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.