A week or so ago, I returned to my audiologist, John, who programs my cochlear implant. It’s a little confusing when I describe it, because I still see Walt, the audiologist who takes care of the hearing aid in my other ear. Anyway, we started out the way that the last couple sessions started. John connected my implant to his computer and ran through a series of tones to see how my brain was adapting to the electrical impulses from my implant.
But before we got very far, he took me down the hall to the soundproof booths that are used for hearing tests. There, he re-ran the test that was required to be approved for surgery. In that test, a voice reads random sentences and you have to repeat back any words (or whole sentences) that you can understand. This test is run one ear at a time, so I took off my hearing aid and listened only with my implant. I thought I did well, but John seemed excited. We laughed because one of the sentences said something about the gecko that is on television commercials. For some reason, John was very pleased that I had understood the word “gecko.”
After he did the math and calculated the results of my test, I understood why he was so pleased. In the same test, prior to my surgery, I had understood 7 percent of the words. Now, four months post-implant, I understood 70 percent of the words. No wonder people keep telling me that my hearing is noticeably better.
After the testing, John tried some more programming. Whatever he did was too much made everything sound like my head was inside a garbage can, so he tried some other things. Along the way, we discovered that of the 12 electrodes that were inserted into my cochlea, two of them don’t seem to be doing much. Ten of them I can “hear” but the last two, while I can “feel” them, I don’t really “hear” anything with them. For each electrode, John turns up the volume until I say that it is “uncomfortably loud.” But for those two electrodes, there really isn’t a “loud” and a “soft.” I sort of hear something, but it doesn’t really get louder as he turns up the input. What I notice, is that in one ear, instead of getting loud, I can feel the volume pounding in my head much like you can feel a loud bass thump from a big speaker at a rock concert. I feel it more than hear it. The other electrode is similar, I don’t hear it or feel it, but instead, at high “volumes” I can feel my head hurt. It’s like I have a bad headache that pules with the beat, on, off, on, off, on, off.
In the end, John turned off those two electrodes. His thinking is that if these electrodes aren’t working by now, they aren’t going to. Most likely, they are in a part of the cochlea that has more nerve damage and isn’t really “talking” to my brain anymore. In any case, my implant can function with only four electrodes, so I should be just fine with ten. Before I left, John finished reprogramming everything using the ten working electrodes, as well as some additional changes and enhancements that I now have to get used to. It wasn’t as much as he had hoped to do, but we’re still moving forward. John said that for being only four months after my surgery, he felt I was doing very well.
And so the adventure continues. Not with giant leaps forward, but with baby steps.
But forward is still forward.