Matt Jones is back! He’s a bilateral MED-EL cochlear implant recipient who developed sudden hearing loss due to Meniere’s disease, and here we’re excited to share his story of what it’s like to get bilateral cochlear implants.
For me, getting my first implant was incredible. I had been living in total silence for months, but it definitely felt like years. When I went in for the operation I was ready, so ready to hear again. Once I had the implant switched on I dived straight into the deep end, straight into a world of sound.
I remember going to my room to pick up my acoustic guitar for the very first time since I’d lost my hearing. I strummed away and couldn’t believe how beautiful it sounded. I’d forgotten how much music meant to me.
With a cochlear implant, so many other simpler sounds fill the air too: Crickets chirping, cats meowing, cars zooming by, and babies laughing. (Or babies crying—it’s actually pretty neat being able to sometimes switch off my cochlear implant.)
With a cochlear implant, everyday life became full of sounds that paint a “sound-picture” of reality.
The thing I discovered pretty quickly though was that the sound-picture I was hearing was only half the truth. At that point in time I was hearing with only one implant, which was kind of like hearing a song with only one side of the headphones working.
Actually, it’s more complicated than that.
The best way I can explain it to people is that hearing with one ear is sort of like seeing in 2D. And it’s sort of like watching a movie in black and white. Ever tried walking through a crowded shopping centre with one eye closed? There’s something off about it: you’re still seeing the world around you but there’s a sense that you’re not getting the whole picture.
It’s hard to translate these perceptions into words that other people can understand, so I know the analogies aren’t super accurate. But the idea is that having only one hearing ear is really like getting only half the story. Our brains are supposed to hear in stereo. It’s how we know which direction a sound is coming from.
So I was extremely excited to get a second implant and be able to experience bilateral hearing again. The audiologist said there could be some complications with getting a second implant because of my balance due to my Meniere’s, but otherwise the benefits far outweighed the risks. I was a good candidate for a second implant. So off I went and had it done.
Now I’m writing a year after receiving my second cochlear implant. Hearing bilaterally is normal for me. It’s just everyday life. I can’t imagine trying to go through the day with only one ear. But I don’t have to. I can just switch one processor off and I’m reminded just how much of a difference it makes.
Every now and then the batteries will run out on one of my processors, and I’ll let the other side wear out on its own. Then I realise just how much of an impact bilateral hearing makes in my life.
Hearing bilaterally doesn’t just add the “other half” of the sound in, it gives it depth and clarity. With two sound sources your brain has more information to work with. So things become clearer and more real. It becomes possible to hear which direction sounds are coming from, and even how far away they are!
It’s hard to explain, but having that sensation sort of puts you in the 3-dimensional world with a solid grounding. It’s an intense feeling of orientation. You have a better perception of where you are and where other things are. It’s then easier to differentiate between background noise and the person who you are speaking to. And that makes a world of difference!
I know it’s kind of abstract, but hearing with bilateral implants really adds the colour to a grayscale picture. I am so glad, and so incredibly grateful I got my second implant as soon as I did. The benefits are pretty hard to describe, but for me it was like the quality of hearing increased many times over. And those benefits far outweighed any apprehension I had about going in for a second implant. So for anybody considering getting a second implant, all I can say is go for it. Hearing in 3D is definitely worth it.