The Bionic Sound Project

this girl’s journey to sound

The final session for summer 2006 – saying goodbye Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Today it really hits me that I’m leaving and no longer working with Megan, Kim, or Susan (for a long time). I had my last therapy session with Susan, until Nov/Dec., if not till summer 2007. And I was just starting to get comfortable and settled in too.

Susan said she was going to be sure to tell Karen to pick on me about Mango. I already beat Susan to it, by telling Mandy and Karen to beware of certain people suggesting mango for a therapy word!

Today, we did the usual round of sentences and words where I looked at the paper, and told her which one it was. Doing pretty well with it, but it’s not real life. Then a new test for me! Category/Keyword, open set. We did entertainment for the category, and several different keywords (whatever was given related to entertainment (i.e. emmys – “did you watch the emmys on sunday night?”)). She would tell me that she was going to say a sentence related to entertainment, using one keyword. I had to repeat it back what I heard her say and where it was in the sentence. I was getting 60% for my first time, and able to repeat it back. The brain is a funny thing…you hear something, and you know it’s not right, so your language system kicks in to make it right. It’s amazing.

Pretty good for 3 weeks. But I still have a long way to go, and for the other test, have trouble differentiating between similar sounding words, and if they sound the same or are different. That was my reality check for the week, because I did badly on that one.

So yeah, Allison, you’re doing amazing with the CI for three weeks’ time, but this is just the beginning of a long hard road ahead. As Coach Seaquist used to say…“keep on swimming.”

Next Stop On The Tour: Mandy, Karen, and a whole new world of sounds, people and experiences. I fly out tomorrow. Oh boyee.

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Mango…The Word That Just Won’t Die Monday, August 28, 2006

The word that just won’t die…MANGO.

Megan said she was going to send me a care package of mangoes to me at school. When I come back in a few months, I’m bringing her a kumquat just because. Maybe an onion. But it better not be a combo of mango and fennel. It’s a good thing we don’t have our own cooking show on the Food Network.

Had #7 today…spent close to 4 hours in there. First I had to see Dr. M. for my checkup. The blood is gone from my middle ear and my eardrum is not purple anymore, but it’s still swollen. He had Megan do a test to see if I have any residual hearing, and I don’t, but it’s probably still too soon to tell.

After that, instead of being in the auditory room, Megan set up in the same exam room that I was in the day I got activated. She had both computers, the programming one, and the Sound and Beyond one. She would tinker with my CI while I was playing with the program and listening to words, telling her what sounded funny as I was going through the exercises, but the picture of the rabbit in the food category is a terrible picture! I was doing pretty well, scoring between 85 to 96 percent with the CI alone. However, I started having trouble with some familiar words, such as cat. And while comparing programs, she would say “how does this sound? what time is it? mango.” just to rub it in because I hate that word!

At one point today, Megan was on a mission to find out just how much I am hearing with my CI, and help me see that the CI is working better than the HA and I’m hearing way more than I think I am.

88% with CI alone.
96% with CI and HA.
80 or 84% with HA alone.

Course, I was cheating because I could not hear the laptop very well with the HA, and had my head right next to the keyboard at intervals so I could hear it, until Megan made me sit up and stay put. :-p

The other thing that has been an issue with the CI is that it sounds good at first, and after a little while, it starts to sound bad (even while I’m still hooked up to the computer). Over a few days, I go from being able to hear voices within a room, to only being able to hear within one to two feet around me. I always thought it was because it was because my neuro-adaptation was fast, but that might not be the case due to what AB said. Kim said they had a patient like that, but that was a long time ago. We also experimented with the pulse width, and at times it would sound awesome, almost like the hearing aid, but there would be a bit of an echo. It’s very frustrating tinkering with the CI, because when one thing sounds good, another thing sounds bad. And there are times I don’t know how to explain it. Sometimes I feel like I’m hearing in my left ear as well, because the sound from the CI seems to “translate” to my left ear.

Megan got on the phone with AB and figured out a plan of troubleshooting. She also taught me how to put the magnet on correctly, in a way that doesn’t twist the wire. We ended up having to go into the bathroom to do that so I could see how she was doing it, and walked past a family that was there for a candidate consultation so it was a little funny. I could also hear people speaking, but couldn’t understand them, and Megan said it was because they were speaking Italian.

The Problem Of Missing/Changing Sound – Solution
1. Make sure wire for magnet is secure, and placed on head properly.
2. Change out T-Mic (possible moisture?)
3. Change Battery (possible low power?)
4. Dehumidify it (and I need to stay on top of making sure the crystals are yellow, cuz the moisture from the environment affects it too.)

I am still not used to the concept of older people getting CIs. My experience has been that younger people and children have CIs, but never people who are in their 40s or older. I’ve always seen them with little ITE hearing aids, or just deaf, while us kids have had the BTEs or the CIs. I’m going to have to get used to it.

Kim had to remind me today that I’m doing extremely well with my CI, and that I need to be patient. She reminds me of and sounds so much like mom, with the “no nonsense from you” talk, and knows just exactly how to get me to shush and stop to think, just like mom does. “How long has it been?” “And you’re getting a score of what?”…”3 weeks…and 96%.” “That’s pretty good.” So here it goes…..I’ve got three programs to experiment with for a week and a half to two weeks. It’s going to be a challenge to leave my CI alone and learn to appreciate it without any adjustments in that time period. Patience is NOT one of my virtues as Dad has reminded me.

Kim also told me that her patients seem to prefer Verizon for their cell phones, so that’s something to keep in mind. I’m hoping that my phone can make it until the full-QWERTY version of the Blackberry Pearl comes out in Q1 2007.

In NY news, I talked to Karen, and she’s going to talk to Mandy about how they can best work with me when I return. I’m going to miss seeing Megan, Kim, and Dr. M, but I will see them in a few months. I really don’t like saying goodbye, especially to people that I like working with. Sometimes it’s nice to finish what you started, with the people you began it with. And this is why being bi-coastal stinks…I can’t have the best of both worlds in one place. I always have to say goodbye to a group of people in each place and adapt to a new environment and time zone two times a year, and I hate it (especially when I have to leave my family).

Today’s Sounds List
– Recognizing clapping at a restaurant
– Mom coming up behind me at noisy restaurant and saying “Sweetie”, and me not paying attention

That was my first recognized word on its own, where I’m not paying attention, and able to understand it without having to think about it.

 

The Two-Week Mark: Itchiness and Mapping Session #5 Monday, August 21, 2006

Dr. M says that the itchiness is a result of the humidity/heat that we’ve been having here the last week. Of course, having something new and foreign next to your skin doesn’t help. I took off the interchangable accent colors for a few days, and it seems to help with the itchiness. The redness comes from me scratching my pale skin, and I’ve been trying very hard to avoid doing that.

I’m loving my CI more and more each day, as it starts to sound more realistic. I’m still missing details, and I can’t wait till I start to hear sounds in its “wholeness” instead of in its current state, which is hard to describe.

I’m starting to be able to hear/understand what the captioning doesn’t cover, like on TV commercials, where they say “Monday at 8 pm” or have a graphic with the words, but don’t caption what is being spoken. The other discovery is the huge lag between what is being spoken and what I can read on the TV.

Last Friday, I went out to the Yard House with my mom and her coworkers to celebrate Brian’s graduation from the MBA program. We sat outside by the entrance, and I could still hear the invididual voices at our table with the CI, as compared to hearing one big glob of chaotic noise with the left ear.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been exactly 14 days since I’ve been activated. Today, I had my 5th mapping session with Megan, and instead of doing all the beep testing, we focused on fine-tuning the implant. I wanted to get more clear speech sounds, so we spent today’s session working on that. I had to sit and listen to her read from a list of words, with her face covered by a black screen, so I couldn’t lipread her, and didn’t have a piece of paper to read off of.

We started with the animals, and I did pretty well with that (Except for tiger (was only getting the “ger”)). Then we did fruit, and I got almost all of them right, except for Mango and Blueberry, which was stumping me for awhile, because it sounded like “rooberry” (that should have been a clue right there!) My problem with a lot of the words (such as peach, cherry, blueberry, mango, tiger, cat, shee/p/t) they don’t sound right, but I can hear enough of the word to tell what it is.

During the mapping session, I could hear Kim out in the hall, her chair moving around, talking on the phone, going through papers at her desk, and was amazed, because each time I come there, I’m hearing more and more of the little sounds that make up the real world. Eventually we had to close the door, because it was too distracting for me to be able to figure out speech sounds and filter out the real world. That’s going to be a big challenge for me. The other thing that I learned is that people are lazy with their speech! “Button” is a perfect example of that. There are words that I know they’re supposed to sound like this, but when I actually hear them, they don’t sound like it, because people leave sounds out! It’s like the dialect of different areas, and ways of speech!

Music is starting to sound much more real to me (pre-implant). There are several songs that just don’t sound right, and others that sound like they did before, if not a tiny bit better. I’m hearing more of the vocals in the song as opposed to the melody, which is cool. I’m excitedly anticipating what the 120-channel processor is going to sound like, if I’m getting these results with the Auria.

Today’s random link
Dangerous Decibels: How Loud Is Too Loud?

 

Activation Day and Pictures! Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Activation Day (Aug 7) was interesting. Dad met us at the doctor’s office, and the waiting room was the busiest I had ever seen it. My appointment was at 11:30 but we didn’t get called back until about 11:45. I noticed two people in the waiting room with ankle casts on (and I was reminded that I broke my ankle not more than a year and a half ago) so I felt their pain!

Bounced into the examining room and onto the chair, waiting for the doc to come in. Was chatting with Kim for a bit while Megan finished her lunch and the doctor was seeing another patient. Finally it was MY turn! Checked out the incision which is healing well, and looked in my ear, and I still have blood in my ear, which is normal. And then I got the magical words…“Are you ready?”

I just remember everybody (mom, dad, Dr. M, Megan, and Kim) looking at me to see what my reaction was to the news and I was like “I don’t want to! I guess I’m ready but I’m scared too!” We headed into the audiology “room” and it was a nice tight fit. They’ve had more people than that in there before, and they’ve had to stick the overflow into the sound booth.

Started off with testing the electrodes to see how they were doing, all were just fine. Then we did the testing with the beeps to see if I could hear anything. For like 20 minutes, I was sitting there just feeling it pulsing on my head, and I was starting to get the strong waves again, and I got scared. Then I started to cry because the last time was horrible with the waves. Dr. M came back to see what was going on, and they were all trying to figure out what was going on, and made some adjustments. The whole thing was just so weird and unfamiliar and I was worried that the implant wasn’t going to work because of everything that I had gone through the last time with the NRI testing and having such a strong reaction to it all.

And then the moment we had been waiting for…a real live BEEP sound! We kept going with the beeps for each electrode, till I found one that was set for my comfort level. We kept switching back and forth between the beep-testing and live speech, to see how it sounded. You know, in audiology school, they must train the audiologists to say “can you hear me now? how about now? how does it sound?” as they are fiddling with the settings, it never fails!

Megan had to turn it off to do some editing in the computer and I was talking and then all of a sudden the sound disappeared, and I was like “HEY! Where did the sound go? Bring it back!” And Kim was teasing me because at first I couldn’t hear anything and was like whatever, which soon changed into hearing stuff and then I wanted it on and was disappointed when it was off! Mom and Kim kept laughing and teasing me/Megan throughout the session. Even Dr. M was amused when he popped in now and then to see how everything was going.

When we got to a point where the speech seemed to be set, Megan and Kim decided to try and test me with words to see how they sounded. We started off with days of the week, but that was a bit difficult. We switched to the months instead, and did January-June. After listening to Megan say it several times, and thinking I had the hang of it, she tested me but without being able to read her lips. I was able to understand some of it and get it correct, so there was a bit of yay/amazement there.

The funny part was when I caught Megan saying it incorrectly, and Mom and Kim were just laughing and teasing Megan “…ooo, you got BUSTED!”. That was really cool, being able to know if somebody was saying a word incorrectly, because I was looking at her with a funny look after I heard it, and I was like “that’s not a word!” and she was a little red in the face! I’m glad I was able to provide comic relief for the office and my mom!

After everything was all programmed, Megan brought out this gigantic tote bag, and the big “shoebox” full of the accessories for my implant. We went over everything and I learned how to put it together, put it on my head, use it, and about the different parts and all the accessories. There are a lot of accessories, so it’s really cool. I can’t wait to start using some of them, but first I have to HEAR!

I left the appointment with a map that was the equivalent to a 3rd Mapping session (about ~1 month), and it was up quite high. Megan told me that I could come back tomorrow if I had to, just had to call in the morning. (they know that I’m very picky with sound and wanting to get it just right…Mandy can attest to that! 5 weeks of tinkering with the new hearing aid stretched out into 10 weeks!). The real world was much more intense than the sound booth, so I was enjoying it for awhile, and then it started to become really really painful and overwhelming.

Things I Need To Remember:
1. Kim noticed that when I get stressed (my shoulders bunch up) I stop “listening” and start thinking too much and then I can’t hear anything. When I’m calm/relaxed, I’m able to understand/hear things. This is going to be an important thing for me to remember through my audiological training.
2. INTUITION IS EVERYTHING. I need to stop “thinking” and just LISTEN to what it sounds like. The reason why I think is because with the hearing aids, I’ve had to train my brain to “fill in” the gaps with what I think the sound is. With the CI, I will be able to hear all the sounds, but I need to let my head put it together automatically without thinking. No more guessing…I just have to say what I heard back, not go “i think it sounded like…”

 

Dad, me, and Mom waiting for the doctor to come in and give me a checkup and his “OK” for activation.

 

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2nd Mapping Session less than 24 hours after the 1st one!

Today I went back to see Megan (less than 24 hours after I had my first mapping session!) to fix some things that were going on with my implant.

I told her about how I emotionally fell apart last night, right after we got home. Both Megan and Kim reassured me that it’s normal to react strongly, and that I’m not the only one who has fallen apart after getting activated. That, and I think the stress of everything since June (mom’s back surgery, my two surgeries, etc.) finally caught up with me. They also told me that other patients were unhappy from anywhere between 1 week to 6 months before they finally liked the way the implant sounded. I also talked about how I felt like I had a radio playing in my head after I took the implant off, and she thinks I may be hearing phantom noises.

They also said that I could come in tomorrow, Thursday, or Friday if I needed to, and we could play around with the implant some more. I felt bad because I didn’t want to take up all their time, because they have other things to do, only to be told “No no no. You’re not taking up our time. We are here to help you and we want you to do well. In fact, our favorite thing to do is Cochlear Implants! So don’t feel bad! And we’re free most of this week.”

Megan started off with trying to eliminate the problem with the “shocking” sensations I was having. We turned off each electrode to see if the shocking would go away, and if things sounded better, and going back and forth. Eventually we turned off electrodes 1, 4, and 8. Electrode 1 sometimes happen because it’s the very first one to enter into the cochlea, and sometimes it’s too deep to provide stimulation. Electrode 4 we don’t know why but we will try again in a few days or weeks. And Electrode 8 was not a surprise to her, because it is right next to where the doctor drilled the hole for the implant, and he did have to drill it 1mm wider 2 weeks ago. She had trouble with getting a response from it in surgery, due to a gigantic air bubble that was present. Hopefully it will clear up soon so we can put it into use.

The volume was also turned waaaaaaaaaay down, and the threshold levels were also lowered. I went up too high too fast with the electrodes, (but it sounded great yesterday!) and when I got into the real world (which is completely different from the quiet and calm of an audiologist booth), I was overwhelmed and getting painfully shocked to the max. My ears are power-hungry and have always been, because they’ve had power Hearing Aids for their entire listening life. Mandy (the audiologist at school) also told me this as well, because I kept wanting “more power!” Kim and Megan talked about how I may not need as much power with this to “listen” because more power = more distortion. We also got rid of all the static that I was hearing with the implant.

Megan also did some more of the words that we used yesterday to see if I could understand them. I’m doing better today, and starting to hear more of the differences in sound (like ‘ch’ in March). Identification is still spotty, but it was better than yesterday. I’m also starting to feel the “sounds” moving around in my head, instead of just on the top of my head…sometimes I “hear” it in my left ear, or on the back of the left-side of the head.

In addition to the fine-tuning, I got new processing strategies/programs today.

The first program is the one I started off with, just a little bit louder (after all of today’s adjustments were done). It’s a “sequential” program, which sends the information like playing scales/chords on a piano. She told me that most people tend to stick with the very first processing strategy that they start off with after activation.

The second program is a “pulse” program, which sends information like chopsticks on a piano. The third program I think is the same as the first program (but I’m not sure how it’s different), but it sounded the most like my hearing aids to me, and I liked this one the best (at the moment). At this point, I need to keep my hearing aid off for awhile, because my hearing aid is “overpowering” the implant (even after I turned the volume down as low as it could go), and I’m focused more on listening with the ear that I can hear more with.

Megan also gave me some information for my friends, so everybody can try to calm down (including me!) and understand how the implant is going to work, and the process of understanding sound, because we’re all excited about it, and that excitement is causing to have a little bit of too high expectations (especially in me). I love you guys very much, but we need to step back and take baby steps.

I also have a xeroxed listening journal and it’s so cute. It has a “listening scavenger hunt” in which I can write down when I first heard a specific sound on the list, and when I first am able to identify it on my own. It’s almost like a baby’s 1st… kind of book.

After that, I left all happy and relieved because I wasn’t being shocked in the head anymore, and because it sounded much better now. I was writing down the times into my sidekick, when I got an email from Mandy (my school audiologist) who wanted to see what was going on and how activation went (since I hadn’t talked to her since surgery #2). Then Dr. M came out of his office just right before I went out the door, and looked surprised to see me there. On the way home, I listened to Christina Aguilera’s first CD, and couldn’t hear “Genie In A Bottle” but I was getting some of her voice in “So Emotional” and “Reflection”, and the first part of “Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)”. I can’t really hear the music at all, but the vocal part is what I’m hearing (sometimes).

When Mom came home, I updated her on everything, and she went over the months again with me, and she was happy because I was able to hear the ‘ch’ in March. I’m having trouble with March/May/June, and the J and F in January/February, but I can hear “uary”. She repeated one word that I’ve always said wrong (without telling me), and covered her mouth, and I was able to say it back to her correctly on the first try, which I’ve always said incorrectly.

Right now, I’ve been attending to the job of listening with each program for a few hours, and keep track of information about how it sounded and differences with each program. I’ve been listening to National Public Radio (suggested for practice) for most of the afternoon, and it’s mostly just pulses on the top of my head (I think my brain is getting tired), but I do pick up a part of speech now and then. I only seem to hear speech when it’s up close to me. Background noises exist as a pulse on the top of my head.

But right now my hearing life is basically pulses. A few speech sounds here and there, but that’s it. It’s good enough for me for the 2nd day. I am happy.

 

The Post-Activation Entry Monday, August 7, 2006

4:54 PM: I want to cry, yet at the same time I’m happy, but right now I’m extremely frustrated.

What sucks the most is that my mom’s voice (one of my favorite familiar sounds) is driving me absolutely insane, and I wish she would just shut up because it’s giving me a headache and it really hurts my head because I’m getting shocked constantly. Her entire life with me, she’s always had to talk loudly so I could hear her. I’ve been trying to train her this summer to not yell/talk loudly, because with my new hearing aid, it’s not necessary to talk as loud. And now with the cochlear implant, it’s not just the volume of her voice, it’s also the way it sounds. Anyway, we got into a fight over different things/miscommunication because I was taking my frustration out on her, and finally told her (not very nicely) that “I didn’t want to listen to her anymore because she was hurting my head”. Needless to say, that got her really upset, only to later end up with both of us crying together, talking it out, and getting over it.

I’m upset because all I hear is static static static unless somebody real close to me is talking. I absolutely *HATE* putting the implant on because it really shocks me as soon as the magnet hits the internal part, and the whole thing SUCKS. I hate feeling the pulsing feeling on my head. It tends to come and go, but it was intense at times, especially with the loudness. I turned it down all the way, and I’m still having shocking.

But the good news is that for somebody whose audiologists and doctor didn’t expect to be hearing human speech on the first day, much less within an hour of hookup, I can hear SOME of it. And I got some words correctly without using lipreading. But I definitely have a loooooooooong way to go.

But my problem with the words is that I’m missing definition. It’s like it’s either hollow, muffled, or the tops/bottoms/beginning parts of the words are missing. And it’s like I’m hearing the very core of it, but not the rest of it to have any identifying details.

I’m just frustrated between the static, the pulsing, and the shocking of my head, and the sound of sounds, plus the missing information, and I’m just thinking….this is going to majorly SUCK for awhile. And I just want to cry right now…out of frustration, tiredness, and pain.

The good news is that Megan said I could come back tomorrow, Wednesday, or Thursday to play around with my implant some more, instead of waiting till the 15th. I will also get three processing programs then as compared to one, so maybe that will help with the sound sounding like !&#$.

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*sigh* It’s almost 2 hours after I’ve left the office (~3 pm) that I’ve gone into full-blown sobs and tears. It’s the cumulation of too many emotions….happiness/sadness, frustration/excitement, hope/disappointment, all competing with each other. It has been a month…if not more than that, of anticipation and waiting. Of having surgery twice and bottling up my emotions due to my reactions to everything that has happened since then. And eventually I had to crack. Today’s events just happened to be the trigger point.

My poor cat Benny was practically being drowned in my tears. He was getting covered in everything that was running off of my face, and he just had a bath yesterday. I was hugging him as I was crying, so unfortunately, his fur was absorbing all the wetness.

One of my fatal flaws is that I set my standards so high. I need to learn that it’s not always a contest, and you don’t have to be the best. And this applies to the whole post-activation process. I leave today with the knowledge that I am hearing words without lipreading within 2 hours of being activated, and if I can do that, this is only a sign of things to come. That’s pretty good.

One baby step at a time…it’s not going to happen all at once. Dad was trying to remind me of that fact today during the activation.

Now I feel better, but boy do my eyes, face, and sinuses hurt. I don’t even remember the last time I cried like this…I think it was 2004, but I am not a crier, and rarely cry. This has been one intense day.

 

First Activation of the CI – PICTURES! Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I’ve got an interesting story to tell you about me and my CI! I went in today to do some follow-up testing on my implant, since they had trouble with it (a possible false positive) in the operating room. I had to go in to make sure that my implant was working correctly after surgery because they couldn’t rely on the first results from the surgery.

This was the first time my implant had been turned on. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and the expression says it all! They were doing something called an NRI test, which is what they do during surgery, not afterwards. And I still have my black eye!

 

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