LEARNING TO HEAR by Garry Armstrong, 
Photography: Marilyn Armstrong

Sing “Hallelujah” softly and this year, I will hear you. Crystal clear!

One of many hearing tests

That’s the lead on a delightfully mild Monday as I look back on today’s evaluation of my Cochlear Implant at UMass Memorial Hospital.

It was like getting an A on your first major exam in college.

Nicole Seymour, audiologist on the job!

Last week, I got excellent grades at the surgical evaluation of the Cochlear procedure. All the stuff placed inside my brain was line-dancing with the receiver parts atop my head and right ear. No unseemly scars, bumps or rashes. Even my fast receding hairline appears to be flourishing.

Is this a side perk?

Garry in the booth, listening to the test signals

Today was a detailed session of testing and adjustments. I sat in a small room that looks like Interrogation Room 1 on NCIS, but with more electronic equipment. I went through a series of tests administered by my audiologist. The tests involved various levels of single-word recognition, complete sentence awareness, and range of tone comprehension.

It’s harder than you think.

Putting the equipment on again

If you’re hearing-challenged, which is to say, deaf, you have problems with all these things. Single words that rhyme – led, dead, bread, red are easily confused. Whole sentences are often misinterpreted, sometimes leading to misunderstanding and embarrassment. High and low tones aren’t audible. I couldn’t tell the difference, so statements and questions sounded the same.


I sat tensely – my body coiled – as I sat for decades during my TV news career. Struggling with interviews, courtroom testimonies, and pivotal political speeches. My breath came in rushes because I wanted to be successful.  A lot rides on the cochlear implant. At age 76, this is a major turning point. 

I can experience clear hearing for the first time in my life.

I clearly heard many of the words, sentences, and sounds.  But some of it was guesswork, just as it was throughout my working years. I could feel my body tighten as I wondered how well I was doing.

Nicole setting the levels on the implant headset

Progress or not?  I’ve been working hard with the cochlear implant. I wanted progress very badly.

Tools of the trade

When it came time for evaluation, the audiologist gave no facial hints. I was tense and nervous. She slowly and clearly told Marilyn and me that my progress was substantial with major improvements in all the areas tested. Some of the improvement was huge, some more moderate. But everything was better.

I smiled inwardly which turned into a broad smile that could have lit the room.

Filling in the forms

My cochlear implant and the hearing aid in my left ear were adjusted to give me more audio on 5 levels. She expected I would probably not want (or need) the strongest (loudest) level, but it was there, just in case. The new “bottom” level was the top of my previous levels. Go, Garry!

Setting the new levels on gear

In the coming weeks and months, Marilyn and I will be attending several large events where there will be many people, lots of background noise including live music — the dread of anyone who has trouble dealing with background noise. These events will be powerful tests for my implant.

More tests

What’s more, these are exactly the events that I dreaded before the cochlear implant surgery.

Now, I am eagerly looking forward to them.

Hallelujah! Time to celebrate!

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.


    1. Bro Ben, you’ve known me all these years and how I’ve struggled. So, you can imagine the joy I feel. I couldn’t contain the smile when told how well I am progressing. Still lots of work and patience for my brain and heart in the days, weeks and months to come.


    1. It’s not an easy path for him. He has to learn to really listen, recognize the context, THEN respond. Because he was usually guessing at what people were saying, he often didn’t really listen. Now, he is listening, but not listening is a very hard habit to break. I know. I’m still breaking it and I don’t have a loss of hearing as my reason!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Congratulations, Garry. Having spent the last 10 days with a friend who is quickly losing the last of his hearing, I know how difficult that is for both speaker and listener, particularly in complicated situations. Unfortunately my friend is too old to be a good candidate for cochlear implant — it’s great that you could do it now, when you have time and energy to adapt and enjoy life again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Slmret, sorry about your friend. Wondering if he/she really is too old. I’ve seen lots of seniors who are going through the same process as me at UMass Memorial Hospital. My audiologist tells me they, for the most part, are progressing and it’s given them a new lease on life. Remember, Slmret, I’m no spring chicken.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My friend just turned 89 — and is unfortunately not without other medical issues that would make the implant process pretty risky. I’m delighted that you have had the good fortune to do this before you get to 80, and that it is going so well for you!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Am so pleased for you! 🙂

    Living with someone somewhat hearing challenged (86 yo mother) has given me insight to the world you endured/survived.

    It’s a great thing in life – to be given a fresh start, at ANY age. 🙂

    Hope you make the most of it, a step at a time. Enjoy! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am so glad it’s all going so well. It is such a big learning curve for you but exciting that you can now look forward to going to social events without dreading the conversations that you don’t feel part of. I did sit in with my mum for some of her hearing tests so I have some sense of what it’s like to lipread or guess what people are saying. Mum did that a lot of the time. She often did not hear the ends of words and had to guess what was being said. It was frustrating for her and for my sister and me at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tas, it’s a HUGE emotional leap forward for me. I was very depressed by the thought of going to another big event where I would have to feign everything and feel invisible so to speak. I am cautiously optimistic now. I’ll give a detailed report on how I fare at these events. I appreciate all the support I am receiving from you and my other blogger friends. It really helps to know I am not alone as I felt for so many, many years.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Trent, thank you. It’s a validation of the hard work and patience (not one of my strong points) I’ve put in. I hope attendance at the big events prove successful. That’ll be ‘breaking news’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t imagine. I wish my aunt (98) had not been so stubborn. She thinks her hearing us just fine, and it is not. It is obvious during conversations. I’m glad you got the help you needed too because when folks can’t hear us it is very hard to communicate.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Leslie, thanks. I think you can see the tension and anxiety in my face as I went through all those tests yesterday. My tummy was growling so loud because of the anxiety. Glad it went well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations, Garry! There are so many new hearing experiences in store for you. For instance, I could come to your house and sing for you.

    Oh wait, then you’d probably want the implant removed. Not all new sounds are good sounds, right?

    Hugs to you and Marilyn. It’s been a struggle for you both, and I’m so glad it’s worked out well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cordelia, you’d be welcome to perform at our house. I love the old standards. The dogs would probably accompany you. Hey, we could put on a show, Cordelia.


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