Neither of us slept much the night before. I was busy imagining every possible catastrophe. Nigel had a strange dream in which he got so confused he had to be admitted to the village care home. His friend Greg came to visit him, but Nigel thought Greg was Gandhi. Because Gandhi is dead Nigel became convinced that HE was dead……..you know how nightmares go….
It was a relief for both of us when it was 6.30 and we could get up and get on with the day; off to Bradford for switch on.
Friends had compared the expression “switch on day” to Blackpool illuminations or the Christmas lights but, for obvious reasons, this was a much bigger deal. I felt relieved that the day had finally come. I felt determined. I felt nervous. All at once. I had three appointments; 9.30 for switch on, 10.30 with a technology adviser and 11.30 with the hearing therapist.
Switch on then. Just after 9.30 we were shown into a testing room where we met Natasha, an audiologist. There on the desk was the equipment that is going to be my bionic ear. Some explanations, some questions and then in no time at all I was taking out my left hearing aid and the implant was being connected up to Natasha’s computer to check that it was working. All was fine. Two of the twelve electrodes were touching, so one was disconnected to prevent any problems, leaving eleven to be switched on. (Losing one isn’t a problem in terms of outcomes).
Then the volumes of each electrode were tested, identifying the quietest sound I could hear (I struggled to hear anything with some…..) and then the loudest that was comfortable. Then it was the big test. “OK. I’m turning it on now. I want you tell me what you can hear when I speak.”
I’ve read quite a few personal accounts of switch on and they all include the word “weird” for what you hear at this moment. It was indeed weird. I could hear, very quietly indeed, the sounds of speech as I am used to hearing them and then, coming from somewhere up on the right side of my head (it’s a right side implant) some very odd squeaking and squealing. There was a lot more of the squeaking and squealing when I spoke than when Natasha spoke, or when she asked Nigel to have a go. We’d tried to think of something for Nigel to say that wasn’t “can you hear me?” (just to be novel) but really, what else is there to say? “Can you hear me?” he said. And I could, vaguely, when his speech wasn’t drowned out by the squealing.
This being all quite normal, Natasha declared herself done for the day; my first “programming” was over. Programming (or mapping) is the name given to setting the volumes of the different electrodes (minima and maxima) and it will be adjusted many times in the future, especially to begin with as my brain starts its retraining programme. Another appointment was already set, for a week later.
I then saw Andy, the tech support person, who talked me through the enormous amount of additional stuff that the manufacturer supplies (batteries, battery recharger, drying box, remote control and a lot more). By this point I had my left hearing aid in again, so that I could follow what was being said, but it was good that Nigel was there as well. There was a lot to remember.
After that it was Jill, the hearing therapist, who I’d seen several times before. With my hearing aid out again we did some very simple exercises, designed to help my brain to start interpreting the squealing as the speech it actually is. One exercise consists of following some text as it is read out – not looking at the speaker, who stops at various points. I had to point to the word she had stopped at. A harder exercise involved Jill progressively adding additional words to a sentence. (He ate the cake. He ate the birthday cake. He ate the birthday cake at the party. He ate the birthday cake at the party on Saturday). You have to decipher the additional word/words as they are added (again, no lip reading and this time no text in front of you). This was more difficult, especially as I was trying not to guess. All that squealing and squeaking was VERY off-putting (although sometimes – sometimes – it sounded a BIT like speech).
Eventually I’ll most probably be wearing my left side hearing aid as well as the implant, but for the moment Jill advised me to keep it out, in order to give my brain the best chance of adapting to the new stimuli.
That appointment finished, we went home!
Now….what to tell you about next? I could write reams about what has happened since Thursday. Indeed, the reason for this post not appearing earlier is because I’ve been typing away on several drafts and redrafts. Maybe posts should be a little more frequent for a while, just to keep up. Let’s concentrate on speech for the moment.
On Thursday afternoon all I really wanted to do was lie on the settee and chill out. (No sleep the night before. Massive changes……..). Nigel and I practiced a few of the exercises Jill had given me. After supper I just wanted to watch the TV and have an early night. We watched a Dan Cruickshank DVD (a BBC series from a while back – Around the World in Eighty Treasures). I was happy just to read the subtitles and relax but the volume was on (Nigel hears). Dan Cruickshank didn’t sound at all like Dan Cruickshank.
It was all very odd, but it was after all only day one.
On day two I made a determined effort to persuade my brain to listen to the squealing (because how else will it learn to understand the words?) It felt like I was having an argument with a different part of my brain (or Brain with a capital B), somehow disconnected from me. It was a bit like this
ME – OK, that’s Nigel speaking, I want to listen to the squealing because that’s the words he’s saying.
BRAIN – No, that’s not Nigel. THAT’s Nigel (very quiet sound of Nigel’s normal voice). Ignore the ridiculous squealing, Vera, I don’t know what it is………
ME – The squealing is Nigel. We are going to concentrate very hard and understand it.
BRAIN – Rubbish
ME – (Concentrating feverishly……) I AM GOING TO LISTEN TO THE SQUEALING
BRAIN – OK, OK, have it your own way……….
ME – (Determined brow-furrowing concentration) THAT is definitely a voice. Not Nigel’s voice, but it’s a voice
BRAIN (eventually) – You might have a point……..
BRAIN (much later still) – Goodness Vera – there are consonants in there! (Brain and I have not heard most consonants for a long time).
BOTH – Hey! This is going to be good……..
Day Three. I woke up. Brain had had a good think overnight and decided to merge the quiet voice with the squeaky stuff. Great! It presented different problems, though, because now I didn’t have “normal” voice to fall back on if I didn’t understand anything. Indeed, if anything, speech comprehension went somewhat backwards. Perhaps that’s to be expected, because the voices I’ve been used to hearing have disappeared.
I’m already getting used to the idea that things are going to change, be weird, then be weird in different ways, every day for a long time to come.
Next time – teaspoons that chink, light switches that snap.