Sunday, October 18, 2009

Surround sound

The cochlear implant is one of the best advancements in modern technology, it has changed millions of lives: those who have it and those who know someone who has one. Ten years ago, I received my first implant and that turned my world upside down. I began hearing things I had yet heard or never really heard the sound in its best clarity. Noisy static became music, bees began buzzing, tires squealed. Before the second the implant was activated, I thought I was hearing all the things a human being was able to hear. Little did I realize how much I missed out on.

Fast forward to the present, I received my second cochlear implant on my right side. For ten long years, I had put off the surgery for multiple reasons revolving around school and sports. I simply couldn't take a break from playing soccer or basketball or take time off from school. When the Deaflympics became a reality to me, I saw a window for the second implant. I knew there wouldn't be another opportunity. Obviously, I grabbed it.

The surgery was quite the drug trip. I'll admit, I had a great nap through the surgery. Naturally, it felt too short (haha). I had some difficulty with my balance, I had completely lost it due to surgery. I'm sure it was pretty funny to watch, I couldn't get out of bed on my own or even walk up on the bleachers at my sister's volleyball games. Slowly but surely, I began regaining my balance as I recovered over the weeks. I am glad to report that I have all my balance back!

The activation day is labeled as one of my most interesting days yet. I must admit, I didn't really know what to expect because my last activation was a piece of cake. My transition from hearing aids to a cochlear implant was so smooth, I barely had any trouble with it. My family had repeatedly told me how it wasn't going to be easy and potentially disappointing at first. I prepared myself for the worst. It was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I expected something much worse. The first sound I heard was an extremely high pitched buzz that continuously buzzed on. It was the fan in the room. Confused, I asked my audiologist if it was remotely normal to hear the high frequency continuously. She assured me and said it was going to be like that for awhile, at least until my brain starts making sense of the sounds. My audiologist was the first person to talk to me, she talked about her awesome girls. I was bewildered at the sound of her voice. It sounded like she had been sucking up helium for so long, in other words, she sounded like Minnie mouse! I started laughing in result of that epiphany and the sound of my own voice was high pitched, just like everyone else's in that room (my mom and aunt were there). Our laughter sounded like hyenas laughing, it was so very high pitched.

My audiologist decided to see what I could do with only the new implant, so she did some auditory tests. She gave me four words: shoe, airplane, toothbrush, and baseball. She was curious to see if I could detect the syllables in the words. I did well on that. Then, she wanted to see if I could understand the words. Airplane, toothbrush, and baseball were mixed up. I had to listen hard for certain clues such as the 'sh' in toothbrush and 'se' 'all' in baseball and 'lane' in airplane. Amazingly, I got them all. I was very surprised with myself because it had been ten years since I had done something like that. It was not easy, but I was able to do it. It is incredible how fast my brain was able to work with the new implant within only 20 minutes of activation.

Even though my brain adapted quickly, I still have a long way to go. I still cannot understand sentences. Everything sounds extremely high pitched. I am re-training myself with environmental sounds now. Water running does not sound like it should, my dad sounds like Minnie mouse and last time I checked, he did not :) I like it more each day, however, I still prefer my left one over the right one. I think I always will, no matter what. I definitely can tell the difference between having one implant on and having both on. With two, everything sounds much louder and clearer.

I am looking forward to seeing where this takes me. For ten years, the cochlear implant has done so much for me. If I am able to have conversations on the phone with my brother with just one implant, imagine what I will be able to do with two. I can hardly wait!