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.

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

79 thoughts on “FIRST DAY: ACTIVATING THE COCHLEAR IMPLANT – Garry Armstrong”

  1. I’ve been waiting and waiting to read this post. I’m very happy for you, Garry! Persist! ❤

    I know that it'll be a big adjustment to the background noise. I didn't realize how much noise sorting we do until my former office mate got hearing aids and got pissed off at the ventilation fan in our office ceiling (no windows) that had always been there. He was not yet able to sort through the sounds of the world. I hope he got there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He was warned about all these things that were typical and likely to happen, and I think that’s what put him off of the surgery for about a year. He was worried about all the rehab involved — and there’s a lot. Not as bad as a new hip, but still … a lot. There are a lot of listening exercises (it turns out audiobooks are perfect for that and I’ve got at least 1000 of them) and he may want to work with a speech pathologist. But that’s down the road.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Martha, thank you!!

      It feels like a long day’s journey into night over the last 36-48 hours. I truly appreciate all the supportive words of persistence. Really, I do.

      Ironically, it goes against the grain of the old reporter mentality in me. Everything was always RIGHT NOW – beat the deadline in a life of breaking news expectations. It’s left me as a difficult spouse for Marilyn. But, I get it. As I write, the noise sorting continues. Echoes, bells, whistles, chimes, etc. It’s hard to focus, concentrate. On the flip side, I’ve been able to hear almost everything Marilyn’s said to with a few exceptions. This is a revelation for both of us.

      As Paul Newman said in one of my favorite films, “Boss, I got my mind right.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmmm….maybe as a reporter you were privileged to be at the end result of other long-developing sagas and you had the chance to turn these things into stories. Right now I guess you’re the silent, slow-developing saga working toward a headline, “I can hear well and I’m so happy!”

        That’s the next post I can’t wait to read.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Wow! What an awesome and terrify new adventure. I am very happy for you Garry. Hearing is such an essential part of enjoying life to the fullest. I’m sure this is all overload right now but once it all calms down to the new normal it will seem like a gift. One you very much deserve. Love to you and Marilyn. xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stoney Girl, you nailed it. Feels like constant overload. I’m trying to relax, listen to what Marilyn’s saying BEFORE I respond. Marilyn’s been patient with me. I know what a hard job that is. Hey, I can HEAR!!

      Whoop-pee!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. WOW! Hopefully you’ll lose the bells and whistles quickly, and the world will really sound like it really does! The lack of “what”s will be a true blessing for both of you! Enjoy the world!

    I spent the last 10 days with a friend whose hearing has almost completely gone. He uses hearing aids, with lots of “what”s, but also we talk with a transmitter that I wear. It’s amusing in places where people need to ask him questions — he looks at me and I repeat the questions — he then answers the other person! I can imagine your implant bypassing all of that and doing the transmission for you! Hurray!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Oddly enough, this technology is from the 1980s. It has been around more than 35 years and is considered a routine procedure. The new equipment is smaller than older equipment was, but essentially the same. Microphone, sound processor, transmitter, receiver (in the head) and final receptor — human brain. If only we could use our abilities to FIX things rather than destroy them!

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Slmret. I’m trying to relax, adjust to the bells, whistles, etc. There’s a lot of word processing to do before answering someone.

      I knew that in my professional life. Gotta do that now.

      Like

  4. Awesome!! There is a part of your brain called the reticular formation. It’s job is to filter out all the stuff you don;t need to pay attention to.. Eventually it will filter all bells and stuff out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And presumably, familiar voices will sound normal to him a lot sooner than ‘strange’ voices. We probably will need to actually see you guys soon. The earlier he hears familiar voices, the better. The only one he has around here with a familiar voice is me and occasionally Owen. He hears deeper voices more easily than higher ones — and the audiologist had quite a high voice. Mine is deeper (and I talk louder) so that made it easier. He has a lot of discovering to do. I’m pretty sure he’s already tired of the sound of my voice, with or without an implant.

      It is an amazing technology. More amazing is how our brains deal with it. Remarkable what we can do!

      Like

    2. Pancho, sounds hinky to me. I don’t want to filter out all my trivia stuff.

      What we may have here is –failure to communicate.

      Like

  5. Brains are so good at adjusting if we give them chance, even to such a huge change as this! I find the technology that makes these implants possible quite incredible, but nowhere near as inspiring as the people with the courage to embrace change.
    I hope all goes well from now on, Garry and that Day Two, twenty-two and every day from then on brings you clearer hearing. Mind you…three dogs? My one is bad enough when she starts 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When all three of them bark, NO ONE can hear anything. It’s like waiting for a plane to pass over the house. Yelling at them makes them louder if that’s possible.

      He wasn’t sure he was ready to do this. It scared him to death. Not as much the surgery (that was scary) but the rehab and relearning. Actually, it’s going well. I don’t know if he realizes HOW well. We actually were able to TALK IN THE CAR and I can’t remember the last time we could actually talk in almost normal voices where background noise existed.

      He can hear his own voice and it sounds absolutely normal to him — which is good. His brain has already translated HIS voice. That little transmitting coil in his head is entirely electronic, so the switching of voices from tinny/electronic to “normal” is a trick of the brain. Especially if you are familiar, it “recognizes” you and makes you sound like you used to sound. Kind of a little miracle.

      Like

      1. It is more than a little miracle 🙂 I am so pleased, Marilyn… and knowing how much my own comparatively minor hearing problems affect a conversation, I can only imagine what a huge step this must be for bth of you.

        Like

        1. For many years, his hearing aids worked, but during that last five years, his hearing almost disappeared. Even with a hearing aid, most conversation was impossible, at least in normal voices. So, we didn’t have conversations. It was too difficult. Also, my best dulcet tones don’t come through with me shouting. He hated the shouting. I hated it too, but otherwise, he couldn’t hear me. We were going to learn sign language or something else had to happen. Then, THIS happened.

          Like

          1. Good grief, woman, you need to be able to use those dulcet tones on occasion 😉 If you can already be heard over background noise and while Garry has only just begun to work with the implants, this should be just what was needed 🙂

            Like

    2. Sweet Sue, Thank you. We’re now about 30 hours total – removed from activation of the cochlear implant parts. I’m breathing easier.

      I think we’re gonna be alright, Sue.

      Like

  6. Congratulations!! What advances science has made! I was thinking of the old time ‘tin ear’ horns that people used to use…they looked (and possibly WERE) like the phone piece of old phonographs. Then it was the bulky hearing aid (I went to school with a girl who was ‘hard of hearing” and had to wear those)..she was teased unmercifully…then watching my father go through an array of hearing aids (he hated wearing them and they would mysteriously disappear all the time), to my own discovery of my 85% loss in my left ear and a hearing aid for me. I then understood why Pops had hated wearing them..ones ears itch and ring…Now I’m sliding into where you’ve just left, mostly all deaf and too poor to afford hearing aids (not that I want them nor, I tell myself) need them YET. I hope you enjoy your new ears. Now you get to sample what the rest of us complain about…the cacophony of noises that the world presents it’s citizens today. Happy Days Garry!! I’m so glad this is working out! Yay Marilyn!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melanie/Cee, I went through all those stages of hearing aids. As a kid with the big, bulky hearing aids with the FM radio receiver at the end of a long wire — I was the target of myriad schoolyard jibes about my hearing aids,, my glasses (“Hey, Four Eyes”), my “height”(“Hey, Shorty”), my skin color (you know what they called me)……..all through the years I scrambled to deal, most of all, with my hearing problems. I used it as a catalyst instead of a crutch — to correct my diction and succeed in broadcasting. I guess there’s a message in there.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, something about overcoming and not letting anything hold a person back. You have ‘styled’ that most excellently IMHO. I remain amazed at your career and how successful you were ‘despite..” That’s just awe inspiring!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Olga. Thank you. If I can help, lend encouragement to your daughter — please let me know. I’ve endured a lot of crap about my hearing. People don’t seem to appreciate how much of a handicap it is. It can turn you into a depressed recluse. So, Olga, feel free to reach out if you want any (morale) assistance.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Gary, how wonderful. I’ve been waiting for this day, too.

    My mother was deaf in one ear but would never acknowledge it, so my childhood was a series of “Mom, could you…” “WHAT? I Can’t hear you, stop mumbling” and it wasn’t until she was in her 70s when she finally knuckled down and got hearing aids. So I can appreciate what you’re going through right now, and the pleasure just knowing you will be able to really truly hear, is immense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judy! Judy! Judy!

      It runs in my family. My middle brother’s hearing is worse than mine. Mom and Dad had deteriorating hearing in old age. Dad didn’t like wearing his hearing aids even though his oldest son, the TV News Reporter, wore them. Dads’s hearing aids sat, unused, in a clothing drawer. After he passed away, we ditched them with much of his other stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My mother had ear problems and ear infections even as a child. I was lucky enough to escape the curse, and have never taken hearing for granted. So many people do, to their detriment.
        And that’s too bad about your Dad’s hearing, lotta pride in that man. =)

        We only have five senses. You lose a lot when you lose one of them, for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Dral. Yes, It takes time and patience as I’ve been repeated told. Trying my best. The hardest thing for klutzy me is — assembling and dis-assembling the cochlear parts. Marilyn, I think, is losing patience with me. Hey, I AM trying.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Garry this is fantastic news that things are going so well. Technology is marvellous but our brains even more so the way that they adjust to a new situation. I took a minute after reading about your first day to read about the first cochlear implant surgery back in Melbourne in 1978. I’m kind of proud that Aussies were involved.
    I am glad that you decided to try the implant.even though having to get used to a different way of hearing is hard. Hope the bells and whistles will soon be gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tas, thank you. I’m glad I got the surgery and now have the cochlear implant parts activated. It’s all new territory for me.

      Like

  9. It sounds like you’ve been on an amazing journey with several chapters left to write. My husband is on his third set of hearing aids. I think we all see declined ability to hear as we age, but some decline further. It is a challenging situation for both parties. Here’s hoping the ringing stops and you continue to enjoy the new ability to hear. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judy! Judy! Judy!

      Maybe your husband should see if he’s a candidate for the cochlear implant surgery. You know from my shares that it’s quite a “journey” filled with initial doubt and anxiety. I’m glad I’ve had the leap of faith. Now, I’m in the daily grind of rehab that could take up to a year, I am told. I have to remind myself to rein in my grumpiness as I fumble with the cochlear parts. My frustration and impatience need to be reined in.

      Judy, I am always here to lend lend assistance to you and your husband. It’s the least I can do with all the support and “Atta-boys” I’m getting from others.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear Garry and Marilyn,
    Thank you so much for bravely sharing this story. I am amazed by your courage (both of you), but not surprised. I remember Garry’s post about having to listen to all the voices simultaneously whilst reporting. That also amazed me. I am continually awed and inspired by your family, as I have been most of my life. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It’s great that the implants have helped open up a new world of sound to you! But I don’t think even the very best of auditory technology is ever going to help anyone understand what baseball commentators are talking about….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Squirrel, you are right about those baseball commentators. A lot of what they say is gibberish. Inarticulate gibberish. And, they laught at what they think is funny. I hear the echo of their stupid laughter to make matters worse. I suppose I could mute them but that would defeat the use of my cochlear implant. Trouble is I grew up with the legendary Vin Scully as my favorite baseball “voice”. All of us who are of that generation have been spoiled by Vin Scully’s high bar of broadcasting.
      The Red Sox are in a slump so I may slacken my baseball viewing. But, no, I can’t. I love baseball and the season is into its final turn. I hope I’ll hear the echo of victorious cheering when the season ends. Bells, whistles, chimes and echoes of Red Sox Nation mania.

      Like

  12. Garry, may I first be allowed to say that I can hardly believe your age…. You seem so much younger than your actual age. And I’m not fishing for compliments, I wouldn’t know why.
    I have waited for this day with bated breath and while reading your tale I hardly dared taking in air – I was all ear…. What amazing effects can be achieved with this micro technology! How wonderful is this! And how incredibly great that your mind and hearing has already – in such a short time – been able to analyze and adjust to a ‘normal’ level the voices of your beloved and yourself. I am so thankful that you and Marilyn can finally live this entirely new feeling/experience. I didn’t quite understand the need of the backpack however but maybe this was/is just the ‘rucksack’ for the beginning and adjustments?!
    Thanks for updating your readers. Now we wish you all you need to feel in control of your new ‘ears’ and hope that you will never regret having gone through this procedure. Did you EVER hear Marilyn’s voice properly? I only know that we hear ourselves in a very different fashion than others hear us. I’ve been told that on Skype I have a broadcaster’s voice, soothing and beautifully modulated. I nearly decided on the spot to only skype in the future as I think my voice is rather unspectacular…. 😉 So many new experiences await you; but you need to tell those dogs that barking as a choir is off limits now!!!
    All the best(est) for the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kiki, thank you. What a delightful and thoughtful share. Now, I must confess something to you. I’ve had another Kiki in my life. She was a very exciting part of my Boston years in the 70’s. So, when I saw your name, I gulped.
      Kiki, thanks for the compliment about my appearance. Must be good genes because I was a “bad” boy for many years, not treating my body properly. I am trying to make up for that “bad” behavior by taking care of my body in the 7th decade of my life. Marilyn and I eat very sensibly. We stay away from stuff we may like but our bodies don’t agree with us.
      Kiki, thanks for the supportive words. They mean a lot as I embark on this new journey in my life.

      Kiki: Try the skype and let us know how it goes. YOU may be onto a new adventure.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Choosing, thank so you so much. I hope sharing my story will help others who have hearing problems. As I’ve said, being hard of hearing has been the biggest hurdle in my life. A life long challenge that hopefully is taking a positive turn.
      Music? I haven’t tried yet. Too many bells, whistles, chimes and echoes. I’ll file a piece after I give music a proper listen.

      Thank you, again, Choosing.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. 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

    1. 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

            1. I’m craving the ice cream — which we ran out of (frozen yogurt) yesterday. But his head is ringing a lot less today. I think he’s doing REALLY well. I’m not sure he is as enthusiastic as I am, but I’m pushing him to do what he needs to do. To his credit, at least he isn’t yelling at me because he knows he isn’t good at doing things he is supposed to do without a push.

              Like

            2. Steph, I am hearing those extraneous sounds, courtesy of the cochlear implant. the bells and chimes sound like those made by the Mr. SOFTEE Ice Cream truck. i do a quick memory trek back to eating those humongous banana boat treats as a kid. My body could not handle all that sugar now.

              Like

  14. 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

Talk to me!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.