… I held my breath with the nerves.
They were very strange, like loud wind chimes or bells ringing. This went on for a couple of minutes. I knew the audiologist was talking because I lipreading her but could only hear the bells. She asked what I had for breakfast and how I got here today. Then suddenly I noticed when I stopped talking the bells stopped. I was confused. I spoke again to see what would happen. The bells kicked off.. then it dawned on me. It was my own voice!
The bell sound was actually the implant processing the first new sounds being picked up by the processor. The more we spoke, the more I could start to make out some words, then sentences came together. We both sounded like a high pitched Minnie Mouse! It became quite funny, emotional and fascinating all at the same time. It’s amazing how the brain works. It has to pick up syllables first, words, sentences and then string them altogether into conversation. I was nowhere near this on day 1 of course but I had a good start. I made a note of all the sounds on my first day:
Then began what I called a treasure hunt for new sounds. I had a booklet to fill in of common everyday sounds. I recorded dates of when I first heard the sounds and then when I heard them again but recognised them straightaway. I had such a noisy first day! I never heard sounds like light switches, the wall clock ticking, water dripping from the tap, tinfoil being rolled out and so on. My friend whispered something by accident but I heard her! I heard my first whisper ever. It sounds so lovely. Footsteps and heels were very noisy! I’m writing this piece 6 weeks later and I’ve just realised I don’t hear footsteps as loud now as they used to be so I must be “tuning out” to some everyday sounds already. Hopefully it will be the neighbours upstairs next!
2 days post “switch on”
I felt really embarrassed when I heard myself munching food. Brushing my teeth was like someone sweeping the leaves outside with those wire brushes! I found speech much harder to interpret but the more someone spoke, the more it sounded normal. My voice became more normal sounding as time went on. Most people sounded like Minnie and Mickey Mouse so it really was like walking around Disney land for a few weeks. The easier sounds to interpret first with a cochlear implant are ones that have one frequency hence why I could pick up all the background sounds. Every week I went back into the Implant team to have more programming done. This involved tuning in of the electrodes until the pitch was right. A little like tuning in all the keys of a piano. I also had speech therapy where I did tests to see how much I could hear without lipreading. I hope I don’t lose my lipreading skills completely – it’s quite handy sometimes and a “cool talent” apparently! 🙂
I felt light rain so I popped open the umbrella to keep the CI dry as I would with hearing-aids. I heard a light tapping noise, footsteps? No,the tapping was too fast for footsteps.. It took a few minutes to realise it was actually rain drops on my umbrella! This is definitely my new favourite sound to date. So as you can see there is a bit of talking to the brain and figuring out of the new sounds. I was told it actually helps the brain remember when you say it out loud what the new sound was for next time!
Speech is a jumble of different frequencies and different pitches so it confuses the brain hence why it has to work harder to get it right. Music is still difficult, even now I still struggle with it as again the frequencies go up and down all the time and if there are more than 2 instruments played, it’s harder again. A bit like listening to a group in a noisy pub all talk over each other constantly! I could hear my old favourites better than new songs which sounded quite static.
2 weeks post “switch on”
I did some more training on the ears with music one weekend at my cousins in the countryside. Over iced tea in the afternoon sun we listened to Mozart and Beethoven. I found it easier to hear Beethoven as there were less instruments played at the same time. I visit Hampshire a few times a year for quiet break from the big smoke! I suddenly realised how noisy the countryside is with all the birds down there this time!
6 weeks post “switch on”
I was able to hear people on a one-to-one in restaurants, pubs and also across the counter at cafes and bars. It’s nearly the end of May and I’m now finished my programming.
I came up with an everyday comparison to help others understand what my day-to-day hearing-wise is like at the moment. Imagine tuning in a radio station, remember that bit you hear right before the next station.. where you can hear the presenter or music but it’s still a bit static sounding? That’s exactly how the past few weeks have sounded but I’m getting a little closer each week to the radio station. It can take you a second to tune into the station whereas for me it could take months or up to 2 years to eventually hear sound in a “normal” way.
By normal it’s important to be aware that my “normal” will never be like normal hearing. It will be pretty good but remember sound from a cochlear implant is mechanical as essentially the device is a computer chip but the brain eventually adapts so well that in time it will feel “normal” to me.
One moment my hearing was deteriorating the next it’s getting better every day. It’s a little miracle really! My miracle ear.