An understated moment

If you’ve been following my updates on the subject of cochlear implants, and since it’s been over five days since my much-hyped CI activation, you may be dying to know how I got on. Or maybe not. But here it is anyway.

The first thing to say is that I now fully understand why people say everyone’s experience is different. Over the past few months, I had read many of the best CI bloggers’ descriptions of their activations, which had together combined to create an expectation that my own switch-on would be an event filled with huge drama; a truly in-your-face sensory experience that would be almost overwhelming. One blogger in particular comes to mind (although she doesn’t blog anymore): Kate Locke wrote a terrifically entertaining and thoroughly dramatic account of her switch-on a couple of years ago.  It’s well worth a read, and there’s a link to a video of her activation that contains a lot of screaming.

Would mine be like that? Would I be skipping a merry dance of joy and tears on hearing the first beeps and squeaky voices?

As we (my wife Sorcha came along) walked into the activation room at Beaumont hospital, I was expecting to be quite nervous, but I wasn’t. It might have been because Jacki, my audiologist, led the process at a very relaxed, easy-going pace. Indeed, given the huge significance of the switch-on moment-of-truth for implantees like me, the very ordinariness of the whole situation was probably a calming influence.

The implant contains 22 channels, so Jacki had to calibrate the sound levels of each one by running a series of beeps and asking me to indicate for each channel when the beeps were getting too loud. A bit like tuning a piano, in some ways.

And then she switched it on. The strange thing is I almost didn’t realise it. It sounded surprisingly normal – at least normal compared to my experience of hearing with powerful hearing aids for the past 35-odd years. No beeps or squeaks. No R2D2 or even Donald Duck. The other big surprise was that – besides the first few seconds – it was nowhere near as loud as I was led to expect from other descriptions of activations. It was quite faint and low-pitched. Jacki and Sorcha’s voices sounded a bit like they were slowed down, or under water. A bit muffled. Very high frequency sounds like cups and cutlery clattering are very loud, the closest it comes to those beepy sound sensations that many other implantees seem to hear a lot, but not very distinguishable just yet. I think my left ear – always my worse ear – has probably never heard sounds at the very upper end of the sound spectrum, so it’s kinda scratching its head, trying to figure out what the hell they are.

But overall it certainly didn’t sound weird, or disorienting or overwhelming, even after exiting the room and then the hospital on a sunny but very windy September afternoon.

I always suspected that I would get used to it fairly quickly. My auditory cortex is a pretty resilient dude, coping with all kinds of hearing fluctuations over the years, particularly over the last two, and therefore has become quite efficient at extracting lots of useful information out of even the weakest of signals from my damaged hearing system. So while this new hearing is a totally different set-up to a hearing aid, it seems to be settling just fine and getting stuck in.

After five days of living with the CI, the implanted ear and my hearing aid ear are already proving a good team, more than the sum of their parts. The predominant sound sensation in my implanted ear alone is predominantly the same: low-pitched, with high-frequency sounds very loud but flat and indistinguishable.

Sorcha (and any adult for that matter) still sounds as if she’s utterly depressed, even though she patently isn’t. The kids still sound like normal, happy kids, with no issues or anything.

But my first mapping (or adjustment/fine-tuning) session is tomorrow, so hopefully things can be jigged around a bit then.

A great start, I think.



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  1. Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    A fabulous start John! How are you with those Northern Irish winds and the microphone? It’s so sensitive it seems to magnify the wind.

    You’ve certainly done very well – good luck with the mapping sessions.

  2. admin
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tina, thanks! But remember I’m living in Co Kildare now, where the wind tends to keep a far lower profile than in the North west! (from what i remember anyhow).

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