Cochlear Implant Update – By Jan Wilberg

One of the most thoughtful pieces of writing on this subject and particularly relevant in this household. Few people really understand how much lack of hearing removes you from “real life.” Garry once commented that even if you are blind, you can still communicate, but when you are deaf — you lose the ability to communicate and that’s a massive personal loss.

Red's Wrap

I wear this thing on my head. Looking at it now in the photo, it strikes me as enormous, a contraption. I wonder why people don’t just stop in their tracks and ask me what it is. But they never do. It’s like seeing someone with an artificial leg and wanting to inquire about how it works but being compelled to ignore it. What artificial leg? I didn’t see an artificial leg, did you?

This is the receiver (behind my ear) that captures sound that travels through the wire to the round thing (which is actually a magnet) and transmits the signals through my skull to a twin round thing inside my head which then sends the signals along several wires to 22 electrodes hanging out in my cochlea. The electrodes recreate the function of the nerves in my cochlea, sending the sound signals to my brain to be made…

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WHAT? – GARRY ARMSTRONG

This is a lengthy comment to a blog posted by the imminent eminent wordsmith known as Evil Squirrel.  Squirrel’s blog For whom the Beltones ... was a humorous look at the history of aids for the hearing-impaired and the advertising of the 1980s.

Squirrel, this is truly evil. Maybe even blatantly racist if I can find an angle. I love it! You’re yelling to the choir with this one.

garry and tom walpole TV

As you may know, I have needed hearing aids since I was a kid, back to the days when they were the small portable radios with a wire and earpiece. It was damned humiliating for a young guy.

As time went by, technology upgraded me to tiny, all in the ear aids. They were invisible on TV so it was great for me since I wore my aids all the time at work — except when I did live shots. Then, I had to replace one of my hearing aids with the IFB thingy which allowed everyone to talk directly into my head. Everyone could — and did — talk at the same time.

Sometimes there were two or three dozen people talking and shouting into my IFB as I calmly did my live reports. And smiled.

Often (simultaneously), the other hearing aid would pick up frequencies from nearby radio towers. I had a myriad TV people shouting into my IFB while Air Traffic Controllers yelled into my hearing aid. I calmly delivered the live reports. Then I went out for a few drinks.

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Marilyn actually saw and heard a tape of one of these live shots, The station had accidentally recorded the stuff coming in through the IFB instead of the sound track for the story. She was awed. How could I function during all the clamor? Looking back, I’m awed too. I’m an awesome guy. That’s why they paid me the big bucks (not).

I interviewed Eddie Albert when he was filming “Yes, Giorgio” in Boston. Eddie was sunbathing along the Charles River. He smiled when he caught a glimpse of my tiny hearing aids. Pulled his out for comparison. A lot of “WHAT?” went down that day.

Fast forward to the present, I have the current behind the ears model hearing aids. My hearing is getting worse.

Huh? Can you hear me now??”

Garry with Terriers - Dogs

Postscript:

I didn’t always wear my hearing aids on a regular basis. Back then, it was worse (much) than being called “four eyes”. One night changed my whole attitude.

My date had reached that critical point where you wonder if “it” will happen. The lady answered my query. I misheard her answer.

End of evening.

LIVING IN SILENCE

A while ago, I had the flu and my ears were blocked. One day, Garry removed his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it. 

“That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.”

I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget when it’s not your problem.


Many people don’t consider hearing loss a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend. I am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts.” None of which are visible to a naked eye. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. Years later, I’m still angry. How dare she set herself up to judge?

People make assumptions all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m with him I take them aside, explain Garry cannot hear them.

“You need to make sure he sees you and knows you are talking to him,” I tell them. I consider it part of my job as his wife. It’s rough being deaf in a hearing world. Parties are the worst. With so many people talking at once , it is impossible for him to hear one voice.

Mostly I can hear. Most things. Not as well as I did when I was younger. Background noise is more intrusive and annoying than before, but I hear well enough for most purposes. I depend on my hearing to catch nuances, to interpret underlying meanings of what people say.

Garry used to be able — with hearing aids — to do that too. It was important in courtrooms, while interviewing people and of course, in relationships. It’s not only what someone says, but how he or she says it. Body language, facial expressions … it’s all part of the communications package. But his hearing is worse now and much of this ability to catch the subtler part of speech has been lost.

The silence of the woods after a heavy snow
The profound silence of the woods after a heavy snow

When the hearing part goes, other senses have to compensate — but nothing quite fills the gap.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “it.” Sometimes “it” is me. He often behaves as if he heard me though he didn’t — but he thinks he did. Sometimes, he didn’t hear exactly what I said. Or notice I was speaking at all. It takes him a while to process sound, to put words in order and make them mean something. It isn’t instant, the way it is for someone with normal hearing. He has to pause and wait for his brain to catch up. Sometimes, he puts the puzzle together wrong because he heard only pieces and what he missed was important.

There’s also the “what?” factor. How many times can anyone say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before he/she feels like an idiot?

Human speech is not the whole story. There is music, soft and loud. The funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog locked in the closet. Birds singing. A cry for help from a distance.

Garry can’t hear any of that. He could, years ago. So he misses it. He doesn’t hear the beep of a truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes which means someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad. Or an alarm ringing. The hum of the refrigerator.

All the little noises are lost to Garry.

What does silence sound like? When you hear only the very loudest noises, but none of the soft, little sounds? The explosion, but not a murmur? To be in that silence — always — is a different world.

– – – – –

* Answer: Three.You can ask someone to repeat something 3 times. After that you are too embarrassed to try again. This is true for everyone, not just people with hearing problems. We all encounter accents we don’t get, mumblers, and people who speak too fast or too softly.

LIVING IN SILENCE

A while ago, I had the flu and my ears were blocked. One day, Garry took out his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it. “That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.” I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget when it’s not your problem.

Many people don’t think of hearing loss as a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend and am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts.” None of which are visible to a naked eye. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. Years later, I’m still angry. How dare she set herself up to judge?

People make assumptions all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m with him I take them aside, explain Garry cannot hear them. “You need to make sure he sees you and knows you are talking to him,” I tell them. I consider it part of my job as his wife. It’s rough out there in a hearing world. Parties are the worst. When so many people talking at once , it becomes impossible for him to hear a single voice.

Mostly I can hear. Most things. Not as well as I did when I was younger. Background noise is more intrusive and annoying than it was. But I hear well enough for most purposes. I depend on my hearing to catch nuances, to interpret underlying meanings of what people say.

Garry used to be able — with hearing aids — to do that too. It was important in courtrooms and while interviewing people and of course, in relationships. It’s not only what someone says, but how he or she says it. Body language, facial expressions … it’s all part of the communications package. But his hearing is worse now and much of this ability to catch the subtler part of speech is gone.

The silence of the woods after a heavy snow
The profound silence of the woods after a heavy snow

When the hearing part goes, other senses have to compensate — but nothing entirely fills the gap.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “it.” Sometimes “it” is me. He often behaves as if he heard me though he didn’t — but he thinks he did. Sometimes, he didn’t hear exactly what I said or notice I was speaking. It takes him a while to process sound, to put words in order and make them mean something. It isn’t instant, the way it is for someone with normal hearing. He has to pause and wait for his brain to catch up Sometimes, he puts the puzzle together wrong because he heard only pieces and what he missed was critical.

There’s also the “what?” factor. How many times can anyone say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before he/she feels like an idiot?

Human speech is not the whole story. There is music, soft and loud. The funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog locked in the closet. Birds singing or a cry for help from down the hall. Garry can’t hear any of that. Once upon a time, he could and he misses it. He doesn’t hear the beep of a truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes that means someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad or an alarm ringing. The hum of the refrigerator. All the little noises are lost to Garry.

What does silence sound like? When you hear only the very loudest noises, but none of the soft sweet sounds? The explosion, but never a murmur? To be in that silence — always — is a different world.

– – – – –

* Answer: Three.You can ask someone to repeat something 3 times. After that you are too embarrassed to try again. This is true for everyone, not just people with hearing problems. We all encounter accents we don’t get, mumblers, and people who speak too fast or too softly.

BROKEN PEOPLE

Reading Rarasaur reminded me I can’t do much of anything anymore. Some things, I never could do and other things, I used to do but had to stop. What was a challenge 30 years ago is a showstopper now.

I got to thinking about my family. Garry is deaf. He’s always been hard of hearing, but over the years — and especially the past five — it’s gone from bad to much worse. He doesn’t want to go to parties because he can’t hear.

75-Garry On Ledge 582

I’ve bought him wireless earphones so he can hear the television, but more often than not, he can’t hear me. He still managed to be a reporter for more than 40 years, covering long trials with mumbling judges and incoherent witnesses. And win three Emmys along the way. Even if he does have trouble buttoning his shirt properly.

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My son can’t get numbers to stay put. Neither can my granddaughter. They stay put fine for me. They just don’t mean anything. I worked in high-tech for most of my life (not all of it … just the last 35 years) and when I needed numbers to work, I made them work, but I don’t know how.

My granddaughter knocked her spine out in gymnastics and karate and has a club foot. Bad club foot. Eighteen surgeries later, she can only walk painfully and has never been able to run. She was a whiz at karate, up to the brown belt when the doctors made her quit. Despite all of this, she wanted to join the Army. They wouldn’t take her because of her back. She’s still depressed about it.

I can’t back a car up without hitting something and can get lost between the kitchen and the bathroom. Put a paper bag over my head, spin me around twice, take the bag off and I’ll have no idea where I am. I drive only reluctantly. Out here in the country, we ain’t got no buses or trains. It’s feet or the car. My feet aren’t so good, so it’s the car. But I’d rather not.

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The whole club foot thing is three generations strong. Owen’s dad was born with club feet, as was Owen, then Kaity. Turns out, it runs in my family too, but no one mentioned it until after my kid was born. The first things my doctor said to me after the birthing was: “He’s blue. And he has your husband’s feet.” The blue thing had implications about which we had no understanding. Lots of problems with school and learning disabilities. The feet — after surgery — he did okay for a long time, but now his Achilles tendon has calcified and walking is getting harder by the day.

What a bunch of losers, eh? Yet we have done what we could, done more than most — individually and collectively. Not without pain and certainly not without angst. I think between all of us, we’ve had every kind of surgery anyone can think of … except heart and mine’s coming up next year.

I remember being 15. It was the Kennedy era and they put his exercise program as a requirement in New York schools. They were easy exercises and none required good balance (lucky for me!). By the end of the school year, I was in the best shape of my entire life. An hour of dedicated exercise a day does work. Who’d have believed it?

The following year I wound up with a pin in my ankle when they took a tumor out. A benign tumor, but big. Then I went to college. And soon, I was married and went back to riding horses, even though it hurt. And there was the spine surgery, the infection, the chat with God, the months wrapped in plaster waiting for bones to knit.

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They never knit properly. But I didn’t know it and went on as if everything was fine, refusing to get an X-ray for the next 35 years until following an auto accident, I couldn’t say no. What I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me. Right and wrong. It did hurt me. It didn’t stop me. Despite the result being a phenomenal degree of osteoarthritis — such that experienced ortho docs get together and huddle over my pictures, oohing and aahing at how much calcification! Then the inevitable “How are you still walking around?” Duh. When I found a doctor who didn’t do that, I stuck with him. He’s the supreme court of spines and even though he has nothing to offer in the way of making it better, he at least doesn’t gasp in horror and look at me with pity.

Maybe we, the broken ones find each other by some kind of magnetic attraction. We understand what it is to be imperfect, to have to “find another way.” Finding other ways to get things done because the “right” way doesn’t work for us is normal in our world.

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I’m always impressed by anyone who can wear regular shoes. In this house, only Garry has normal feet. His problems start somewhere mid-back and continue into the ears. Good feet. My problems start around midback and run down to include my feet. Ditto son and granddaughter. If they were going to emulate me, couldn’t they have found less painful ways?

But wait! Kaity writes. And takes pictures. So maybe some good stuff got passed along too.

We are all broken. I’m so proud of us.

WHAT?

There is a certain coziness when a couple is sick together. I cough, he says “What??” Because he’s deaf anyhow, but with his ears totally blocked from this thing we have, he can’t hear much of anything. I bought him wireless headphones for both TVs, the living room and the bedroom. With them turned up high, he can hear everything. Not just the loud parts, but the background sounds. Crickets chirping, birds singing. An expensive gift, but I know how much he missed hearing.

Sennheiser RS120 On-Ear 926MHz Wireless RF Headphones with Charging Cradle runs $90 on Amazon. If you love someone who has a hearing loss, this is magical. Sennheiser — the name in earphones — makes more expensive versions, These are so good, it’s hard to imagine how much better they could be. You can get extra head sets in case you want to listen together.

sennheiserNow for the story. We were watching Jimmy Fallon. His guest was Harrison Ford. I noticed there was something shiny in Harrison’s ear, so I turned to Garry and asked him if he thought Harrison was wearing aids, an earpiece … or an earring.

Garry looked at me blankly and said “What?”

I collapsed. I couldn’t stop laughing. I was laughing and wheezing so hard, Garry was afraid I would hurt myself. Every time I tried to explain what I’d said, the hysterical  laughter overcame me. I was in real pain from coughing and laughing so hard. Tears were streaming from my eyes. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. It was cathartic.

Garry said he was glad he could make me laugh. Me too. Being able to laugh with one’s partner brings you closer.We had a Moment.

The earphones were an investment in making someone happy. Sometimes, watching a movie with a headset, he realizes he has never heard the full soundtrack before. It brings tears to his eyes. Mine, too on his behalf.

For The Promptless – Qualia – Sounds of silence

Qualia (single form, quale) is a term that refers to the individual, conscious, subjective elements of experiences. Examples of qualia are the pain of a headache, the taste of wine, or the perceived redness of an evening sky.  In other words, qualia refers to “the way things seem to us.”

One year, I had a terrible case of flu. My ears were totally clogged. Garry took out his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it.

“That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.” I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget if it’s not your problem.

The world is most silent while snow is falling. Otherwise, it is never really still.
The world is most silent while snow is falling. Otherwise, it is never really still.

It’s interesting how many people seem to think a hearing loss isn’t a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk well or much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend and am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts” and none of them are visible except by x-ray. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. It’s years later and I’m still angry. How dare she make such a judgment?

People make those judgments all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m on the scene, I take them aside and explain that Garry cannot hear them, that they need to make sure he sees them and knows they are talking to him. I consider it one of my important jobs in our relationship because it’s hard being out there in a hearing world when you can’t.

Mostly I can hear. Usually. Most things.

I depend heavily on catching the nuances of human speech to interpret the true meaning of spoken words. Garry used to be able (with the help of hearing aids) to do that and it was important in his work as a reporter. In courtrooms, while interviewing people, it’s not just what they say, but how they say it.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “that” whatever “that” is. Sometimes “that” is me. He will often act like he heard me even if he didn’t. Sometimes, he didn’t hear me or notice I was speaking  … or only heard a part of what I said but thinks it was everything I said. And then, there’s the “what?” factor. How many times can you say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before you feel like an idiot? I’ve been in places where I couldn’t understand people because of their accent or background noise. The answer is three.

You can ask someone to repeat it three times. After that,  we all give up.

Human speech is all there is to hear. Music, soft and loud. That funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog accidentally locked in the bathroom (oops). Garry can’t hear the birds singing or me if I yell for help from down the hall. He won’t hear if I fall … so I had better not.

He also won’t hear the warning beep of the truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes to warn him someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad or the alarm clock ringing. All the little noises that form the background, a tapestry, the sounds of life. They are not there for him.

What does silence sound like? When you hear noise, but none of the soft sweet sounds? The explosion, but never a murmur?

To be in that silence always. It’s a different world.