Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Strange Land

When I get together with friends and family, they are always curious about my progress with my cochlear implant.

How are things going? Are voices sill robotic? Is it getting any better? Can you hear me now? (haha) Are you happy with your cochlear implant?

My best answer is, "It's OK."

It's everything I expected, and a little more. I was warned to keep my expectations low, and to hope for the best. It's more than I expected. It's less than I hoped. It's not great. But it's better than the hearing aid. It's OK.

It is a strange land I wander..

Voices remain mechanical. Though I can perceive differences in volume and pitch, the range is limited, and the once simple act of listening consumes an enormous amount of my attention and energy. Many cochlear implant recipients say there comes a time when the cortical reorganization of their brain "normalizes" voices. I wonder if the brain simply reorganizes what it perceives as normal and makes the cochlear implant sound like their "new normal". For me, it doesn't seem like it's becoming normal as I remember it. I am slowly getting used to the new and different sound. But it is not normal at all.

Music evades me. This is my greatest angst. The cochlear implant was developed for speech, I am told. And though some recipients testify that they love listening to music through their cochlear implant, I am not sure I will achieve that delight and satisfaction. Having been a classically trained vocalist, I find music through the cochlear implant to be flat, mechanical, and sapless. The range of pitch and timbre provided by the cochlear implant doesn't do justice to the full, robust quality of vocal and instrumental music. The cochlear implant is a limited substitute for the human ear. My audiologist says many of her late-deafened patients express similar dissatisfaction with music after their implantation.

I find the accompanying technology a necessary encumbrance. I carry a kit of accessories and spare parts in my purse -- extra batteries, lapel mics, audio cables, remote controls, ear hooks, back-up processor... just in case. It makes my handbag pretty heavy. I have to adjust the remote multiple times for different listening environments in my classroom, my school, my home, meeting rooms, and social venues. Many times I forget to turn the volume and program back to my everyday listening after I've adjusted it up or down during the day. I plug in an FM boot into the processor in the morning and turn it on for small group instruction, off for whole group instruction. I recharge the FM unit every night. I have a special dryer I store my processor in at night to remove moisture from daily wear. And I recharge my remote at least once a week. So much stuff. And so much to maintain.

I can certainly hear better with my cochlear implant than without it. Actually, I can hear a great deal more than before. It didn't restore directionality, though, and many sounds are still incomprehensible. I don't know what they are, and I can't tell where they are coming from. I hear myself saying, "What's that noise?" again and again throughout the day. Odd clicks, buzzes, beeps, squeaks, rattles, and scritches gurgle through my processor -- blurring my senses. I get confused and disoriented sometimes.

This cochlear implant is a miracle. But it's not a cure. I don't regret my decision to get the implant in the least. It is better. And sometimes, better is the best you can hope for.

It used to be so simple.

What a strange land I wander.

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