Bilateral Cochlear Implants: Mary Beth’s Story
Mary Beth’s not just a Teacher of the Deaf, she’s also a MED-EL cochlear implant recipient! She wrote about how her first cochlear implant changed her life, and now she’s here to share what it means for her to get a second cochlear implant.
This was written as a four-part diary: before the surgery, after the surgery, just after activation, and a week after activation.
October 14: The Decision to go Bilateral
I received my first cochlear implant in February, 2015, and was activated in March. I hadn’t heard with my right ear for 24 years, and I wasn’t sure how it would do with a CI. At first I only heard static and beeps. But I was thrilled to hear those beeps and static, because I knew that meant I had a chance to understand speech and only a lot of auditory training would get me there. And within the first week, speech started to appear. By the third month I was doing very well with my CI. When I wore both my right CI and my left hearing aid, things sounded great.
However during the fourth month, things started to change. My CI signal had grown stronger and clearer. It was definitely my better ear. My hearing aid offered less and less help. By the fifth month I functioned better with my CI alone, and it was like my brain no longer wanted to work so hard to hear so little from my hearing aid. At my six month test, it was clear that my hearing aid was no longer helping. It was definitely time to pursue a second cochlear implant.
I had not planned on getting a second cochlear implant. But, after experiencing how much better I hear through my first CI, the decision was easy.
I find myself wondering what it will be like to hear from two balanced ears. I look forward to easier listening in noise and no longer needing to position myself so that speakers are on a certain side.
While I await my surgery date, I have been thinking about how my auditory training will be different this time since I will be bilateral. I plan on training my new CI independently until it reaches the same level as my first CI. Then I will train both CIs together as my goal is optimal bilateral hearing.
I wonder what my left ear will sound like at activation. Will it also start off with only static and beeps? Will its journey be entirely different?
I am very excited about getting a second cochlear implant. This time it will be a SYNCHRONY.
October 27: After the Surgery
Prior to my first CI surgery in February I was filled with questions and anxiety. Would the CI work? Would my brain be able to decipher the electric signals? How would I function with the CI?
Thankfully prior to my second CI surgery yesterday, my mind was full of excitement.
I woke up singing happy birthday to my left ear. I was so eager to begin the CI journey on my left side. I have been smiling ever since the doctor told me that the surgery all went well. I can’t wait until activation day.
Recovery from my first CI surgery was rather easy. It took a while to feel completely back to myself, but every day improved and I did not experience any problems. The first thought whenever I awoke was, “I have a cochlear implant in my head!” I just couldn’t believe it had happened.
Recovery from my second CI surgery has been even easier. Although I am no longer shocked that I have a cochlear implant, I am filled with excitement about what bilateral hearing will mean. I find myself thinking about that all day long and smiling. Now I just have to wait until activation. For the next three weeks, I wait and wonder.
November 18: The Activation of my Second CI
The activation of my second CI was a completely different experience. The tones sounded clear but I needed more volume than my first CI at activation. When they switched to speech, everything was so quiet. I thought something was wrong. There was no blast of static and beeps. I felt anxious that maybe something was wrong. Where was all the sound? Why didn’t I hear more? I was in shock a bit by the lack of static and beeps.
Slowly sound started to arrive but it was not beeps and static this time. My left ear started hearing a marimba or xylophone sound. Detecting syllables was tricky but as we talked the marimba sounds slowly started to line up with syllables. On the second day, a whale sound was added to the marimba sound. And I could start to detect people speaking very quietly, but could not understand the words. Clearly my left ear’s hearing journey is going to be unique.
November 25: What a Difference a Week Makes!
A few days ago my new CI sounded like I was sitting on the ocean floor next to a marimba player listening to whale songs while someone whispered to me from a boat.
Now I’m picking up speech and I just love listening to music. I can already understand lyrics to songs. Unbelievable!
I am spending most of the day wearing both of my cochlear implants. During that time I now notice a fuller sound to speech and I’m starting to notice which direction sounds are coming from . I haven’t been able to tell which direction sound came from for decades. It’s amazing that sometimes I already know which way to look. This is an amazing journey.
The biggest surprise to me has been the emotional component of having bilateral hearing. There is a hearing safety net for me now that wasn’t there for decades. The sense of relief in knowing that I can function with either CI alone, if needed, is difficult to describe.
Thanks, Mary Beth!
Are you curious about getting bilateral cochlear implants? Read these blog posts!
- Why you hear better with bilateral cochlear implants
- How bilateral cochlear implants can help you localize sounds
- Matt Jones’ bilateral cochlear implant story
Subscribe to the MED-EL blog to read more inspirational stories from MED-EL recipients!
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