A few weeks ago, my partner and I were enjoying a meal outside in our backyard. As we were chatting, I heard a sound and paused for a moment. “Did I just hear a rooster crowing?” She smiled and replied, “No, that was a man laughing.”
This Thursday will be three weeks since surgery. This Thursday is when I go in to the audiologist’s office and get the additional parts -the external parts. I’m super, super excited and I’m a little nervous at the same time.
What I’m excited about is what I will be able to hear. My partner and loved ones’ voices. Different layers of music that I’ve never heard before -not just the bass but the melody and the lyrics; birds singing and water rushing; leaves crackling and Ezra’s full whine -I only hear the middle part, the deepest part. The swish/cracking sound of a golf club hitting a ball. The subway announcements informing me that a train will run express so I can get off and not miss my stop. Rain falling. Someone calling my name from across the street or the next room. My partner whispering to me during a show. The clicking sound that a cat’s claws make while walking across wood floor. The doorbell. A full orchestra -violins, horns, percussion, clarinets, sax, flute, piano. The beep of the coffeemaker when it’s done so I know it’s actually time to get out of bed in the morning because a cup will be ready within seconds and not minutes.
What I’m nervous about is my expectations. I’m trying not to have any so that I can keep an open mind and enjoy the process no matter what. Many people have asked me if I’m excited to hear everything and I understand that the assumption is that I will be able to just “hear” like a person with normal hearing does. And this is where I step in and explain -and remind myself to not have this same idealistic expectation. It won’t be like putting a new lightbulb in and flipping the switch.
The process will include me training my brain to map sounds that it’s never heard before. That will be the challenge. To listen to audiobooks, podcasts, various types of music…over and over again. There are several iPad apps that I can download and listen to in order to teach my brain to map sounds. It will almost be like me learning the fundamentals -my ABC’s all over again because one of my five senses missed out the first time around.
One of the challenges I will encounter is to learn to let go of lip-reading and to actually rely on the implanted ear to “hear”. Lip-reading includes face-reading. It includes a million possible combinations of visual cues. It includes a million possible assumptions based upon context, atmosphere, association and even awareness of current events.
If a person that I don’t know walks up to me and starts talking, my brain scrambles to decipher the possibilities. Small talk includes “how are you?”, “where are you from?”, “how can I help you?”, “the weather is nice today”, “what time is it?”, “what is your name?”, “how do you get from point A to point B?” and so on. I can “read” those items with relative ease.
Same at home, “Hi honey!”, “What shall we make for dinner?”, “Yes, the cat already ate”, “Can you hand me that, please?” , “Ready to go?”, “Do you have the keys?”, etc.
It’s when conversations go beyond small talk that I work harder (and I make more mistakes). Classroom discussions, dinner parties, conference rooms with more than 5 people….it’s like watching a tennis game with a dozen players and no rules. It’s exhausting but I refuse to disengage. I rely on the patience of those around me to fill me in on what I miss and 95% of the time, people come through.
I try to read the news, blogs, social media and other sources of current affairs so that I can keep abreast of potential topics. I do this as an intelligent person interested in the world I live in but it also literally helps with cognizant lip-reading. Just a few months ago, I was on the train and dipping into a conversation that was happening half-way across the subway car. I had read a quick summary of the daily news from New York Times and because of that, I easily recognized that the two people I was “eavesdropping” on were discussing the development that Amazon’s Bezos had purchased the Washington Post. I “read” the conversation for a good three minutes before disembarking the train. A few weeks ago, I read another conversation on the train between three people who were discussing the government shut down and what did it mean for all of us.
I suppose that this sort of social/political/current events awareness would help a hearing person navigate conversations as well so I’m certain I will continue to employ this strategy. I imagine it will be a fine balance. Learning to sit back, let go of lip-reading and having the confidence to let my ear naturally work on its own is what I will need to practice. Should be interesting.