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!

ANOTHER DAY AT UMASS – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s another one of those lost days for us. This is Garry’s official 3-month audiological checkup. I’m expecting great things.  I’m charging my little camera because this time, I am remembering my own excellent advice:

NEVER GO ANYWHERE WITHOUT A CAMERA

my camera because even though it makes the bag more than a little bit heavy, you just never know. Pictures just happen.

I am due for at least one smiling photograph of Garry and his audiologist.

I’ll tell you all about it, but today, I’m going to be missing in action.

Sorry. I don’t think we get a normal week until sometime in January! And then, I’ve got a book competition to judge. Maybe in February?

DOCTOR AND PATIENT – Marilyn Armstrong

Today was Garry’s 3-month post-operative surgical appointment at UMass hospital.

He hasn’t had any problems at all with the surgery. Actually, he has not had any trouble with the process, except for the minor detail that every day is a surprise. Each new sound is something he has to recognize, then classify.

He hears the squeaky ball that Duke is chewing. He hears the trucks pulling into the driveway. He recognizes the opening and closing of the gate downstairs. He can hear his own breathing and finds it distracting. We all assure him he will learn to filter that kind of sound, as well as many other ordinary sounds that the rest of us automatically don’t notice.

It takes a lot of work to learn to hear when you are 76. Sounds that the rest of us have always recognized, he is hearing for the first time. It’s a lot of work and a lot of mental processing.

Garry and Dr. Remenschneider. When your doctor is not much older than your grandchild, you know you’ve put on a few years.

It can be a bit exhausting for him. I suspect sometimes all he wants is that old familiar silence where no one expects him to answer because they know he didn’t hear them.

Today he picked up the phone when it rang … and he heard it. He hates telephones and has for a very long time. It has a lot to do with getting calls from work at all hours of the day and night. Over the years it became a bit of a phobia. Hopefully, he will get over it. Because all of us deserve to have to listen to the other electric company’s spiel on how they will lower our rates (no they won’t). At least the political season is over for a couple of months so the surveyors won’t be calling. That’s something.

Dr. Aaron Remenschneider – and a great surgeon!

On the positive side, I am (finally) not the only one who wonders what that weird noise is in the basement. Also, when we have an argument, he knows what I said — which is not always ideal.

He is not the only one who has to learn new things. I have lost my role as permanent interpreter, which to be fair, I’m glad to lose. I have not lost my role in telling people to please speak up, especially the receptionists in the Hearing Clinic.

They speak so softly, I can barely hear them. Meanwhile, the people they are talking to are actually in the process of trying to learn to hear. I figure they should speak up. Put a little diaphragmatic air into your larynx and push it out through your vocal cords. That’s what makes it possible for others else to hear you.

It’s what speakers are taught. Actors and reporters, too. Sometimes, you don’t have a microphone. You just have you.

Okay, among other things, I was a speech major. Actually, I have a degree in it. I have never used the degree for anything except telling other people to “please speak up!”

Doctor and patient. Hint: the doctor is wearing white.

Garry is quite the star of the Otolaryngology Department. He can hear remarkably well for just three months into the program.

I expected him to be a star. When Garry works at something, he really works at it. He had to learn to speak properly with significant deafness. He learned it well enough to be on television every day for many years. So given this challenge, I knew he’d work at it as hard as he has ever worked at anything else in his life.

The hard work paid off. He can hear. I wish he had this option in his life many years earlier but if ever the expression “better late than never” had relevance, now is that moment.

Next week, he has his three-month audiological checkup. I bet he’s going to be a star.

SOMEWHERE, SOMETHING IS BEEPING – Marilyn Armstrong

For years, I never knew what was beeping. I’d sit here in the living room and I’d hear something beeping. I could only guess where it was coming from and it drove me nuts.

Today, there was some very serious beeping. It seemed to be coming from the television.

I think that’s because everything Bluetooth in this house that wasn’t connected somehow got found by the TV speaker, so everything comes through that speaker. This includes our regular telephone, all the cameras, the cell phone (when it’s on). The dehumidifier, which beeps when it’s full. The microwave. The big and mini ovens, although they do not play through the TV speaker, having no Bluetooth capability.

And of course, all of our computers or tablets love beeping to tell you they are full, they needs uploading, downloading, charging, some other part needs charging or changing. Maybe the battery is failing to charge because the plug is out — and just sometimes, they beep to annoy you. It’s part of their software.

Everything beeps.

Until recently, only the dogs and I could hear the beeping. The dogs never appeared to care, but it drove me nuts. It wasn’t just that something was beeping. It was WHERE it was beeping. Upstairs? In the basement? It could be the hot water heater or the boiler or the dehumidifier or anything else. Maybe an old alarm clock someone left behind.

Tonight was different. Garry said: “What’s that noise?”

And I said: “You mean the beeping?”

“Is that what that is? It’s really annoying. And loud.

“I know. That’s why I wander around asking the house asking it ‘why are you beeping?’ The house never answers. Welcome to my world where things beep.”

We went searching for the beep. The dehumidifier was full, so Garry emptied it.  But the beeping continued.

Back upstairs, I finally realized it was the stair-climber. It was beeping, although why it was beeping, I had no idea. It had never beeped before.

After Garry gave up the hunt and went to bed removing his hearing gear on the way, I continued to try to figure it out. I finally followed the long wire to its outlet on the wall. Realized it was slightly loose, so I plugged it back in, more firmly, then straightened the wire and untangled the whole thing.

It hasn’t beeped again, so I guess I got it. Usually, things beep, then eventually stop beeping and I never figure out what beeped or why.

For all the aggravation of searching the house for whatever is making that noise, it was deeply gratifying that Garry’s cochlear implant has allowed him to share my world. To start to hear all those annoying little sounds that fill up our world. To have him equally annoyed by that noise was heartwarming.

At last, I am not the only one who hears the noise. This is huge! I am not alone!

HEARING, IMPLANTS — AND WHAT’S THAT SOUND? – Marilyn Armstrong

A couple of days ago, Garry had his one-month follow-up for his cochlear implant.

It’s hard to believe it’s just one month since the gear went on his head for the first time and it’s also hard to believe how much change there has been in his ability to hear in just one month.

I wish I had numbers of the actual percentage of change for each type of sound. Some of them were really shockingly good. My favorite was his ability to understand a complete phrase — something with context rather than a single word without context which went from zero — nothing — to 76%. That was the gigantic jump. It gave me goosebumps.

Individual words — no context — was closer to 50% (from zero). The hard one — the one which is always going to be a problem — was hearing what someone said when there is background noise, the kind you hear in a restaurant where a lot of people are talking. That was up to 20% from zero. I’m not sure if that will ever “top the charts” since as we get older — and by this I mean a collective “we” — our ability to hear one voice above many other sounds will diminish.

I won’t go to a restaurant where they constantly play music. I never liked it even when I was younger because it made conversation difficult. Since “going out to dinner” is one of the most common ways people get to know each other, why make it so much harder to hear the other person speaking? And this was when I had normal (if not slightly better than normal) hearing.

These days, I don’t hear as well as I did a few years back. I sometimes miss the beep from kitchen timers, and when the three dogs are barking, I can’t hear anything. I dislike noisy restaurants and live music when I’m out to eat will make me run from the room with my hands over my ears.

I suspect the music (especially loud music) played in restaurants is more to keep the staff moving than for the benefit of customers. I’m here to point out that it drives customers away.

I have a weird feeling that eventually, Garry with all his electronic gear in place will hear better than me.

Won’t that be an interesting turn of events!

Meanwhile, Garry can — in a quiet room — have a pretty normal conversation with a small group of people. How he will do at a party or in a large group? Or anyplace with nonstop background noise and music? Probably not so well. Otherwise, though, he can hear. The rain on the roof. The rush of a waterfall in the distance. The buzz of the washer and dryer in the basement and he can tell the difference between the washer (loud) and the dryer (soft).

He can hear the lyrics to songs assuming the lyrics are audible. He can watch TV with regular sound, not headphones — and is discovering that just because you are paid a lot to be a sportscaster doesn’t mean you don’t mumble.

It’s good news all the way around. He is doing as well as expected in most areas and better than most in several. Listening is more like work for Garry than for me. He has to try harder to catch the sounds, but the more he works at it, the better he gets.

But please, don’t everybody talk at once!

BRACE YOURSELF! GONNA BE A LONG DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP THURSDAY – BRACE


It’s going to be a long day. Any time we have to get up early for one of these extended audiological checkups for Garry’s cochlear implant, it’s going to take a while. This is the one-month followup and I believe it will all be good news.

I also am pretty sure he needs a tune-up, especially for his left (the non-cochlear) ear because — how ironic! — that’s the one through which he hears much less than in the “new, rebuilt” ear.

We didn’t get that “sudden” moment when he just says “Oh, wow, I can hear.” More like realizing that he can hear the rain on the roof — and it’s loud! He didn’t know rain could be so loud. Or hear the beep from the microwave in the kitchen, the funny scrunchy noise you hear when The Duke has found something hard and plastic to chew on. The buzz the washer and dryer give from the basement and realizing he can tell the difference between the loud buzz (washer) and softer buzz (dryer).

How LOUD the dogs really are! And that he still won’t answer the telephone or even try. He hates the phone and I don’t think he will ever entirely recover because he hated them even when he could hear on one.

Finally, having an actual conversation with a total stranger in the grocery store when normally, he’d not even have heard her say “hello,” much less indulged in a conversation about whether or not it’s possible to not have failed to mention a sexual assault for 36 years. His answer being, “Absolutely. I remember how terrified those women were when I tried to talk to them.” Because he covered a lot of domestic violence calls and the story was always the same — women terrified, men hostile.

Our police chief told us that the most dangerous calls they make are for domestic violence. Those are the ones where a cop is most likely to be injured and also the cases that will never go to court, nor justice be done.

And me thinking there were things I’d never told Garry yet because all it would do it upset him and there was no reason dredge up old misery. Women don’t tell their men things. We don’t want to upset them if there’s nothing to be done to fix it — and they get extremely, sometimes lethally upset. Who needs that?

Having a reasonably normal conversation with a friend … and not having to say “what” a dozen times.

Discovering he can still take off his new hearing aids, put back the headphones and ignore me for a joyful few hours. Drat. I should never have pointed out he could do that!

It will be a long day and Garry’s not feeling well. Tomorrow we go for blood tests and find out what — if anything other than hay fever and age — is the problem. So let’s brace ourselves for two long days!

EVERYBODY KNOWS OUR NAMEs, BUT WE’VE FORGOTTEN THEIRS – Marilyn Armstrong

Everybody Knows Your Name


This is Uxbridge. I do not know everybody’s name and everybody does not know my name. But everybody knows my husband. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know their names, so he spends a lot of his time trying hard not to look wide-eyed when people say ‘Hi Garry!” with enthusiasm. This isn’t only a problem in Uxbridge.

It’s an everywhere problem. He has been accosted in Scotland, Dublin, Baltimore, Disneyworld. Everywhere. Usually, the meeting is accompanied by someone saying (again) “I used to watch you while I was growing up,” which always unhinges him, just a bit. He knows he’s not young, but he doesn’t need a constant reminder of his age.

The most recent event was (for both of us) when we went to vote. A big joyful hug and a “Hi you all!” which was included us both.

She looked at me (I do not have much of a poker face) and said “You have no idea who I am, do you?” and I had to confess I hadn’t a clue. It turned out it was the lady who used to run our church back when we actually knew people who went to that church.

She retired probably 8 or 9 years ago. I swear she looks younger now then she did when she ran the church. For one thing, she was wearing jeans. She never wore casual clothing to church. She was the most buttoned-up lady I ever met. She has come a long way and all of it good.

Sometimes, retirement does that to people.

Garry didn’t recognize her either, but he got into a great conversation about his new hearing apparatus which are pretty much his main subject of conversation these days. It’s a pretty good subject and I think most people are interested. Hearing as a disability is not something most people understand.

They know about the inability to walk or see or use their hands, but somehow, hearing just slips right by them. They don’t understand how difficult it is to function in a world full of talking people when you don’t understand what they are saying.

Trying to read lips, pretending you know what they said — when you don’t — then nodding politely. Hoping smiling and nodding is an appropriate response and that they didn’t just tell you about the death of some family member.

For me, I just don’t recognize faces except unless they are wearing their usual clothing and doing things I recognize. I can only recognize people in context, by the way they dress, or the work they do.

When people show up out of context, I don’t know their names. Actually, I don’t remember anyone’s name, but I rarely admit it.

I remember the day my first husband shaved his beard and I didn’t know who he was. He was completely unrecognizable. I don’t mean he looked “a little different.” I mean –he was entirely different. The funny part — if there is a funny part — was that he was beardless when I first knew him. But that was a long time ago. Like 10 years at least.

So everyone knows us. I wish it were mutual.

They know me if I’m with Garry because everyone knows Garry. If I’m with him, I must be Marilyn. A few people know me, but not a lot because I’m not especially sociable.

Garry, though, was super sociable for more than 30 years. I swear he interviewed every citizen of Massachusetts. He either interviewed them, or they were “man on the street” interviews, or just there in the background of whatever story he was covering.

I’m not entirely sure that having everyone know who you are is a good thing. People don’t seem to realize that Garry has been retired for more than 17 years. They think he still has “connections.” He does, but they are also retired. Our generation got old. Almost none of the people we worked with are still working  — unless they were artists or writers and didn’t hold regular jobs.

My mother once commented that it must something in the linseed oil because painters live forever. What a pity it didn’t work for her.


NOTE: I don’t have parched or pine. If every post is going to a be a contrived game of fitting words which have no bearing on each other into a “post,” I’ll lurk. This is not what we used to have, certainly not what I hoped for, and definitely not what I want to do.

I’m not a puzzle solver. I prefer to write to a concept or a thought. But I’m absolutely certain everyone will do fine without me. I’m not arrogant enough to think my presence or absence will make any difference to anyone.