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.