A GOOD NEWS-BAD NEWS KIND OF DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy.

That’s what was wrong with me.

I had my heart surgery 4 years 11-1/2 months ago. As far as I knew, I never got an explanation of what exactly was wrong with me or what was done during the surgery. I didn’t know I had TWO valve replacements until a few weeks ago and I don’t know which artery was bypassed during my bypass.

To be more technical, the surgeon apparently explained everything, but I was so heavily drugged I’m not sure if I was awake for the explanation. I know I missed the whole thing about the second valve replacement because my best friend knew about it, but I didn’t. She wasn’t floating on Fentanyl.

The good news? UMass and Beth Israel are now connected so they can get my medical records. Eventually, it might sift down to me.

The bad news? My son needs to be checked for the same problem. His father died from heart-related problems as did both of his grandfathers and only luck kept me from sharing the same fate. So he has reason to be concerned about the condition of his heart. His father was only three years older than he is now when he died.

So, you ask, what exactly is “hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy”?


From the Mayo Clinic: Overview

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a disease in which the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick (hypertrophied). The thickened heart muscle can make it harder for the heart to pump blood.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy often goes undiagnosed because many people with the disease have few if any, symptoms and can lead normal lives with no significant problems.

However, in a small number of people with HCM, the thickened heart muscle can cause shortness of breath, chest pain or problems in the heart’s electrical system, resulting in life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).


NOTE: I had no symptoms that I noticed — which is not the same as not having symptoms. If it weren’t for my primary doctor’s alarm at the sounds my mitral valve was making, followed by serious testing that I had done at another hospital because the cardiologist to whom she sent me suggested I not worry about it until I had serious symptoms.

In this case, the serious symptom would have been sudden death, so I’m glad I realized the man was a jerk and went elsewhere for care. Even after all the testing, no one had any idea how serious the problem was until I was already in surgery. At which point, it was oh so clear.


I did not have chest pains, but I did have serious
shortness of breath.

Since I had asthma, I assumed my shortness of breath was asthma acting up. But I was wrong. It was not asthma but my ventricle packing its bags and trying to leave home without me. This is one of the problems of having multiple issues. Symptoms can (and do) overlap.

It’s really easy to assume that the problem you’re having is something familiar — like asthma. Except — shortness of breath can mean many different things. Heart disease is only one of them.

I once badly misdiagnosed a dog who had a known problem, but her problem was not the one I thought she had but something else. She died. We never found out what killed her, even after an autopsy. We assumed it was Lyme, but we never got a firm diagnosis. Lyme is funny that way.

Moreover, I never imagined I had a heart problem because my father’s heart problem was asymptomatic. As mine was until suddenly, it wasn’t.


Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may include one or more of the following:

            • Shortness of breath, especially during exercise
            • Chest pain, especially during exercise
            • Fainting, especially during or just after exercise or exertion
            • Sensation of rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats (palpitations)
            • Heart murmur, which a doctor might detect while listening to your heart
Causes

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is usually caused by abnormal genes (gene mutations) that cause the heart muscle to grow abnormally thick. People with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy also have an abnormal arrangement of heart muscle cells (myofiber disarray). This disarray can contribute to arrhythmia in some people.

The severity of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy varies widely. Most people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have a form of the disease in which the wall (septum) between the two bottom chambers of the heart (ventricles) becomes enlarged and restricts blood flow out of the heart (obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy).

Sometimes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs without significant blocking of blood flow (nonobstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). However, the heart’s main pumping chamber (left ventricle) may become stiff, reducing the amount of blood the ventricle can hold and the amount pumped out to the body with each heartbeat.


Risk Factors

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is usually inherited. There’s a 50 percent chance that the children of a parent with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy will inherit the genetic mutation for the disease. First-degree relatives — parents, children or siblings — of a person with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy should ask their doctors about screening for the disease.


Complications

Many people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) don’t experience significant health problems. But some people experience complications, including:

            • Atrial fibrillation. Thickened heart muscle, as well as the abnormal structure of heart cells, can disrupt the normal functioning of the heart’s electrical system, resulting in fast or irregular heartbeats. Atrial fibrillation can also increase your risk of developing blood clots, which can travel to your brain and cause a stroke.
            • Sudden cardiac death. Ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation can cause sudden cardiac death. People with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have an increased risk of sudden cardiac death, although such deaths are rare. Sudden cardiac death is estimated to occur in about 1 percent of people with HCM each year. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can cause heart-related sudden death in people of all ages, but the condition most often causes sudden cardiac death in people under the age of 30.
            • Obstructed blood flow. In many people, the thickened heart muscle obstructs the blood flow leaving the heart. Obstructed blood flow can cause shortness of breath with exertion, chest pain, dizziness, and fainting spells.
            • Dilated cardiomyopathy. Over time, the thickened heart muscle may become weak and ineffective in a very small percentage of people with HCM. The ventricle becomes enlarged (dilated), and its pumping ability becomes less forceful.
            • Mitral valve problems. The thickened heart muscle can leave a smaller space for blood to flow, causing blood to rush through your heart valves more quickly and forcefully. This increased force can prevent the valve between your heart’s left atrium and left ventricle (mitral valve) from closing properly. As a result, blood can leak backward into the left atrium (mitral valve regurgitation), possibly leading to worsening symptoms.
            • Heart failure. The thickened heart muscle can eventually become too stiff to effectively fill with blood. As a result, your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
Prevention

Because hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is inherited, it can’t be prevented. But it’s important to identify the condition as early as possible to guide treatment and prevent complications.

Preventing sudden death

Implantation of a cardioverter-defibrillator has been shown to help prevent sudden cardiac death, which occurs in about 1 percent of people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Unfortunately, because many people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy don’t realize they have it, there are instances where the first sign of a problem is sudden cardiac death. These cases can happen in seemingly healthy young people, including high school athletes and other young, active adults. News of these types of deaths generates understandable attention because they’re so unexpected, but parents should be aware these deaths are quite rare.

Still, doctors trained in heart abnormalities generally recommend that people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy not participate in most competitive sports with the possible exception of some low-intensity sports. Discuss specific recommendations with your cardiologist.


If this wasn’t a good news-bad news day, I don’t know what would be. The good news? All things considered, I’m doing fine. As far as I know, the valves are doing their valve-thing.

I’ve got 8 years — 5, realistically — before I’ll need a replacement battery. I also learned why I will never be able to live without a pacemaker. I had thought that maybe my heart would start doing the job all by itself one day, but that will not happen. But, assuming the rest of the tests next month indicate that all is well, I need to worry about my son, not me.

I think I’d rather worry about me.

If there is a moral to this story, it’s don’t self-diagnose. If you think something is wrong, don’t assume you have the answer. The odds are, you don’t. The internet is a good place to look up an existing diagnosis, but a bad place to get a new one. If it turns out your best guess was right, congratulations, but this is one of those times when an error can prove fatal.

I still think this problem wouldn’t have become such a life-threatening issue had I not also inherited my mother’s breast cancer. The drugs they feed you when you have cancer … well … I’m not even sure the doctor’s know what they do.

For the avoidance of goriness reasons, I decided you don’t need more pictures. You can always Google this yourself and see all the gore you want.

DETERMINATION CAN GET YOU THROUGH, BUT IS IT WORTH IT? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Determined

I can relate to determined.

It was that kind of day. We needed some food, but no money comes in until next Thursday, so we are flat broke … but prescriptions still need to be filled. I sent Garry to the store with a list and a reminder that we are seriously broke, so ONLY get what’s on the list.

Also, I had to reschedule a hospital appointment because they’ve deferred me so often, the original tests are two months old and I don’t even know if I’m still anemic or it has bounced back to normal. I’ve been on the edge of below or slightly above anemic most of my life so it wouldn’t surprise me if I was now back in the normal range.

University of Medicine and roads

I have no complaints about the medical care at UMass Memorial, but getting an appointment in a reasonable amount of time is crazy. Garry got in fast because … well … he knew someone. That’s right. He had an old connection from his working days. I, on the other hand, do not have a connection. Worse, UMass is the kind of place where they don’t listen to you.

I have seizures. Short, limited, with a quick bounce back — but still frightening. I thought, after the last one, I should see a neurologist. Garry, who has the hell scared out of him, agreed. My doctor agreed. We all agreed, but I could not convince any neurologist at UMass to see me without requiring I get a head MRI first.

My doctor and nurse couldn’t convince him either. He was dead set on that MRI, even though I would probably have all my problems solved because following the MRI, I’d be dead.

You see, I have a metal pacemaker in my chest. Even being in the room with MRI equipment would kill me. Literally, would tear the pacemaker out of my chest and leave me gored, bloody, and dead. I can’t prove it because apparently, I’m not mentally equipped to explain my medical problems on my own.

So I never saw a neurologist. Never talked to one. Never heard from anyone. It has been months, maybe close to a year. Every time I get a bit dizzy, I’m terrified I’ll have another seizure, but since I can’t see a neurologist without dying, I figure I’ll have to live with the seizures.

And now, it’s time to change cardiologists because Garry and I are getting too old to haul our asses into Boston. I need a local doctor. Even though I can and did completely describe my heart surgery — all of it — I still have to prove it. PROVE IT?

How do you prove heart surgery? Can’t they just call Beth Israel and get the records from them? I may have the records somewhere, but they aren’t “legal” if they don’t come from the hospital. But we have all these medical privacy laws, so they can’t GET the records without a lot of transferring of paperwork.

Medical Building and ramps

Meanwhile, I still have to go to the lab and get my tests redone and maybe  (MAYBE!) they will be done before I go to the hospital where they will take my entire medical history again and it will be the same as the ones they’ve taken before including all my medications.

ALL of this information — everything that has ever happened to my body — is in their computer including the heart surgery, both replaced heart valves, the bypass, pacemaker, and cardiomyectomy. They have the serial numbers for each implant (I am full of serial numbers) and serial number for both of my breasts that are ALSO implants. I will never be an unidentified corpse on a slab because all of my body parts have their own USB code. Unless they fix that computer, too.

Everything has been put on their computer. But, since they “fixed” their software program, they can’t find anything.

And then there was the telephone which doesn’t work and the ten pounds of mail I have yet to finish sorting.

That’s been my day. How has yours been? You have to admit that only a determined 72-year-old woman could make it through this sort of day.  When I was done, I cooked dinner. Mussels with spices, tomatoes, Worcestershire Sauce on angel hair pasta. And I cleaned up, too.

MY COCHLEAR IMPLANT: THE 3-MONTH AUDIOLOGY EVALUATION – Garry Armstrong

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.

Consultation

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!

THE FAMILY STRESS TEST – Marilyn Armstrong

It was Garry’s stress test, but somehow, it was mine too. He did all the running and he didn’t quit until the angle on the machine-made caused him to lose his balance. His heart peaked at 165/90 which is the reading I get when I’m a little bit nervous.

Exercise matters.

The word is that his heart is just fine. Excellent. He has a great heart, which i could have told them, but now they have all the readouts, so it’s official. It’s just that we are all getting older.

EKG setup

If I were going to start a new career today, I would go into medical technology. I have to admit — I love those machines. I love watching how neatly the valves in a heart open and close and send the oxygenated blood to be pumped to the rest of the body. I love how they have been able to notice that someone needs an immediate fix — off with you to catheterization or surgery, or intake to the cardiac ward.

Cardio-treadmill

I talked with the woman who was in charge of the machinery. She was also in charge of the doctor. She said she loved her job, that medical technology is a fabulous job. You get to do important, potentially life-saving work — but it’s all technology.

My kind of gig. Of course, that work didn’t even exist when I was figuring out what to do with my life. There are so many choices now. Maybe we’ll lose jobs to robots, but robots or robotic tools are going to change the world for all of us.

We came out of the hospital happy. They didn’t exactly tell Garry he was doing great, but they sort of did. I believe the expression was “nothing to worry about.”So Garry is tired after 20 minutes of running uphill. I’m tired from traipsing around the hospital. There are four huge buildings with the same address, so we had to go to two of them to find the right room. Most of the time, if you ask someone where something is, they don’t know. They know where they are going — or where they work — but where anything else might be? It’s a labyrinth.

We needed to stop at the grocery store on the way home because going shopping the day before Thanksgiving would be the ultimate stress test for us. Then he had to haul the groceries upstairs, then haul the trash up our bunny-slope driveway. It was quite a day.

At seventy-six, he is learning to hear and he has a great heart.

Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all.

WHEN THEY CLOSE YOUR HOSPITAL, POLITICS DON’T MATTER – Marilyn Armstrong

We don’t seem to be having much luck talking national politics. We have rigidified our views in these areas, so there is no conversation possible. Nonetheless, there is stuff to talk about and a lot of is hits much too close to home.

Entry

Each state has its own unique ballot questions. While these issues are statewide, the subjects involved affect many places not only in this country but worldwide. While no two places have precisely the same issues, many problems are similar enough. The states watch each others’ ballot issues — both on how they are fought and to see how the solutions do or don’t work.

This year, Massachusetts is trying to vote on government-mandated Nurse Staffing Ratios for hospitals. The Nurse’s Union put the issue on the ballot because nurses in many hospitals are greatly overworked. Not only are the nurses exhausted and underpaid, but tired, harried nurses make mistakes. Some of them are fatal.


According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins, more than 250,000 people in the United States die every year because of medical mistakes, making it the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. — Feb 22, 2018

No one could reasonably argue that nurses are not overworked. Except for Intensive Care Units where nursing ratios are tightly controlled, Massachusetts does not have mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios. In the U.S., the only state that has state-mandated ratios is California.

From inside looking out at UMass Memorial Hospital

The problem is, that Massachusetts doesn’t have enough nurses. Forget, for a moment, whether or not the hospitals could afford to hire enough nurses. We don’t have them to hire.

Almost anyone who wants to go into nursing can get a full scholarship. The shortage of nurses has been an issue for many decades. Nursing was a popular choice for women when I was a kid, but by the time I was an adult, women were beginning to think that if they were going to do the work, they might as well become doctors.

In an attempt to get a better grip on the subject, we had a conversation with our doctor. Garry figured he probably had a pretty good sense about it.

He thought for a while, then he said “It would probably mean closing at least 200 hospitals around the state … most of them in areas like this one where we don’t many hospitals.” Rural areas have very different issues than big or even medium-sized cities.

There’s the fundamental problem.

Milford Hospital from the Dana-Farber

Nurses — when we have recent graduates — want to begin careers in places where salaries are better (who doesn’t?), facilities are more advanced, and there are reasonable opportunities for professional growth. They don’t choose little hospitals in the middle of Worcester or Hampden counties.

“The hospital closures would,” our doctor commented, “make it very hard to find places to put patients.” Like me, I thought.

It’s not that he doesn’t think nurses are overworked. We all think they are overworked. I don’t think that’s even an issue. The problem is (1) where are we going to get all those nurses, and (2) how are we going to pay them?

What’s the answer? We are missing approximately 13,000 nurses. If we vote for government mandated nursing ratios, will the government also provide the nurses and money to pay them? A lot of hospitals are operating on a shoestring already. It wouldn’t take much to push them over the edge.

We have the same problem with teachers, police, firefighters, and medics. They work hard and they don’t get paid well. We are short of libraries and librarians and a lot of other things, too, like functional railroads and bridges that won’t collapse. Roads that urgently need paving.

It’s not like we don’t know about the problems. It’s just that we can’t always fix them by passing laws. There are secondary and tertiary problems that result from “just pass the law and work it out afterward.”

In rural areas — like ours  — if you close one hospital, there’s a very good chance there will be no place to go if we get sick or have an emergency. Boston is more than 70 miles away through very heavy traffic. Some of our “local” hospitals are not places you’d want to be if you had a serious problem.

As I am coming to realize in our personal lives, you can’t always fix the problems. Even when you know what the problems are and what needs to be done, that doesn’t mean you can make it happen. Unlike the federal government, states can’t just raise the deficit.

Putting aside all of our national problems, we still need to bang our heads together and figure out sensible solutions to problems that face us personally.

When you live in the country, these problems are at least twice as difficult to manage as they are in Boston. Hospitals are big business in Boston — and yet even there, they are merging many of the biggest and best facilities to stay solvent. Or nearly solvent.

Out here, we don’t have many hospitals. They have already closed most of the smallest ones. Unlike Boston where they make their budgets by giving parking tickets to any car that pauses too long at a stop sign, we have to live on property taxes that are already very high … too high for many of us. We don’t have enough police and if there’s a big fire, all the towns have to get together to fight it because no town has enough professionals

We have a Fire Chief, but firefighters are 90% volunteers. And some of the smaller valley towns don’t have a fire department at all. Uxbridge has a pretty good fleet of fire trucks and a new firehouse in town … but we don’t have a professional staff. For this, we — and our nearby neighboring towns — depend on volunteers.

But sick people? We have a plenty of them.


For more information, see Nurse staffing ratios: What is the 2018 Massachusetts ballot question all about?

DOOMED – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: ATM Germs


We are doomed.

Yesterday — or was it the day before? — we got our super flu shots. These are hyped up uber-potent shots they give to us older folks because we are more likely to get sick than younger people. Also, we are more likely to die from the flu because we have other issues — asthma, blood pressure, and heart problems. Sinus problems. Stomach problems. Fibromyalgia. MS. Cancer.

In fact, I don’t know why we don’t just die and give the world a break. Sheesh.

Discovering that in addition to the usual distributors of disease — other people, especially very young people — we can now worry about everything we touch including the ATM machine.

Don’t forget your flu shot …

Really? As if the handles on the shopping cart and whatever my granddaughter has on her clothing isn’t bad enough, now I have to stress over ATM machines? Not that I actually use the ATM machine. I won’t make a deposit without going to an actual person in the bank. I want a paper receipt.

Call me crazy, but once, a long time ago in a bank since absorbed by some larger bank — probably by now it’s all Bank of America — they lost a deposit I put through in an envelope that included an official deposit slip.

It got straightened out but left me with a firm belief for any deposit made by check or cash I want a written, signed piece of paper from a person.

We are doomed. No matter how hard we try, something will get us.

We don’t go out much. When we do, we usually get sick. It’s like the slow cars that pull out in front of us while we are driving. I’m sure these cars are told when to appear by drones from the super-slow drivers’ department. Meanwhile, somewhere in the air, there’s a germ-laden drone.


“Look! It’s the Armstrongs! Prepare to disperse germs!”

Mostly, Garry and I have been exhausted. All the time. For me, this typically means fibromyalgia. Garry had surgery in July and I have a feeling that this might have triggered the same thing for him. Women are more typically fibromyalgia victims, but men are not excluded.

Then again, maybe we aren’t sick at all. Maybe we just aren’t getting enough sleep. The weather has been like hot soup with interludes of rain.  Duke is shedding like a small furry hurricane. Our sinuses and eyes don’t like the ragweed and Garry is getting used to carrying around a lot of electronics inside his head.

So maybe it’s all allergies and getting even older.

When we went for our flu shots, they always ask if you think you might be sick. At our age, that’s not an easy question to answer. Maybe we are fine or as fine as we ever are. But, maybe we aren’t fine.

Am I exhausted from all the running around to doctors and hospitals or because I’m coming down with something? Am I recovering from the major house cleaning last week? Or am I worn out because our dogs are faster, friskier, and more impassioned about balls that squeak than I could ever be?

Don’t you wish you could get that enthusiastic about a big green tennis ball that squeaks? Don’t you wish you could bite something hard enough to make it squeak?

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.