Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hearing Through A Cochlear Implant

Want to see what it's like to hear through a Cochlear Implant? Click the "Cochlear Simulation" link above, then scroll to the "Sine-wave Simulations" box.

The links under "Processed Speech" reveal what sentences sound like with an implant.
The links under "Original Speech" reveal what the sentences sound like with normal hearing.

The various channel levels of clarity depend on many factors within each hearing-impaired patient...widely depending on the number of surviving ganglion cells. The lower the number of channels, the worse the clarity. I have no surviving cells. The links will cause a sound program to open in order to hear the differences...mine opened via Winamp. No need to "save"...just click "open" in order to hear what it's like. Let me know if you try it!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Ventriloquist

One time, my husband and I were vacationing in Lake Tahoe, and we bought tickets to see Crystal Gayle. The auditorium was casino style, and we had a table just in front of the stage. Well, lo and behold, out came a ventriloquist, with his dummy, to open the show. The ventriloquist communicated with his dummy, which means there were no lips to read. I had no idea what was being said, nor going on. I noticed the audience laughing from time-to-time, and I just sat there, watched, and smiled.

Until… The ventriloquist, along with his dummy, turned and looked directly at me…waiting for a response. 

Oh gosh, what?? Why me???

So, I pointed to my ears, in front of the entire auditorium, and mouthed, “I can’t hear”.

Well, the ventriloquist thought I meant that I didn’t hear him; so, he repeated, and he and the dummy turned to look at me again…waiting for my reply.

Oh Lord have mercy, this can't be happening! I was completely red in the face, turned to my husband and asked him to help me explain; but, I found him sitting there, eyes wide open, in complete shock. He could not move, could not speak, could not do a single thing. So, out loud, I apologetically explained, “I’m sorry. I’m deaf, and cannot hear you. Plus, there are no lips for me to read.”

The ventriloquist was completely stunned. Like my husband, he was entirely speechless. It threw him off so badly, that he simply stood up with his dummy, and walked off the stage. Needless to say, I helped bring Crystal out sooner than planned, ha! True story.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Unisex Phone Calls

(Picture: My children) 

Before cochlear implant surgery, my audiologist warned me about limitations to expect with artificial hearing.

Concerning voices, she said, “If you find you’re able to talk on the phone (not all CI patients are able to), you won’t be able to distinguish between male/female voices. They will all sound the same. You will have to ask people to identify themselves in order to know who you are talking to.”

“Wow, no way. What’s that going to be like? Every voice will sound the same? That’s so alien! I’m not going to know if it’s my husband?, My son?, My daughter?,” were my internal, disappointed thoughts.

“But,” she said, “you’ll be able to use a phone.” 

Disappointment turned to an hopeful thankfulness, and I decided I’d just have to wait and see what it would be like.

About four weeks after hearing, I was walking around the lake where I live, and heard a voice say, “That’s my kite. That’s my kite up in the sky.” I didn’t see who was talking, I didn’t read lips; but, I heard a child speak very clearly. I turned to locate where the voice was coming from; and, to my left, along a grassy area, was a father holding a string to a butterfly kite, and a little girl, about 4 years old, standing next to him. She was looking straight at me with excited delight and glee.

I was so glad I heard her... 
#1: Because she was proud, and wanted someone to acknowledge her kite. 
#2: Because it was then that I realized that if I could understand speech without lip-reading, then perhaps I’m one of those fortunate CI’ees who’ll be able to talk on the phone. 

 I walked hurriedly home, and told my husband I needed a phone. So, I chose an hot pink Razr :-), and was put on the family plan with T-Mobile, ha! I called Randy (husband) a few times a day, and told him he had to talk to me every single day so I could learn and practice.

(Now, three years later, he jokes that while he was excited for me, he was wondering just how much these daily phone calls, throughout his workday, were going to affect his work ethic. I’ll write about the effects that he’s gone through, due to me, another time.)

OK, so Randy tells my parents that I got a phone, and had been talking to him every day. He was proud of me, and felt I was great at it. Now, you have to realize that I hadn’t called anyone else yet. I was busy practicing with my husband. I was comfortable with him. I would always know it was him who was calling, because nobody else had my number…or so I thought.

Out of the blue, while driving on the freeway (this was before it became illegal in California), my phone rang, and I answered, “Hi!” “Hello, Gina!,” was the voice I heard, and I immediately knew it was my dad.

“How could this be? I thought I wasn’t going to distinguish between a man and a woman’s voice, and he didn’t identify himself or anything. I immediately knew this was my dad!,” were my confused, excited, bewildered thoughts. “Dad? Is that you?,” I asked. He was so emotionally affected, and softly cried, “Yes, it’s me. Randy gave me your number, and said you could hear on the phone now.” 

From there, began the slowly emerging courage to give my number to other people in order to talk to them too. Oftentimes it’s difficult. People have different accents, tones, sounds, and speeds. For a long time, I couldn’t decipher which of my two daughters was on the end of the line…they’d respond kind of hurt, taking it personally; not fully understanding my limited demise. Moments like those can cause a deaf person to withdraw from moving forward, because the potential hurt of unintentional situations are simply not worth it. But, thankfully, they continued to practice with me, and gave me the opportunities necessary to grow, learn, and become better at it. My son, who lives in London, England, calls me from time to time, and, while he seemed to be uncomfortable at first (when I’d struggle), he has been very good about hanging in there, repeating when necessary, and making sure I am understanding him. I notice that he slows down a little to help me hear his words more distinctly. (Thank you, Chris :-)

Yet, it’s true; my audiologist (Jane) was right. Oftentimes I can’t tell who is on the other side of the line. Sometimes I can’t distinguish if the caller is male or female. So, how is it that I can learn to decipher some, but not all? Jane says it’s because I naturally pick up on distinct traits within a person’s voice, which provide ways to distinguish specific people. She’s emphatically certain it’s not because I HEAR the difference the same way hearing people do. According to her, the brain is that smart and adaptable.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Me Vs. Exercising with a CI

I’ve never been Miss Skinny Winnie; but, I was much thinner and fit when I got my CI than I am now. Once implanted, I realized I was very protective of the money spent toward the surgery, and outer CI components…and I stopped exercising. My excuses…I mean reasons were: 1. I didn’t want too much sweat going into my CI processor, and ruining it. 2. I didn’t want to miss out on hearing during exercise by not wearing it. 3. I was working hard on learning to hear, and establishing a new career and life for myself; so, working hard on my body was just one too many “working hards”… The pounds piled on…and, after 3 years (I know it took a long time; but, I’m bearing my innermost faulty being here, folks) I’m finally ready to exercise again. I decided to exercise DEAF…without the implant…waaaaaaaaaaaa! I still am concerned that I’ll wear it out too soon, and will have to pay for a new one earlier than I should. I hate!!!!! being deaf while exercising. Such a part of me is missing, and it amazes me how much it affects me; but, I had to force myself to make a decision and take a step and Nike—just do it! The other day, we had family visiting us here in California for the first time. We all went to the ocean. I used to love going to the beach, getting in the water, riding the waves in, jumping into them, and over them, etc.; but, I hadn’t done this since implanted three years ago. I stood there and loved the sounds around me…the voices, the glee, the laughter, the waves, the airplanes, the click of the cameras nearby…just everything! And yet, I missed being in the salty water, with the strength of the waves testing any fears while also gentle and soft to the touch. The ocean is everything…strong, yet soft; cold, but, you get used to it; scary, yet exciting. So, I turned to my husband, and started handing him my cover up, my eye glasses, and then my CI hearing aid (we were standing at the shoreline). He was taken by surprise; but, happy to see me back to doing what he knows I love to do. That day caused a turning point within me…thoughts to self: "just be deaf, and do the things you used to do. When you’re finished, you’ll love how you'll feel, and simply put your hearing devices back on to hear again. You'll be just's OK to not hear. It's OK to miss sounds. Learn to adjust. There may be pros and cons; there may be give and take; but, that’s life. Take it; seize it; and, live it to the full."

Friday, July 3, 2009

My Hearing Husband

I’m thankful for my husband, Randy. Our insurance deemed this as an elective surgery…as if I was choosing to get breast implants or something. So, when I felt there was no way we could afford such a surgery (about $120,000), Randy emphatically said that I was having it…no matter the cost. He meant it, too. He has always supported me, and treated me as if I could hear. He always talked to me from other rooms within our house KNOWING there would be no reply. …but, one day, he walked into the house from work, and I was looking downward, addressing and stamping an envelope at a desk. He said, “Hello! I’m going upstairs to take a shower.” I answered, without even realizing it, “Okay!” And it hit me…immediately, with a really big bang kind of hit, “I HEARD him!! I understood every word he said. I didn’t even look at his lips. I heard.” I turned around to see if he had noticed, and he was standing there with his jaw literally dropped, and eyes wide in shock. We couldn’t speak for a while. The implant, the surgery, the new life of hearing was here.

Great Expectations

Looking back over the last three years, I’m sorry I expected so much from myself. I remember throughout my first year, I would tell my audiologist that I was disappointed, because I wasn’t able to always catch when someone was speaking directly to me, or I’d miss a sound that other people instantly responded to. I think we all (me, friends, and family) kind of expected me to immediately hear normally (still do)—even if warned differently from the surgeon and audiologist. It’s difficult to understand…after all, you’ve had surgery in order to hear; so, get a move on! I find my expectations heighten when I feel put on the spot from not hearing a person who I find is standing 3 feet from me with a completely puzzled look on his/her face (which, to me, means: “Didn’t you have surgery for this? Is your implant working? Do you need to turn up the volume or something?”). Oftentimes, I get kind of nervous, clam up, heart palpitates, and by the time I’m emotionally and physically aware of my dilemma, the person has usually repeated themselves, and I STILL have not heard due to being focused on my internal struggle instead of simply…listening. The calmer I am, the better I hear. The more rested I am, the keener I am to pick up on speech and sounds. The more focused I am on something else, the less focused I am about an incoming sound. I could use a miniature airport ground crew man to signal me of what is coming, and from what direction. The less I expect from myself, and the less I care of what other people think, the better I am at accepting my limitations. Which, then, forces me into the realm of learning to not care of what other people think…and that’s a whole other ballpark.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sounds - Likes & Dislikes

Sounds I love: People whistling a tune A cork being popped from a bottle People’s talking voices (well, most everybody’s…some people’s voices are annoying, and unpleasantly surprising) Ocean waves – crashing mightily, moderately, and softly folding Great singers & musicians} – it can’t be too complex…simple, yet magnificent in quality, is the best combination for me so far. A perfect blend of harmony, with each part complimenting the other, is wonderful; but, if it’s a bunch of sound that is difficult to decipher, then it comes across as just that—a big blob of overwhelming, undecipherable sound. The chirps of those little brown birds that make noise early in the mornings (they’re all over the place where I live.) A funky tune when a cell phone rings Someone calling my name, and I hear them :-) My granddaughter’s laugh Orchestras excite me A prayer said out loud Sports!-- a ball that is cleanly hit from a bat; same for a ball from a golf club. The sound of a baseball into a mitt (can you tell I love baseball?). The sound of the “swoosh” when a basketball goes into the hoop (without hitting the rim or backboard). Dirtbikes at a starting gate—oh my gosh—awesome!! Except, I hate the smell of the exhausts. The sound of a clean dive into water (cannonball kerplunks don’t cut it, sorry). Sounds I dislike: Screaming kids (did mine scream??) Blue Jays; my next door neighbor’s two parrots! Whining or babyish-ness from an adult The beeps from everything: ovens, microwaves, car doors/keys, etc., coffee makers, washers, dryers, toaster ovens, cell phones. Really, do we need to be reminded or warned of every little move we make, from every piece of equipment in our lives? It’s complete ridiculousness. Too many sounds at once = very uncomfortable and overwhelming. The blob is coming after me, help!!! I immediately crave my silence.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

First Day of Hearing - May 2006

It's been 3 years since I first heard through my CI; so, lately I've been doing a lot of reminiscing. The picture displays where it all started for me in Los Angeles, California at the House Ear Institute. Below is the account of my first day of hearing... During the third week of recovering from surgery, still swollen, a little numb, and with a small section of the incision area scabbed, the surgeon audiologist had an appointment for me: May 24 and 25, 2006. Two days before my appointment, I had Randy call them and tell them there was no way I could be ready for hook-up. They said this was all normal, and to make sure to get me down there for hook-up. I couldn’t believe it, it was time to hear. Wednesday we saw the surgeon and audiologist, and within 10-15 minutes, my audiologist (Jane), hooked up the implant’s outer devices. She excitedly looked at me and asked, “Are you ready?” I wasn’t sure if I was or not, but I figured I hadn’t gone through surgery for nothing, so here we go. The three of us were in her small office, and all of a sudden I heard a very loud, high-pitched tone…my device was on and working. Then Jane began to talk to me. I heard her voice, it was overly loud, and the sound was as if she was near yet far. She made some digital adjustments with her computer connected to my implant processor, and she became closer and closer. As her voice neared, it remarkably became clear until it was like normal. Then she had Randy say the days of the week. I didn’t look at him, because I wanted to see if I could understand what I was hearing. I couldn’t, and was disappointed. I tried not to have any expectations, but I guess they’re there even when you don’t realize it. She told me it was going to take time, and that I need to continue to read lips because it will cause me to learn to hear through the implant. While we were sitting in her office, I heard a high-toned “beep beep beep beep”. I didn’t know what it was until Jane looked at Randy (the facial expression of, “Is it yours?”). It was his cell phone. I exclaimed out loud, “Your cell phone; I heard it!”, and they looked at me with delighted surprise. I had never heard a cell phone ring before. My disappointment left, and I began to cry. About an hour later my appointment was over; it was time to leave the small, quiet office and explore the real world. I felt like Neo in The Matrix. Plugged in, downloaded, and off to do important work within a less-familiar world. As I walked outside the institute, not even to our car yet, I couldn’t believe how noisy the world was. How do people manage life with all this noise around them? I heard my sandals clicking on the sidewalk, doors open and close, people talking and laughing. I heard buses and cars go by, but they sort of sounded like a rushing, whistling wind. I couldn’t identify every sound, much of it blended together into a gigantic static, but I was determined to learn. I found myself stopping every few steps to look around, and try to identify the sounds I was hearing. Some I could, but most I couldn’t. Patience, Gina, patience. Since we were in Los Angeles, Randy decided to take me to Universal City Walk to be indulged with things to hear. There was so much noise there that I was completely mesmerized. It felt like I had been in a coma for 20 years and just woke up to find a very different world. After about four hours, I found myself getting tired of hearing. I had become a little overwhelmed. I craved my silence, but kept myself hooked up until I went to bed.

How the CI Works

The pictures above describe: 1. My Advanced Bionics "auria" hearing aid. 2. The computerized implant that is behind my ear, in-between my skin and my skull. 3. The cochlea surgery, with the connected implant, and magnet in my skull. They all work together to send messages from the outside world, through the implant's devices, to my that my brain thinks I can hear :-)

Going to Movies

Before hearing with my CI (Cochlear Implant), I went to movies (on a rare occasion) and basically watched the pictures in order to piece together what was going on. Background music, the sound of a character's voice, the tone in which one speaks, etc., are all missing elements for those who are deaf. Cartoons are even more challenging (and documentaries), because there are no lips to read, ha!

With a CI, it's exciting to go to the theaters and watch, well, anything!...but, to know I'm going to see a cartoon and HEAR, is amazing and a miracle. As a result, I've probably watched more movies in the last 5 months than I have in my lifetime. I don't know if that's a legitimate stat; but, it feels like it is.

When I received the components that go along with my implant, they included a connection that was supposed to help me even more at places like theaters, museums with sound guides, etc.; but, I remember I didn't really pay attention because I didn't think I'd ever need to use it. To me, just hearing normally with my devices was more than I could ask could an attachment be even better? Besides, it was more to learn, and I wasn't willing to go that far. But, just the other day, for the first time in 3 years, I got it out, and began to wonder how to connect it to my device, and what difference would it provide.

I still don't know; but, I have a hunch I'm going to venture into finding out real soon. I suppose I'm ready to take new steps.