Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bionic Travels: Personalized Programming

My VERY EXPENSIVE implant comes with a fancy remote control.  Our audiologists program these remotes so we can tune our CIs to the current hearing situation. The standard programs work well, but I thought they were a little boring: Everyday. Noise. Focus. Music.

My last blog post mentions that my audi is a little low on the W/F scale, so I was hesitant to present to her the list of the programs I NEED to hear in my life situations. If I am going to be BIONIC, then my programs need to reflect this. How is “Everyday” bionic, I ask? 

I have previously mentioned that I was hoping for the Metaphysical Ancestral Communication program. In particular, I would like to say “Hi” to my mom, happily residing at Table with friends and family in heaven. She knew I was heading in the CI direction and it was she who ‘offered’ me this opportunity through our shared genes. But, alas, my audi denied me this program.  I must ask Jesus to say “Hi” to her for me. That works, but I was hoping for a more direct line.

I love being outdoors and I figured The Earth Goddess program would enable me to hear the grass grow. I’d also enjoy personalized weather reports, a mosquito alert system, and automatic birdcall recognition. But again--denied.

Keeping is simple, I thought the Simultaneous Translation program would be easily accessed.  I want to visit my cousins in Hungary, so Hungarian is on my list since it’s such a difficult language.  Why not just add Romanian, Icelandic and French? How hard can it BE??  

My idea of Bionic encompasses all those things plus the ability to chat with the fairies who will soon be visiting all the little ceramic houses I have been making for them.  The Celtic Fairie program would cover that.  And, the Narnian Animal Language program?  Perfect for telling our resident deer family that, while they are cute and generally behave politely, the late night Tulip Tasting Sessions need to end. The Narnian Owls and their awesome hearing abilities are close by. I know they are. If only I could reach out to them….

Boldly I showed my audi my list.  She said with a grin, “I’ll pass this onto Cochlear and see what they can do.”  That means all I can do it wait and be content with Everyday. Noise. Focus. Music.  Stay tuned….

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bionic Travels: Mapping #3

The noisy world is getting noisier.  Those around me are growing happier.  I am feeling freer.  The cochlear implant bill was $97,422.14.  A small price to pay for a freer, happier, nosier world??   Time will tell once the insurance company decides that they actually DID give pre approval for this procedure which they apparently  have ‘forgotten’ at this point.  Don’t get me started on health care….

That aside. This device is starting to work the miracles I was promised. It’s been fast for me because I had hearing up until surgery. Not much, but enough that I knew what voices sounded like even though I could no longer discern words very well.  Three weeks past activation, I’m understanding more than I have in YEARS!  It’s truly remarkable.  I focus mostly on voices because I could have lived without the newly noticed squeaky windshield wipers and the sounds of emptying water from the clothes washer which sounds as if it is flooding the house… Those would NOT have been worth $97,422.14. Relationships are.

Dave offered a profound insight the other day. For a long time he has been consciously and subconsciously making a choice every time he wanted to say something to me:  “Should I bother with this comment or thought? Is it worth repeating until she gets it?”  As an extrovert, he determined that is a good question to ask oneself all the time, regardless; but when it becomes necessary to calculate every word with one’s wife, that’s just a drag.  His impatience was leaking out though he really tried to seal the gaps. I did the best I could, but it was still hard. 

Many moons ago (four years ago when I first became a CI candidate) my audi said many a relationship has been rescued from the brink of despair by the hearing impaired person getting a CI.  I hear that.  (Pun intended and edited IN.) We were not near any brink, but it was a drag--on Dave, on the kids, on my friends, on my extended family, on anyone who had the audacity to try to telephone me, on the clerk at the ice cream store… Hard.  BUT NOT NOW.  At some point every day, someone close to me says the following (insert gleeful expressions) “You can hear me!!!” “I’m talking in a normal voice.”  “You heard that and I wasn’t looking at you!”

The clerks, mumbling into their cash registers, still get a blank stare from me, but I am actually feeling more confident to go out shopping without an interpreter. I’m a confident and active person so this was weird, but true.  I was tired of telling people with my clear, well articulated speech “I am functionally deaf, could you please speak more slowly. No, you don’t need to speak more loudly, but I have to figure out what you are saying blah, blah, blah…” I am feeling more free… like I could walk into a store all by fifty-something self and make a purchase without confusion!

And then there are restaurants.  I’ve avoided them since surgery July 8, but delivering our son to college last week I needed to eat and therefore had to venture into those noisy, scary places.  Chipotle?!  They obviously have no clue that hearing impaired people exist!!!  Or, if they do, they haven’t any interest in our cash! Line an entire restaurant in METAL?!  HA!!!  Our lunchtime foray into this bastion of college student feeding does not count on the “I could actually hear the waitress say something!” scale of small miracles.  But, the first night, I actually DID hear the waitress say something!  The next morning the timid waiter wasn’t really awake because I had to ask my Oh So Patient College Sophomore Son to interpret for me.  But, one out of three isn’t bad!

If you’re what I affectionately call a ‘quantoid’, you will be more fascinated with the following stats. These are oft rattled off by the CI wearing set, though I’m still behind the curve. When we get our hearing tested we get scored as far as how many words we can recognize, how loud frequencies are, if we can repeat a sentence and have it make sense… stuff like that.  My Ph.D. clad audiologist has been outstanding during this initial mapping phase. While I prefer warm and fuzzy health care providers and she’s not high on the W/F (Warm/Fuzzy) scale, I can tell SHE’S GOOD. She is listening really well to me and paying attention to a gazillion details. I am truly amazed at how she can tweak this CI to fit my needs in all sorts of cosmic dimensions. This time she put me back in THE BOOTH.  (The booth makes us cry and toss up our heads and hands in frustration as it confirms what we know to be terribly true already: we cannot hear.) Anyway, it’s standard procedure to put us in the booth to become qualified as a CI candidate to quantitatively confirm just how bad our hearing really is. I understood ZERO words with no hearing aids and about 4-14% with them. That’s not real conducive to easy living in the hearing world with only a first graders’ vocabulary of sign language. With the CI, three weeks after activation, I scored 64% of word recognition for words spoken in quiet with no context.  Add context with sentences and I got 100%. Stunning. I’ve been told that with practice (not really into that yet), I can reach around 90%.

I think maybe possibly I’m a believer.  Bring on the words.  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Marsh Beaches

When I was in my early twenties and working for an organization with campus ministers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, I didn’t want to move to Ohio because they had such boring license plates. Yea, I was shallow, but thankfully God was not and eventually I landed here.

Ohio is a great mix of urban and rural. Our cities may be rusting around the edges, but our countryside is in full bloom. We may be in the top 10 states for obesity rates, but we also have miles and miles of bike paths and a national park. Once upon a time a squirrel would have been able to cross the state without ever touching the ground. Not so any more, but we can fish for steelhead trout in the rivers off of Lake Erie and we have a dune eco system where humans have actually preserved wetlands and marshes. Living in suburbia, I forget this sometimes. It’s good for me to escape to Lake Erie a couple of times a year to be reminded of the habitat diversity found here. Ohio isn’t only about the river that once caught on fire or boring license plates. 

I took one of my infrequent trips up to Lake Erie the other day.  Julie had a rare weekday of vacation and off we went to the appropriately named “Old Woman Estuary.” Birds, plants and other creatures like estuaries, no just old women. We always have our eyes to the sky as occasional birders – unlikely we will ever get our official khaki birding vests or a high powered spotting scope or pursue a Big Year. But, occasional birding is like a little treasure hunt and we happily go on those as often as we can. Lake Erie, especially during migration, has some of the Great Lakes Best birding spots.

I counted 8 hawks along the high way en route, a nice way to start the day. Overall, the day’s bird list was short and boring, but it was refreshing to walk along the lake, feel the breeze and have sand fill my shoes. I don’t do beaches when it’s hot outside or requires swimming or contains the scantily clad of Ohio’s obese population. The marsh beach with scattered dead fish, and flotsam and jetsam on a 70 degree day is fine with me. And this trip there was also an added bonus: I heard the waves. You might not be able to hear them as you see a few of my photos, but you can pretend (just like I’ve been doing for years!) 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Bionic Travels: The CI Revealed

The first time I saw someone wearing one of these devices I felt sort of sick to my stomach. I'm not in the medical profession for all the right reasons. I thought that the coil went straight through into one's skull permanently.  Yuck.  

Now I know better. The internal processor is a little bit boxy and still uncomfortable, but I can pop this puppy off whenever I am so inclined and enter the world of deafness straightaway while looking entirely normal (though 'entirely normal' is open to interpretation.)

If you're interested in the grey haired lady's new techno device, here you are: 

Bionic Travels: The Secret Language of Audiologists

I have gathered several audiologists over the past few years and I have seen glimpses of their secret language. I also believe they have a Worldwide Secret Society of Audiologists.

They send out just enough clues to those of us who are outside their Society to keep us guessing. (I wonder what it sounds like at their national conventions?!) I get follow up letters after I meet with my audiologists. I thought others like me might want a small hint of how they like to communicate:

“Threshold responses to warbled tone stimuli ranged from 15 dB-90dB for the frequencies 250 Hz-4000Hz for the right ear, and 5 dB-45 dB for the left ear.”

“Tympanometry is consistent with normal middle ear function bilaterally.”

Apparently I “present as a fifty something year old female with moderate to profound progressive bilateral sensorineural hearing loss of unknown etiology.” 

“Using routine audiometric technique, a psychophysical map was created with good reliability.” (I always knew I was a physical psycho, but now there is proof in my records!)

Finally, “Appropriate behavior was observed when the Maps were tested.” Whew!! Good thing.

For my college aged blog readers: I would strongly recommend you consider becoming members of the Worldwide Secret Society of Audiologists! With all the Boomers getting older and needing hearing assistance, plus all the Millennials who listen to their iMusic devices too loudly, job security is all but guaranteed. And, you’d get to speak a really cool secret language. Better than Primitive Quendian, Westron, Khuzdul or Morgoth. Pays more too. Just sayin’…  

Bionic Travels: "What's That?"

My frequent inquiry of family and friends has shifted from “What?” to “What’s that?” Communicating with me has required a great deal of patience for many years (much to the chagrin of the teenagers I raised during those years.)  I was more than a little worried about the patience that would be required of people now that I’m wearing this cochlear implant. The comments 15 days after my CI activation are nothing short of miraculous:

“You are hearing me.”
“I don’t have to talk as loud now.”
“I asked you that question from upstairs and you answered me.”
“Wow! You can hear me! I’m so happy!” x3 in the same 30 minute conversation
“I’m talking in a normal voice.”
“Did you realize…..?”

All those comments = no one feeling impatient with my constant new question:  “What’s that?”

I am a pretty quick study in most things (statistics, chemistry and calculus aside), but I didn’t expect to be ‘a quick study’ with this CI. Don’t tell my audi, but I’m not really even practicing. All I have done is watch three pilot TV shows on Netflix: Glee, Ugly Betty and Switched at Birth, the later one being brand new to me. I want to see it again and see how well I can follow the signing. I am seriously behind the times in the TV department, but I don't care.  My assignment was to watch shows with closed captions and wearing only my CI (and pants or a dress, of course.) That I did.  I can understand what’s being said, but I’m well practiced in closed captioning, so it’s tricky to know how my brain is being trained. (Trained by Glee and Ugly Betty? Scary, indeed.) 

The question at hand relates to environmental sounds. It’s a noisy world we live in!  I understand how deaf individuals might not want to enter the hearing world.  I have always heard voices (no comments please) and environmental sounds, just not very well for about 15 years. Some of them faded out completely. The ones that abandoned me are the ones I am starting to ask about.

“What’s that?”
“A blue jay, Andi.”
“What’s that?”
“A blue jay, Andi.”
“What’s that?”
“A blue jay, Andi.”

Not a typo.  Just one day’s requirement of patience from my family.

“Was that a bullfrog?” I asked walking towards Lake Erie from the Sheldon Marsh parking lot the other day. You’ve passed it on the way to Cedar Point, btw. But, most people are drooling over elephant ears and waiting in line for two hours for the latest and greatest roller coaster. Me? Turning off at Sheldon Marsh to wander a long the beach with dead fish and dune plants, but that’s my next blog entry….

So, I say, “Was that a bullfrog?” 
“No, Andi, that’s a jet ski.”

When in doubt, always assume the best of the situation, right?  Bullfrogs trump jet skis in my book any day! The point is, I heard something and I could not see anything!  The list continues to grow. This is good and why my insurance company invested a bazillion dollars in me and my surgeon’s new Ferrari.

“What’s that?” 
A siren (those are the worst and hardest to discern.)
A bird (but it doesn’t sound like a bird.)
The living room clock (really weird chimes.)
The kids across the street (strange squeaks, but it’s something.)
A clock (in the art studio… what IS that incessant ticking sound? A radiator? A table creaking? Something at the window? I looked at the second hand on the clock. Ticking. Oh.)
Leaves rustling in the wind (oh, happy me!!!!
The electric tea kettle signal (just barely, but if I pay attention…)
The trash truck down the street (you take the bad with the good.) 
My shoe squeaking when I walk (Julie is the most patient BFF in the universe as she has endured hundreds of miles walking with me while my shoes squeaked, me having never heard it!)
The grass growing after the summer rain (ha! Just kidding… my audi hasn’t turned on my Earth Goddess Setting yet—that’s next week. I am totally going to ask for the Celtic Fairy Setting too)

I’m asking “What” a lot less and Julie suspects that my emotional life may rise from the Ashes of Cluelessness as I am willing to reengage with humans after withdrawing for many, many years.  I don’t want to give up my solitude entirely, but knowing I can be friendly again will be good.  My years of being sort of ‘snooty’ may be coming to an end, but that’s fodder for another blog entry.

Until then, be nice when I ask “What’s that?!” Please don’t tell me it’s a rare peregrine falcon lost in the neighborhood looking for its mother when it’s only a chipping sparrow. OK?