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!


billcreswell said...

It is amazing to "hear" your experiences in sound.

Scot said...

I was activated on Tuesday of last week and your description is so vivid that I felt I was living the day all over again! I still wince each time I turn on the processor because of the sudden shock I get each time. I tell people that I feel like I am instantly plugged into the Matrix of sound- it is not a gradual thing. And when I take it off, it's like everything "flatlines".

It has been neat hearing new sounds I haven't heard in a long time, like the pitter patter of my dog's feet on the kitchen floor, elevator music being piped out of speakers in a bathroom, cheap plastic clocks ticking, the high pitch of the "s" and "sh" sounds Oh yes, you are right, paper is LOUD. Listening to my audi ripping paper on the first day was not cool- I never thought it would be so high pitched.

I have been told that it will get better going forward-

Enjoy the journey!

suddensilence said...

"it is like plunging into an icy cold lake of sound"

Tasha, I am in love with that sentence. I haven't even gotten my CI's yet and just from reading that, I can imagine what activation day might be like!

It sounds like you are doing GREAT, even though that first day was overwhelming. I can't wait to read what you think of the CI sounds as the days go by!

~ Wendi

Jennifer said...

Tasha...I am amazed at all the things you are hearing! I, too, have learned the hard way not to leave the volume up too loud when the magnet goes on...whoa! It's too much!
Were you implanted in your better ear or worse ear? Did you have hearing in that ear before? How much? I am amazed that you heard sounds so well right away! I still have the vibrations in one ear...frustrating!

Abbie said...


As you know, I am prelingually deafened as well and I must say I am totally impressed with your activation. I couldn't make out the ling sounds on the first day or even the first week. I couldn't even understand speech but yet I heard when someone was talking because it had a tone all its own. I am so so so happy for you!

The reason why some sounds are not coming through is because your activation is only about introducing electricity to your ear. I would stop constantly and try to figure out why I could hear a metal sign creak in the wind but I couldn't hear a car coming up behind me which sounded like static very several weeks. It is a very crude. The real fun will start with your next mapping.

Paper really annoyed me. That was my arch enemy of noises. I did not deal well with that :) However, putting the implant on in quiet rooms isn't going to help you get adjusted to the noise again. You are hindering yourself that way. I would just keep it down very low and deal with it. Your brain has to rewire itself :) Otherwise you are doing fantastic Tasha! I loved reading your entire recap :)

K.L. said...

What you have described sounds very similar to many other newly activated older teens and adults. Many bloggers have shared their journey just like you are doing.

Congratulations on your newborn hearing. Be patient. It takes a couple of months for that artificial sound to start really mellowing out, and up to a couple of years to really get the hearing working at top performance.

It will get better and the pitch will lower. Just keep working with it and be persistent.