Saturday, May 27, 2006

Take Me Out To The Ball Game!

Today is the beginning of Memorial Day weekend and the official start of summer. The weather is getting warmer and most of us are becoming more involved in outdoor activities, like grilling outside, hanging out at the pool, exploring or working in the great outdoors or being involved with sports. I heard my "first" sound of summer on Thursday night! Marissa and I went to the baseball field to watch her boyfriend, Steven, play baseball. It was great to be at the ballpark again. We've spent many hours at the baseball field with our boys when they were growing up (and Marissa's softball games, too) and we've missed that. Also, growing up with two brothers and a father who is a sports nut, there were many hours spent at the Cincinnati Reds' stadium or local ballpark. But, on Thursday night, I realized what sounds of the games I had missed all these years. . . .the sound of a baseball making contact! I didn't realize that it sounded different depending on whether it was going to be a good hit or bad hit or if the ball landed in the catcher's mitt. It always sounded like a little "click" to me with my hearing aids no matter where it went. At the kids' games, I always relied on the scoreboard to see if the umpire called a strike or ball. Now I can hear the loudness and sharpness of the ball making contact. There were many times in the past when I saw the batter swing at the ball, heard the "click", looked for the ball in the outfield only to find out that the catcher had it. I never knew the difference because I could never hear or understand the umpire making the call. Now I can tell if the ball is in play, whether the batter makes a good drive or hits a weak fly ball or the ball "pops" in the catcher's mitt. Amazing! It always confused me how fans "just knew" and reacted immediately when a fast ball was hit and was a possible home run. Of course, my reaction was always "delayed" unless someone next to me told me what happened. At the Reds' stadium, the Jumbotron was my clue when the crowd roared the minute a homerun was hit because the sound of a good hit probably reverberated throughout the park. I never could figure that one out. I also understand how a player can rely on the sound of the ball making contact in order to react properly, like a runner on third base waiting to run to home. Jason used to be a pitcher for his high school team so I'll have to ask him if he could tell whether he threw his best fastball by the sound of the catcher's mitt. I know he used to pitch up to 88 mph. It would be interesting to see if anyone has done any research on the acoustics of baseball because when a bad ball is hit, it sounds more like a "thump" whereas a good ball has a different kind of a "crack."

No wonder everyone loves to be at the ball park! I've always enjoyed the smells (not the stinky socks!) and excitement of the games. It's contagious. I'm a people watcher, too, and even though I couldn't hear very well, I enjoyed watching everything and everyone around me, especially the little kids. The food there is good, too. I had a "grand slam," which is a bowl of chili on top of frito chips and covered with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream. That used to be our supper (or hot dogs) every time we went to the ball games and I've missed those. It was great and I savored every bite becuase I had not had one in two years! I'm looking forward to going to some more games so. . . "Take me out to the ball game! Take me out with the crowd! Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. . .I don't care if I never get back! Let me root, root, root for the home team. . .If they don't win it's a shame. . .For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out . . At the old ball game!" (lyrics written in 1908 by Jack Norworth)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Progress Report

(Note: I'm so behind in writing and have drafts set aside for a Mother's Day, Birthday, and Atlanta entry. I will post those when I get them written! Scroll down and you'll see some pictures that I added!)

There are days when I feel like I am not making much progress with my hearing and then everything seems to happen all at once. I continue to make "baby steps" and am getting more confident all the time with my CI. This week I've made several phone calls on my own instead of asking someone else to make them for me. I'm not as afraid of failing like I used to be. Whenever I have a successful phone call, it just makes me want to reach out and touch someone else! I try to call someone every day but most of the time I call people that I feel comfortable with. On Mother's Day, I wanted to honor some special women in my life by giving them a call. My first call was to Margie Johnson, who was our neighbor in Chillicothe, Ohio several years ago. I spent many hours sitting and talking with her over a cup of tea, especially during the times that I was scared and sad about losing my own mother to cancer. When I dialed Margie's number with my cell phone, I heard a message that said, "The number you have dialed is incorrect. Please check the number and dial again." So, I called it again and got the same message. I checked Margie's phone number online on the White Pages and it was the same number I had but I still could not get through. As I was sitting at the computer trying to figure out what to do next, I saw a link under her phone number that said "Find Neighbors". I clicked on it and got several phone numbers that had addresses similar to hers. The first one didn't answer but the second one did. A lady answered and I told her that I was looking for Margie Johnson and wondered if she knew her. There was a pause on the other end and the lady asked me who I was. I told her I was a former neighbor of hers and that I wanted to wish her a Happy Mother's Day. She paused again and in a soft voice told me that Margie passed away two months ago. I didn't know what to think or say so I thanked her and hung up. . . .my heart was heavy and now I wanted to get in touch with her family but didn't know where to start. Her son was killed in a car accident many years ago and her husband passed away after we moved away. I knew she had a grandson (who played with our boys when they were little) and a niece but I couldn't remember their names and had no idea where they lived. All week long my prayer was to find a way to get in touch with them. Yesterday (which was Thursday), I checked our voice mail with my CapTel phone and had a message from a Lisa in Ohio who used to clean our house for us. She also cleaned for Margie and said that she had some information about Margie Johnson and left her phone number. I just stared at the phone! How did she know that I was looking for Margie four days ago??? So, I picked up my cell phone (I did not use my CapTel because the line has too much static in it) and called her back. I was able to have a pretty decent conversation with her and she said that she had tried to call Margie on Mother's Day, too, and had the same result I did. So, she called the church in Margie's town and found out that she had passed away on March 2nd from Acute Leukemia. I haven't talked to Lisa in 12 or 13 years and certainly not on the phone because Margie would always relay messages between us. Lisa knew that I would want to know so she searched the Internet and got our home phone number and left that message for me. That certainly was a God Moment! God truly does answer prayers! I gave Lisa my email address and we have been exchanging emails ever since. And, I have the addresses for Margie's family to write to them. . .

I still have some trouble distinguishing between men and women's voices on the phone. I called another friend, Betty Johnson, in Wisconsin, who was next on my list of "new" people to call. When a voice answered the phone, I said, "Happy Mother's Day" thinking Betty had answered and heard someone laughing on the other end. When I asked if this was Betty, he laughed again and said, "No, this is BILL!" I told him who I was and was able to understand that Betty was not at home and that he would give her my phone number to call me back. Betty called me the next day while I was at work. Again, I was able to understand some of our conversation but had to get off the phone because I was working. It was good to talk with her but I had to ask her to keep her sentences short. She asked if she should speak louder and I said no. Just give me time to process short sentences instead of saying three or four at a time. I'm very slow!

Marissa's car had to go in the shop this week for a new starter and neutral safety switch. I called the repair shop myself instead of using the relay servcie several times and had no problems there. Today they called me and left a voice mail because I didn't answer the phone right away. I like voice mail because I can listen to it over and over and practice. But, I was able to understand the voice mail right away the first time. It said, "Laurie, this is (blank - blank) repair shop. We have the Jeep ready to be picked up and we will be here until six o'clock. Thank you." I didn't get the (blank-blank) part but I got the important stuff!

I've also made several calls using my CapTel phone to 800 numbers which have a lot of pre-recorded messages. Those are a pain. I'd rather talk to a person. The speaker goes so fast and it is hard to understand them. When I do get to talk to a person, there is a delay in the spoken message and what I read on the CapTel phone. If I don't say something right away, they either hang up or say "are you there?" So, now my new trick is to say "pardon me" so that they will repeat what they said and it gives me time to read it the first time around. I had to call our bank today because I was locked out of the email system and could not balance our account. Every time she asked me a question, I said "pardon me", read the message while she said it again, and gave her the answer she needed. Works for me. :) When I am listening with the CapTel phone, I understand some of the words but people talk too fast for me to process everything. That will get better.

In therapy earlier this week, Susie tested my hearing in the booth. I'm still hearing with a mild hearing loss. She tested me with my CI alone and with my CI & hearing aid together and there was no difference. I still like to wear my hearing aid because I do hear something with it but it probably cannot be "measured" in the booth. (I probably also have an emotional attachment to my hearing aid since I've worn it all my life and it seems to round out the sounds of the CI). I tested 100% in closed set sentences, 12% in open set sentences, and 60% in between. That is progress! The closed set sentences are sentences that I've been practicing with for the last several months so I had an idea of what was coming. Some examples of the sentences are, "What are you hiding under your coat?" "What's new?" "I like sugar and cream in my coffee." "I like those big red apples we always get in the fall." But, the speaker was a male and spoke faster than Susie. Open set means I don't have a clue what is going to be said. I didn't do very well there. And when I had six pictures to choose from each time I heard a word, that is where I got 60%. I cannot stress how important A/V therapy is for me. I am being given the tools on how to focus on a sound or situation that might be giving me some difficulty. It is a process and takes time and effort on my part and Susie's. I couldn't do it without her. A person with a CI needs to be motivated and recognize that they cannot just have therapy for a short time and in six months never need to see the audiologist again. It’s a life long journey. Everyone learns at a different rate and apparently I'm slower than most. But, it takes lots of patience, practice, and perseverance. All my scores are up from 0% before my implant. So many people think that all one needs to do is get a CI and put it on and everything is perfect and normal. That is not the case. It would be like buying a college textbook, taking it home without reading it and expecting to master the class. By using a therapist, the brain can adjust fast to learning new sounds, especially with speech comprehension and understanding.

God really created a masterpiece when he created the brain. Wow. In Bible Study, we have been studying about Creation in Genesis. When God created the first man, Adam, He took a lump of clay, put it in His hands and shaped it. He meticulously molded him with utmost precision and care. God created us in his image so we would be like Him and have fellowship with Him, in body, mind and spirit. And if that wasn’t enough, where He meticulously put His hands upon our lives, He, "breathed the breath of life into man." So, when Susie is working with me, over and over again, I cannot help but be in awe of God's perfect planning and this special gift that I have been given with my implant. My hearing is not perfect but second best is great. The brain is a wonderful organ in that it does some of the work on its own. I know that mine is adjusting to sounds in a very new and organized manner as if I am learning a new language. The human brain learns best with lots of repetition. Practice, practice, practice, and more practice. (That is why little children love to hear things over and over again!) And when I think we've had enough practice, we do some more to help with my comprehension. Now we are working on understanding with background noise to improve my understanding in noisy situations. Susie is a great therapist and is teaching me to listen in a way that I haven't done before. I'm one of those excellent lipreaders with a lazy brain. I'm discovering that I get tired and drained after a long session. I'm also realizing that I can be a passive listener at times and can tune things out when I want to. And then when I want to hear someone speaking out of my visual range, I turn my brain "on" and try so hard to listen. I am thankful that our medical insurance covers most of the expenses for therapy. I know the benefits will outweigh the costs in the long run. (Insurance even pays for batteries, too!)

This is a long post and I'll stop now to give your eyes a rest. Give thanks to the God who created you and made you. He loves you and is crazy about you!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Girl's Day Out

Laurie, Susan, & Lydia

Last week I had a "girl's day out" with two of my CI friends. I left the house at 8:30 a.m. and returned home at 9:30 p.m. so it was a very long day. It wasn't your typical girl's day out but was refreshing and rewarding nonetheless! In one of my last few entries I talked about meeting Susan for lunch (her blog is on the right, by the way) and how we discussed going together to a different audiologist to have our CI's mapped. Well, we invited another friend, Lydia, (who got her CI 15 years ago) because she seemed to be struggling with her hearing and was getting stressed and worn out in many situations. We met at Susan's house in Knoxville, drove 2.5 hours to Johnson City, had the most delightful lunch at a little barbecue place and had our CI's mapped by Jayne at Mountain Region Speech and Hearing Center. You should have seen us in the car - we all had our microphones connected to our CI's (it helps to cut out the car noise so we can hear each other's voices) and had them going every which way!

Our three appointments took up the whole afternoon and we were able to watch each other get mapped. Jayne was WONDERFUL and very knowledgeable and understanding about each of our situations. Lydia got mapped first and had the most drastic changes to her CI. Jayne also suggested that her processor may not be working right so she got on the phone right away with Cochlear and arranged for a replacement unit to be sent to her since it was still under warranty. The smile on Lydia's face was so priceless after she was done. She said that this was the best map she has EVER had since she got her cochlear implant. She was one of the first people in Knoxville to get a CI and had been going to Memphis to get mapped. I've had several emails from her since then and she is hearing so much better and is not so worn out by the end of the day trying to hear. She can already tell an improvement in her hearing, especially in background noise. The following is an excerpt from one of her emails:

"This is the best mapping I have ever had! Lewis had yet to repeat himself. I had a manicure today and heard Korene so great and there was a hair dryer going nearly beside me. It did not bother me. Also, I was sucking up Molly's dog hair with this electric broom I have which is so loud that I have always taken my hearing off. Well, it still was way too loud but it did not bother me as before. While it was running I switched the program on the CI to the old one and it about blew me away. It was so loud and harsh. I cannot believe it. Also, I was in Kroger and could understand the cashier talking with me and usually have bluffed my way though it. Have had no problems on the phone and could understand my dear mother-in-law with the soft southern accent. She is making an appointment for my father in law to see if Jayne can help him hear better with his hearing aids. What a blessing this is. I have not understood this well in all my years of being mapped. I am going to Jayne from now on and think we should make a threesome every six months at least to get remapped. I have had very few things that I could not understand and have kept a pad with me to record to tell Jayne. I figured I will be going back first of next week to get my other processor. I really would like to wear this map in so many situations so when I do go back, I will have some good feedback for her. How are you doing with your new map??????? I loved every minute of being with you. I think you are doing awesome and I can understand you really well. Love and hugs, Lydia"

Lydia's letter is proof how important a good map and audiologist is. The three of us will probably get mapped as a threesome from now on. Lydia says that Johnson City is "next door" compared to Memphis even if she has to drive 2.5 hours.

Susan was next and she had some changes too, to her map. An email from Susan also tells me that she is hearing better after our session. She was not back in the environment that normally gives her trouble but did notice some changes for the better. For example, she was walking on her treadmill at home and thought she would try listening to the TV at the same time. It was similar to what she experiences doing clinicals at the hospital, trying to hear soft voices over a motor sound. She said she did fairly well, understanding a few words her own and using captions to check herself. I haven't heard yet how she is doing at the hospital this week.

It was very interesting to watch what Jayne was doing on the computer as she set up the beeps and tones and mapped Lydia and Susan. My previous audiologist never let me see what he was doing nor did he explain things to me very well. The girls were very surprised that I had never seen a "map" on the computer after being mapped. I was next and we discovered that the autosensitivity mode was never activated on my CI. Bill had told me that he turned it on but he never did. Jayne turned on the autosensitivity settings on our CI's and we are hearing better! She left some of our old programs on our CI's just in case we weren't happy with our new settings so that we could have something to fall back on. Lydia is going back next week to get her new processor. I might send my spare processor with her so that Jayne can put my new map on it and take the old maps off because I am quite happy with how I am hearing.

Ever since then, I've had some more CI moments. On Friday as I was mending Marissa's prom dress, I could hear the thread going through the fabric as I sewed. And, the other night I heard the oven timer from upstairs! The last time I heard it was in the TV room. That is progress. Yesterday I heard a bird singing outside with the windows closed. So, it is getting better and better all the time.

Haven't heard anything yet about going bilateral. I've completed all the tests and requirements and am waiting for the doctor and insurance company to do their part. Got an interesting form from Dr. Merwin's office last week asking me to sign a patient release form so that another agency can have access to my medical records and insurance book. This must be someone who is working as an advocate to deal with the insurance company on my behalf. So, it seems like they haven't forgotten about me. I've been following Michael Chorost's blog (also on the right) because he is fighting his insurance company for a second cochlear implant. He has the same insurance company we do so I am watching him VERY closely! See his April 6th entry - very interesting and informative. He is an excellent writer.

I will add more to this entry later and will post some pictures. Am currently on a business trip with Steve in Atlanta and do not have access to my computer. Hope you are having a wonderful and blessed day. Every day is a gift from God. Treasure it.