LEARNING TO HEAR by Garry Armstrong,
Photography: Marilyn Armstrong
Sing “Hallelujah” softly and this year, I will hear you. Crystal clear!
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.
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?
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.
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.
Progress or not? I’ve been working hard with the cochlear implant. I wanted progress very badly.
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.
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!
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.
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!