by Rebecca J on 2013-05-07

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 Iʼve shown impressive hearing skillz (ha!), neither of us can! The changes to my hearing are so imperceptible from day to day that we donʼt notice them. In some ways thatʼs good, but it would also be nice to have some benchmarks.

Well, I found some! Last week, my mom and I attended Womenʼs Conference at Brigham Young University. It was so awesome in many ways, but not all of them are relevant to this blog. So, Iʼll 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 havenʼt 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, Iʼd 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 hadnʼt experienced since my implant surgery. First, we flew to Utah. I havenʼt 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 wasnʼt 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 planeʼs loudspeaker. That honestly may have been the first time in my life that Iʼve ever heard a flight attendant say, “Weʼre 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 couldnʼt hear the speaker at all and didnʼt want to waste valuable study time sitting there. The opening session of Womenʼs Conference was held in the Marriott Center. Our seats were about halfway up the bowl. And I could hear what she was saying. It wasnʼt 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 de Jong Concert Hall, which is where I attended many concerts and plays as a student. The acoustics in the concert hall are remarkable, Iʼm 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 Womenʼs 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 Iʼm living in the midst of a miracle.