|A mother and son plagued by bad habits|
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Breaking Bad Habits: My First Mapping
Yesterday marked another cochlear implant milestone: the first mapping appointment. This appointment is designed to “fine tune” the device so that I have the volume, clarity, and programs that I need to successfully hear. I was so ready. After my horrific activation, and the very challenging, chaotic and LOUD ten days that followed, I was very excited for this day. It just had to get better. It had to.
I will share the experience with you, but first a story. (I promise there is relevance.)
My eight year old, Colin, has been making some interesting behavioral choices lately. One of the repeat behaviors is his perpetual need to talk over adults when they are speaking, both at home and also at school. I’m sure he is excited to share his views of the world with his teacher and classmates (he’s always been conversational and philosophical) but still, we all learn at some point or another to SHUT UP.
Each time he gets in trouble, he has a plethora of excuses as to why his choice of action made logical sense. His most recent explanation included an indifferent shrug of the shoulders and the phrase, “I can’t help it. It’s my habit.” Wonderful.
Regardless of punishments or lost privileges that occur because of Colin’s so-called “habits,” it doesn’t seem to sink in when he is wrong. Unfortunately, a simple “Don’t do that” means nothing to him. He is a tricky breed, and to teach him lessons, I have to match his sneaky cleverness.
So I decided to tell him about a habit I used to have. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, I DREADED the required mile runs. HATED THEM. And I would tell people- and myself- that I was not a runner. I explained to Colin how I used to not be able to breathe after one lap, how I used to tell the teacher I was hyperventilating... I just thought those runs (and physical education, in general for that matter) was cruel punishment for a song-and-dance child like myself.
“But Mom,” Colin said, “You probably could have done it. You’ve run thirteen miles. You probably could have done one.”
Yes, it’s true: Fast forward to adulthood, and the girl who couldn’t run a mile, who would have done ANYTHING to be excused from the physical fitness test, actually cheerfully trained for a half marathon a few years back and completed it. I’ve continued running- and liking it- ever since.
“The point is,” I said to Colin, “Before running the mile, I would tell myself that I wasn’t going to be able to do it, that I wasn’t athletic, that I wasn’t going to be able to breathe. My habit was that I told myself I was not able to run. But I eventually changed my habit.”
He stared at me in his kind of spacey, but maybe pensive way, and I hoped he was my absorbing some nugget of wisdom from my little parable. Interestingly, I didn’t allow my own lesson to sink in until a few hours later as I was thinking about the day’s events.
A few hours earlier, I was sitting in my audiologist’s office, my implant hooked up to her laptop during a hearing test. As she prepared, I told her about the challenges since activation. I explained that I was not able to hear the oven timer or phone when standing right next to them. I told her how at a party, I was able to identify the pattern of my son’s footsteps as he rode a scooter several yards away, but that I wasn’t able to hear the person talking right next to me. I told her about the headaches, the tinnitus I developed (SUPER ANNOYING ringing of the ears), and how the world since activation was just a constant hum and squeal of noises that made zero sense whatsoever.
The hearing test began. As the beeps changed frequencies and volumes, I still heard them. At times I thought I was imagining noises, but the audiologist assured me that I was accurately hearing the sounds. In fact, there was one beep that made me wince.
“That was one of the three highest frequencies in the test,” said the audiologist. “You’ve probably never heard that before.”
In any case, I did really well. And the test was really important; it indicated that my implant was using 30 levels of power above what I needed. The audiologist explained that often, recipients progress to 5 levels above after activation, but at 30, I was receiving WAY TOO MUCH input and volume to the point it was confusing and uncomfortable.
Dr. Sharon made adjustments. Incidentally, I called Dr. Sharon “Susan” in a previous post, and was even addressing emails to her this way. So embarrassing. I really should know her name since my life pretty much depends on her! Anyway, Dr. SHARON started speaking to me and immediately, the volume was tolerable. She sounded a bit robotic, but not too bad. It sounded like speech at least! I was still looking at her as she spoke to me and had no trouble understanding her. She told me she was going to say the days of the week to me and I should repeat them. She then put a large black circle in front of her mouth so I couldn’t see her lips.
She began, “Thursday. Thursday. Monday. Monday. Wednesday. Wednesday. October. October.” Dr. Sharon was trying to trick me, but I still repeated all words correctly.
She then asked me a series of questions, her lips still shielded by the circle.
“How many children do you have?” Two.
“What are their names?” Colin and Claire.
“Where do you work?” SUNY Adirondack.
“What color is Claire’s hair?” I couldn’t get that one. She went on to explain that it’s harder to understand sentences when a lot of the same sounds present themselves.
“Of all of those, Pam, you missed just one!” Dr. Sharon exclaimed.
“I know,” I started, “but you gave me context with the days of the week.”
“But you got October,” Dr. Sharon responded.
“Yes,” I went on, “but that’s a three syllable word and those are easier to identify than one syllable words.”
Eventually, Dr. Sharon interrupted my excuses to give me some advice.
“To make this work,” she said, “You have to trust yourself.”
She then told me a story of another patient who continuously excelled at her hearing tests, but still claimed she could not hear in “the real world.” The woman was knitting in a chair one day and the television was on in the background. As the woman stitched, she realized that she had been following the plot of the television program without ever looking at the screen. The implant was, in fact, working!
I sat on my porch yesterday waiting for my mother-in-law to drop off Colin and Claire after school. I heard the people across the street talking to one another. I heard the cars driving by. And then I heard some other sound I couldn’t identify—birds, maybe? I was skeptical, though. When have I ever heard birds?
“How’d you make out?” my mother-in-law asked as she approached the porch.
“Really good,” I said, and then I paused suddenly. “I might be imagining this but am I hearing birds?”
As robins flew overhead, my mother-in-law assured me that birds were singing- very softly, but they were definitely singing.
For as long as I can remember, I have told myself I can’t hear. For years, I have avoided circumstances that relied strictly on my listening capabilities. Many times, I wouldn’t even try to listen, certain that it was hopeless and I would fail. I have continuously reminded myself that I am incapable- just like I was not a runner, and just like Colin can not keep quiet in class. I guess even with the surgery, I haven’t quite broke free from my habit. Once again I’m reminded to push my fears aside, work hard, and above all, TRUST that I can be the hearing person I’ve always wanted to be.