Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pitch Perception Test- Real Time Reporting!

As I've mentioned before, I LOVE the pitch perception test (Link found in the right column). It is challenging enough to be wildly interesting, delivers feedback immediately so I can integrate learning into it, and I feel it helps me notice my improvement (or lack thereof) in sound perception.

So... here goes. I find it helps to play it more than once since your results do improve with practice and it takes a bit to get into the "groove." Speaking of groove- let's get grooving with my results!

Hearing aid only (right ear has a profound hearing loss but can hear sounds well above 30db with the hearing aid):

Just for technicality's sake, I wear an Oticon hearing aid (not the best at all) on volume 4, which is the max. I used to hear things with volume 3 but now prefer 4. Whether this is due to my hearing declining or the hearing aid's quality, I'm not sure. There are extremely good high-tech hearing aids out there and then there's the basic ones. Laptop volume is at 51, which is fairly loud but not extremely loud.

It begins at a 96 hz difference. I got down to 24 hz fairly easily, with a few errors which I immediately try to file away in my memory. I get down to 3hz.

This is when I realize: Have I ever gotten down to 3hz? And also: "Has having the implant in already helped me THAT much with pitch perception, even when I don't have it in?"

I am at 1.5 hz now. The sounds don't seem that hard to discern and it seems odd that I would usually be unable to go below 6hz. My personal best was probably 4 or 3hz, on very few occasions. I would usually end at a 24-12hz or begin failing at 6hz pre-op and with only a hearing aid. I hadn't been practicing at this test since before my surgery which was a month ago!

I'm surprised. This is with the hearing aid alone, POST-implant. I would love to consult some surgeons or neurotechnicians to explain why this is happening. Heck, make me into your guinea pig if you wish! It's still not within "normal" scores, though, I believe.

It creeps slowly down, 0.75 hz, 0.375 hz, and with that the test is over. I've moved from a "possible pitch perception deficit" to being in the "low-normal" range. WHAT? I now can qualify as "normal" (albeit a "low" normal), despite my hearing loss?

I think of the Seattle Children's Science Museum and this incredibly fun room filled with body-measuring apparatus and activities, such as "How far can you reach?" and "How long can you hold your breath?" One of them is a TALL "sound measurement" scale. It looks like the "How hard can you hit?" tower with the light bulbs at some county fairs and amusement parks. Except it makes a beeping noise (That I've never heard, I just know it does because it says that on the directions). I was never able to play with it because I could never differentiate the pitches very well AT ALL. Well. I want to go back, see if that thing is there, and play it and see the lights beam up!

I am sitting here, blogging LIVE as I'm taking this test. I'll admit something: I was desperately, secretly afraid that my pitch perception would take a weird dive for the worse for some bizarre reason even though the opposite should occur with my brain's newfound pitch ability. At least with my hearing aid, it hasn't. In fact, with the 4th taking of this test (After hundreds in the past) I have, for the first time, moved from Level 5 (Possible Pitch Perception Deficit) to Level 2.5 (Somewhere between Normal and Very Good). Woah!

Now... to try it with the implant alone. The sound adjustment sample sounds high and wailing, penetrating right into my head (and indeed it is!). Nevertheless, I hear it, which is all I need for right now. The volume on the laptop has increased from 51 to 64. The sounds no longer sound rich and tolerable- they are screamingly high, whiny as a toddler without a nap. My head begins to hurt before I am even through with the first pair. I push on, however. I notice that the "lower" pitches are almost imperceptible but noticeable since they "FEEL" lower and SOUND quieter in my head even though the volume remains the same for both pitches.

No score is given because my pitch perception was too wide for them to measure. That is to say, I fail. My head is throbbing and I wonder if the volume on my processor is too high. I pull the magnet-processor off my head where it falls limp against my palm, flashing its lonely red light. The volume is all the way up. I sigh, haunted by the thought that the louder it needs to be, the worse my ears are. But, of course, this isn't a hearing aid and if it's all the way up it just means my comfort level for sound has increased much more since Mapping #2, which is good. I wonder if it signifies, "My brain is ready for MORE!!!"

I decide to go take a break for a few minutes before I return.

B# or Ship Out

I'm listening to "John Coltrane's My Favourite Things" right now. The beginning sent chills up my arms for some reason (Auditory overload? Amazing music? Both?). But then ... it dropped away a mere minute into the composition. I only have my implant on not my hearing aid, so that could be why. But it strikes me as odd.

What I've really found though, is it takes my brain time to ADJUST. Even if I take it out to check the volume and then put it back on moments after I've taken it out, sound composition drops dramatically until my brain has had time to adjust. It seems odd that I couldn't just jump right back into it but it also makes sense.

I tried it with Ian's iphone, which he wasn't certain if the cord fit the Iphone properly enough to deliver the best sound. I think he said this right after I said things sounded HIGH and oddly distorted. I thought, "Oh no. What if it isn't the cord? I'm not going to say anything..." He turned up the music slowly and then all of a sudden, I pulled my implant out FAST. The sound had increased from a comfortable level to suddenly a painful one, piping into my head and it HURT. After that, Ian had me adjust the volume by myself because he didn't want to hurt me.

I remarked to him that I would for sure have to find a way to "lock" my ipod touch's volume because I can see myself grabbing it and accidentally sliding the volume up and blasting my auditory nerve with painful sound!

Notably, it cannot destroy my hearing or nerves but it HURTS so if it hurts, it follows that nobody would want to do it!

My natural biological capability for music has been substituted by a bionic ear, so of course.... Of course it sounds ODD. The first time I heard a song and tried to really listen, it sounded high-pitched and tinny. The Beatles' Blackbird sounds downright distorted. Where's the metronome? It's no longer razor-sharp clear, distinctly and easily picked out of the song. Even with the hearing aid in and the implant, it sounds HIGH and hardly what I'd call "music."

However, I CAN hear melodies now with most songs. This was a HUGE surprise because I wasn't even listening for it. I was sitting in Ian's darkened music room and oh, it was SWEET. The notes soared up and down distinctively and I finally, for the FIRST time, understood the concept of melody first-hand. I had understood the definition and concept but it was like being told what stars look like without having ever seen them.

Before, I could kind of understand why the melody is "so essential" but didn't really CARE. But... Music suddenly makes so much more sense now. I happily told Ian, "So this is how you hum songs! You follow the melody!" He looked surprised, as if it were common sense..... and of course it is for most people.

I had always thought you hummed just by following the notes and making the timing right, which IS the definition of melody in a sense.... but I had never been able to truly hear the distinctiveness of NOTES in... holy crap, a complex sequence of music.

I think this is one reason why I liked classical music- because it has NOTHING else mixed in with it. It's simply one instrument, usually, and that instrument plays its own notes and nothing else. I have always liked a great variety of music though- but to me it was kind of just like "nice" sounds or "pretty" sounds that seemed pleasant. Again, that could be a definition, yes, but there's SO much more to a star than it just being "a light in the sky."

I took off my implant and listened to a Weezer song with my hearing aid. It was shockingly flat, dull, and empty. I had NEVER noticed that music was simply.... boring with my hearing aid on. It wasn't, of course, but with the implant out the quality and amount I get seems boring now.

I was just always happy I COULD hear and appreciate music to a degree. I've always loved music; my parents were always playing music or instruments and I was always playing around with instruments or dancing. But now I have to laugh at what I comprehended as music. With the implant on AND the hearing aid... oooh. It's so much more distinct. Terrible in some ways, (the high pitches leap out sometimes in some songs, Beatles make NO sense, when my brain is still "warming up" to a song it can take a minute to kick in and make sense, etc) but marvelous in other ways (Melody is FINDABLE which is AMAZING to me!, music seems way more 3D and more complex, and so on...)

I heard stereo for possibly the first time in my life. Left side was the voice while right side was the instruments.... and I went, "Huh. That's an interesting way to arrange it." My initial impression was, "This IS cool and it DOES help. But in a way, I prefer hearing it together, since the implant filters all sound directly to my brain anyway." It'd depend, I guess.

Having my hearing aid on in my right ear helps a TON and adds more "life" and sense to what I'm hearing with my bionic left ear.

My brain likes simple songs right now- because I like the practice of being able to pick out sounds and melodies. I WANT to leap into "complex" songs but I plan to listen to songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as well. That might help a bit. I don't understand how people have such an expansive HUGE music memory at times- how can they pick out which melody a song is from when there's millions of songs out there? I wonder, will my brain ever be able to?

Part of me thinks it will in some cases, because I already am learning what sounds go with what things but I fear that I will lose that sense of knowledge with each new mapping (calibration for my new ear and software!) that I get, since sounds DO change with mappings.

Ian helps a lot by showing me which instruments are playing AS the song is playing which helps a TON because I have something to match with, to what I'm hearing. I don't know how people just naturally develop it, because while I CAN separate the elements a lot easier and find the melody, I find that it helps to such an amazing degree to have Ian tell me what's going on with the instruments/vocals.

It makes me wish I had somebody to walk with me all day and go, "This is what you're hearing!" I walk on the streets without my hearing aid on and just the implant and I hear really odd high pitched noises that I can't pinpoint to anything specific. I turn around, I look upwards, I stop walking, and still it continues and I can't find what it is.

But! One amazing thing was I was walking down the street and I saw a bus about 30 feet from me and I HEARD the doors shut. I knew instinctively it was the door. I didn't have to see the door to know it was the door. I'm not sure if it was my hearing aid, the implant, or the combination of both but it sure seemed louder and clearer and from across the street on top of that! So I chalked it up to the implant. Score.

I will keep you all up to date on how I'm doing with music!

Posts to Come: (A reminder for myself)

*Mapping #2
*Sounds I like/dislike/notice
*Ipod contents
*Pitch perception test.... take #1 after the implant.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Activation Day!

So, I got my nifty new ear turned on today. It was a rough morning due to me trying to make it there on time but that doesn't matter- what matters is... well, my initial impressions! I'm sure you're all curious. So here I go-

It is now about 12 hours since I officially became bionic. It started off quite unpredictably-because there were no bells or whistles (Both figuratively and in my head!). I was just talking to my mom and Tina was fiddling with the computer. With no warning, I heard a bunch of high pitched noises- VERY high. I kept signing to my mom for a few moments before I realized, "Hey, I'm hearing things!" It wasn't AMAZING but at the same time it was.

It was 100% PURE sound. Not amplified sound or vibrations. It was undeniably IN my head. I couldn't have mistaken it for vibrations, like I was told some people get instead of sound, when they're first activated. It was high pitchedness running through my synapses at thousands of rates per second..

My poor brain was just reeling to the tune of ...well, no tune. Just crazy beeps! And my emotion was, "Thank God it works!" and then, "I don't want to be a downer but I really hope it gets better than this?? What I'm hearing is downright weird. It's nothing like my hearing aid!"
I became elated, though, when Tina stopped the computer programming (those crazy beeps! I was eager to hear OTHER sounds). She let my ear loose into the "real world" that was pen tapping, her talking, my knuckles popping, and.... that forever elusive Sound. What sound? Well, it's been one I've been chasing for a long time, forever disappointed when even as loud as people were making it, my ears still couldn't cross that bridge. Oh, the bridge was there- or perhaps it was finally completed when I got my implant- but either way, I found the elusive "Shhh."

I was already excited when I heard how LOUD the pen cap was and how it seemed to "make sense." It wasn't some high pitched noise- it just sounded like a pen cap. Mind you though, it's VERY different than hearing with a hearing aid. The hearing aid's sounds seem to "make more sense" than the implant.

The implant sounds VERY artificial and I miss the not-so-subtle hum of traffic. With only the implant in and no hearing aid, I no longer hear the generalized sounds of the world around me- traffic humming, people talking indistinctly, and general atmosphere sounds. I hear on a microscopic level. Why are pencils scratching coming to me better than anything else? Odd. I miss it a lot, but I keep sighing in relief that I still have my right ear to slip a hearing aid in lovingly, if ever the artificialness becomes too much for me. But it hasn't happened yet.

Okay, it has crossed my mind once or twice... or maybe quite a few times. But I refuse to give in. The magnet remains clipped to my head, bonding to its unseen twin on the other side of my skin. Sounds are odd, but sound is SOUND. It is rich.

It was wildly odd to hear myself laugh and talk- it was so unexpectedly painfully high that I automatically tried to lower my pitch. I trust that I will learn how to do this in time; for I finally HEAR just how different it is from others' voices. My own voice makes me want to wince. Others' voices, however, do not bother me. I delight in hearing the subtleties. I heard whistling clearly and my knuckles popping (sorry, it's a bad habit I continue to entertain)- for the first time in my life, perhaps.

As for that "Shhh" sound, I asked Tina what the main "6 ling sounds" were and I was secretly afraid I wouldn't be able to hear them when she said them. Eee, shh, and oo are three of them. I heard ALL of them. Crystal clear as if it were a crystal glass shattering on a stone floor. Shhhhh.......perhaps one of the best things I've heard in my whole life, no kidding.

I was reiterant with the happily elated statement, "In all my 19 years it has never been that clear or distinct to me!"

What else did I hear? My sidekick phone sliding open! Woah! What a weird sound and yes, annoying. But not annoying enough to stop me from happily closing and opening it repeatedly. Who would have thought it was THAT loud? My mom asked if I could hear the keys; I couldn't. But as I type right now, I hear it. I hear myself blowing out air. Again, who would've thought it was THAT loud?

Color me surprised. What else.... paper! Paper.... UGH. Oh, and I heard the difference between my shoes hitting carpet and the metal lining on the stairs when I was running up my summer place's stairs. I fear trying my sax in a way because of the many ways it could pierce my nerves, yet I am very excited to try. I haven't listened to music deliberately yet- I think I'll save that for a time when I can be with Ian. Just as long as he doesn't play the banjo! Now, he has wonderful musical skills but with a hearing aid, I dislike the banjo at close range. I am curious at so many things- will my taste in the banjo change, being one of them.

My mom was thrilled and surprised I could hear. My sister and I shared a few minutes of bellyaching laughter when my mom excitedly asked, "Can you hear this?" and then said, "Yeees" very quietly but she slid her tongue over her lips, accidentally making a weird expression in the process. My sister and I couldn't hear the "Yees" and both of us only saw her tongue sliding over her lips. Confused, Tori and I stared at each other and both erupted into insane laughter that evolved into tears as we both went, "Mom! We can't hear your TONGUE on your lips!"

I then told my sister, "Ooo, I can hear this; can you?" while rubbing my fingers together- except they weren't together at all. It was just air between them. We cracked up again at the thought of such Tao-like sounds becoming vastly within my reach. With extraordinary hearing like that, I would easily hear sounds no human has ever heard before.

But? Some of the giddiness vanished when I was hit hard with CRUCIAL Lesson Number 1 of using an implant when I wasn't even out of the hospital parking yet! I was fiddling with my implant because I wanted the volume louder, while my mom was paying the parking fee.

I put it on and immediately within a timespan of perhaps 2.6 seconds I got the worst shock to my poor brain and auditory nerve ever. It was beyond rock-concert and jackhammer right by your ears while you're holding a megaphone to your ears loud. Instinctively, I grabbed the implant off my head as fast as I could and screamed, "SHIT!" which reverberated in the cold underground of the parking lot. Thankfully, I couldn't hear my high pitched scream or I would've probably fallen to my knees. Tears welled in my eyes involuntarily. I thought of much worse four letter words while trembling inwardly at the other thought in my head- "How the HELL do I put this back on my head after THAT?!"

My mom and sister jumped and my mom immediately scolded me for my hardly eloquent nor verbose expression of pain/shock but softened after I told her what had happened. I put it back on with much caution.

During lunch, I was subtly disappointed. My mom said it was so loud that she couldn't hear HERSELF talk but I thought, "It isn't loud in here yet I can't hear her.... and I miss the sounds of people talking, etc, that I'm used to getting when I walk into this pizza parlor."

Lesson Number Two: No, I don't hear the humming of cars or my favorite "environmental noises" that I have become so keenly attuned and used to. No, sound does NOT make much sense right now. It all almost sounds the same- a weird high pitched sound, unless I actually listen to differentiate. Water running sounds high pitched. Silverware? High pitched but worse than water. Tinfoil? Like chewing it, except in hearing form. And MUCH higher than the water. But, I remain hopeful and intrigued.

I still steel my mental muscles as hard as they can firm themselves, when I bring the magnet close to my head and then that moment where sound leaps brilliantly into my head. The sounds- so HIGH pitched and distinct, yet for this first day, seeming as though it's only caused by two SMALL things (at the most) that would hardly raise any notice to anyone else- instead of the full range of things that cause sound.

I am going to ask Tina, for sure, to lock it so it can't go full volume by accident and give me temporary Tourette's Syndrome again.

Quiet rooms are the only rooms I will put my implant on in before venturing out to the real world, right now, otherwise it is like plunging into an icy cold lake of sound. I look around with caution- somebody might be moving silverware which is not something I want to hear right when I put it on. It might feel good after the fact, but during the fact, it only feels unpleasant.

But it is not enough to deter me from wanting to see if I will hear cars again, and IN combination with my magnificent newly-heard sounds! Perhaps I will wear my hearing aid and my implant both, but right now I am only using the implant so my brain can't jump to its preferred default.

I plan to try and see if I can do the pitch test soon, but one thing I'll say- it IS tiring which I didn't expect! But I don't tire of showing off to people just what I can hear and finding out more and more, through their questions, of just what I CAN hear and decode.

I'm going to go poke at my sister's guinea pigs right now and see if I can evoke the whistling and squeaks that I have never heard clearly before in my life. =)

Cyborgically Yours!