Thursday, October 10, 2013

One year later!

My one-year cochlear implant anniversary sneaked up on me.  But it's today.  One year ago today, my right ear was implanted, and my world changed forever.

It's easy for me now to take for granted that my hearing is better, because hasn't it always been like this?  No, it certainly hasn't, as anyone who has known me for a long time can tell you. But my ears and my brain are working so well together now that I'm forgetting that they used to be largely at odds (and my ears always won, leaving my brain to wonder what in the world to do with those dinky little signals that it was getting once in a while).  I'm grateful that I've been given a second chance, so to speak. 

A few weeks ago, I heard Molly singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in our living room, while I was working on dinner in the kitchen.  I commented to William that she had been singing that song over and over all day long, and he said, "I'm impressed that you can even hear her singing at all."  It's moments like those that make me pause to reflect for just a moment about the miracle that's been wrought.

It only gets better from here.  Can't wait!

Friday, August 30, 2013

My ears have been busy! (Right ear version)

While my left ear is slowly waking up, my right ear has been busier than ever.  Three examples.  Last week, when my mom was here, she saw me negotiate two listening situations with ease.  The first, the drive-thru at McDonald's (don't judge.)  I used to avoid drive-thrus (besides for the obvious reason that fast food should be generally avoided) because they were just too hard to hear.  I mean, if I'm hungry enough to go for fast food, then I'm going to be pretty mad if I get home and find out that I ended up with a spicy chicken sandwich instead of the original Chick-fil-a sandwich because I didn't hear my order read back correctly at the drive thru. 

I was driving, so I had to place the order at the drive thru.  Mom was poised with her listening ear craned towards the open window, ready to jump in if needed just as she has done in the past. (My mom has been doing this for a long time--she's great.) And I ordered the food without having to ask the worker to repeat himself.  Mom didn't have to jump in at all.  It was so easy.  Afterward, Mom and I were talking about it, and she said, "That guy was a low-talker.  I had a hard time hearing what he said."  And I said, "Really?  He sounded pretty clear to me."  And then we looked at each other and smiled, each of us recognizing a small but remarkable milestone in my progress.

Next, I phoned in a take-out order for dinner on the same day.  (I should pause here and say that we do NOT usually eat out this much. I promise.)  I called a local bakery, which must not get many take-out orders, because the phone rang forever before someone answered it.  (Mom was sitting at the table next to me, ready to take the phone from me if the conversation started to go south.)  I told the woman who answered that I wanted to place a take-out order, and I heard her mutter under her breath, "'kay, let me get a pen."  I heard her mutter.  That's a big deal for me.  And then I ordered our dinner without any glitches at all.  After I hung up, Mom said, "Well done, Rebecca!" and we smiled again at another small but remarkable milestone.

Last example.  My musical ear is coming back, finally.  A few weeks ago, I was in a cardio class at the YMCA, and all of a sudden, I realized that one of the songs being played was the Village People's YMCA!  (Haha, right?)  It was so surprising I couldn't pay attention to the instructor any more--I was just listening to the music that I recognized suddenly.  Also, I recognized the tune of the prelude organ music at church on Sunday, as well as the tune of the background music to a video that we watched in Sunday School.  It would seem that, at least for tunes that I already know, my ear and my brain are working together pretty nicely to help me make sense of it all.  Music to my ear indeed.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Activation Day 2

I accompanied Rebecca to her activation appointment last week and recorded some video of her first few minutes with her left implant on. I did not get as much footage as last time, but it’s something:

As Rebecca has already mentioned, we had a very good idea what would happen at this appointment, so it was possible a little less magical than the first time, but it was still exciting.

The first part of the video is when they are testing the electrodes, Rebecca is counting the beeps that she hears. Then the video skips to right after the microphone is turned on and Rebecca hears voices through it for the first time.

It is always easier for Rebecca to hear Amy’s voice than for her to hear mine. Whenever someone tells me to “start talking”, I can never think of anything to say. And, ironically, I think my voice becomes even deeper and quieter and harder to hear when I get self-conscious about it.

Rebecca did great at the appointment, and I can’t wait to see how much she improves in the coming weeks.

My ears have been busy! (Left ear version)

My left implant was turned on a week ago, and I've gingerly been trying to learn how to listen with my left ear.  It is slow going!  Part of the trouble is that I still have trouble getting the processor to stick to my head, even with a super strong magnet. I just have too much hair. It's like I'm a lion or something. On the day after Activation Day #2, I never got it to stick after 10 frustrating minutes and one messed up ponytail and decided to go processor-less for the day. Each day is a little easier to locate the sweet spot, and this morning was hardly any trouble at all. 

The sound is still pretty quiet and muffled, which is to be expected.  There have been times when the processor came loose, and I didn't realize it because the sound is almost imperceptible.  I tinkered with the volume a little bit tonight, so maybe I will hear just a little bit better tomorrow and each day after.

It's a little easier for me to accept that this is a slow process because I've been through this once before and because I'm not utterly dependent on my left ear like I was with my right ear.  I have one ear that works pretty well, so it only gets better from here, right?  Someday, I'll have two ears that work better than ever, and the promise of someday is good enough for me.

Post-Op Appointment

On the day after Activation Day #2, I had a check-up with Dr. Slater at 2 p.m.  My mom came to Austin to spend the day with us and to help me with driving.  At least, that was the plan.  On Wednesday night, I took my last dose of hydrocodone--I didn't plan it that way, but it turns out that was the last time that I needed it.  I just decided to tough it out from then on. 

So, by the time my appointment rolled around, I was driving!  Since I was able to drive myself, my mom watched my girls, and I went to my appointment alone.  This was the first day in a week that I'd been able to drive myself.  I was mindful of how long it had taken me to feel well enough to drive after my first surgery and once again felt very grateful for my speedy recovery.

This appointment was so different from my post-op appointment in October.  Obviously, I was feeling much better, so I had fewer complaints for the doctor.  I was surprised to see Dr. Slater walk in, since my last appointment had been with the PA.  He greeted me warmly and asked how I was doing.  I told him that I was doing fine and asked him what he'd done differently this time.  He kind of shrugged to indicate "nothing much, really."  So, I started asking him why I wasn't so dizzy and why my sense of taste hadn't gone out.  He said that his surgical technique was intended to minimize the trauma to the inner ear (which it did).  He also looked at my chart from my first surgery and saw that he'd had to cut a facial nerve to get to my inner ear, and that's why I had the mild paralysis and lost sense of taste.  (Incidentally, I'm not sure that my sense of taste has completely come back on the right side of my tongue, but it's much better than it was.)  He was very non-chalant about this, as if he goes around cutting nerves all the time (which he probably does, actually.)

The most exciting part about the appointment is that Dr. Slater asked his nurse to remove the surgical glue behind my ear.  She worked for a bit but couldn't get it off and said that I would have to wait a little longer and then try again at home.  A few minutes later, I noticed that it was bleeding a little and pointed this out to Dr. Slater.  So, he came to look at my ear more closely and decided to pull off the glue himself. Rip! Actually, it didn't hurt much at all, and I'm glad that he did it because I would've been kind of nervous about pulling it off myself.  Oddly satisfying.

One other thing that he mentioned is that I may need to watch out for more balance problems, especially if my allergies are flaring up.  I didn't notice any problems after my first surgery, so I doubt that my allergies will give me much more trouble than they already do. How can they possibly?? (My Austin readers will appreciate that.)  And that was pretty much it for my appointment.

Dr. Slater wants to see me in six weeks for one last check, and then the medical side of the surgery should be neatly wrapped up for good.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Activation Day #2

Activation Day came and went without too much excitement.  As we were driving home from the appointment, I told William that it hadn't been as exciting as I'd expected.  I think that's because I knew what would likely happen and (this part is encouraging) my brain and my ear knew what to listen for already.  That makes me hope that the learning curve won't be so steep on this second go around.

The appointment started with one of the clinic's doctoral externs, whose name I can't remember.  Amy was finishing up another appointment and joined us later on.  The extern started setting up the equipment and showed me my new processor (the external component of the implant). 

Turns out I was wrong about what will happen when I upgrade.  For now, I have a complete processor kit, just like the kit I got back in October, with two processors and a plethora of accessories.  I'll wear the processor that was activated and had to promise not to open any of the other boxes in the kit.  When the upgrade is available, we will send the entire old kit back to get the upgrade kit.  I just have to say that the company is pretty trusting with this arrangement, considering how many thousands of patients across the US are waiting for the same upgrade.

So, the extern handed me the processor and had me figure out how to put it on.  I spent about 5 minutes trying to find the spot where the processor's magnet would attach to the implant's magnet.  I have too much hair!  Sheesh.  But really, the other difficulty is that there is still some swelling from surgery one week ago, and that can also affect the connectivity.  I hope the swelling subsides soon.  We finally got it sorted out after putting a stronger magnet on.

By this point, Amy had joined us, along with yet another extern who was there to observe.  I felt a little like a specimen on a microscope.  Amy explained how the mapping process would work, which was no different from any of my previous appointments for my right ear's processor.  The extern played a series of beeps, and I had to listen.  If I could hear them, then I had to count them, anywhere from one to four beeps.  So, we did this for a while, and I again felt like a specimen responding to stimulus under observation.  William and Amy were having a highly animated conversation that looked much more interesting than what I was doing.  I could've eavesdropped but didn't since I wanted to give my full attention to the beeps.  (Lab specimen).

Finally the mapping part was done, and Amy said that they were going to turn it on.  So, they did!  And I could hear little tiny sounds.  I emphasize that they were tiny.  The only reason that I knew they were sounds is because I remembered my first appointment, and how I had a magic moment when I realized that I was hearing for the first time.  Amy started talking, and right away I heard her voice.  It was very faint but distinctively Amy's. 

With all the exciting stuff out of the way, Amy turned to William and said, "Now it's your turn to talk."  Then it was William's turn to feel like a lab rat!  So, he started talking about our vegetable garden, and I provided feedback about how he sounded. (Not terribly intelligible, which was not his fault.)  Poor guy eventually got drowned out by my explanation about the current state of the garden and then subsequent questions and other funny gardening stories from the audiologists.  Who knew there was so much to say about eggplant and okra?  I bet William didn't!

Despite all of this, Amy was encouraged by how I was doing, so she had me and William do another experiment.  He covered his mouth and listed colors one by one, and I had to guess which color he was saying.  Ugh.  Too hard!  I think that I heard "purple" and "yellow," and the rest were too hard to distinguish.  "Black" and "white" sounded too similar to tell them apart.  Funny, no?

And that was pretty much it for the appointment.  I thought it went well, even though I've pretty much gotten the routine down by now.  My homework is to go without the processor in my right ear for an hour or two and to practice listening with my left ear alone.  I'm also supposed to practice turning the volume up incrementally to increase my listening tolerance.

I go back in two weeks for more fine tuning.  The miracle continues to unfold slowly.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Today is a big day!

Today at 1 is my activation appointment with Amy.  The girls will be playing happily (I hope) with their friends while William and I are at the appointment.  I hope we'll have a nice record of the day like we did last time.  I assume that the appointment will be fairly similar to the activation day for my right ear--lots of fiddling with computer settings and me trying to look like I hear something, anything at all, until I actually do.  I hope that the "magic moment" where I realize that the implant works is easier to recognize, since I've already been through this once.

My left ear was implanted last week.  Since this is my worse ear, I'm told that my progress along the road to hearing has the potential to be slower and more painstaking.  Given how little I could hear with my left ear to begin with, any improvement at all will likely be significant.  I imagine that it will be strange to recognize somewhere in the weeks and months to come that my ears are working together, each pulling an equal part of the hearing load, for the first time in my life.

The timing of my surgery was just about perfect.  Among other reasons, I'll have the opportunity to upgrade to a new processor (the external piece that looks like a hearing aid) later this year.*  Exciting!  For today's appointment, I'll be bringing my extra Nucleus 5 processor that I received last fall--I expect that will serve me well until I can upgrade.

As we've been waiting for this day to come, I've been hanging out at home while William has done most of the work with the girls.  I wish I could say that I've used my time productively, but really, I've not had much energy to do more than watch two whole seasons of Merlin.  Even though I've not succumbed to crippling vertigo this go round (and I am so, so grateful),  I've found that pain can be exhausting, too.  Thank goodness for hydrocodone.  We went out for hamburgers last night, first trip out of the house for me since Wednesday, and that wore me out more than I expected it would.  I'm not quite ready to start driving again, unfortunately.  So, even though I'm feeling better overall than I did last October, I still have to remember to take it easy and not expect to bounce back immediately.

Wish us luck today and in the days to come.  Learning to hear is not an endeavor for the faint of heart.

*If you want to watch an inspiring, but completely unrealistic, video about the new processor, go here.  I call it completely unrealistic because I expect that my life will look nothing like hers--Ikea furnished house, state of the art electronics, picking up my regular latte at the coffee shop on the corner, shopping at high-end stores for an outfit to wear on a date for drinks with a European boyfriend??  The inspiring part about the video, however, is that the processor appears to adjust automatically for different listening environments, which doesn't currently happen very nimbly, and that it's suited for a variety of wireless accessories.  So, that means that I won't have to fiddle with the remote anytime I step into a noisy restaurant, for example, and I could have my yoga instructors wear a microphone during class.  Pretty nice!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Recovering nicely

William did a nice job of describing what happened on surgery day.  I don't have much to add beyond this.  When I started waking up in the post-op room, the nurse was standing about four inches from my face saying, "How are you feeling?"  It's a good thing I can read lips.  I was very groggy, as should be expected, and the room was spinning.  So, I closed my eyes and thought, "Well, this is how it begins.  I'm just going to have to ride this out like I did before." 

When I was finally awake enough to sit up, William helped me get dressed, and then the nurse helped me into the wheelchair.  We went outside to wait for William to bring the car up to the hospital entrance, and man, was it hot.  Texas in August, I tell ya...  I dozed the whole ride home, because opening my eyes seemed to require a monumental amount of energy.  At home, we headed straight upstairs and I went back to sleep.

Here's the surprising part.  When I woke up, my dizziness was gone.  No spinning room!  William helped me sit up, just in case, and still no dizziness.  None at all.  I could not believe it. I kept telling William, "I'm not dizzy!"  I hope he didn't get tired of it.  My friend brought us a meal on Wednesday night.  It smelled fantastic, but I was a little nervous about not being able to taste it, since my sense of taste went out for a while with my first surgery.  Again, I was surprised that I could taste everything just fine.  That's good because it was delicious!

So, this recovery has gone very smoothly and consisted mostly of pain management and lots of laziness.  None of the problems that I anticipated have surfaced.  My ear hurts like the dickens, but that's the worst of it, and I am most grateful not to be going through debilitating vertigo again.  It's a miracle that I attribute to two things. First, I started taking yoga classes in April, and I imagine that doing hundreds of downward facing dogs helped my inner balance mechanisms stay nimble.  Second, the power of prayer in conjunction with priesthood blessings is real.  To those who have exercised their faith to pray for me and my family, I give my sincere thanks.  It has made all the difference.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Surgery 2: The Surgery Strikes Back

Though it was not as exciting as my post title may sound, Rebecca had surgery today. Dr. Slater installed a cochlear implant in her left ear. We were not quite so apprehensive this time. We have, after all, done all this before.

Last October the hospital asked us to arrive at 8:00 am for a 10:30 surgery appointment. We got stuck in traffic and were rather late. Today, the surgery was scheduled to start at 8:00 am, so we had to be at the hospital at 5:30 am. Neither of us got enough sleep last night.

We did not have to wait very long because Rebecca’s was the first operation that her doctor performed today. We were not behind anyone so the doctor never had a chance to get behind schedule. Dr. Slater even told us he got to the hospital earlier than usual! After the same preparation as last time — Rebecca had to tell at least four people which ear was getting implanted — the hospital staff wheeled her away and directed me to the waiting room.

I did not bring a book today, but I brought my computer and watched an episode of The Prisoner. Rebecca bought me some Peanut M&M’s for old time’s sake so I snacked on those.

When Dr. Slater came out to report on the procedure, I had my headphones in. I think he may have called my name a few times before I realized he was there. He told me that everything went well, and that is it. I guess he assumed I remember everything he told me last October.

After another short wait the nurse came to get me and take me to Rebecca. She was resting in the post-op area. Her hair looked amazing, I thought. After the nurse unhooked everything, I helped Rebecca get dressed, then went to get the car. I met the nurse at the door, helped Rebecca into the car, and drove us home.

So, here we are. We received another miracle and we expect Rebecca’s hearing to continue to improve.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Game Face On

William and I will be at the hospital tomorrow at the unholy hour of 5:30 a.m.  Nothing to eat or drink after midnight.  (So, you'd better believe that I'm splurging on some Ben and Jerry's tonight as soon as William gets home.)  Surgery is scheduled for 8:00 a.m., which means that we could be home by lunchtime.  The bright side here is that we most likely won't be slogging through rush hour traffic to get there!

Yesterday at 8:30 was my pre-op appointment with Dr. Slater.  I had to sign a waiver that explained the risks and side effects from surgery.  It sounded quite accurate, if my surgery in October was any indication.  I think I had problems with every single thing on that list (hearing loss: yes (but really, there wasn't much to lose to begin with); dizziness: heavens, yes; taste disturbances: yes; ringing in the ear: yep; facial nerve paralysis: yes, but mercifully short-lived).  What can I say?  When I do something, I give it my all. 

Dr. Slater asked me how my first implant was doing, and I said that it was OK.  He looked a little concerned and kept trying to get me to explain myself better.  He said that I'm so even tempered that it's hard to read me.  (Is this true?)  But I told him that I try to be cautious when I'm asked how it's going because I don't want people to think that getting a cochlear implant is like turning on a switch that activates perfect hearing.  My hearing is still changing and likely will for a long time.

I once read an essay by a woman who had recently lost a very close family member.  She talked about standing outside after the funeral and feeling the wind blowing.  The essay very poetically depicted the woman standing in the wind, feeling that she was being bathed in whispered prayers for her family which gently warmed and cheered her.  It's a powerful image that captures the literal buoying effect of prayer.

I have felt something similar from my family and friends who have cheered and encouraged me along this road back to hearing.  Tomorrow is the next leg in my slow race, and I'm comforted by the offers to help, texts, emails, Facebook messages, and blog comments that continue to surround me and boost me along the way.

Game face on, Jackson.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Sound of Summer

Last weekend, William was outside mowing the yard, while the girls and I played inside.  In the middle of his work, he came inside and asked me to join him outside.  "There's something I want to show you."  He pointed at a tree in our backyard.  "There's a cicada in that tree.  I want you to hear it."  So we waited for a few seconds.  Then the cicada started chirping, and William said, "That's a cicada! Do you hear it?" And I did!  It was loud and clear and very chirpy, and I wondered how I'd never been able to hear cicadas chirping in all of my years. 

Now I hear them everywhere.  And each time I hear a cicada, it reminds me of William taking the time to help me hear something magical.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Surgery #2 is scheduled!

On Wednesday August 14, one month from today, I'm scheduled to have my left ear implanted.  It's exciting and nerve-wracking.  I'm excited because my implanted right ear continues to improve and nervous because the recovery after my first surgery was so rough.

Later on this fall, I should be able to upgrade to a better processor, the Nucleus 6.  Among other things, it should have improved sound processing and wireless connectivity to accessories like microphones and, I hope, cell phones.  Once again, I consider myself so lucky that the technology continues to improve at a rapid rate and that I'm in a position to take advantage of it all. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Every so often, I will ask William, "Do you think my implant is working? Am I hearing better than I used to?" and he will say, "I think so."  But when pressed to come up with examples of situations where I've shown impressive hearing skillz (ha!), neither of us can!  The changes to my hearing are so imperceptible from day to day that we don't notice them.  In some ways that's good, but it would also be nice to have some benchmarks.

Well, I found some!  Last week, my mom and I attended Women's Conference at Brigham Young University.  It was so awesome in many ways, but not all of them are relevant to this blog.  So, I'll not spend too much time talking about how much fun my mom and I had staying in the dorms or how glorious it was to see friends that I haven't seen in a decade or how happy I was to polish off a plate of pad Thai from my favorite Thai restaurant in Provo.  But those things are all true of my trip.

Rather, I'd like to talk about hearing benchmarks.  This trip was a great way to look at benchmarks because I was put into several different listening settings that I hadn't experienced since my implant surgery.  First, we flew to Utah.  I haven't flown in three years, but I remember that airplanes were one of the worst listening environments that I encountered.  The roar of the engines drowned out every other sound, which made it almost impossible to hear announcements over the speakers or even the person sitting next to me.  So, imagine my surprise when I could have a conversation with my mom during the flight.  We talked and talked and talked, and I could hear her, and it wasn't exhausting trying to listen and read lips over the noise of the jet engines.  I think I even asked Mom if this plane was quieter than usual because the difference was so stark.  I also noticed that I could hear some of the announcements over the plane's loudspeaker.  That honestly may have been the first time in my life that I've ever heard a flight attendant say, "We're beginning our final descent into..."  A benchmark! 

The conference is held on the BYU campus, and many of the venues were familiar to me since I spent seven years of my life as a student there.  Many campus devotionals and speeches are given in the Marriott Center, which is also the basketball arena.  So, I remember the Marriott Center being little more than a giant echo chamber with lots of inexplicable ambient noise.  It made for a very frustrating listening experience any time I went to one of these events.  I know that I left at least one campus devotional early because I couldn't hear the speaker at all and didn't want to waste valuable study time sitting there.  The opening session of Women's Conference was held in the Marriott Center.  Our seats were about halfway up the bowl.  And I could hear what she was saying.  It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough for me.  I even texted William to say that a small miracle had occurred when I could actually hear what was happening in the Marriott Center.  (Reading the Wikipedia article that I linked to up there, I see that there was a new sound system installed recently.  Well, I prefer to think that my improved hearing is due to my implant more than to the new sound system.  Ahem.)  Another benchmark!

The first talk that I listened to was held in deJong Concert Hall, which is where I attended many concerts and plays as a student.  The acoustics in the concert hall are remarkable, I'm told, but my student budget often kept me from getting seats within lipreading distance of a performance.  So, I muddled through as best as I could.  I snagged a balcony seat during the Women's Conference talk and thought that I would be lucky to get anything out of it, given how far away from the stage I was sitting.  Once again, I was extremely surprised and delighted to hear the pre-talk announcements: "Please turn off your cell phones.  The acoustics in this concert hall are such that if a cell phone goes off up in the balcony, we will hear it everywhere."  And then the presentation began.  I heard it all!  It was almost like the sound was being piped right into my ear.  So clear and audible.  It was astonishing to me, and I ended up attending three more sessions in the concert hall because I knew that I would be able to hear well.  Another benchmark!

Now, these may be things that hearing folks take for granted, like being able to hear announcements in an airport, but to me, they are benchmarks, indicators that I'm living in the midst of a miracle.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Six-Month Check Up

On Wednesday, April 24, I had my six-month check up with Amy at Austin Ear Clinic.  Can you believe it's been six months?  Our visit started out with a "How is everything going?"-type question.  I didn't have a good answer!  I guess I'm doing well enough.  The changes to my hearing are pretty much imperceptible, so I don't know whether I'm improving upon the hearing that I had with my hearing aid.  I told Amy as much--it seems like I'm where I remember being with a hearing aid in terms of my ability to participate in different listening situations.  The car, restaurants, group conversations, and church are all still terribly challenging environments.  Amy nodded at all of this knowingly.  She suggested that I start this here blog up again and use it to make notes about the things that I'm hearing.  That way, I can keep better track of what sounds are being added to my repertoire.

Then Amy did some more testing and tweaking of my processor.  I'd been wearing it at maximum volume for at least the last month, so Amy added a little more power.  She also said that I had a greater tolerance for high frequencies than is to be expected for my level of hearing loss. (Remember how I was able to hear the "ssss" sound clearly?  That isn't normal, apparently.)  And she also suggested that I try increasing the sensitivity, a detail that is probably meaningless to most of my readers, but I'm putting it here as a note to my future self.

From there, we headed back to the sound booth to test my progress in terms of listening comprehension.  It was the same deal as my pre-implant testing and my three-month check: I listened to ten sentences from different speakers with the topic unknown and then Amy read ten more sentences. This is the test that I hate because I've always been unable to understand so little.  But this time was different.  As the sentences played through, I felt like I could understand a good part of them and asked for repeats on just a few of the sentences.  After the test, Amy tallied up the results and said that I'd gotten an 82% comprehension.  This happened to be the same set of sentences used in my pre-implant baseline test, where I'd gotten a piddly 25% comprehension.  I was pretty happy with those results, and it would seem that the only direction from here is up.  (I just went back and read William's post about my 3-month follow-up appointment.  In that post, he mentions that Amy's goal for me was to be at 80% comprehension one year after surgery.  This is something that I'd forgotten all about.  But looky at me, six months after surgery, and I've already met that goal!)

The last thing we talked about is when I can get an implant in my left ear.  Yes, after all the ups and downs of recovering from my first surgery, I am seriously thinking about getting my left ear implanted.  A large part of that decision is financial and relates to insurance out-of-pockets and deductibles being used up before the end of the current plan year.  Boring stuff, really, but still an important consideration when thousands of dollars are at stake.  Anyway, Amy and I talked about this for a while, but what she told me boiled down to, "Just tell us when you're ready, and we'll get you on the surgeon's schedule."  So, it's entirely up to me.  Stay tuned.

One last thought.  This blog is named after the Primary song, "Heavenly Father Loves Me."  The first line is "Whenever I hear the song of a bird..."  This spring, it seems to me that the bird choirs are out in full force because I'm hearing the songs of birds anytime I go outside (and sometimes even when I'm inside I hear birds chirping away.)  I've never noticed the song of a bird quite so clearly as I have this year.  Last week, I heard the sound of a bird flapping its wings and smiled a little that I could hear "the magical sound" of something new. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Three Months Later

On Wednesday Rebecca went in for her three month appointment and I went along with her. We were actually a week shy of three months since Rebecca had her implant activated, but we are going to call this the three month appointment anyway.

First, we sat down with Amy (the audiologist) and talked about how Rebecca felt she was doing. I got to pitch in a little and file my opinion that Rebecca's hearing is getting better even though it is difficult to perceive the progress.

Next, Rebecca moved to the sound-proof booth to evaluate her hearing with the implant. Rebecca wrote previously about this evaluation process before she got the implant. The purpose of the evaluation at this appointment was to measure how much better her hearing is now compared to her hearing aid several months ago.

The evaluation for her right ear with her hearing aid (pre-implant) was about 25% comprehension. Today, with her implant, she scored more than 40% comprehension. In other words, she is hearing almost twice as well with the implant today as she was with the hearing aid three months ago.

But also in other words, when she only has sound to rely on (no lip reading or other visual cues), she comprehends less than half of what anyone is saying. Amy and Rebecca's goal is to reach at least 80% comprehension after one year with the implant.

I enjoyed being there because Amy was telling me all about the equipment and what she was doing with it while she was evaluating Rebecca.

After the evaluation was over we went to another room and Amy tweaked the power levels on the implant. Again, I got to watch Amy make changes on the computer and I learned a little about the software she uses to configure the implant. Of the 22 electrodes in the implant, Amy was only setting the power levels on 6 or 7 and letting the software automatically determine the settings for the remaining electrodes. This process is called interpolation.

It was nice (for me, at least) to see improvement in numbers, even if it is not necessarily an accurate depiction of how well Rebecca hears in the real world. I still think Rebecca is hearing better and is increasingly confident in her own hearing.

Rebecca's next appointment with Amy is in three more months.

Monday, January 14, 2013


People are still asking me how I'm doing, and I don't have a terribly interesting answer these days.  My hearing is mostly stabilized, and it seems that the changes and improvements are a little more slow to come. In some ways, that's a good thing because it means that I don't wake up in the morning wondering what to expect. In other ways, I find myself becoming casual about the miracle that has been wrought. The really unpleasant side effect is that I don't have as much to blog about!

It's kind of hard for me to do a self-evaluation here. I like to think that maybe my speech is a little clearer and that I ask others to repeat themselves less. But I don't know for sure.  And it's really not a question that I can ask: "Hey, friend, do you think that conversations with me are less frustrating than they were six months ago?" Maybe I need to start finding people that I haven't seen in a long time and asking what they think. Any takers?

On Wednesday, I have another checkup with Amy. This one is a milestone appointment because I'm going back into the sound booth. I wish that it were as exciting as recording a debut album, but it's not. Really, what we're going to do is tweak my processor settings a little bit more just like we've done at all of my post-surgery appointments and then head to the sound booth to test my hearing with the implant. The benchmark is the test that Amy did at the very beginning of my evaluation process. I think. So, I'll be listening to sentences and trying to repeat them as best as I can. And if I can get better than 25% comprehension, we'll know that the implant has worked at least a little bit.

On a slightly related note, I still haven't tried to make a phone call. Hearing aids have a nice feature called a t-coil that blocks out background noise during a phone call. I think that my implant's processor has something similar, but I haven't figured out for sure yet. I'll ask Amy on Wednesday how to get ready for phone calls.  But honestly, the prospect of phone calls still slightly terrifies me.  Maybe the sound booth testing on Wednesday will help my confidence a little bit there.  In the meantime, William continues to do a bang up job as my personal secretary.

And so it goes on this slow road back to hearing.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Finding What was Already There

Yesterday, I had a conversation that I've been thinking about since. I ran into an old friend at a church meeting. She's been following my story and asked how I've been doing. I gave her what was probably kind of a boring answer. And then she said, "So, is it bizarre to hear new sounds?" It's a natural question, with the underlying assumption being that new sounds picked up by my implant must be unfamiliar and out of the limited context of my hearing-aided world.

The response that I gave her was that no, nothing is bizarre or even unfamiliar.  "It was always there. The sounds were always there. Nothing is unfamiliar." And then I choked up a little bit thinking about the significance of that. She was very kind, but I was surprised at the emotion that her question triggered.

When I hear a new sound, say the "s" sound in speech or the beeping of my slow cooker timer or the rustling of leaves in a tree, it is familiar. I don't mean that they are immediately recognizable, because quite often, I have had to ask William what a sound is. But once the sound is identified, I'm not surprised at how it sounds. My reaction is more like, "Oh, yes. That's what I thought the rustling of leaves should sound like. Now I know for sure."

Maybe that's part of the miracle: sounds that should have been foreign to me are not. In truly hearing for the first time, there is recognition. I really feel that I am finding in me a capacity that was always there and meant to be tapped into. My brain and ears just needed a little outside help in finding what was already there.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Irony, or Molly's First Word

Sweet little Molly is talking! About two weeks ago, we were reading a baby book about food together (of course). She was babbling and cooing as usual, but as I listened more closely, I heard her saying something over and over again. "Apper, epper, apper, apper, pepper, apper, apple, apple, apple." And then I said, "Molly, did you say, 'apple?'" And she beamed and kept on saying, "Apple, apple, apple."  This new ear of mine gave me the gift of hearing my child's first word clearly. (And it would seem that I've come a long way.)