I’ve got news for myself—I’m bimodal.
Until recently, I didn’t know that bimodal was a thing. For the last two thirds of my life I’ve been a hearing aid user (20 years unilaterally and 20 years bilaterally). Now I’m a cochlear implant recipient, and the right side hearing aid is history. (Are you with me so far?)
I’ve written about the many ways in which deaf and hard of hearing people refer to themselves—always a good subject to fire up a hearing loss crowd—but I hadn’t realized that I could use a short’n’snappy way to describe my hearing.
Without the aid of technical devices, the hearing in my right ear is zero, diddly-squat, nada. On the left side, I can hear doors slam and my husband speaking directly into the ear, although I’m sure he’s yelling and destroying valuable hair cells in the process. As a technically bimodal babe, I hear acoustically on one side (hearing aid) and electronically on the other (cochlear implant). Bimodal an easy, lovely term—IF you know what it means. Hearing care professionals and other, uh, bimodals, will understand, but other, random people else might raise their eyebrows.
Is it perhaps a new term for swinging both ways?
Something that happens to women when they reach the big six-O?
A mild depressive state easily cured with a glass of Chardonnay?
For three weeks after my CI surgery on January 12th, I got used to lopsided hearing. CI activation introduced a barrage of hisses, horns and beeps that, with a little more rhythm and melody, might be considered a magnificent symphony. But right now, it’s a private performance. Speech is clear and natural from the hearing aid side, but I need to speechread. From the CI, so far, speech is garbled and men and women sound the same. But, I can hear all the high frequency sounds my hearing aid doesn’t deliver; I’m awash in sibilance, ticking clocks and the high-pitched jangling of keys in the car. My bare feet hiss across the carpet. On a Florida beach last week, I heard the crunching of shell shards and sand below my sandals. Isn’t that just freaking fabulous!?
How do others deal with being bimodal? I asked my hearing loss Facebook world and, just as individual success with CIs and hearing aids varies from person to person, several friends reported different experiences.
Sam: “I’ve been bimodal for about 8 months now, and though it’s been the best decision I made it was a rather rough start. My left ear hears better but artificially through the (CI) and my right hears “naturally” through the hearing aid. It’s the best of both worlds working together.”
Bonnie: “Either one alone is not so great, but together is almost ‘normal’. It’s important that your audiologist programs both and makes sure they are balanced so that neither is dominant. The CI clarifies environmental sound and makes voices louder for me. The HA clarifies speech and gives me music. They work in tandem.”
Carolyn: “Once I got my first CI I never wore the other HA again. It simply was not providing enough sound to make it worthwhile. I now have two CIs and they work well together and the sound I get is significantly better than just using one CI.”
Julie: “There are times when I’ve wondered if I’d do better unilaterally, but…I need both technologies to get the maximum benefit from my CI. If the HA battery dies, I don’t do well with the CI. If the CI goes off or out for any reason, I don’t do well with just the hearing aid. I test at 95% or better hearing with both devices when I’m tested annually. I love being bimodal and have found it fascinating to experience how my brain has adjusted to this way of life.”
I’m learning what being bimodal means for me. I wouldn’t introduce myself at a cocktail party of hearing people with, “Hi, I’m bimodal”—but at a party of CI recipients, the meaning would be clear as a bell—and then we would probably start talking about whether we can actually hear a bell clearly.
Bimodal—I’m going to use it because I’ve earned it. It’s how I hear from here on in.