Meet our in-house “musicologist”, Johanna Pätzhold, who is a music professional and a cochlear implant recipient with single-sided deafness. Johanna is a musician who received her cochlear implant eight years ago. Based in the US, she now works for MED-EL helping recipients around the world to once again enjoy music. In a two-post series, Johanna shares her journey to music appreciation with a cochlear implant. In this first post, she shares what her experience was like losing her hearing and experiencing single-sided deafness as a young singer.
“…Hearing with only one ear is like living in a black and white world, without knowing that somewhere else colors exist.”
In January 2008, at the age of 23, I became deaf in my right ear as a result of a meningitis infection. As a musician and a singer, the thought of one day not being able to hear anymore had never even occurred to me.
I grew accustomed to the situation of hearing with only one ear (my left ear) relatively fast—I quickly forgot what hearing with two ears was like. I couldn’t remember how a full sound sounded. In retrospect, I can say that hearing with only one ear is like living in a black and white world, without knowing that somewhere else colors exist.
For me, one of the hardest changes to deal with was being unable to carry on a normal conversation with friends or family, particularly in places like restaurants or bars. I am a very positive person and I always try to overcome limitations. However, after asking someone to repeat what they said three or four times during a conversation, even I gave up! I retreated into myself and stopped actively participating in conversations. To me, the greatest difference between hearing with one ear and hearing with both ears is the inability to localize sound. There are many consequences from this—it is a huge decrease in the quality of hearing. One consequence of losing hearing in one ear is that you become a bystander, whether you want to or not.
“Each attempt to listen to music during that time ended in frustration…”
I studied musicology at the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg, Germany, where I minored in music education and sociology. My voice training took more than 12 years. For me as a singer, intonation is one of the most important skills, and I depend on it. Another thing that changed for me when I lost my hearing was listening to music. Music has always played a very important role in my life. However when I became deaf in my left ear, listening to music was not like before. I couldn’t hear everything. I could not perceive every detail, every subtlety and nuance. Each attempt to listen to music during that time ended in frustration, because those little things and subtleties are important to me, personally and professionally.
“I could suddenly experience a full sound…”
In April 2009, I received my cochlear implant. My first impression after fitting was positive. I just remember hearing footsteps, which seemed very loud. My test results for speech intelligibility with using just the cochlear implant were surprisingly good. However the most important moment was when I came home. I could suddenly experience a full sound—a complete sound around me. Birds were singing! I could hear them even when I covered my intact ear, although they did sound a little different.
“It’s important to share my disappointing experiences regarding music with my cochlear implant in the first 3 months, because it shows how much my hearing improved as time went on.”
My results in the first three months with my cochlear implant showed that my speech test results were very good and my directional hearing had also improved significantly. I also tested and trained myself by listening to an audio book on an MP3-Player via the direct audio input cable to my audio processor. This was just six weeks after my first fitting. By concentrating closely and adjusting the volume with the remote control, I could understand everything without having to read the text at the same time. However, I still could not differentiate between the voices of the characters.
It’s important to share my disappointing experiences regarding music with my cochlear implant in the first 3 months, because it shows how much my hearing improved as time went on, particularly with music appreciation. One of the first tests after my first fitting was a short musical test where I had to identify different instruments. This was an impossible task for me. I couldn’t even differentiate between wind and string instruments. Maybe you can imagine how frustrating this was for a musician and singer.
Next week, Johanna shares in detail the steps she took to learn to enjoy music once again with her cochlear implant.
Are you struggling with hearing loss in one ear? If your life is being seriously affected by your hearing loss, don’t give up hope. Learn how a MED-EL cochlear implant can help you hear again with both ears and connect with us for local support and guidance: Cochlear Implants for Single-Sided Deafness
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