Saturday, April 09, 2005

Turning the damned thing on; or, what kind of Mickey Mouse setup is this anyway?

Driving across the MacDonald Bridge to the activation appointment, Husband and I confessed to each other that we were both hella nervous. More nervous than before the surgery. Or nervous in a different place, anyway.

It took quite a while to unpack all the basic compontents, which each come separately packaged, and about which more later. 'Helen', the audiologist I will be working with from now in, showed me how to put the basic unit together and then she put it on. I was almost surprised to discover there really is a magnet under my skin and the headpiece really does attach!

Helen handed me a card with a range of comfort levels on it - from "inaudible" through "barely audible", "very soft", on through "comfortable" "loud but comfortable", up to "painfully loud".

"You're going to hear a series of beeps," she said (I was part-lipreading, part reading notes Husband was writing for me). "When you do, I want you to indicate on the card how loud they are and we will adjust them."

I swear, as God is my witness, when she said "You are going to hear a series of beeps," my internal response was, "Yeah, right!!!" I just could not let my guard down and believe this was going to work.

She turned to her computer - which my CI was plugged into - and I grabbed Husband's hand.

And then, I heard a beep.

It was deep inside my head... as if that "silent voice" that you hear in your mind suddenly vocalized to you. I was astonished. I jumped in my chair and my head snapped involuntarily. I gripped Husband's hand. There were more beeps now, and I was struggling to calm myself down enough to remember what we were supposed to be doing.

"Uh...uh... s-soft... soft, I would call that," I stuttered, jabbing at the "soft" level on the card. "Okay, I'm going to turn it up," Helen said. I heard what she said and understood it. She turned the sound up. "Yes, now, now it's louder. That's, uh, comfortable." I looked over at Husband and burst into tears.

"Ahh," Helen said, reaching for a box on her shelf. "This is where we get out the tissues."

I sobbed into the tissue. "I don't think I let myself believe it was going to work," I said. I looked up and Husband was crying into a Kleenex as well. And so, I realized, was Helen. "You have the best job in the world," I blurted out.

Once we all composed ourselves, there was a lot of work to be done. Each of the electrodes had to be individually tuned to a level which was loud enough to hear but not uncomfortably loud. I realized that as long as I was facing Helen or Husband I could hear and understand whole sentences, although everyone's voice sounded like Mickey Mouse on helium. (Interestingly, I could not tell Helen's voice from Husband's initially, although as the appointment progressed he started to sound like his own voice again.) Helen was surprised that I could understand so much so quickly (she'd only had two other patients who could understand complete sentences at activation, she told me - one, an 81-year-old woman) but told me that of course the Mickey Mouse effect was normal and everyone experienced it.

The whole process took about two hours and was pretty intense. I realized how much of this is going to depend on me; Helen can't hear what I hear and relies on feedback from me to tune the device. I, however, don't know what an implant is "supposed" to sound like, so I hope I am making the right choices regarding loudness levels and so on.

Helen asked if mechanical noises - knocking on a desk - sounded different than more variable, organic noises like voices. Oh, yes, I assured her. Very different.

We later saw 'Stacy', the speech language pathologist, who asked me some questions with her mouth covered by a black hand-held screen (so I could not lipread). Although I had to ask her to repeat the first question, I understood all of them and responded correctly.

As we left the clinic the audiologists reminded us that it was going to be difficult in noisy situations, and that it is a "noisy world out there". As we strolled down the sidewalk in Halifax I caught tiny snippits of conversation as people went by - just noise, really, rising and falling as they passed. We walked past an HMV store. I stopped dead in my tracks.

"Music???" I said.

Husband laughed. Yes, they were playing music outside the store to lure in customers. I could tell that it was melodic but couldn't identify what it was or even what genre it might be.

We went out to dinner that night and it was really hard. Everyone in the crowded restaurant sounded as loud as Husband. There's still quite a ways to go to figure out how to understand this thing.

They sent us home with a great big box of manuals and videos and accessories and gadgets, some of which were a complete pleasant surprise because I didn't know they came with the original kit.

The CI itself, for the techno-curious, breaks down into these components, and when not in use, it's pretty much put away broken down this way, too:

You'll note there are three earhooks in this picture; all three came with the CI but each has a different purpose. The standard one is just what the name implies; the t-mic is best for use with telephone and using with t-coils and other assistive listening devices (some people, like me, however, find it gives the best day-to-day results, so it is my usual hook), and the extremely cool direct connect earhook, about which more later.

The whole thing comes together like so:

One of the accessories I wasn't expecting but was really glad to get right away was a direct connect cord. Believe it or not, when I am wearing the direct connect earhook, and plug this cord into that earhook, I can plug an audio device like my discman or my computer directly into the CI and therefore directly into my cochlea. Isn't that amazing? This, for example, is how it connects to my discman.

When I'm wearing this setup, I can hear ambient noise and also whatever I am plugged in to; but an external listener cannot hear the discman or computer. For now, I've managed to listen to some of Husband's music with it (music is MUCH BETTER through direct connect than through the air) and done some computer gaming, but I need a lot more practice before I can interpret such complex things being piped directly into the cochlea.

Well, hearing is all very well and fine, but a girl has to look good, and I was tickled pink that they threw in some of the snap-on covers that let you change the colour of the unit. I don't know how well you'll be able to make this out, but here are the four "blending colours" (designed to blend with hair, obviously)and the four "Sophista metallic (don't you love marketing?) colours" which are dark metallic green, blue, purple and (on the unit) red. Very sharp if I do say so.

Finally, this is what it looks like when I'm wearing it, more or less; normally in daily use my hair would probably cover the headpiece (disc) more because I'd try to get most of it out of the way of the connection between the magnet and my scalp. (At least most of the bald spot is covered now but in order to achieve that, I'm dead shaggy and badly in need of a haircut!)

It's been an absolutely wild two days and there is so much more to talk about but this post is way too long as it is. I will just finish by adding that when I got home I begged Mojo (the vocal one) to meow for me. "Make a noise, Mojey! Come on. Meow! Come on! Make a noise!" No dice. So I made the ASL sign for "hungry".

"MEOW!" he bawled. I hear ya, brother.

THANK YOU for all the comments on the weblog which were just a wonderful and unexpected delight when I got home yesterday. You guys, it goes without saying, are the best.



Anonymous Sister said...

*Hugs and kisses!* We were so happy to get your email! I didn't know whether I wanted to cry or dance, so I did a little of both. All my friends in my chat room have been hearing about this as well, as I've been filling them in, and they've also been waiting for news! They're so happy for you! One of my friends asked if you knew you had a "fan club" in that chat room, and I said, "I don't know! I'll let her know!" Looking forward to talking to you again, Sis! And I'm so glad you can hear Mojo again! He's such an opinionated little cat!

10:15 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: restaurants

If you haven't already, you really need to look at getting an FM transmitter. Your partner has the transmitter and wears a little microphone, and you have a receiver that plugs into your implant. I use it with my hearing aid and wouldn't think of going to a restaurant without it.

Mine is from Williams Sound and it works great. I also have a omnidirectional mic that sits on the table and lets me use the transmitter in meetings - much better than relying on the tiny little microphone in my aid to hear someone across the table.

1:52 p.m.  

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