As the Ears Go By: Part 3
January 5, 2015
A Mild Reception
The third in a series on one man’s experience in getting a cochlear implant
Well, come Christmas, I’ll have had my cochlear implant activated a full six months Right off the bat, I’ll answer the question asked most, “No, I don’t understand speech through my implant alone yet”. I’m in no way bummed and pretty much anticipated this result at this time. Testing with the audiologist has shown a marked improvement in speech understanding in environments with competing sounds. Deb, my wife has verified this, so it is therefore accurate. I hadn’t noticed. Since it has been brought to my attention I can tell the difference. The speech pathologist tests show I can differentiate sorta’- kinda’ accurately. I differentiate which sentence she is reading when shown the sentence in writing. The staff seems to be okay with my progress, so I’m good with the “Jim’s doing alright” narrative. That’s nice, boring, but nice. Let’s talk about the unexpected results, because they are much more interesting.
First of all, there is no sense of distance to the source of a sound. The most reliably accurate sound I get is percussion from the radio. Bass drum, tom-toms, tambourines, high-hat cymbals, etc. it’s all there, and right on tempo. I don’t even use the speaker on the driver’s side of the car, and yet the left ear picks up every beat as if I were wearing headphones, even though the speaker is on the passenger door across the way. The sound seems to originate right in the brain. One of the first experiments I tried was to stand next to the road to see if I could detect on-coming traffic. It’s like the old WWII movies said, I won’t hear the car that gets me. This could change over time.
Secondly, and it’s hard to explain, it feels like half my brain is activated by wearing the processor. I don’t know if it’s just the activity of having the auditory nerve stimulated, but it’s pretty dead upstairs when I’m not wearing the processor. (For those of you who know me, insert your joke here.)
Next, the ringing in the implanted ear has dropped in pitch. It’s gone from the old style TV tube whistle to more of noise-induced ringing, say like from loud music or industrial machinery. It’s not important, just different.
The most important thing I’ve learned, and changed, is my listening strategy. As my hearing declined, all my efforts went toward enhancing speech sounds, and dampening competing sounds. I was discussing (whining) with the audiologist that I could hear keyboarding. She semi-exasperatedly exclaimed that she could, too! It hit me at that moment that now I have to be open to all sounds in order to allow my brain to sort and prioritize inputs, just the same as you standardly-hearing folk do. That’s the opposite of what I’ve done the last quarter-century.
Finally, the information everyone asks, “Are you being tracked electronically via the implant?” I can’t say for certain. I do know this, at every mall, at every truck stop, and every tourist attraction, I wind up seeing a map that says “YOU ARE HERE”. Coincidence? I think not. Trust no one.