FIRST DAY: ACTIVATING THE COCHLEAR IMPLANT – Garry Armstrong

After 76 years, 4 months and 18 days of hearing impairment, aka deafness, I can HEAR in both ears. Sing Hallelujah. But hold the applause. We’re not home yet.

Right ear. This is where all the sound data is collected to be transmitted to the implant and then, the brain

I’m going to need a trim to my hair soon. It’s not easy finding my head and the magnets

I’m writing the morning after the cochlear implant parts were activated in my head. During activation,  I felt a little like “the creature” in “Young Frankenstein”.   We had a prelude where the audiologist carefully explained how to assemble the cochlear “accessories,”  how to place them on my head and in my ears. Marilyn was watching closely. Good thing because I was quietly panicking. I’ve never been good doing the simplest of assemblies. I’m very clumsy.

I was as anxious as a Red Sox mid-inning reliever.

After the tutorial, several dry runs, and increasing anxiety, all the parts were in place and activated.  All this came after lengthy audio tests to determine how loud my new ears should be.

I braced myself with everything in place.

The cochlear parts are for my right ear, the “bad ear” which gives me very little audio. I have a new hearing aid in my left ear, the “good ear” which is supposed to enhance the cochlear parts.

I’ll give you in my rookie wearer understanding. The devices you see entwined around my right ear collect audio signals and send them to a “transmitter” which, with magnets, sits on the side of my head. The transmitter sends those signals into my head,  to the “implant” which was inserted via surgery.  Okay so far?  Oh, and there are magnets in my head so the headpiece will stay in place. Magnets. In my head.

So far, so good.

I breathed loudly as everything was activated. The voices of Marilyn and the audio technician were very tinny.  I could hear Marilyn’s voice more clearly. She had more “body” in her words than the technician, who I could also hear clearly, but she has a thin, rather reedy voice. I tried to relax my body and let myself really hear what was being said.

Left side with the new hearing aid. Smaller than the old one. This part of the gear needs some work

Relaxation is key. All my life, I’ve physically strained to hear. Leaned forward to catch what people were saying.  It’s difficult and physically exhausting.

It’s been my norm for 76 years. Now, I had to try and change that life-long habit. I sat with my back to Marilyn and the technician to test how well I could hear without seeing the people talking and read their lips as I usually do.

Usually, I can’t hear Marilyn if I am not directly facing her. It’s produced years of frustration for both of us. I could hear, my back turned away, both Marilyn and the audiologist. (Insert applause here.)

Sort of “normal” Garry from the front. The backpack came with all the “stuff” packed into it including the implant gear, a backup set of that gear, all those tiny little tools you need for working with hearing aids, charger, a whole set of “foreign” plugs for when (ahem) we travel to far off places … and a drying to get the humidity out of the unit. A GREAT idea!

Still, the voices were tinny and they echoed. As I responded to questions,  my voice sounded clear, full of that crispness and authority that’s familiar to TV News viewers. (Insert laughter here). That my own voice sounded perfectly normal is a good sign. It means that my brain is recognizing my voice and turning it into “normal” sounds. Probably Marilyn’s voice will be next. Familiar voices become “normal” much faster than the rest of the world and some may never sound entirely normal.

I allowed myself a brief smile of satisfaction.  It was very brief because I was also hearing bells and whistles, like a train was approaching the station. It was bizarre. The audiologist nodded as I explained what I was hearing.

She said it was normal. That I probably would hear those noises for “some time” as I wore the cochlear parts in various situations. Reporter Garry wanted a time frame.  How long? No easy answer, but she said — in round figures — about three months.

We went over how I should adjust to using my new ears and the various parts, inside and outside of my head. My brain was swirling but, fortunately, Marilyn was absorbing the information. We made an appointment for an evaluation.  I thought a week might be too quick but now I’m glad because I have lots of questions.

During the drive home yesterday, I was able to talk to Marilyn with minimal “what’s?”   Call it an early triumph.

We were greeted by the boisterous barking of our three dogs.  Yes, they were very loud.  Their yaps and growls were “enhanced” with echoes.

As we crashed, relaxed, and wolfed down late lunch sandwiches, I flipped on the television to baseball. The announcers sounded tinny with accompanying echoes. Their commentary was hard to understand. They were blasted by the crowd cheers.

I lowered the TV volume and things improved.  But I still heard echoes, bells, and whistles and the occasional chime mixed in with everything else.  Marilyn talking. Dogs barking.

I tried to mentally adjust. Slow down my intake of what Marilyn was saying.

That helped.  I’m so used to responding without really hearing. It’s a whole new ball game. As late afternoon turned into evening, I became more comfortable but I could not get rid of the echoes, bells and whistles.  Sometimes it also sounded like church bells tolling. For whom were they tolling?

There was one constant amid all the extra sounds. I could hear Marilyn’s words — not just muffled sounds.  Yes, there were a few “what did you say” moments, but a small number compared to life before the cochlear implant activation.

Marilyn took care of unloading my new backpack, filled with all the cochlear accessories, manuals, batteries.  She setup the battery charges and patiently walked me through everything.  Frankly, I had lost patience after the “first day”.  The echoes, bells and whistles had worn me down. I had an Excedrin Plus headache.  Marilyn seemed more pleased than me. I was excited about the events but physically drained — as was Marilyn who had to make sure we handled the cochlear parts correctly.

Looks like an odd version of a “smart” phone, doesn’t it?

We’re into day two. Against my objection, I’m wearing the cochlear parts. I complained, like a whiny kid, but Marilyn was firm that I not shy away from using my new ears even if I’m not comfortable.  I wanted to wait until I shaved and showered but that would’ve been just delaying what must be done. The audiologist was really pushy that I really had to wear them — all the time I was awake.

So, there you have it. Yes, it’s a different world for me now.  It’s a better world.

I just hope those bells are not tolling for me.



Categories: Cochlear implant, Garry Armstrong, Health, Hearing, Paths, Photography, UMass Memorial

Tags: , , , , , ,

79 replies

  1. My hearing is OK. Hope this works out for you.
    I’m worried about my eyesight though.
    And my memory is getting awful.
    Did you say something?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good to know you will finally be able to hear normally after the initial adjustment to the bells, barking, echoes and whistling. I cannot even imagine what that must sound like. What your plight reminded me of was “The Man with the X-ray Eyes” with Ray Milland. At first he could see through clothes but then he could see through bodies to the muscles and bones and then through buildings! Though looks like your issue is the other way around. I know you will be a happy camper when everything balances out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A different sort of opening day. Congratulations, Garry, and welcome to a strange new world. Its amazing how we adapt/adjust, and I imagine that you will get surprisingly tired during this process, as your brain is retraining its filtering. But just like city dwellers who quit hearing the sirens and the el going past their apartments, your brain will begin to ignore the bells and whistles. I’m so glad its working well thus far–hooray!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steph, thank you. I like your use of city dwellers and sirens. During our various Boston homes, we had to endure hospital and police sirens, air traffic from nearby Logan Airport, Fire engines and the ripple of gunfire when the Perps were about their nefarious deeds. We eventually became used to most of those cities sounds. so, Steph, you make a fine example for me to follow.
      Thanks for the reminder. Here in our rural valley, it’s relatively quiet save for the Police sirens on weekend evenings — chasing the local youth looking for trouble. We also have the roving coyotes who howl at full moons.

      Liked by 3 people

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