How’s my life going with a cochlear implant (CI)?
Well, for starters—although I can’t speak for other recipients—it’s a lot LOUDER.
All sounds are louder: the ones that I recognize as well as new ones that, without any visual clues, I need help in identifying. Luckily, there are trained people standing by for this job. For years, my family, friends and I have been playing a game familiar to any person affected by hearing loss—Whazzat?, short for What’s That Sound?
And now, thanks to my new bimodal hearing (I wear a ReSound LiNX2 hearing aid on my left and a Cochlear Kanso Sound Processor on my right), we’re playing Whazzat a lot. All the time, actually. But my family and friends don’t mind telling me what I’m hearing, because they know if they don’t, I’ll keep pestering them—and possibly leave them for a nicer group of loved ones. Besides, playing Whazzat let’s them show off their good hearing; they also enjoy my reaction to the excruciating sound of people chewing potato chips.
But at only 32 days since activation, most familiar sounds bear little resemblance to how I hear them acoustically through my hearing aid. The voices of strangers sound curiously alike, as if they’re crying while they speak. What I hear do hear clearly, however, are those high frequency sibilant sounds. Think of the hiss of snakes and steam and the grocery checkout woman who asks “do you want bagss-SSS?” I groan f I’ve forgotten my sound-less cloth bags in the car; paper bags are noisy enough, but the loud crackling of plastic bags has become my Most Annoying Sound ever. In Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing, my friend Bev Biderman writes about her surprise at their harshness—she had expected that they “rustled softly in peace.”
On the plus side, I can hear butter melting in a pan—yes, yellow makes a sound! I hear water running in a sink which lessens the chance of my flooding the kitchen again. And after years of theatre-going, I now understand the fuss about people opening candy wrappers during the show. I hereby apologize to anyone, ever, who has suffered because of my oblivious, thunderous opening of candy and chips at the movies.
I’m also hearing lots barmping. ‘Barmp’ is what Newfoundlanders do when they lean on their car horn. Say ‘barmp’ out loud, drawing out the “arrr”. What you just said—ba-aar-rmp—perfectly describes what I’m hearing through my CI.
Me (in my dad’s house): Whazzat?
Louise, my sister: The fridge coming on.
Me: Oh, good heavens, WHAZZAT?
Louise: Dad listening to the obituaries on the radio. (Loudly. With organ music. But he’s 90 and losing friends fast; who’s going to ask him to turn it down?)
Me (in the car with the Hearing Husband): Whazzat?
HH: What’s what?
Me: That ba-aar-rmp!
HH: The car motor. And air brakes on big trucks. Also, drivers barmping their horns.
Me: That’s a lot of barmping.
There are exciting moments when I identify a sound all by myself. On a walk with the Hearing Husband, I heard a chittering sound, like birdies over there in the bushes. He said no, look up, it’s Canada geese flying over. I said I could hear them barmping, this was something different. He listened—and there were little birdies in the bush. Score one for Gaelie!
Nature is wonderful but so is the technical marvel of complementary devices that work with my cochlear implant and hearing aid. My smartphone rings directly in in my ears through the help of my Cochlear Phone Clip; I must look odd, jumping up for seemingly no reason and running around to find my phone. (I can’t locate it by sound, can I? It’s ringing in my ears!)
I also have an up-close-and-personal relationship with the Cochlear Mini Microphone, which is paired with both my CI and hearing aid. I plug it into my laptop to watch streamed movies and TV series, leaving me free to do yoga stretches while I watch, if I wanted to, which I usually don’t. (Previously, using my hearing aid’s telecoil and neck loop, I would occasionally forget that I was attached to the computer and, getting up suddenly, I would just about self-decapitate.)
As part of my daily aural rehab with my CI, I watch shows that are well-articulated and well-captioned and the voices are now starting to sound richer and truer, although there’s still a pervasive hissy-ness and barmping quality. Sound effects are getting better with every “listen” but music remains a challenge; I get the real high frequency percussion, but the other instruments and voices are off key, with no resemblance to how my memory of how the songs should sound.
In other breaking news—when someone covers their mouth and gives me numbers from 1 to 999, I’m doing very well, if I do say so myself, although ffff and thhhh sound the same, making some words difficult to identify. To think that a hearing person can tell the difference, without peeking, makes me feel almost anxious. I can’t imagine ever doing that. Can all hearing people differentiate between nnnn and nggg?
My father always told me it’s good to have goals. (Actually, he said it’s good to want things—which meant he wasn’t going to buy me whatever it was I wanted.) But the more I practice listening and hearing with my new devices, the clearer my goals become. And I’ve got a lot of resources, both human and technical, to achieve them.
Next in the Changing Cochleas series: Part 7, Service, Service, Service!
Thank you to Cochlear Americas and to HearingHealthMatters.org for their support in the development of the “Changing Cochleas” series. As always, my choices and opinions are mine alone.