Friday, February 24, 2006

Just Going to the Dentist, the Movie, the Store...

It has been awhile since I posted something for my readers. I've been busy listening! I recently went to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned. This was my first visit since my CI surgery and I heard some new and different sounds in the dentist office. I heard the sound of the dentist's drill in the other room, the "beep beep" of the signal lights, people talking, the doorbell ringing every time the front door was opened, and the sounds of the different machines. The best part was being able to listen and understand the hygenist talking to me as she cleaned my teeth. She asked me questions and gave instructions with a mask over her face while I laid in the chair. I heard her tell me what she was going to do next, if I wanted bubble gum or mint flavor, when to suction and spit, etc. She didn't have to turn around and take off her mask every time she needed to communicate with me. And I understood everything she said. I could also understand her talking to the dentist as he checked my teeth. I never liked being in the dentist chair because I felt so isolated when I couldn't hear or understand what was going on around me. And, I used to work as a dental assistant many years ago!

Since my appointment, I have called them on the phone three times to make or change appointments for me and Marissa. They must think I'm crazy and just like to call them. This is the first time I have attempted to deal with appointments without the relay service and I am able to understand almost every word that is being said. (I'm getting the most important parts anyway, and ask for repeats if I need to.) I also called the hair salon that I go to and set up my next appointment all by myself. Wow. That is progress. Before I got my CI, I never dreamed that I would be able to use the phone with ease. I had almost zero discrimination on the phone with my hearing aids. Now I am pleased and surprised that I can hear someone on the other end without too much effort. Next step is to be able to handle phone calls with my coworkers at work. Our phone guy is trying to find some headphones that would be compatible with our phone system and software.

I've also been listening to audio books and find that them enjoyable. After struggling, moving, and setting up my "boom box" CD player the first time, I realized that I could listen to my audio books with my computer. Better yet, I downloaded them to my iPod and carry it wherever I go. (Thank you Brad, Marissa, Jason and Chris!) I got Maria Shriver's audio book "And One More Thing Before You Go" (because I already had the book) and she speaks very articulately and very clearly. I've listened to it several times because I want to be able to hear what she is talking about without having to look at the book. It gets easier every time. Now I am listening to "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis and I love it! The narrator is also very good and easy to understand. I'm listening to my books in the car, during lunch, and while I exercise. I need all the practice I can get.

A couple of weekends ago Steve and I saw the movie, "Memoirs of a Geisha" and that was a mistake. The movie was in a gloomy setting and had lots of narration in it with hardly any lips to read so I did not enjoy it. Even if there were lips to read, the screen was too dark. I'm trying hard to enjoy movies because Steve likes them so much but I still prefer to watch them at home with close captioning. I wish movie theatres were more accommodating to their hearing impaired patrons. Even if they are, they don't do a good job of advertising options that are available.

Another new and special hearing moment for me happens while I'm out shopping at the grocery or department store. As I unload groceries from my cart or dig into my purse I can hear clerks talking to me and asking if I want my milk in a bag, if I want cash back, if I'm paying with a debit card or credit card, and to have a nice day without having to read their lips or look at them. And I'm able to reply back without missing a beat. I am making small progress every single day. So many people think that having a CI is like having a new and improved hearing aid. Just put it on and hear everything. It is not that way at all. A person gets a cochlear implant because a hearing aid does not allow them to hear anymore. I have to learn to use it. It takes much work and time to get mapped correctly to fit my personal "hearing fingerprint." I have to listen to strange and weird sounds until my brain gets used to it and to go to audio/verbal therapy to learn to hear sounds that I haven't heard before and to hear them correctly, etc. Had therapy this past week and worked on my s, sh, and z sounds. I'm getting there but learning to hear those sounds without lipreading takes much patience and willpower. It is different, difficult and frustrating at times. But, I know it is the best therapy I can have. In the beginning I did not think I needed therapy. Now I cannot live without it. At work we have an intercom system that pages certain departments or people on the phone. Every time I hear "Loan Officer One Oh One" (for 101) it sounds like "Try not to slip 101!" Maybe I need a better map or need to train my brain to hear it correctly!

I'm also noticing that I hear differently at times on my CI side from my hearing aid side and am able to localize sounds better. When I mentioned it to Steve, he said that I was probably hearing in "stereo." My audiologist said the same thing, too. Wow. I've never "heard" in stereo before. The brain is an amazing thing and just takes over. That brings me back to the thought of going bilateral someday. I cannot help but wonder if having two ears implanted would round out this great and wonderful gift of hearing for me. If you think about it, people with normal hearing like to put speakers in their living rooms, family rooms, and cars so they can have "surround sound." I'd like to have that, too, if it is possible. I found a group this week online that files appeals against insurance companies that have refused to cover single and bilateral cochlear implants. It is called The Let Them Hear Foundation’s Advocacy Center. It is an interesting and helpful program, offered free of charge to anyone in the United States. So far they have a perfect record: they’ve contested 63 denials and overturned every single one of them. I'll have to keep them in mind if our insurance company turns down my doctor's letter and request for a second implant.

Several of my friends have commented lately that my personality is different these days and that I am smiling more. I am still "me" and still look the same on the outside. But, inside it feels as if someone has flipped a switch and "turned on the light." That someone is God. The future ahead is bright with good things to come. Every morning I wake up and put on my CI and am grateful and thankful that I can hear as well as I do now. God is so very good. I'll close this entry with the words to a favorite childhood song. . .

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!" Let your light shine before all people and share it! Love, Hugs, and Blessings to you from me.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Going Bilateral?

I am doing so well with just one CI and keeping thinking how nice it would be if I had a CI on the other side. Would two be better than one? That is one of the questions that I've been pondering and praying about lately. I love being able to hear as well as I do now but would like to hear better with my unimplanted ear and be more balanced. I'm doing good and still making slow but steady progress with my CI. Yesterday, I had an appointment with Dr. Merwin about getting my other ear implanted. When he walked in the room he asked me why I was there. . . I told him I just wanted to see my favorite surgeon again! He just smiled and chuckled at me. He is thrilled that the implant surgery was successful and commented on the improved clarity and tone in my voice and speech. We talked for a little bit and then I told him my real reason for being there and expressed my desire to go bilateral. I asked him what the chances were of having my other ear implanted. He surprised me by saying that he has not done a bilateral implant yet because most insurance companies still consider them experimental, including ours. He wanted to do some testing before we proceeded any further with the appointment. His audiologist did a speech and language assessment with my hearing with my CI and HA together. I still qualified for a CI even with my implant. My HINT (Hearing In Noise Test) score was 42% and the criteria for a cochlear implant is 50% or less. Dr. Merwin plans to present my case to the insurance company and will write a letter but it will take a few weeks for him to do that. He said that Cochlear would have some ideas on how to write a good letter. He is very interested and agreed with me that it is worth a try but did not want to encourage me too much. I told him that I understood. I shared with him that Steve and I have always told our children that if they don't try something, they'll always wonder and have regrets. So, it is my turn to follow our own advice. I know it will take a while but I'm not in a big hurry this time. I also surprised him by telling him that I would be interested in being an "experiment" if something new came up. He told me that I should write to Cochlear myself and let them know that. I wish I had done better with my HINT at 42% but the therapist was hard for me to understand and talked too fast. I KNOW I would have done better with my own therapist but this is a test I need to fail to still qualify. I don't think they like to test their patients very hard. But, I'm up 42% from 0%, which is better than what I had before. I might have Susie redo the HINT test just for my own benefit to see if my score is better with her. I know I am understanding more than 42%. I'm still finding it hard to understand speech without lipreading sometimes because I'm learning like a baby, from scratch. But, by relaxing and taking one day at a time, it will only get better. I just need to keep working at it and be patient.

I have several reasons for wanting another CI. My thinking is that if I can do well with one, two would be better. I'd like to have "surround sound" and better sound localization . It is also a safety issue with me. It would be helpful to be able to figure out which direction a siren or traffic is coming from, for example. Right now, when I hear a sound or person and don't know where it is, I have to take a few seconds to find it. By the time I locate it, I've missed something. That would not be a problem with a second CI. Also, when the batteries in my CI die (there is little warning), I wouldn't have to stop what I'm doing to change the batteries while I'm driving, having a normal conversation, talking on the phone, giving a speech or presentation, or something like that. In addition, when on the phone, it would be nice to be able to hear my voice and and still know what is going on around me with the other ear or be able to block it out, whichever meets my needs at the time. Another reason would be for improved speech perception. Having two CI's would give that extra "oomph" that I need and may even sound more like "normal" hearing. I think two CI's would improve my hearing, especially in difficult listening environments. Besides, the right ear is for music and the left ear is for voices. The brain puts these two together and processes them.

Should my other ear be saved for future developments? At my age, life is too short to wait. My right ear will never get better or improve on its own. It would be great to get rid of the hearing aid and not have to worry about ear molds or feedback anymore, either. Sounds like a lame excuse but feedback makes me self conscious. I have to be careful when I smile because the ear changes its shape when my jawbone and facial muscles move and the sound leaks through the ear mold. I've had several embarrassing moments and feedback can be annoying to other people, especially me, now that I can hear it with my CI. I have realized that life is not going to come to me. I just have to meet the challenges as they come, take a deep breath, step out in faith, and say, "Here I am, all of me."