So you’ve just had your cochlear implant operation or activation, and you’re now on to the next stage in your hearing journey. “Is this normal?” “Do others experience this too?” “How long will it take before….”These are just some of the many things you may be questioning as you embark on this next exciting—but often apprehensive—stage of learning to hear with your cochlear implant.
You may remember Scott from his last post on how a cochlear implant has helped him overcome challenges in the workplace. Scott shares his experience of what his life has been like since his cochlear implant operation at the end of 2015, including all the frustrations and triumphs along the way.
What has the first year of learning been like for you?
I just passed the one year anniversary of my activation last month—time really does fly by! The past year since my cochlear implant operation has been a continuous learning and improvement process, and experimentation has been key. I’ve tried out my implant in a variety of different hearing environments—from the quiet of a library, to the blasting noise of a music concert. Even within these environments there are different settings to test out, different locations within a room or venue to place myself, and the factor of using a hearing aid in my other ear. It’s been challenging for sure, but very rewarding when I recognize things that I was hearing differently—or missing altogether—before implantation.
I was initially hesitant about getting a cochlear implant. I was reluctant to go through the surgery and the process of learning to use the implant. I viewed the CI step as crossing a major threshold away from the “old” hearing ways that I was used to with my hearing aids—and that was scary. Eventually my doctor and audiologist stressed upon me enough that the hearing improvement would be worth it, and more importantly, that I had almost nothing to lose. Looking back, I can say that my concerns were a bit overblown. It does take some time and effort to go through the cochlear implant operation and then recover and learn, but the overall impact to my day-to-day life has made it worth it.
Straight after your activation, was it what you expected?
The time immediately after my activation was a mixed-bag of reactions. Obviously when activated, I knew the operation had been technically successful and the implant was working—I could hear something. However, I was initially quite disappointed. My expectations were unreasonably high. Sounds at first seemed very “off”. Voices sounded strange. I couldn’t recognize what I was hearing. I was frustrated. Even the fit and feel of the processors didn’t seem as natural and seamless as I had hoped.
Thankfully, I have a wonderfully patient audiologist who continuously reassured me and encouraged me. Over time, sounds started to work themselves out. I got used to voices and recognizing them. My incision area healed, making the processor fit better. My initial expectations were not so incorrect—they were simply not realistic in terms of timing.
Another initial challenge was the fit of my RONDO processor—it would not stay on my head. Even by just sitting down in a chair, the impact would knock the RONDO to the floor. This was very frustrating at first. My audiologist told me she had seen this before, and again reassured me that the incision site was still healing. Again she was right. After the swelling from the cochlear implant operation went down, the magnet surfaces on my head became more flush and the magnetic attachment is now much better. One year after my cochlear implant operation, I rarely worry about losing my RONDO. If I am playing sports or doing any high-impact activity, I’ll wear my MED-EL sports headband or a hat.
Are there still things that surprise you one year on since your cochlear implant operation?
I still get surprised, even after a year. Hearing a clock ticking is a novelty. Eavesdropping in on others’ conversations feels new to me—although of course I never do this! Distant drones of machines or vehicles sometimes still leaves me scratching my head as to what these sounds are. I have found that variety and persistence are key in learning to hear with a cochlear implant. Conversation takes the most patience and practice. The more sounds you are exposed to, the less head scratching you do over time. The achievement feeling has been gradual, and hearing and recognizing new sounds are all little victories for me.
What have you enjoyed most since your activation?
I like to do a lot of different sports and outdoor activities. Since getting my CI, it’s come in handy for hiking trips, fitness runs and races, bicycle rides, beach visits, and more. Before I had my CI, if I used my hearing aids for these sports, they would often not help me hear any better, and I would always be preoccupied with protecting them from moisture and damage. My MED-EL processers are not only damage and moisture resistant, but they have accessories to assist with activities like this, such as the Sports Headband, and the RONDO WaterWear. Using my CI enables me to engage and communicate in these activities with others when before I would have been more reserved and preoccupied. Obviously the experience doing sports with others is much more pleasant when being able to hear more!
At work, I can chat with my colleagues more easily. I can engage in office banter at a distance, recognize when people are talking about the weather versus a critical business issue, and better understand when I need to be more or less focused on the sounds and voices I’m hearing. Also, when my sister asks me to join for her for a run, I can look forward to a long back-and-forth conversation, instead of me just talking her ear off! And of course, I really enjoy the wireless music streaming with Bluetooth neckloops, like the Quattro 4.0 which I use. It’s amazing technology!
Are there areas you feel you still need to work on?
I think two of the most challenging areas in learning to hear with a CI are hearing in large groups and listening to music or the television. I’m also always trying to improve my conversational understanding. In quiet environments, I have mostly mastered it, but the noisy or busy environments are always a work in progress. Also, directionality is something I’m still learning. Not only recognizing what a sound is, but in what direction it is located and how far away. Again that’s just a matter of experience with the different hearing scenarios. I think it’s important to just be open-minded about experimenting and trying out new things with your CI.
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