On The Upswing

I was recently out at a crowded bar with a group of friends. There was everything you would expect in a bar that goes against hearing anyone. Tight spaces, loud music, and even louder voices. Of course, I’m used to being in this type of environment. I had both units in my ears, my hearing aid and Cochlear sound processor. I decided to try something that I haven’t done at the bar: I turned off the hearing aid to see what the Cochlear implant could do.  It wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be. I could actually hear my friend/roommate Dan talk to me without having to lean in! I would still hear all the sounds going on, but the processor helped me distinguish Dan’s voice from everything else. This also applied to talking to the rest of my friends there. It was a huge changeover for me to hear other people in this kind of surrounding. This was one of the most significant distinction I picked up since having my Cochlear turned on. The mic is also working very well for me, the hard part is getting people to hold it at a different positions than how people held my old mic but we all will get there.

Another time where I could tell a difference is when my friend noticed that she was talking to me with a softer level. She mentioned that she would always speak up when talking to me but realized that she didn’t have to anymore. My audiologist, Maegan, even noticed that I’m speaking differently with better speech. So, not only am I telling the difference, but my friends and family are! Though my Cochlear is not exactly there yet, so far I’ve experienced enough positive changes to be happy with my decision.

There have been moments where I would still get overwhelmed with certain sounds. For example, living in a city, I would occasionally hear sirens. When I had hearing aids in both ears, the sirens never bothered me. Now, whenever they drive close by, they would actually hurt my ear and I’d get irritated. Then I realize that’s the point, right? Doesn’t everyone’s ears hurt when they hear the sirens? So glad I can finally be in solidarity with all the functional ears out there. Though to tell you the truth, I would just take off my Cochlear if the fire trucks gets too close (😉).

As for music, there are certain songs that wouldn’t process well in my ear, but my brain is still adjusting. I haven’t been able to plug in music to my Cochlear like regular headphones just yet. The sound is still distance and not all of the features in a typical song is going through. Hopefully when I get more turned up next week at the audiologist, the music will be closer to my level of comfort. Maegan recommended that I may have to do some sound therapy on the Cochlear website. Stay tuned.

Magic Magnet

I have gone through an immense amount of change since the first few days of having those overwhelming wind chimes inside my head. The wind chiming definitely went away and the relatively normal sounds came back. A lot of the new sounds I hear takes a minute for me to realize where the sound is coming from. In the first week, I would get tense from hearing cars driving by or by simply listening to certain music in the car. Though it got easier each day! I was very surprised to hear birds from inside the house. It was something I had to get used to since my initial thought was that theres a bird in the house. Another cool discovery I made is that I can hear people talk with at lower level. So while I get overwhelmed with normal level of sound I can pick up conversation through a softer voice!

I had an another adjustment done with Maegan and Sonya, on Friday the 1st, for the 2 week update. We went up one level at a time to see if I don’t get overwhelmed with the sounds in the room. It felt like a game of chicken because theres a moment of silence in my Cochlear ear before I hear the next level. We went through five or six levels before I started to cringe at the sound of my own voice. After the update I went into the testing booth to see how much more I can hear. Maegan had me do the test where if I hear a sound I would press the button. It’s difficult sometimes because there would be time that I would think that I’m hearing something but then decide it’s all in my head. Then it would turn out that it was an actual sound. Afterwards, the test result showed that I can hear up to around 30-35 decibels while regular ears can hear up to 20 db! So now it’s all about learning to understand what those new sounds convey and getting used to what people sounds like.

If you haven’t seen me yet since my Cochlear was activated, here’s one cool thing!

The magnet attached to my processor can hold stuff for me! This has been a lot of fun to play with. And you know what the best part is? It doesn’t hurt to have the magnet on my head. So cool.

Wind Chimes

It has been a whirlwind in my head in the past 72 hours. Let me catch you up back from activation day on Friday. My mom, my brother, Keaghan, and I anxiously arrived at Maegan’s office (my audiologist) at around 10am. There was another audiologist from Cochlear named Sonya who helped with the set-up. With the Processor hooked up to my ear, we went through a hearing test where I would let the audiologists know whenever I hear a beeping sound. Then I went through another hearing test where I hear a set of four beeps and tell the audiologists which beep is louder than the other. After twenty minutes of testings, I turned on my regular hearing aid to listen to some last instructions from Sonya. Then we turned off my hearing aid for the big moment.

In the moment when it was turned on, my entire head went into shock. It felt like there was a mini wind chime in my head that rings at each bit of sound in the room. It was overwhelming and it was hurting my head. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. Without thinking, I started stressing out. All I could hear was chime after the chime, and I didn’t like it. After a couple minute of the audiologists talking to me, I began to be able to distinguish what they were saying. I had to think for a few seconds to understand what anyone was saying. Everything sounds so different. Even my own breathing sounds entirely different. It would sound like this high pitch whine as I breathe in and out. Sonya explained that this is a normal part of the process. My brain will get used to the chiming and it will go away eventually. I should eventually be able to be broken into this way of hearing a month from now. Sonya explained that the best way to adjust is to talk to as many people as possible. This is because people vocalize unique sound that music and TVs doesn’t project. When my brain takes in those unique sounds, it learns to understand the complex signals the electrodes gives off.

After having some time to absorb the new sounds, the audiologists went over some of the the new equipment I got with my Sound Processor. I have a remote that controls the volume and program of my Cochlear. I got a microphone, which is a must-have if you know me. I also got a phone clip to talk to people on phone and listen to music via Bluetooth. I even got a waterproof case for the Sound Processor so I could go swimming with it!

I’ve been taking it easy and avoiding places with a lot of noise. There were some aggravating moments that irritated me even in the calmest environments. For example, I went to the bank with Keaghan and struggled to process the drive-thru system sound and interface. I’ve taken the Processor off for a couple minutes here and there to take a break. I’m encouraged to wear it as much as possible in order to get used to it more quickly. Thankfully the audiologists said that I can wear my regular hearing aid in the other ear. I’ll turn off the hearing aid on occasion to exercise my brain with the Cochlear and become more dependent on it.

On a positive note, I am hearing some things that I haven’t before. I can now hear iPhone keyboard clicks whenever someone is texting in a quiet room. I can hear sounds coming from another room, like the dryer running, more clearly. I would hear random chiming and beeping sounds and I would have no idea where it came from. It’s all very new to me. I will definitely hear more and more as my brain adapts to it. Like I said before, I didn’t expect the Cochlear to make my life easier overnight.

My Cochlear sound processor!

Big Day Tomorrow

I’ll finally get my Cochlear turned on tomorrow! The appointment is at 10am in my audiologist’s office. I have no idea what to expect so I will be going in with an open mind. It feels like Christmas morning all over again. I will still be going another month hearing out of one ear, but this time it’s with the Cochlear ear. This way I will get the most exposure to the new way of hearing. After a month, I’ll be able to put my aid on my left ear again.

I appreciate everyone’s love and support because I can definitely feel it! I will update you all with another post tomorrow.

Growth Spurts

Almost four weeks after the surgery and my ear feels fantastic. The incision feels good and I can sleep on my right side just fine without any complication. There is still a subtle feeling of numbness but it doesn’t bother me too much. I’ve definitely developed a serious habit of sitting/standing so that my left ear is next to whomever I’m speaking to. Though if you ever saw me sitting to the left of someone, I probably didn’t want to hear them (😉). Only a couple more days until the activation!

Another reason behind growing out of my hearing aids is my growth from my year of postgraduate service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). In short, JVC is similar to the Peace Corps in the sense where people are given the opportunity to volunteer full-time for a year or two. While the whole year in itself have challenged me in different ways,  I’d like to specifically point out my experience in teaching religious education along with some of my JV roommates (or community mates as we liked to call each other). We agreed to volunteer on the side (we liked saying yes to everything) to teach kids for about 7 months to guide them through their first Reconciliation and first Holy Communion. While I was initially excited for the opportunity, it challenged me in a way that I didn’t expect. I encountered difficulty in hearing the kids speak in class due to their higher pitched voices. My community mates wound up running the class while I quietly sat in on each lesson. I would do whatever I could to pitch in, though a lot of the lessons were discussion-based since it was a smaller group of students. While my community mates didn’t mind and were very understanding of my disability, I was very critical of myself. I began to think about the future and how I would have my own kids someday. While I was aware the Cochlear would enhance my hearing in a different way, I never thought I needed the upgrade until toward the end of the 7 month time-frame of teaching. I really didn’t want to be limited from hearing children in the future, especially if someday I have my own. This perception also made me think about the bigger picture and all the small details I may have been missing out on every day. Ever since then, the idea of the Cochlear implant began to grow on me as I grew out out of my aids.

Inter-Cochlea

Going back to my first post of this blog, I said that I decided to get to Cochlear implant because I have outgrown my hearing aids. While it is a simple reason, there were several factors behind that reasoning. One is being the movie Interstellar. If you have not seen it, I would highly, highly recommend it. It has everything you want in a movie, ranging from the breathtaking soundtrack by Hans Zimmer to the emotionally driven dialogue directed by Christopher Nolan. One scene that really stuck with me in my discernment process was the spinning-docking scene. The main protagonist, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), displayed astounding courage that we all should strive for in our lives. Cooper was never afraid to throw himself into the unknown to better himself and the rest of humanity. He relentlessly went the distance in whatever obstacles came up. When it came to the Cochlear implant, it was a huge unknown for me since there weren’t any ways to predetermine the sound and improvement. This movie inspired me to think differently and how I could live a more enriched life through the Cochlear implant.

The In-Between Process

Having the stitches removed was a pain-free process! The doctor said everything looks great after taking a look at my ear and incision. Now there is nothing left on my head from the surgery, except for a little scar that will eventually disappear. My ear still feels a bit numb but the doctor says that’s normal. I have to wait a few more days (2 weeks after the surgery) before I can start running again. It’ll be another week after that before I can hit up the gym and do some heavy lifting.

It has been an offbeat process wearing only one hearing aid. Especially now since I can’t hear anything out of my right ear. Without the aid, I used to be able to hear lower sound such as cars driving by. Now that’s not the case with the implant going through the cochlea. Though I do get excited thinking about the difference I’ll hear once I get turned on.

I skimmed through the Cochlear brochure the other day and found an enlightening chart (pictured below). In noisy environments, the Cochlear will enable me to hear conversations 70 percent of the time as opposed to 18 percent with hearing aids! This is because hearing aids are designed to amplify sounds which means to make everything louder then they actually are. This includes amplifying background noise.  The Cochlear does not amplify but rather it process sound. Hence the name, Nucleus Sound Processor. How cool is that?