Friday, February 21, 2014

It's Not Easy Being Borg

Programming a cochlear implant is tedious, time consuming, and exhausting. It involves being hooked up to the audiologist's computer and listening for barely audible tones, beeps, and bleeps to set threshold levels -- followed by trips to the sound booth to test those levels. Then the adjustments begin. "Let's go back and adjust your mid-tones," you hear your audi say. And then you repeat the process over and again.

Your brain gets tired. You aren't sure if you are hearing a tone or if your brain is producing phantom tones on its own.

You look to your audi, who smiles and nods at you reassuringly. She senses your fatigue, but presses onward. She wants to get every little setting perfect.

"Let's try counting the tones. Tell me if you hear one, two, or three," she says. In your mind you think Yeah, like that will make it easier. But you plod on. Closing your eyes. Concentrating on listening for sounds that may or may not be there. Is she making the tones quieter? I'm not sure if I even heard that. "Two," you say with little confidence. "Three," she answers -- a little too cheerfully.

Winners never stop running.
She takes you back to the booth and tells you she wants to test your sentence recognition in noise. Your blood pressure rises and your palms get sweaty. You know this is the practice program you avoid at home. It's impossible. She tells you that last time you tested, she had the noise-voice ratio at 10-90%. She is going to increase it to 20-80. The noise begins and you hear the voice, but you have no idea what the voice said. The word "sabotage" comes through clearly in the 3rd sentence. It's the only one you could distinguish. And it feels a bit forthtelling. It goes on for 5 sentences before she cuts in and says, "OK, that's enough." -- and you know it didn't go so well.

She asks if you want to try it again. You tell her you don't think it would make any difference. She chuckles and says, "I forget how tiring it is for you guys!" You are tired. It's not easy being borg.

Then she tells you that your threshold -- your softest perception of sound -- is at 15 decibels. That's like hearing the ticking of a watch. The ticking of a watch. You are a freakingly awesome, amazing cochlear implant cyborg miracle!

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