Sunday, May 20, 2012

One Month In: Good Days, Bad Days, French Lit and Modern Family

Hard to believe it has been an entire month since my surgery. 

Of all the occasions thus far, my first mapping day proved to be my most victorious situation yet.  Noises surrounding me seemed to be normalizing; instead of hearing voices comprised of 95% beep and 5% robot, I transitioned to around 70% voice and 30% robot.  The latter mix has been much more tolerable.

Since my audiologist, Dr. Sharon, told me I was doing so wonderfully, I was fired up to rehabilitate and to truly start hearing.  I had previously purchased an app on my smart phone; though designed for children, I figured it couldn’t hurt for me to try it.  The app is called Hope Words and it is made by Cochlear, the company that also manufactures my implant.  The premise behind the app is that the user can select a letter of the alphabet and the program will go through various vocabulary words and pictures for a particular sound. 

When I was first activated, I would go through the words and they sounded much too similar to identify.

Apple.  WOOT WOOT.
Bear.  WOOT.

Sometimes, I wouldn’t even get the syllable count right.  My children would select a word and with little sound recognition other than WOOT, I’d try guessing.

“Um, ball?”

They’d laugh and tell me I wasn’t even close. 

“Banana, Mommy, Banana!” Colin would yell through laughter.  Funny for him, I guess, but I was beyond frustrated.

The day of the first mapping I went through a lot of the words again, and I felt like I was doing better.  Apple, for example, started to sound like “Ah-eh,” which is more like apple than “WOOT WOOT” anyway. 

My confidence was really high on mapping day, and after the kids went to bed, I asked Jeff to cover his face with a magazine and to state completely made up, ridiculous sentences, removing context altogether.  This was quite a task for Jeff who isn’t exactly the nonsensical type, but with time and practice, he was talking about elephants wearing clothes and pooping birds driving cars, and really anything that failed to give me context clues or lips.  I wanted to really see if I was improving. 

I was repeating most everything accurately, and Jeff decided to advance my rehabilitation practice to the next level.  I was thinking more along the lines of Dr. Seuss, but leave it to cerebral Jeff to read aloud a selection from French Literature.   As he recited passages from Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, I was soon repeating phrases like “almost the purple hue of tilled fields in autumn,” and my growing self-assurance was turning into giddiness.  IT WAS WORKING.

To really test how well I was doing, however, I removed the implant processor (without the processor I am deaf on the right side), and we tested my abilities again, this time only my left ear (with its natural hearing) listening.  I expected I would do terribly, a true testament to my implant’s new found success and glory, but oddly enough, I was still doing pretty well.  What the heck was going on?  So much for my giddiness.

More than a year ago, as I slooooowly began to accept my hearing impairment, I attended presentations and support groups.  I had avoided such groups in the past because I didn’t think I would find anyone who would relate to me; I could hear some sounds, after all, and I didn’t wear hearing aids or know sign language.  I also figured I’d be the youngest person there, and sure enough, at my first support group, all of the attendants were a good thirty years older than me. 

Still, there was an instance in one of those groups when a husband was talking about his wife’s declining hearing.  He said, “Some days are better than others… she has good hearing days and bad hearing days.”  That statement was particularly validating for me.  For years, I referred to the good day/bad day philosophy, but wondered if it was all in my head.  For example, I especially noticed my good days in professional situations.  These were days I was just ON, and I would wonder if I was defying science and somehow re-growing hair cells in my inner ear.  And then other days, I would experience the opposite end of the spectrum.  I’d be completely lost, holding back tears (or maybe letting them flow freely depending on how hormonal I was on the bad day), and certain that I would be completely deaf by the following morning.  The support group attendees assured me I was not alone; they too, had good hearing days and bad.

I hate to downplay the success of my first mapping (I can already hear my readers telling me to be kind to myself), but looking back, I think Mapping Day was a really, really good hearing day.  I know the mapping  substantially reduced background noise that previously cluttered my soundscapes in the implanted ear, but I also feel that my left ear and all of its natural hearing was just ON that day.  Together, my left and right ears were little champions.  

But bad days soon arrived.  Following my first mapping, I attended an important meeting of approximately fifty people and it began with attendees greeting each other while grabbing coffee and pastries.  I entered the room and it was LOUD.  As people started talking to me, I was struggling to make out words. 

“Hold on,” I told a friend during an attempted conversation as a I fished through my bag for my implant’s remote control. 

Yes, I am now operated by remote control.  Let me pause to explain the controller, because this feature is a pretty fascinating component of my new status as a bionic woman.  With the remote, I can change the implant’s settings.  Right now I have access to four different settings designed for different listening situations- everyday, noisy, focus, or music.  I can also adjust the volume and the sensitivity on a given program.  The greater the sensitivity, the larger the range.  So if my sensitivity is on level twelve, for example, it’s more likely that I will pick up on noises several yards away than if I had it at level six.  In a noisy room, it can be helpful to reduce sensitivity to be able to hear the person speaking right next to me. 

So anyway, I tried to make adjustments to get to a comfortable setting, but no matter what I did, I could not understand.  As the meeting progressed, I comprehended very little of what was being discussed.  Another moment of defeat and another bad day.  My pity party was brief, though; I realized I just needed to keep practicing. 

I’m also constantly reminding myself that I have to work my implanted ear.  I am still  relying on my left ear- the ear that sounds “normal” to me- and my implanted ear isn’t even breaking a sweat.  I’ve tried cramming an ear plug in my left ear, but it’s no use.   My left ear (“the little ear that could,” as my one friend calls it) still tries to compensate for the implanted ear. 

A way to work through this is to connect an audio cable directly to my processor so that my implanted ear is forced to try and make out dialogue without assistance from the other ear.  It’s particularly effective while watching television.  I have one friend who rehabilitated with the help of 30 Rock, and another who chose evening news broadcasts.  Equipped with a new Hulu subscription, I decided that Modern Family would serve as my rehab selection.  Let me just say that I am thrilled with my choice.  First of all, Modern Family is effing hilarious (How funny was Lily on a leash at Disney Land?), and second, I have the diverse voices of adults, kids, men, women, gay, straight and even a thick Latina accent to challenge me.  Though I’m not able to understand much without captions, occasionally I catch myself understanding a word or two without looking.  In any case, the more I listen, I realize that the world is quieter and more difficult to understand without the implant—another minor victory considering I wanted to throw the device in the PCB-laden Hudson River when I first started wearing it.

One month in, and I’m still waiting for my amazing “I can’t believe I heard that” CI moment.  On the flip side, I haven’t experienced a moment of agony either, so I remain optimistic. And hey—I’ve already realized I prefer Modern Family over French Literature.    Slow and steady, I progress, continuing my journey of both good days and bad.

My rehabilitation team


  1. Glad to know that you are picking something on tv besides Oprah. All though I know you love her. Proud of you. Keep it up. MOM

    1. I can hear Oprah no matter what. Her voice is one of the clearest I know. She wouldn't challenge me as much listening-wise!

  2. Great work, Pam. And you can't go wrong with Modern Family-Lilly on the leash-classic...!

    1. There are so many funny moments to choose from, but I am always laughing when Lily is on. It's a great show. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I need to try this audio cable trick! I'm struggling with my right (natural) ear, too. Glad to have read this. I also love Modern Family! Teresa Martens

    1. Even when I jam an earplug into my left ear and hold it there, it still tries to out-hear the implanted ear. Very soon I am annoyed and my arm hurts from keeping my hand to my ear. The audio cable trick really works the implanted ear... let me know how it works for you!

  4. You kill me a good way!

    1. I received your comment during a moment when I wanted to kill my kids... and not in a good way. Thanks for writing and making me smile!

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