“Changing Cochleas” is a 7-part series about my hearing journey with a cochlear implant. CI organizations produce the technology and also play an important role in helping recipients successfully adjust to a new way of hearing. So, in writing about my CI experience, I also write about the brand I chose, Cochlear. I know many people who have happily and successfully chosen to be implanted with other brands of CI technology. What’s important is that we have all been given the opportunity for improved hearing—and took it.
As we human beings grow up, we get bigger, hopefully better, although never perfect. Nature likes to throw curve-balls, forcing us to adopt exercise or medicine or body adjustment changes to recover and improve our well-being.
Some of us actually transform into semi-technical creatures. In order to hear, I’m a battery-operated person with my hearing aid and electrically-powered with my cochlear implant. This electrode array in my cochlea has turned me into a computer; I have stuff operating inside my head! In this computer, the Cochlear technology is the hardware—and I’m the software; I control my own hearing success through a variety of communication strategies.
So—what do I need to understand?
- How cochlear implants work and how my brain makes sense of the universe’s sound signals.
- How to turn the sound processor on and off, keep it from falling off, get the batteries in and out. (Hint: it takes repeated attempts with fingernails, until you remember the magnetic battery-remover they gave you.)
- What’s in that powerhouse of a sound processor—the listening programs, status information, how sound can be tweaked, etc.
- The CI’s technical add-ons, the magic that connects us to the world of people and nature.
- That we’re now in rehab! Aural rehabilitation is ongoing (for most of us), taking weeks, months, years, but at least we can do it from the comfort of our own homes at our own pace, rather than at a treatment center, with weekend passes.
- That the big payoffs only come from—Practice, Practice, Practice. (This was a direct order from my surgeon.)
So—who and what helps us to learn all this?
- Our audiology and medical team
- Reading the many manuals that explain the equipment, which includes many small black things that look alike and all must be charged.
- Watching online CI videos and reading other CI blogs
- Online aural rehab programs and exercises
- Other CI recipients and their family members
- Support from the cochlear implant manufacturer
In Part 4 of Changing Cochleas, I talked about attending Cochlear America’s Celebration. Trust me, it wasn’t all socializing and palm trees. The conference is a learning event for CI and Baha recipients; it helps them develop expertise with the technology and to stretch their comfort levels and confidence in this new way of hearing.
The Hearing Husband and I had several choices during the two days of workshops. Some talks, such as those focusing on private insurance and Medicare, didn’t apply to Canadian attendees. Other workshops addressed how to enjoy music better and how to use the CI in activities such as jogging, cycling and swimming. At hearing loss conferences prior to implantation, I tended to gravitate towards the non-technical communication strategy sessions, but here, at only 10 days post-activation, I was more interested in the technology and aural rehab basics than in personal relationship management or tips on swimming with my implant. There were also separate programs for children and teens, as well as a workshop for their parents.
This early in my cochlear implant infancy, we were both keen to know more about the technology: the implant, the Kanso Sound Processor, and the many devices that enhance it. At times, there were three such workshops running simultaneously. If I could have listened to the presentation in Room 1 via my telecoil, while watching the captioning in Room 2, I would have soaked up two workshops at the same time. But I’m not that good.
We came out of a two-part talk by Jace Wolfe (a Man-Who-Makes-Me-Believe-This-Is-Going-To-Work) with a better sense of how the cochlear implant actually works. You think you kind of know, but there’s always something to learn, such as how the CI can deliver better results by using amazing doo-dads to connect with just about every device you own, including the TV, computer, smartphone, tablet and the doorbell. (Or did I dream that last one?)
Technology is not my forte; I accept it as a modern miracle that other people do understand. The Hearing Husband was fascinated by the research on the relationship between technology and background noise. Word discrimination can drop significantly when in background noise, but new technology can reverse that to some degree—just one example of the modern miracles springing from the minds of visionary engineers and scientists—my favorite people. I may not understand ‘em but I love ‘em.
The picture shows me cuddling up to “Graeme Clark,” the Australian ear surgeon who created the modern multi-channel cochlear implant. The resulting company has since performed more than 450,000 hearing implants (CI and Baha) worldwide. With my CI, of course, the number now stands at least at 450,001.
I’m passionate about continuing to work at hearing better. Why would I go through a big process like implantation and then just sit back and do nothing? I will Practice-Learn-Practice, both on my own and at events like Celebration with other people, because good communication is as important to me as water, air and food. Also, wine.