An Octogenarian’s CI Journey
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Part 6. The First Few Weeks

Posted By Naama Tsach, PhD, Monday, June 4, 2018


Getting Started with My New Hearing
The next morning I was eager to try out my implant. When I put it on, it took me a few seconds to find the right spot on my head to attach the coil. As soon as I did, I was flooded with a variety of ambient background sounds including my own footsteps, the extreme loud jingle of the dog’s tags, and a low-pitched humming that I later found out was the refrigerator.

Hearing a Black-Capped Chickadee
I went outside and heard birds singing. Where did all these birds come from? I recognized one song as that of a black-capped chickadee. I was amazed that I heard any birds at all, but the fact that I recognized the exact bird call was astounding. How many years had it been since I last heard that? I walked down to the creek and listened as the water splashed and gurgled over the rocks. Before, with hearing aids, I could faintly hear the water, but now it sounded louder, richer, and almost musical—a happy-sounding creek. I also heard other birds that I couldn’t identify.

Hearing Voices
I went in and greeted Joy. Her voice sounded loud but distant and mostly understandable. It was almost as if I was hearing two voices at once: Joy’s usual voice as it always was, but louder and easier to understand, and a little tiny voice of Joy’s that seemed to be whispering in my ear. That feeling of hearing two voices when people spoke—a more-or-less “normal” voice, plus the “whispering-in-my-ear” voice—persisted for several weeks. I was still wearing a regular hearing aid in the other ear, but the sounds that came through the implant always seemed louder, even if they were garbled and harder to understand. Paradoxically, outside sounds—birds, wind, running water—seemed as natural as I had ever remembered.

I turned on the television to a news channel. I could understand some newscasters, but could not make out a word that others said. I tuned to a music channel. It sounded awful--more monkeys banging aimlessly on a piano.

That night as I got ready for bed I took off the processor and hearing aid. All sound stopped. No dog tags rustling, no refrigerator humming, no background ambient noise at all. I was felt deafer than I did during the time just after the surgery. I asked Joy to say a few words to me. When I faced her, I could very faintly hear what she was saying. What a relief, I thought. We could still converse, sort of, without being “plugged in.” I might be deaf, but at least (as I had told that clerk) I wasn’t stone-cold deaf. Then the dog barked. I heard that plainly.

Over the next few days things improved marginally. Voices were still loud and somewhat garbled. The television was a mixed bag, with some voices garbled but others more understandable. Music still sounded awful. Most importantly, Joy and I could converse almost normally.

We went back to the audiologist for a checkup. On the word recognition test she gave me I scored 70 percent. She thought this was very good and I was adjusting very well. She tested the implant ear to check for any residual hearing in the low ranges. There was a little bit, enough so that a hearing aid might help. I was doubtful because without the processor on, I heard nothing in that ear. But I was willing to try so I asked her to order one. This would give me a hybrid system as described earlier. She also changed the programming on the processor, giving me a choice of three progressively louder programs. We made an appointment a month later.

Gradual Improvement
Over that time my hearing continued to improve. Voices seemed clearer and easier to understand. I could hear in most meetings and restaurants. I still had trouble using the phone. Ambient noises like paper rustling became less of a problem, but the refrigerator still sounded loud. One cat has a loud purr; the other has a soft, quiet one. And, with the CI on, that dog has a LOUD bark.

There’s not much to report over the next month except to say things got better and better. Joy thought I was doing wonderfully. Conversation seemed fine, even in groups. TV was understandable; I even asked Joy to turn it down once. The phone was still marginal and often I heard better using the hearing aid in my left ear, rather than with the CI in the right. Music was okay.

When I took off the CI, silence enveloped the world. I felt deaf. Sometimes after a busy day the quiet was welcome. I had worried that with that without the hearing aid or the processor I would be totally deaf. But with difficulty I could have a simple conversation with Joy if I faced her and listened carefully. I couldn’t hear the phone ring or the cats purring—but I could still hear the dog bark.

At the next appointment, the audiologist fitted a hearing aid to the processor. The aid was a simple tube connected on one end to the processor, with the other end attached to an earbud in my ear canal. The processor automatically augmented the low frequencies I was missing. I now had a cochlear implant with a hearing aid—a hybrid system—in my right ear, and my old hearing aid in the other. She made a few adjustments in the programming. We made another appointment in six weeks.

At home, I felt like my hearing continued to make improvements. At a meeting I attended, I heard the chairman very clearly, and understood most of the comments and questions from members of the audience. But I found the new hearing aid gave me very little or no help. At home with the TV on, I took the new aid out of my ear and put it back several times to see if I could hear any difference. I did this with several programs, both music and voice. It seemed to make no difference, and, in addition, the new aid often had a loud constant hum. It was something to discuss at our next meeting.

Bruce Sloane, M.S., M.A.

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The mission of the American Cochlear Implant (ACI) Alliance is to advance access to the gift of hearing provided by cochlear implantation through research, advocacy and awareness.