Sunday, November 25, 2012

More from Dad! (Extra Help from Technology)

I've been digging through my emails to find this.  My dad had more to say, and I want to make sure that he gets to say it!  In this post, he writes about some of the electronic equipment that I used in schools, beyond my hearing aids. 
When Rebecca was in elementary school, the school district recommended that she use an FM system in classes. It consisted of an FM transmitter with a microphone for the teacher to clip on her lapel, and a receiver that Rebecca would wear on her belt and connect directly to her ear-level hearing aids. That would enable her to hear the teacher’s voice even if she (the teacher) were at the board with her back turned to the class or were standing in another part of the classroom. The local Lions club paid the approximately $1,000 cost of the device. I still remember the proposal letter from the school district asking for this contribution to assist a “remarkable little girl”.

One day in first grade Rebecca came home from school and told her mother that Mrs. So-and-So was going to have a baby. “How do you know that?” was the wary question her mom asked her. “Oh, I heard them talking about it in the teachers’ lounge.” Obviously, it is important for the teacher to remember to turn the transmitter OFF, before leaving the classroom.

Because it is difficult to get much out of television if one cannot hear the audio, we purchased a “closed caption” unit to assist Rebecca. This was long before such technology was required to be installed in every television unit. Having a text bar displaying the narrative is a real benefit to those unable to hear the audio. We are sure that having this device also helped Rebecca (and her younger siblings) learn to read better. I’ve always said that if my children ever grew up with an inclination toward spray-painting obscenities on public walls, they would always be able to spell the words correctly, all thanks to network television.

And a few words from me about this.  I pretty much hated wearing the FM system. I had a unit that I wore clipped to my belt, and the teacher had a separate unit, complete with a large microphone that could be clipped onto their shirt.  As far I was concerned, I might has well have been wearing an sequined eye patch that played music. I felt very, very conspicuous wearing it and thought that it screamed "Special Ed!" The good news here is that my friends thought it was awesome because between classes, they would take the teacher's unit and try to talk to me, a la walkie talkies.  Because no kid can resist a microphone, right?

My teachers were always very understanding. Before each school year started, Mom would take me to school to meet my teacher and warn/educate her about how to use it.  The teacher's unit had an on/off button, and my unit had a volume control, as well as on/off. If I had been more mature and less curious, I could have turned my unit off whenever the teacher left the room. Just couldn't resist a good eavesdrop, I suppose. Easily the most embarrassing moment for any of my teachers would be the time that Mrs. Smith (5th grade) forgot to turn her unit off when she went to the restroom. I turned mine off quickly after I realized what was going on, but I couldn't resist telling her when she came back to the classroom.  She was mortified, especially when she realized that I had already gleefully told the entire class what had happened.

Until I read Dad's post, I hadn't realized that the local Lions Club had paid for the FM system. That was not the only time I was the beneficiary of their charity.  But I am grateful. For all the mortification it caused me, the FM system was probably one of the reasons that I did so well in school. I was able to listen to the teacher's instruction, rather than classroom chatter, and wearing it reminded the teacher to give me just a little extra attention. I wore it from elementary school to high school, and it is miraculous that it held up as well as it did.

One of the more inventive uses for the FM system came from my 6th grade band director. He noticed that I was playing my instrument a little flat and thought that clipping the microphone to the bell of my clarinet would help me stay in tune.  So, we tried it out, and my problem was solved.  To this day, I do not know why that helped. I don't remember changing anything else about the way that I played, but somehow, hearing my sound through the FM system kept me in tune.  He was so impressed that he even had me demonstrate to the entire band how my sound had changed.

 Now, closed captioning. It is amazing! Why don't more people use it?  At one of my appointments with Amy, I asked about whether I would be able to watch TV without closed captioning. She thought that with some practice, I would get there. To me, watching TV without closed captioning is the ultimate proof that my implant has worked. (I'm not there yet.)  Anyway, William listened to this little interchange, and after he'd had enough, he piped up, "Uh, I don't think that I want to get rid of closed captioning..." And then we all laughed, because closed captioning is so helpful! (Have any of you ever tried to watch something dialogue-intense like Sherlock or The Social Network without captioning? How did you keep up with it?)

Just over a year ago, the movie theater closest to us started using in-seat captioning devices.  I've used this device twice, with The Help and The Hunger Games, and boy, has it revolutionized my movie-watching experience.  The first time I used the device, I couldn't help but think just how far accessibility for hearing-impaired people has come. I was, and continue to be, grateful to live in a time when such help is available.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Of late, my prayers are mostly filled with gratitude and thanks. It's a funny thing that amidst some challenges and difficulties, I would be most mindful of things to be thankful for.  The thing I ask for most is "Please help me to hear."  But the thanks go on and on.

I feel especially keenly this year that we are such a blessed family, to have our health, a roof over our heads, clothes to wear, food to eat, and a steady source of income. We are surrounded by family and friends who care deeply and serve quietly but meaningfully. We have access to good medical care and technology. Our lives are richer for having the gospel of Jesus Christ to teach us how to find happiness in the things that matter most.

For all these things, I'm giving thanks.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Language of a Cochlear Implant

At my most recent appointment with Amy, we talked about foreign languages. She was talking about working with her Spanish-speaking patients and how it can be difficult to understand them, especially when they speak in rapid-fire fluent Spanish. One of her strategies in those situations is to indicate which parts she understood, a word or phrase, and then ask the speaker to slow down and repeat what they just said. I made a half-joking comment along the lines of "Now you know what it's like to be hearing-impaired. Every conversation goes like that."

I've since been thinking about how that is such an accurate metaphor for both hearing impairment and learning to hear with a cochlear implant.  Participating in a group conversation with a hearing impairment is like having a basic understanding of a foreign language and being thrust into a conversation with several native speakers.  There might be a word or two or a phrase that is intelligible, but really, everyone is talking so fast that complete comprehension is impossible. There are probably many words that are unfamiliar. First, it takes a few seconds to figure out who is talking, missing critical information from the beginning of the conversation. It might be possible to get the gist of a story, but chances are that you don't know who the story is about (because the rest of the conversation uses a pronoun instead of the person's proper name) or when the story happened (because you didn't hear the storyteller say, "Last week, so-and-so said X.")  If you're brave enough to try to speak up, you might guess correctly and say something relevant to the conversation.  Or you might say something that's very odd to everyone else, even if it makes sense with what you think you heard them say.

The same is true with learning to hear with my cochlear implant.  As with learning a foreign language, it starts with one word at a time. The good news here is that I already have an English vocabulary stored away in my head, so I just have to learn how to identify the sounds of all those words. The bad news is that there are a LOT of sounds to learn how to recognize, just in speech, and even more from all the other kinds of sounds out there (the humming of fluorescent lights, anyone?)  It turns out that everyone is still speaking really fast, and if I'm lucky, I'll pick out a word or a phrase and try to go from there.  Fluency in cochlear implant English is a long way off for me.

But I will just throw this out as a little marker of success.  Over the last few days, I've tried listening to prayers with my eyes closed and I'm able to pick out some words and phrases. Surely, that's a small step towards fluency.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another check-up with Amy

On Thursday afternoon, I had another check-up with Amy at Austin Ear Clinic. Just like our other visits, this one was most helpful, and I left feeling a little better about how things are going.

When I got to the clinic, Amy had just finished up with a patient, a little boy about to turn 6. As I headed back to Amy's office, he was running around in the hallway while his mother was checking out.  He was very excited to show me his implant and hearing aid. So, I showed him my implant and my hearing aid, and he just about jumped for joy. Amy explained that he doesn't see many adults with a hearing aid and an implant. I talked with his mother just a little bit, too. She kept asking me how my implant sounded, and I think that she was hoping for a more awesome answer than, "I just got it three weeks ago, so I'm still learning how to use it."  I really wanted to wish her well as she and her son walk the road back to hearing.  Looking from my vantage point, the road they're on looks a little less scary, but they have no way of seeing where they're headed.

In my appointment, we did more of the same stuff: listening to quiet tones and loud tones to tweak my processor's programming.  When Amy loaded the new programs onto my processor, the sound was not dramatically different. I suppose that means that my hearing is stabilizing. That also means that the hardware is getting close to where it will stay longer-term, and now my brain needs to step up and learn how to listen. (After spending a few days getting used to the tweaks, I can tell now that voices sound deeper, like the entire population has got a bad cold, including me. It's a little unsettling.)

She added a new program to my processor.  In addition to "Everyday" and "Noise," I now have a "Focus" program, which, sad to say, does not do anything to improve mental focus. Focus allows me to concentrate on speech and sounds coming from the front of me while tuning out the noise from behind. One place where this could be helpful is in a restaurant, with William for instance. (We actually tried this out last night.  William thought I seemed to be keeping up with the conversation better than usual.)  Does anyone else want to take me out for practice?

Amy and I also talked about my longer-term progress, like when I can expect to hear on the telephone, for instance, and function without heavily relying on visual cues like lip-reading. Short answer is that everyone is different, and she didn't feel comfortable making any guesses, especially since I've had long-term hearing loss.  She was surprised that I was able to pick up on the "s" sound so quickly. Because the "s" and "sh" sound similar to me, she suggested that I practice listening to words that have those sounds at the end, rather than at the beginning.

There are support groups in Austin for cochlear implant recipients. Amy asked if I would be interested in going to a meeting. I honestly don't know if I would like that or not. I've never been a part of the Deaf community, but rather have considered myself to be hearing-impaired living in a hearing world.  The hearing world does not pay a lot of attention to hearing-impaired people, so my hearing loss is not something that I have much experience talking about or commiserating with others about.  So, I don't know what I would contribute to a support group or what I would take away.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

BOB Books and Food Words

I recently ordered a set of BOB Books, thinking that they would be helpful in starting to teach Emily how to read. Some of the parenting blogs I've read have great things to say about them as an emerging literacy tool. They come in a box set, which is very appealing to kids who like to take stuff out of containers (e.g. my children), and each book has about 10 pages in it. They are perfect for little hands.

It turns out that the books are also great for my listening practice! Each book emphasizes only a few sounds, and words are repeated. Sentences are short. The plot, if it can be called that, does not require much mental effort to follow, allowing me to concentrate on listening to the words. "Mat." "Sam." "Mat sat." "Sam sat." "Mat sat on Sam." (This is where things finally get interesting.) "Sad Sam." "Sad Mat." "The End." That's the first book. The second and third books introduce Dog, Cat, and Dot, and the perils of putting a hat on a dog.

We've been going through those for the last two nights of practice. Here are a few things that I've noticed as I've listened to William reading. "Cat" is always intelligible, but "hat" sounds like "hot" or "hut." William joked that my dream of living with an English-accented man has finally come true. But it is such an interesting phenomenon. "Cat" and "hat" have the same vowel sound, but for whatever reason, I'm not recognizing the "a" in "hat."

Something similar is happening with "dog," which often sounds like "dug." And "rag" sounds like "red." Any linguists out there who can explain why?

And if you remember the vocabulary card that I once threw across the room in frustration, you'll be pleased to know that tonight's practice with that list ended happily. We reviewed the list of food words. William read through the list several times so that I could hear each word. Then I closed my eyes to listen, without any external cues. "Oatmeal." "Cheese." "Banana." "Lunch meat." And a bunch of other food words. My comprehension wasn't perfect, and there were several words that I had to repeat. But by the time we had gone through the list several times, there was only one word out of 16 that I still wasn't able to pick up: "apple." The day that I can actually understand "apple" will be a major milestone because it continues to trip me up. Another problem for my linguist friends to consider!

The sound that has started to be an auditory guidepost for me is "s". I've never been able to hear the "s" sound in words. Now when I do my listening practice, I can hear it so clearly in words, even when the other consonants are not as clear. Who would've ever guessed it?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Month Later

One month ago today, my cochlear implant was put into my right ear. Has it really been a month already? In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago, and in some ways, it feels like just yesterday.  We didn't do much to recognize this milestone, but perhaps we should have.

I'm feeling almost 100% better (except for a teeny bit of dizziness if I sit up too quickly). My incision is healed, so I was able to get a long-overdue haircut this afternoon.

And tonight, I realized that for the first time in my life, I can clearly hear the "s" sound in words. It was so unexpected that I didn't recognize what was happening until I slowed down and truly listened. This must be the beginning of the miracle, evident only in recognizing the smallest changes in what I'm hearing but evident all the same. I expect to have more of those minor miracles in the coming days and weeks until I will look back over my progress and realize that the complete and majestic miracle has unfolded slowly but surely.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Questions from Readers

I love reading comments on my blog, but I am never sure what the best way to answer questions is. If you leave me a question, are you going to check the blog every day until I answer it in the comments? (If that's you, I'm sorry for not being responsive.) Do you want me to email you the answer and risk everyone else who has the same question not knowing the answer?  So, I thought it would be fun to answer some questions that have popped up recently right here in the blog!  We'll see how fun I thought it was after I'm finished writing this post.

From Liz H.: are there other cochlear implant patient blogs out there?
Amy sent me the link to this one, which partly inspired me to start my own. This one hasn't gone much beyond the implant activation, and I thought it would be useful to record what life is like post-implant.  I haven't looked for others, but there are lot of Activation Day videos on YouTube, mostly for little kids.

From my mom who is very funny: Maybe all those years dots and dashs [meaning Morse code beeps] from Dad's ham radio kept those aural lines open. Is hamming in your future?
Nope. If my dad's experience is any indication, ham radio has got to be maybe the most exasperating hobby of all time.

From Farrah (who just had a baby and I'm still waiting to find out what the baby's name is. Maybe she will tell me in a comment!): Do you turn [the implant processor's volume] up incrementally or do you go back and they do it for you? How often will the volume get cranked up? 
At my appointments with Amy and Ashton, they fiddle around with the programming of my processor to make the sound quality and volume level more suitable. My next appointment is in a week, and after that, they will probably start to get further apart as I become more proficient at hearing. I hope. The processor came with a remote control that looks a lot like an old school iPod. The remote allows me to adjust the volume and sensitivity (meaning how far a way a sound is before I can hear it) depending on the listening situation. It is programmable, and right now, the programs are an "Everyday" program that picks up all sounds and a "Noise" program that picks out speech. I don't play with the remote too much, but perhaps I should. Good reminder.

Another one from Liz H.: so how does your hearing today compare to the hearing you had in your right ear when you had a hearing aid? 
This is an old question from Activation Day, but the answer is still interesting two weeks later.  My hearing is not where it was with a hearing aid. Right now, the implant is mostly acting as a "Hey, there's a noise in the environment. See if you can tell what it is."  It is picking up sounds that I couldn't hear before, like the fan in the baby's room and the beeping on my crockpot, but I'm still having a hard time telling where the sound is coming from.  So, I spend a lot of time listening and wondering and looking around to figure out what something is.

From my sister: Can I help you practice your z sounds?

There, I think I'm caught up on answering questions. Keep them coming! (And those of you who sent questions for Amy, thank you!  I'll send those her way and hopefully, we'll get an interesting guest post from her soon.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

About blogging

I started this blog kind of on a whim, thinking that it would be a nice way for my family and close friends to read about my recovery from my cochlear implant surgery and how things were going post-activation.  I didn't know how often I would write in it, or whether I would even have anything to write about.  It was an experiment.  As I wrote, more and more words started coming to me. Posts would start forming in my head, and I had a nice list of things that I wanted to write about. Because I spent so much time in bed recovering from my cochlear implant surgery, I was able to write as much or as little as I wanted. The words and experiences kept coming, and I kept writing.  Here I am nearly one month after my surgery, and I'm still finding things to write about.

I decided to share the link to this blog on my Facebook page. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and I was surprised to see that so many people had started to read about my journey.  My family told me that they were checking it every morning to see if I'd posted, even my grandmother! A few friends linked to the blog on their own Facebook pages.  My mom has shared the link with her circle of friends. My sister-in-law, who has a degree in audiology, asked to share it with her network of audiologists in Austin. And I've given Amy permission to share it with any of her patients who might be interested in reading about cochlear implants from one patient's perspective. 

I recognize that blogging is a mostly self-centered pursuit. I'm writing about myself, and my little part of the world is front and center.  Parts of myself that have previously been private are coming out on the blog. But it would seem that's what readers want, to know more what it's like to be hearing impaired and to suddenly have the promise of hearing and to know that it isn't always a pretty process.

I knew that I wanted to have an accurate record of the ups and the downs (hence, all the recent whiny posts about my homework) because each post is a snapshot of how I am feeling on a particular day.  Someday I hope to look back and be most grateful to have a candid record, rather than a sugar-coated, glossy view, of what has been one of the hardest things I've done, to date (motherhood will probably take the cake on that one, though). Given how my readership has expanded far beyond what I originally intended (and I'm OK with that), I also hope that if there's someone out there considering a cochlear implant for themselves or a loved one, they will have a better understanding of what they might be in for. And someday, it will be a nice feeling to look back to see how far I've come.

Knowing that I have an active readership makes feel a compelling responsibility to tell my story and share it with others. The emotional risk of laying this experience out for the world to see has been worth it, because so many of my readers are watching my ups and downs without frowning in disapproval of a woman who throws cards on the floor when she gets mad. Instead, they've been sending words of encouragement and promises of prayers for me to have a better tomorrow.  And that has made ALL the difference.

Thank you again and again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mighty Unicorn Band Reunion

Last Friday night, I went to my high school band reunion. Alumni from all 80 years of the New Braunfels High School Mighty Unicorn Band were invited to march in the halftime show of the football game and play the Fight Song and Grandioso, two staples in the Unicorn band repertoire. It was the most fun I've had in a while.  In spite of my previous misgivings, I'm so glad that I got to go. 

My sister Carrie and I drove over to the high school together and promptly got lost. There are more one-way streets than there used to be around the high school. We found the alumni group, signed in, changed into our t-shirts in my mom's car hoping no one would see (just like old times!), and joined our respective sections. Carrie headed off the flutes, while I found my friend Heather from our Pit days. I told her that she had to be my ears for the evening, and she happily obliged.  Heather has been reading my blog (Hi, Heather!), so she knows what my listening situation currently is, and she was a lifesaver.

Once all of the alumni had been signed in, it was time to head out to the blacktop to learn our spots for the halftime show.  So Heather and I grabbed our cymbals and found out that we would be standing in the front of the whole band on the 50-yard line.  Awesome! Everyone found their spots on the field.  Then they rehearsed the first song, Grandioso. It was at this point that I noticed that my hearing aid was shorting out, leaving me with only the impressions of sound coming through my implanted ear. Extra awesome! Because who doesn't want to stand on the 50-yard line crashing cymbals visibly out of time because they can't hear the rest of the band?  After our first run through, Heather looked over at me and laughed, "You're so off!"  Very helpful.  Then we ran through the NBHS Fight Song, which has a much stronger drum beat, so I could at least crash my cymbals in time with the drums. 

After practice, there was a tailgate party where we could chat with other alums. I looked really hard to find someone else from the class of 1997, but I found only one person that I had barely known in high school.  (So, if anyone from the class of 1997 is reading this, I'm disappointed in you.)  But I did find a few other friends.

Carmen, Heather, Me, and Alice
Next up, we marched over to Unicorn Stadium with the current NBHS band. They have an awesome group of kids in the band right now.  Everyone was so welcoming to us old-timers. I haven't been in Unicorn Stadium in 15 years, so marching back in brought back a lot of happy memories. I loved seeing the hometown crowd in the stands already. There really is nothing quite like a Friday night high school football game in small-town Texas!

The halftime show was great. The current band's show is so impressive.  Their cymbals players were running on the field, crashing cymbals in time with the music!  Running!  All we alumni had to do was march front and back in a straight line. There were no disasters from what I could tell. My hearing aid mostly cooperated, and the cymbal part finally came back to me so I could play effortlessly. My mom sneaked down onto the track and made this great video of me and Heather playing our cymbals.

I especially loved seeing my old band directors.  Mr. Zientek (middle right) was the first band director I ever had, the one who assigned me to play clarinet. To his credit, he recognized me, though I imagine that I look a little different from 6th grade.  Ms. Bronk (middle left) was my head director in high school. Boy, did that lady ever have my back.  I don't remember her ever getting mad at me, even if I played wrong notes or seemed not to be paying terribly close attention to what was going on. Ms. Townsend (middle) was the drum instructor who taught me how to play keyboards with mallets. All are old friends that I was delighted to see again.

In this blog, I keep talking about neural networks of sound.  One of the things that I was worried about was how the music would sound.  It had been 15 years since I'd played either of the songs.  However, I was surprised at how quickly the parts came back to me. I'd played both songs so many times over the years that they were etched deeply into place. There are just some things that this old brain won't forget. And that is encouraging to me as I'm trying to learn how to use this new ear of mine.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Lesson from Molly

Last night's practice ended with me throwing my word cards on the floor in frustration. We practiced with word cards I'd picked up at my most recent audiologist appointment. "Sky," "flower," and "dog" were indistinguishable to me, and I couldn't hear a difference between "cat" and "grass." In our first round, the only word that I was able to pick out on first try was "butterfly," and that was because it happened to be the only three-syllable word in the set. The card-throwing resulted from one too many attempts to hear "bird" unsuccessfully.

Many people have generously offered to help me with my listening practices, and Amy said it would be a good idea to have practice listening to different voices. But right now, I can't handle the thought of the family and friends seeing me fail so badly. It's more vulnerability than I'm willing to expose right now. Even writing about it is difficult. If it hasn't been made obvious yet, I can be a pretty proud person.

Our ten-month old daughter Molly took her first steps a week ago. She stood up by herself, as she's been doing for at least a month now, and took two little steps as she lost her balance and fell into my arms. Since then, William has coaxed a few more steps out of her on a couple of days this week, and the most I've seen is six at once. Some days she doesn't feel like walking by herself, so she doesn't. She opts to crawl or when she can, to walk around with her fingers tightly wrapped around a grown-up's. But when she does take a few independent steps, she is so pleased with herself.

Molly is satisfied with her five clumsy steps forward before she collapses into someone's arms. She's more than happy to have help with her wobbly, stiff-legged practicing. She would be happy to have someone help her walk around our kitchen island over and over, because it's valuable practice for her and strengthens her little legs. When she gets tired, she crawls away, knowing that she'll feel better next time. And she is confident that with more time and practice, she will be able to run and jump and skip, just like her big sister.

So, I will take my one easy-to-understand word, "butterfly," and be pleased with that little wobbly-eared (if you will) success. I will keep up with my awkward practicing and maybe even let someone hold my hands along the way. When I get tired, I will be satisfied with having done my homework and remember that I can hear at least a little bit better than I did last week. And I know that with much more practice and stumbling over and over, I someday will be listening and talking effortlessly.

Molly and I will be baby-stepping along the way together.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Old Pictures

While I'm away for the weekend, I didn't want to leave this blog unattended.  My mom found some pictures of me wearing my first hearing aids.  Here's one, from my brother's 2nd birthday party. I'm wearing the blue halter that my mom sewed to hold my hearing aids.  She made four to match my different outfits: blue, red, white, and yellow.  Very fashionable!

By 1984, I must have gotten new, less conspicuous hearing aids, since the halters are missing in this picture.

Friday, November 2, 2012

My First Post-Activation Check-up

This morning at 10, I had my first post-activation check-up with Amy and Ashton at Austin Ear Clinic. We started out by reviewing the difficulties that I’d been having since the implant was activated: inability to distinguish between noises (like a cabinet door slamming and footsteps sounded the same), constant buzzing in my ear even when the processor is turned off, and muffled voices.  Amy thought that the buzzing was a sign of my long-out-of-use auditory nerve being kicked back into gear.

From there, Ashton started doing the same tests that she did at my activation appointment.  First, while the processor was turned off, she tested the electrodes in the implant to make sure that they were still working.  Everything was fine there. 

Next, she tested how my range of hearing had expanded over the last week.  She started to play beeps at various volume levels and pitches and had me count how many I heard.  Some of the beeps were very, very quiet, almost where it was more of a buzzing sensation in my jaw than an actual sound, and some of the beeps were more audible.  That test was designed to test how low I could go. (Ha.) I could tell that it was easier for me to distinguish and count the separate beeps at this appointment.

The next test was a new one to me. This one was to determine how loud I could go. I had a little chart that had a Likert-type scale, ranging from “Off” to “First Sound” to “Soft” and up to “As loud as I can handle ALL DAY LONG” and “Uncomfortable.” No guessing on the number of tones. I just had to indicate how loud the separate beeps were by pointing at the chart. I noticed that the higher pitched beeps were harder to tolerate.

So, we did all of those beeps until Amy and Ashton were satisfied. They had a whispered consultation about how to program my processor according to the test results.  Then Amy said, “Let’s turn it on and see how things sound.”  She said, “It might sound a little different than what you were used to over the last week.”
And then they turned it on and waited. Amy said something, and I could immediately tell that everything sounded SO MUCH BETTER. I could hear a voice that wasn’t nearly as muffled but there was still some background noise, possibly from the laptop fans in the room.  Then Amy explained that they had put two programs on, one “regular” and one “noise.”  Then she switched to the noise program, and her voice sounded EVEN BETTER.  It was like night and day difference in how much more intelligible she sounded.

For the last part of the appointment, Amy had me go over her word lists. It was similar to what William and I have been doing at home, you know, the homework that reduces me to tears. She read off a list of grocery words, like oatmeal, lunch meat, milk, orange juice, etc., so I could hear what they sounded like.  She read them one more time and then covered up her mouth and had me guess the word as she read.

I don’t want to brag too much, but I pretty much rocked this. There were a few words that I didn’t get right on the first try, but there were no words that I couldn’t eventually figure out with more listening.  “Apple” was one of the words, and I didn’t mistake it for “lemon.” That was huge. Amy even said a few times that she was impressed with how quickly I was able to discern words, after having my new programs turned on for just a few minutes.

I would say that appointment was a huge success. I’m actually excited to do my homework now that everything sounds louder and clearer. Yay!

My next appointment is on November 10. Amy said that after that appointment, the processor should be set pretty close to the volume level that it will stay at for the longer-term.

Also exciting: Amy said that she would do a guest post for this blog! So, I have some ideas but I’m curious to know what my readers would like to hear from an audiologist’s point of view.  Suggestions, please!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Musically Inclined

Tomorrow night, against my better judgment, I am going to my high school band reunion. It promises to be a thrilling evening, the highlight of which is marching in the half-time show of a New Braunfels High School football game with band alumni from all of the 80 years of the NBHS Mighty Unicorn Band. (If there is actually anyone there from 80 years ago, I will be astonished.) Anyway, my dad, my sister, and two aunts will all be there with me and other Unicorns to relive the glory days of Friday night football games wearing dorky high-waisted pants and going nuts (i.e. playing "Hey, Baby") every time the Unicorns managed to get their hands on the ball.

I am (understandably?) nervous about what tomorrow will hold. Not only will I have the chance to see people that I haven't seen in 15 years, I will also be trying to play the cymbals** during the NBHS fight song with my new ear. So, maybe at this point you are wondering what business I had playing in the high school band.

Probably not much. But I did it anyway. In the sixth grade, I signed up for band and was assigned to play clarinet. At some point halfway through middle school, my band director decided to switch me to the contrabass clarinet, which is the bassiest of the clarinet family and a beast of a woodwind. This is what I played for the rest of middle school and all through high school. No one else played the contrabass clarinet, so I always got to be first chair. At the risk of sounding cocky, I think I was pretty good at it, too.

It was about as ideal an instrument as someone with hearing loss could play. The range of notes it could play were all audible (inaudible instruments=flute and oboe), and pretty much all that was required to play the right note was to get the fingering correct (brass instruments require a lot more lipwork and a keen ear to get the note right). I'm oversimplifying a bit, since there was still a lot of work on getting pitch and technique right. For whatever reason, it didn't ever seem unusual to me that I would be playing a musical instrument, when the odds were seemingly stacked against me.

When I was in the fifth grade, my parents decided that all of us kids should start piano lessons. My brother and my sister both have a knack for music and rhythm, and I guess Mom and Dad didn't want me to feel left out. So, I took a lot of piano lessons up until my senior year of high school. Even with all of the work that went into playing the piano, I never felt terribly comfortable performing. I always had stage fright, along with a fear that I would play wrong notes and not know it while it was painfully obvious to the audience.

Playing the piano was a challenge because anything other than a major chord sounded dissonant to me. Even with as much practice and ear training as my poor teacher could inflict on me, telling a wrong note apart from a complex chord was nearly impossible. The intricacies of, say, a Chopin composition were utterly lost on me. There was just too much going on for my brain and my ears to process.

I remember one particularly frustrating lesson with my teacher Mrs. Wilson. She had her students work on musical theory and ear training, and she could tell that I was having a hard time. I think that she felt bad for me. She looked a little bit teary-eyed and said something to the effect of, "Even if you think that you can't hear what's going on, I can tell that you feel something because you get such beautiful tone out of the piano when you play." It was very kind of her to say something so encouraging.

The point of all this is that somehow, with a lot of hard work, music became a little part of my life. I am hopeful that somehow that training forged some neural networks that will come in handy sooner rather than later. And here's hoping that I can hold my own tomorrow night.

** Because the contrabass clarinet is unwieldy and difficult to march with, I played in the Pit (marimbas, xylophones, bells, etc.) during marching band. For parades and the fight song, I played cymbals. That's what I expect to play tomorrow night.

3 Weeks Post-Surgery, 1 Week Post-Activation

My cochlear implant surgery was 3 weeks ago.  Hard to believe that much time has already gone by!  A few days ago, I said to William, "I'm still figuring out what the new normal is for us," and he just nodded.  We're still taking things one day at a time, in hopes that the new normal is less frustrating than the current normal and more full of sound than the old normal.

I'm mostly recovered from surgery.  The vertigo is almost entirely gone, except I can get a little light-headed if I stand up too quickly or bend over too far.  So, I'm still careful about that.  My right ear is still numb, but my incision is healing nicely.  My sense of taste is almost back, but some things still taste a little bland.  But no trouble with spicy foods!  And I still have a bruise under my right eye.  It is the strangest thing--it doesn't hurt at all, but I still have a green spot on my cheek.  You know what, though? I'm so glad to be back on my feet. I've been catching up on laundry this week, and I'm itching to scrub the bathrooms.  It's such a nice feeling to be useful again.  I don't mind the occasional sick day, but being in bed for almost two weeks is ridiculous.

In terms of where I am after implant activation, that has been pretty well documented here.  I am having a hard time hearing.  By the end of the day, I am so tired of listening to Emily's chatter, especially since she tends to get shoutier towards bedtime.  All sharp noises are pretty much the same volume, so I am especially sensitive to slamming doors, things falling on the floor, Emily singing, or Molly tapping blocks together.  Because I'm not hearing a lot of variation in volume and little articulation between words, my days are strangely noisy and confusing.

That's where I am today. And every tomorrow will be just a little bit better than every today.