Thursday, May 23, 2013

More new sounds and reasons to dance for joy!

Well, I passed the restaurant test. I am so excited! This afternoon I went to a restaurant with a large group and I could hear 95% of the conversation around me! I could participate because I could hear!! I could even hear people talking that were a couple people down the table. It was awesome. If I hadn't been in a public place, I may have done a happy dance. (It was a mexican restaurant with fantastic margaritas, so maybe it is not unusual to see someone do a happy dance in the restaurant. But I refrained.)

Before my surgery, and even before the sudden hearing loss in November, restaurants were not a favorite place. Large groups were even worse. It was just too much noise, and no matter how hard I tried, I struggled to be a part of the conversation. I usually ended up feeling left out. Not today. I really enjoyed myself like I haven't in years. Yay! More HOPE.

I had my one week appointment yesterday. My audiologist did more testing and mapped out a new program for me. When she turned the new program on, it was LOUD! She had to back it off quite a bit, but it is still even louder than the programs I had last week. I am hearing even more new things. Again, I have homework before my one month appointment. I have four programs and, again, I have to work my way up to program four by June 13.

This little miracle inside my head just keeps getting better. I still have the munchkin voices, but I don't care. I'm hearing things I haven't heard since I was a kid. Last night, I heard an incredibly annoying bird outside the window. Today I heard the kitchen timer I use in my classroom - from across the room! I can hear the morning and dismissal bell again at school. (The kids will tell you, it's loud! But I couldn't hear it after November.) A friend came into my classroom to talk to me while my kids were watching a video and she spoke very quietly and there was background noise from the video, and I had no problem hearing her. She even said she was speaking much softer than she normally would when talking to me. All of these little things are miracles to me! I am overjoyed by the sounds I am hearing. Each different situation provides another opportunity to test out my new hearing. One thing I have not done since activation is watch TV. I just haven't had time with the craziness of the last few weeks of school. Maybe come June 4, I can sit down with some of my favorite shows and do some more "testing".

Monday, May 20, 2013

Testing, testing...

Can I just say how excited I am?!?! This first day at school with my cochlear implant turned on was not high on my list of priorities. In fact, I was sort of dreading it. I was sure the noise and static would get to me and I would have to remove my processor before day's end. That was not the case. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how well my hearing was today. I came home in a good mood, and it was a MONDAY!

I showed my students the processor and explained to them how it worked. I showed them that the magnet in the coil sticks to the metal chair and to my head. They thought that was cool. (I'm a little amazed by that too!) I told them that I could hear better now, but when they all talk at once I can't understand them - it's just a bunch of noise. I need everyone to talk one at a time so I can understand what they are saying. A few times today, when I couldn't understand them, I saw them shushing their fellow students so that they could be heard. (Maybe I should have used that line at the beginning of the year!) Anyway, I passed day one of the "classroom test". We'll see how tomorrow goes.

I also got to test out my CI at a retirement party this afternoon. A crowded room full of noisy conversations on Saturday put my CI into a tailspin and all I could hear was static and electronic noise. I had to remove it for a while. Today, no need. While there was background noise that was difficult to shut out, I could hear more conversation. I still missed some things, but I caught more than I have in the last 6 months, and maybe even more than before I had my sudden hearing loss. It was promising instead of depressing, which is what situations like that usually are for me. The background noise and hum of many conversations going on simultaneously just drowns out the voices I am trying to hear, no matter how close I am or how hard I am concentrating. Today, I felt like I was close to being able to hear and participate even at a noisy party. HOPE.

Sometime on Sunday, voices moved from being mostly robotic to more munchkin-sounding. I almost laughed during church as I listened to the congregation singing and it sounded very much like I was surrounded by a munchkin choir.

Tonight I changed to program three. My assignment was to work my way up to three or four by my appointment on Wednesday. I am being a model student and doing my homework. I am happy that sound is becoming "normal" and I am adjusting as quickly as I am. I really didn't expect these results this fast. Sounds aren't yet normal. Everything still has that electronic ringing and voices are still munchkin-like, but each day gets a little better. Music isn't quite as wonderful, but I am not concentrating my effort on that at this time. I want to get speech recognition mastered first. My audiologist said it would take several months to enjoy music and get to the point where I would be able to sing in choir, praise team, etc.

My new sound to rejoice over today? I can now hear the beeper on the oven timer - even from another room! Believe me when I say the whole family is happy about that!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Activation Day

My cochlear implant is activated. On Friday, I was fitted with my processor and turned on. It wasn't a miraculous thing like some people imagine. It wasn't clear. It wasn't even too loud. The first thing I heard was squeals and squeaks and beeps. Lots of them. Then with in a few minutes those squeaks and beeps only happened when people were speaking or there was sound in the room. Within the 40 minutes I was in the audiologist's office, the squeaks and beeps turned to words. Everything was very electronic. Voices sounded like robots. Yesterday, all sounds had an electronic quality. They were louder than before and they sounded like the sounds they are, but they were accompanied by an electronic ringing - like you might hear from a bad microphone - that hollow, ringing sound.

Today, sounds were fairly regular sounding - a little bit of the ringing remains. I notice that I can hear things that I could not before. So that is something to rejoice over! I heard the cat's bell yesterday for the first time. (OK, maybe that is something I am not going to rejoice over!) I can hear the keys on my keyboard clicking as I type. The rustle of paper. So, I discover that maybe I was not being quite as stealth as I thought when I sneak into my children's rooms or quietly try to do something without disturbing others.

Voices continue to sound like robots. In regular conversation, I can deal with that. In noisy situations, I get nothing but electronic static and reverberation. I am a little concerned about being in the classroom on Monday. My classroom qualifies as one of those "noisy situations". We'll have to see if I can make it through the day wearing the processor.

I picked out a lovely, fashionable dark brown for my processor. OK, I admit, I just wanted it to match my hair color. Fashion had nothing to do with it. Until she told me I get one processor cover with my kit. Then, of course, I picked a zebra print! When we walked out of the audiologist's office, she sent me on my way with a suitcase of accessories and literature. I am not joking when I say suitcase. It is literally the size of a small carry-on suitcase. It has a shoulder strap and everything! It weighs eight pounds. (I weighed it.) This gadget comes with more bells and whistles than an iphone. She only explained about half of them to me and I have to bring my suitcase with me next week to my appointment to get briefed on the remaining cords and gizmos. I even have a remote to work my volume, programs, and check battery status.

In my first few days, I have to say that it hasn't been bad. It hasn't been overwhelmingly great, either. But, I can say that it shows promise. I have to be patient and let my brain adjust to the sounds. I have four programs on my remote. My audiologist set up the same program on all, just bumping up the volume on each one. My assignment before my next appointment is to move up to the next program every 2-3 days. Today I tried the second program just to see what it sounded like. Truthfully, it didn't sound much different from the first one, except maybe a bit louder. So I left it there. In a couple of days I'll try program three. When I return for my next mapping appointment on Wednesday, we will do more testing, tweaking and eventually set up specific programs for different situations.

So, my first impression? I don't hate it. I don't love it. But, I think eventually I will.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Bad Hearing" Days

Well, I've had a few "bad hearing" days in the last week. Not as many since surgery as I thought I'd have - my kids at school are actually more understanding when I don't hear something now than before my surgery. I think it's because they (and others) are now more aware that I cannot hear in certain situations. This makes life a bit easier for me. People who are aware of my hearing loss and recent adventures adapt to speak to me by doing simple, but effective things. Speak directly to me, face to face. I need to read your lips. Speak loudly and clearly, but don't shout. I appreciate these small gestures that people close to me have been doing for years because of my hearing loss.

So what are "bad hearing" days? I'm sure people with normal hearing don't have them, but then again, maybe you do. There are some days or situations that I just feel like my hearing aid isn't working correctly or my ears are plugged up. I just struggle to hear. I can't understand anything. Sometimes it may be the situation. Maybe I can blame it on the weather. I don't know why my ears do this sometimes, but I do know that other people with hearing impairments have "bad hearing" days also.

Last Thursday, the girls and I went to Rally's for supper. I hate that staticky order-taking microphone/speaker thing. Even on good hearing days, I can't understand a thing they say to me. I relay our order and the lady inside the box says something back. No clue. I look at Maddie with a confused look and she translates. I answer and order the rest of our food and again she speaks in gobbley-gook. Maddie again translates. This happened about 3 times just placing our order. As we pull away, Maddie states that she should always place the order when we go through the drive-thru. Ugh. Inside my head I am hoping that next time I go through that drive-thru I can understand.

This time of year I have to attend a lot of meetings for work. Meetings are the worst. I hate meetings, but probably not for the same reasons as others. It is so hard for me to hear anybody not speaking with a microphone at a meeting. Even in small groups it is difficult to understand everyone if more than one person is talking at a time. It's worse if there is background noise. Even if it is just a fan or vent. That white noise is NOISE. It gets in the way of me hearing what I need to hear. Sometimes I am utterly exhausted just trying to hear and understand during the course of a day.

Last night we went to my daughter's band concert. I was not looking forward to it because listening to music in a place with bad acoustics is often just a noise-fest for me. The concert was in the high school gym - not the greatest place to appreciate music. Also, I have struggled with hearing higher frequencies and the melody of music since my sudden hearing loss in November. But I can say that the concert was quite enjoyable. Either my expectations had dropped so low that it was not nearly as bad as I thought or I was having a better hearing day. Who knows. Maybe the bands were so spectacular that they prevailed over my bad hearing. Yeah, we'll go with that. They were good.

I know I'll still have "bad hearing" days after my CI is activated, but I am hoping that they will be minimal. I am setting high standards for my bionic ear to hear and UNDERSTAND that voice in the drive-thru speaker, go into a meeting and UNDERSTAND the whole conversation, no matter who is speaking. I am not as confident on the clarity of music as I have heard mixed results from other CI recipients. That will have to be determined.

Just 2 days until activation. I am very excited. I am not nervous, more of a feeling of uncertainty. I do not want to set my expectations too high and be disappointed in the first few days. But I do put a lot of hope into this device. In my heart, I want to hear NOW. In my head, I know it can be days, weeks, months, even years of mapping for some people to find the settings that give them the best hearing and clarity for the situations of their lives.

Four weeks. When you are waiting for something, time usually goes by so slowly. I am amazed that surgery has come and gone and my activation date is upon me. I am ready.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Wanna see my scar?

OK, it's been two and a half weeks. It's not really that gross anymore. In fact, I was surprised to see that you can hardly see it anymore. So if you want to see where they cut me open to make me the bionic woman, take a look. If not, don't read any more of this post!

Things are pretty much back to normal around here. After my first week back at work, I was exhausted. Add state testing (which in and of itself is somehow an exhausting experience) on top of getting back into routine and I was beat every evening. On Saturday, I slept in. That rejuvenated me for my busy weekend of getting the sunporch and patio unpacked and cleaned out. It was such a gorgeous weekend, that I got the itch to entertain. I am ready for summer! I can now hang out in my favorite room of the house - the sunporch! I went to the greenhouse and got plants and got started on my gardening. Next weekend it will be getting the camper out and cleaned up and packed for the summer season. And while I am busy doing all my favorite things of this season, it's OK that I really can't hear any better than before. My activation date is May 17 and with that date in my head, I can continue to plow through my days, because I know it will be here before I even turn around! I keep telling people "Now it's just a waiting game." Well, not really. I am NOT sitting around waiting. If you know me, you know I don't ever sit around! I have plenty of my favorite things (gardening and getting ready for summer) and some of my not-so-favorite things (grading papers and end of the school year tasks) to keep me busy. But the days are flying by. So even though I have nothing new to report right now, I will soon! Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Every day is a little better

I went back to work on Monday. All in all, I've felt very good and haven't had to use much medication to manage pain. But, boy, am I worn out at the end of the day!

My little third grade buddies were so fun on Monday. I shared a few books with them to help explain cochlear implants. I love the book, Let's Hear It For Almigal! It's about a little girl who gets a cochlear implant and how she is absolutely the luckiest girl in the world. It's written in fun, kid-friendly language and my students have enjoyed reading it this week. I also showed them my scar (if they wanted to look). I think the boys liked that! They are eagerly awaiting to see the processor (the outside component of the CI) when I get it in a few weeks.

My jaw and ear area have been a little sore, but it comes and goes. The incision has been very itchy lately and the funny taste in my mouth continues. Some things taste fine (like coffee! Yay!) and there are other things that the funny taste prevails over the taste of the food. These are minor things in the grand scheme, but annoying. Overall, I am amazed that my incision has healed so well and I am as pain free as I am. My ear is starting to lay flatter on my head and I don't look so lopsided.

I am also excited that I woke up this morning and realized that I had slept on my right side last night! Two weeks after surgery and I can lay on the right side of my head without too much discomfort. I also have almost all the feeling back into my ear lobe. There are still a few spots that are numb yet, but mostly I feel an ear there, now!

With the nice sunny, warm weather, I am glad I can now wear my sunglasses. Last weekend it was painful to wear sunglasses. The area was still too swollen and sore.

Every day is a little better and a little closer to my activation date. I am looking forward to getting my sound processor and hearing with my bionic ear in two weeks. May 17 is just around the corner!

Here is another info graphic I found while doing my internet CI research. I hope it helps clarify how a cochlear implant works. I got the inner parts implanted during my surgery and will begin to wear the outer parts in two weeks.

Cochlear implants use an external microphone and speech processor that you generally wear behind your ear. A transmitter sends radiofrequency signals to a surgically implanted electronic chip, the receiver-stimulator, which stimulates the auditory nerve with electrodes that have been threaded through the cochlea.