It’s week three of being activated and so far, it’s been …interesting. I want to tell you that I love it. I want to say that it’s been one auditory revelation after another and that I’m jumping up and down because the quality of my hearing has skyrocketed.
In all fairness, I can’t do that. This whole experience is not any of those things. It’s not firework explosions and crystal clarity that I’ve never experienced before. It’s not me picking up the telephone and having conversations with college girlfriends or family without a translator nestled somewhere in between. It’s not me putting on music and smiling along with the lyrics that I’ve never understood before.
No. It’s none of that. What it is…is frustrating. It’s downright grueling work. And frankly, if I’m to be very open and honest about it, I don’t like it right now. I don’t regret it but I’m struggling with it. I’m having conversations with myself about how I knew this would be hard work. That it’s not what I expected but if I’m to fully benefit from what this whole cochlear implant procedure and process truly is, then I will need to surrender over and over again. And I don’t like it. Patience is not my virtue.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been exhausted. I fall into bed around 8:30 every night with a steady tone ringing in my implanted ear. The tone begins around 4 or 5pm every night and goes away by the time I wake up. The tone is from the nerves being overstimulated. While I haven’t experienced headaches, I do feel a deep tiredness like my brain was doing calculations all day long with an accountant while trying to also write a thesis paper for physics -two subjects I know nothing about. That kind of tired.
I can tell you what all of this is, though. Right now it’s dozens and dozens of little CI moments. Some strung together like homemade Christmas popcorn garlands, one after another. Others singular and quite momentous in themselves.
From the day of activation up until now and for the next few months, I’m experiencing what I can best describe as tap dancing on my auditory nerves. I don’t feel like I’m hearing sounds. I feel like there are little tiny people inside my head with tiny little hammers and they’re tapping away at my under-exposed nerves. Tap, tap, tap, tinkle. Tappity-tappity tap…ping!
All of this tapping serves a purpose, though. As weird as I feel, I can already see the progress of these taps, tinkles and pings. The under-exposed nerves have never heard sound before. Ever. Because of that, the programs that I’m working with are designed to slowly increment the range of sounds that are allowed in, giving the infantilized nerves time to wake up, get acquainted and become active participants in receiving and processing sound.
I’ve already worked through a set of four programs -each active for 3 days. Now I’m working my way through a second set of four programs given to me by my audiologist. These programs last for a week each. Today I’m on the second. And I feel high. Not uncomfortably so but I do feel like I ingested something and everything is a wee bit illuminated.
I wear a BTE (behind the ear) hearing aid in my right ear that affords me very little residual hearing. Right now that residual hearing feels like it’s been touched with sprinkles of heightened color and glitter. I can read lips so much better. Sounds feel prettier. I’m experiencing less difficulty understanding conversations in front of me, especially when I sit back and allow myself to relax.
Last week I was out walking the dogs and enjoying some gorgeous Fall weather when suddenly I heard/felt a rumbling sound. The dogs jumped and I turned around to see a young man on a skateboard roll up to us. He jumped off and with a broad, lopsided smile asked if he could pet the dogs. I happily obliged and as he was kneeling over rubbing the their heads, we chatted about his own experiences with dogs. He was talking a mile a minute and I stood there, listening, smiling and nodding. I was smiling not at what he had to say but at the realization that I could understand almost every thing he was saying…and this was a stranger.
He chattered at me for a good five minutes, growing more and more animated and my grin grew wider and wider -gleeful that I could take all of this in! Suddenly, he stopped rambling and said, ‘Okay! Thanks! See you around!” and he was off, leaving behind a faint whiff of the cannabis. It hit me that he was having his own little special moment while I was having mine.
Two days later, I incremented to another program and on that very day, I attended a conference/panel discussion. Normally such events would be a battle for me. Missing out on approximately 50% of what is actually said, I attempt fill in the blanks to make sense of the subject matter. This time, I didn’t have to. My colleague and I sat up front where we had a clear view of all of the panel participants. I was able to lean back, read lips and with the help of an excellent sound system, I heard almost all of it. I was overjoyed! I found myself truly absorbing the information, understanding what was being discussed and I even felt confident enough to raise my hand and offer my own input -over and over again. This was an enormous CI moment for me.
Granted, the aforementioned event was within a controlled environment, with each person taking turns to speak and to speak clearly so that everyone could hear. Even so, this was an event of over 50 participants. That’s huge for me. I smiled for three days -even as I slept hard for three days as well because it was still indeed exhausting work.
I can now hear the swishing sound that my belt makes when I pull it through my jeans loops. I can hear the dog’s nails tapping on the hardwood floors as he trots to his food bowl. Can’t hear the cat yet but definitely the dog. I can hear the clink of the spatula hitting the pan when making dinner. I can hear myself pee. I can hear that woman in high heels clicking across our open-air office’s cement floors. I can hear my boss walking up behind my desk. The radiator as it gurgles to life.
The best is the yellow Fall leaves in our back yard. I can hear the leaves crunching under my shoes as I wade through them. It is absolutely moments like these that I’m hanging on to when I feel overloaded and discouraged.