Switch on day

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.

My new bionic ear

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.

The bag of implant bits and bobs – about the size of a black labrador

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.



23 thoughts on “Switch on day

  1. Hi Vera

    Wow! I’m so happy for you. The implant sounds to have made a huge change in your lives already.

    Wishing you and Nigel a very happy Christmas and a great New Year.


  2. Vera, you are so brave to go through all these changes especially this time of the year, I do hope you don’t have to go out and do Christmas shopping whilst you are adjusting to your new implant. Wishing you all the best for Christmas and the New Year and looking forward to reading your future blogs.

    1. Hi Pat. Merry Christmas to you too. We have quiet Christmases so no particular stress there. I’ve made the cake and the cranberry sauce. I’ve ordered the turkey. Sorted.

  3. Hurray, Vera!!!!
    I’ve been reading these posts as they come out and I’m all caught up on the past posts. They have given me great insight on how to cope / compensate / communicate better in every day life. So privileged to share in your ups and downs as you experience this new technology. And you are a superb writer!

    1. Thank you Nancy. So good to hear from you. I’m delighted with how things are going after the first week. Goodness – a week already. Back to the Cochlear Implant Centre tomorrow for more adjustments and to get more homework!

  4. Hi Vera, Thanks for sharing your experience with us, it sounds like you have a long journey ahead.
    Do the sounds you hear in the right side interfere with your hearing in your left ear when you wear your hearing aid, a bit like tinnitus maybe?
    I wish you let best of luck and best wishes for the future.

    1. Hello Neil. At the moment I’m not wearing the left hearing aid, to give myself/Brain time to get used to just the implant. I’m being very good and haven’t even popped it in to see what it sounds like. After a while (I’m not sure how long) they advise you to start wearing it again, so I can report back then. Thanks for your good wishes.

  5. Awesome article. I had meningitis, so a cochlear implant is never going to be on the cards for me. However, I can empathise totally within my limited experience of ‘upgrading’ my hearing aids. I remember when I moved from analogue to digital and spent months trying to translate unnecessarily loud noises into ‘normal’ sounds. When a tap dripping sounds like a gong going off, that takes a bit of getting used to.

    I only discovered your blog a few days ago as a result of your article in the Limping Chicken about being a serial apologiser. I’m really glad I found it!

    1. Hi. And I’m really glad that you finding my site led to me finding your site. I love it. I’m trying to do more writing outside the blog, so it’s wonderful to find someone who’s deaf AND loves writing, like me.

  6. As ever, really enlightening to see how you are doing, step by step. Glad it is going as expected so far and that Brain seems to be listening to the eminently sensible Vera. 🙂
    One tip – make sure you pick up the bag of CI goodies and not Izzy by mistake when you go away anywhere, gorgeous though she is!

    1. She is indeed gorgeous, and now I can hear her toenails on the kitchen floor when she dances about in excitement waiting for her dinner and her boots squeaking away (sore pads on back feet – long story) when we are out for a walk.

  7. Hello Vera. I’m sure it is all very strange for you…
    A word of optimism for you – Many years ago, an ex-boyfriend of mine was fitted with a cochlear implant (this was really new technology at the time)…,anyway, at the beginning when he first had it turned on, he struggled with all the sounds he’d been missing out on for years, like footsteps, clinking cutlery, bottle tops opening etc…He told me that birds now sounded like bells, and everyone’s voice sounded like Mickey Mouse…this went on for some time…but he was persistent…and things got easier. Sounds started to make sense…it’s amazing what our brains can do!…It is about 8/9 years later now, he has implants on both sides now, and has a great job, and is enjoying his life…
    I know you probably hear from many other people who have a cochlear implant story, or from people who know someone with the implant…I just wanted to let you know that I saw it really change my friend’s life around, and it was such a positive end result…
    Hang in there, stay strong (I know you will)….and keep writing! It’s very interesting to read about your journey, and I’m sure you are helping many others.
    ….Sending loads of support and hugs

    1. Hi Carly. Great to hear about your friend. Things are already better today than they were yesterday, so I’m very optimistic. Thanks so much for your support.

  8. Thank you Vera for the inspiring descriptions you have written before, Switch On day and now subsequently.
    As always your humour shines through- the photo of Izzy with your goody bag of accessories adds a new dimension to the slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

    1. Hi. I’d been warned about the big bag of stuff I’d be taking home with me. Rechargeable batteries, recharger, non-rechargeable batteries, adaptor plugs for international travel, overnight drying box, spare cords, things for protecting the equipment whilst swimming (seriously – you can swim in it), remote control (Nigel thinks he will be able to mute me but – ha – I’m unmute-able). And more! Much more! I must find the energy to have a thorough look at it all……..

  9. It gets better with each mapping Vera! Can recommend listening to Ted Talks on your web browser as then you get the transcript to follow! But is good brain training. Your dog will sound excessively loud when barking! And your breathing will sound odd for a while until your brain gets used to it!

    1. Thanks for the tip Josie, and thanks for the reassurance. Izzy’s bark has taken on a very high pitched tone for the moment actually – quite girlie! Seriously, it’s very good to hear from people further down the road than day four. I’m grateful.

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