“Beep beep!” I heard myself say to the driver as I got off the bus after my hospital appointment to have my new cochlear implant switched on. On the short walk home, I noticed the absence of nearly all sound, except some rather comforting traffic noise and some unidentifiable beeping as I walked – my hair near the microphone by my ear, perhaps, or maybe the wind. I met my husband Tim on the path. “Beep beep!” he said. “Beep beep!” said I.
If you’re hoping to read about happy tears, laughter, hearing this person or that thing for the first time, I’m going to disappoint you. It was Not At All Like That. Here’s how it went.
The person who gets to cut the ribbon, as it were, is the audiologist. Anna’s opaque mask precluded lip-reading (they’d run out of clear ones) but she had an iPad set up facing me, with a surprisingly accurate speech-to-text display, so that was fine. She had ready a small suitcase of kit with my name on it, and the first job was to find the correct strength of magnet for attaching the transmitter to my head, where there is a magnet under my scalp. Too strong and it pulls at the skin; too weak and the transmitter will fall off.
That sorted, the programming of the implant via the computer began. Anna played beeps at different frequencies and I had to indicate when I could first hear them and when they reached the limit of comfort, in terms of volume. After a false start with losing the connection, we got through that. So far so good.
This is where we might expect a drum-roll, for I was about to hear speech with the implant for the first time. I had thought I was well-prepared. I had read that voices sound robotic, and for some time, until the brain adjusts. I wasn’t looking forward to that, but thought I was ready. But oh dear, I was not prepared for what I heard, which was tinny, high sounds that just seemed to be beeps. They had the rhythm of speech but I could not discern the words. “Beep beep beep” said Anna. “Beep beep” said I. I have to admit to being quite appalled and thinking ‘what have I done?’. But Anna assured me this was all normal at the start. So I pasted on a brave smile and gave her a thumbs up. Dammit though – this is clearly going to be much harder than I realised.
We packed up my troubles in my new kit bag and on I went to my appointment with Speech and Language Therapist, Ali.
An introduction to Auditory Training: fun and games?
Also aided by a speech-to-text display, Ali showed me an information sheet showing stages of progress when learning to hear with a cochlear implant. I’d already rolled a six to start, as it were, as the first step is to detect everyday sounds, and at least I was hearing something straight away. Some people only feel the sound at first, rather than hear it – perhaps those with much less hearing than me.
The second step is discrimination, and this is where my exercises are starting. I listened as Ali read the numbers one to thirty – no lipreading but of course I knew what was coming next! She would pause and ask me to say the last number I’d heard. I was relieved to find that, tinny and robotic though it was, I could recognise those words. After doing the same with the days of the week and the months, Ali showed me the online auditory training I can do with Advanced Bionics (and the other cochlear implant companies have equivalent resources). I had a go at identifying short sentences being read out from a list of possibilities, with some small success and some abject failure. Well, I feel the only way is up. I’ve also got instructions to practice identifying words from a list when spoken to me by someone at home, and I have an auditory Bingo sheet, where I can mark of when I a) hear and b) recognise different sounds.
Sound Bingo – how am I doing so far?
Wind – beeps.
Water running into the sink – beeps.
Cutlery into a drawer – beeps.
Footsteps – beeps.
Microwave beeps – beeps!
Toilet flushing – beeps.
Tapping on keyboards – beeps.
Own breathing – are they kidding?
Cat purring – not with the implant, but I pressed my other ear to our cat and could hear him purring. Oh lovely sound! I didn’t know I could hear that without my hearing aid! He is the loudest cat in the world and I was pleased that his MIAAAAAAAOWWW was that, albeit a tinny and strange one, not BEEEEEEEEEEEP!
I seem to be hearing beeping a lot of the time, and maybe this is why I’ve now got a headache. But what about voices? So far, I have spoken to Tim and my daughters, one over FaceTime. Lip-reading, I have mostly followed what they’ve said. But oh it is hard not to hear their dear voices. However, I am told this should normalise so I must be hopeful and hard-working and do all I can to help my brain adjust.
Ali advised me to use my implant alone for as much time as possible, in the interests of rehabilitating as well and as speedily as possible (we’re talking months here but of course the gains will be gradual). I can use my hearing aid in the non-implanted ear when I really need to follow a conversation, as I will tomorrow when I go for an eye test. Ali told me that in some places people’s hearing aids are taken away to force them to use the implant only. How appalling! Why would you do that?! Give us the information and let us make our choices.
Enough for one day
I’m too tired now to get the app I can use to control my implant, sort the Bluetooth connection between implant and phone, or to get to grips with all the kit. That can wait until tomorrow. All I need for tonight is to plug in the battery unit and the drying case which stores and dries the external parts of the implant overnight. I do remember Anna telling me I have to press the button twice to switch it on. What’s the betting it goes beep?!
What implant make of Cochlear have you chosen please! You say you wear a hearing aid in the other ear;’ Phonak do a twin hearing aid in tandem with Advanced Bionics Cochlear Naida Q90 model and for me it enhances the Implant wonderfully giving me all round sounds. 2.5 years on from my operation.
Hi Joan, that’s good to know! I’ve also gone with AB – I have the Marvel, and I’m told I will be given a compatible hearing aid for the non-implanted ear further down the line, so that will be good.
Doesn’t sound like much fun at the moment and I hope it won’t be long before your brain catches on to what it’s supposed to be doing with your new ear!
Implanted Feb 2020, with covid preventing some support appointments, I’m VERY slowly able to identify the beeps and buzzes, so keep on trying, but speech is still difficult, especially on the phone, understanding strong accents, fast speech, conversation changing from one person to another, soft voices, children in absolutely any background noise. I am using audio books to try and train my brain but it’s exhausting and I’m probably not doing it enough. Everyday life at work and home of course provides practice but you’ve got to grit your teeth and be prepared to struggle through, endlessly explaining your issues to everyone who promptly forget or have no concept, but it has got to be worth it eventually. It will improve bit by bit and I hope a lot faster for you. Rooting for you.
Thank you. It’s helpful to hear about other people’s experiences and it sounds like it’s proving a hard slog for you. I suspect this is more usual than not! I am wondering how much auditory training is enough! I’m trying to do an hour a day of the online training exercises plus using the implant most of the time. You’re right, it’s very tiring! I do hope it feels like a positive thing for you, despite the difficulties, and that you’ll continue to see progress. Best wishes to you.
I read a couple of your monthly posts and as I have not yet had the Operation (17th Feb 2022) though it best to go back to the start and read carefully and make notes as reminders for when I see the audiologist again for switch on. I think I’m all set up for PCR tests accommodation in Bristol. and my wife is driving us up and back. So waiting now as it ere for Curtain Call. St Michaels and The Appointments lady, Sarah at the Infirmary have been wonderful. So once again thank you for showing to me the link to your site and your work. So far I have gone back onto the AB UK & Ireland page on Facebook. Is there a way I can somehow download/store the address so that I can get to your list of experiences? Over the months I’d hate to lose touch with where the Facebook page has migrated to. Thanks again and best wishes, Simon.
Hi Simon, I’m really glad the blog looks useful and wish you all the very best for your op and rehabilitation. It’s really interesting to hear about other people’s experiences so feel free to post comments about your own! Good to know you’ve had good experiences so far. I’m not quite sure if you’re asking how to save this site address, but I see you have signed up to receive
an email whenever I publish a new blog, so you’ll get that. You can bookmark it too. And I do post on the AB Facebook page whenever I publish a blog. Thank you. Sarah