Bionic powers activate!

Yesterday was activation day. I did not have a “rock star” activation, nor did I have a bad one. I think I’m absolutely average. The good news: I hear sound. The bad news: my brain does not yet know what to make of the sound.

Ed and both my parents came with, and my audiologist Cathy had a student with her, Whitney. So there were a lot of people in a little room, all waiting to see what happens. First, we went over all the equipment. When I say “all”, there is a lot. I basically get two of everything. The processor has a lot of pieces that come apart, which is a really good design because if one piece fails, you only have to replace it rather than replace the whole thing. But I’m not kidding, they gave me an entire (Advanced Bionics branded) backpack stuffed full of things. Extra cords, battery chargers, extra processor, new dry & store, etc etc.

Second, Cathy showed me how to put all the pieces together and put the processor on my head. Then, the big moment – turning it on. First she ran through all the electrodes, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief, because I could hear sound. So no matter what, it was worth it. I hear sound again in my right ear – the ear that hasn’t heard a thing outside of really low super loud sounds in 17 years.

Then we set tolerance levels. She went through the electrodes in groups of 4 and I listened to determine when each group got too loud – this is my threshold for now. As time goes on, that will likely increase. In fact, she gave me three programs – quiet, a little louder, and a little louder yet. I’ve already moved up to the middle one because quiet was starting to sound too quiet.

Then the other major moment – turning the whole thing on to hear speech. And this is where I was a little disappointed. I did have (unrealistic) hopes that I would be able to at least understand speech right away. I didn’t. In fact, over 24 hours later, I still don’t. I can pick out some words here and there if I really concentrate, but everything really sounds like just a jumble of noise. And everything had a tinny ringing with it (I think this is because it’s been so long since I heard anything in that frequency that my brain is freaking out by finally hearing it). That has diminished a little bit today and I’m starting to be able to distinguish sounds a little bit – they don’t sound “right” but I can tell a voice from a bark from rustling paper, for instance. I could even tell people singing in harmony, although the pitches were definitely not where they should be and it sounded like they were singing underwater in a tin can (which is hilarious, because that’s exactly how I first described what music sounded like when I first listened to it after my hearing loss but before my hearing aid).

The weird piece of all of this is that my left ear still hears like it normally does (although we did update to the new hearing aid, it is shockingly similar to what I was hearing only with slightly less overall volume). So I definitely hear two very distinct sounds – the channel that sounds correct and the channel that sounds wrong. We worked on getting the sound level balanced so that I’m hearing “evenly”, like the sound is in the center of my head rather than on one side or the other (like a normal person, although you may not realize this). The goal is that both of these channels that I’m hearing will begin to blend together in my brain. I have a feeling it will be awhile before that starts to happen.

So there is a lot of rehab in my future, getting my brain to understand the new sounds and getting the ears to work together. I started doing the read along with an audiobook thing last night, and that is definitely helping, I’ve watched TV (with captions, of course), I’ve even listened to music, which is definitely going to be a challenge. I had a meeting and group discussion at work. I’ve got a long ways to go, but I’m optimistic about it.

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