Today is four weeks since switch on. Here’s where things are.
My ability to understand speech has dramatically improved. I still ask people to repeat things and I am still lip reading (I doubt I will ever stop) but the feverish concentration whenever I’m trying to follow speech has gone. It is as if the most extraordinary weight has lifted off my shoulders. I can just TALK to people, with so much less effort. So far, my practicing has been almost entirely in talking to people one-on-one or two-on-one, so I’ve yet to try the harder challenge of people in groups, but the difference is remarkable. Sometimes people turn away from me, briefly, during a conversation and I can still understand them when they are not looking at me. I marvel at how wonderful that is.
I can hear in places where I had previously really struggled. Our kitchen, like most kitchens, is quite reverberative (hard surfaces, no soft furnishings). Pre-implant, deciphering speech in there became incredibly difficult, which was a pain because, like many people these days, Nigel and I spend a big proportion of our life in our kitchen. We were contemplating buying a big rug to cover some of the floor and soak up a proportion of the noise. When people came to visit they were immediately dragged into the living room (carpets, settees, cushions). Now, although the kitchen is just the same as it always was, I can cope in there. Nigel and I can sit over meals and have long relaxed conversations. A friend came for Christmas and the three of us could hang out in the kitchen, talking. No problem.
Still on speech, I haven’t had any problems with people sounding electronic, or like Donald Duck, as I’d been warned might happen. When the first squeaky phase was over (after just a couple of days) there followed a brief period when people sounded as if they were talking with a London or Essex accent, even though they most definitely didn’t have that accent in real life. It was odd, but then that disappeared too and people now sound just like they always have, but clearer. Similarly, Izzy’s bark initially took on a very high pitched girly tone, quite unlike her normal deep Labrador voice, but now that too seems to have stabilised (or maybe I’ve just got used to it).
I can hear birds! I mentioned in an earlier post hearing high pitched noises when I was out walking, and surmising that they must be birds. The noises continue, sound more like birds and definitely ARE birds (some squabbling sparrows flew across my path the other day, very close, and it was definitely the sparrows I was hearing). I’ve also been on the RSPB website and played the sounds for blackbirds, song thrush, great tit, wren, robin and some others that are common round here. I suspect they sound more melodic if your hearing is good, but they sound OK and I can tell one from the other quite easily. Roll on Spring and the singing season. Remember that I haven’t heard most birds for half of my life. People with long memories may recall a post about birdsong in which I admitted that I imagined all singing birds sounding like canaries, following a childhood living with my grandad, who bred them in an aviary in our garden. Their song was the only one I could recall, so if I saw a bird singing I imagined it was a canary. The other day I looked online for the sound of a singing canary, played it, and there it was, just how I remembered, and not at all like a blackbird. (Had a few tears. It’s been a long time).
I can hear bits of the radio. I remember when I stopped being able to listen to the radio. Before I retired, in 2010, my car would get snarled up in traffic at about 7.45am every day, when I reached the outskirts of Bradford on my way to work. I would then turn the radio on, and listen to the news. By this stage I couldn’t hear the radio above road noise but I could when the car was stationary, or almost so. After 2010 listening to the radio got harder and harder, and then completely impossible. Now, I can hear most (say 80%) of a news broadcast, especially when it is a male newsreader with a clear voice. I’ve tried dramas and chattier programmes, but they are beyond me for the moment. I’m practicing, though.
Ah yes, practice. You may remember me telling you that the Implant Centre stress heavily that you get out what you put in, in terms of eventual hearing outcomes, so I’ve got homework. For example, I’m listening to the radio every day (that DOES require feverish concentration) including in the car (the advice was to have speech playing when I can even if I am not actively listening to it). They also told me about an excellent website (Angel Sounds by the Emily Fu Foundation) which has a mass of exercises designed for people doing brain retraining after implants. Some of those exercises isolate particular vowels or consonants and play them in a form which means you can’t guess the sound from the context in a word. Here’s an example: they will show on the screen a number of options – AMA, ANA, APA, ASA, AKA – play one of them and you have to say which it is. It’s hard, because the brain can’t guess, but the theory is that exercises like these help the brain match the sound it can now hear to that sound in speech. I’m still at the lowest levels, doing the easiest exercises, so there’s a long way to go, but it’s fun. You are scored and my scores are getting better. Sometime, I’ll write a longer post about these exercises. I find it fascinating that the brain can be retrained like this.
Just to be clear, not everything is plain sailing. Our landline answerphone defeated me yesterday. Sitting in the kitchen, I discovered that our phone emits a very piercing beep when there is a message waiting to be picked up. I could hear it distinctly, even though the phone is by the front door, and I wanted to turn it off (it was really quite shrill). Not knowing how to do that (it’s never been an issue before) I stood and looked at the phone for a while but couldn’t see a mute button, so I decided to press Play. I could decipher “you have a new message”, “today at 9.06am” and Nigel’s name but nothing else, despite multiple repeats. Oh well, answerphone messages are notoriously difficult.
Finally, though, let me tell you about last night. Last night I went to a talk in Skipton about a particular aspect of local history. I don’t yet have a loop setting on my implant (that will come later) but I thought I could probably now cope without it. I went early to get a good seat, asked the organiser to leave a light on at the front, the speaker started speaking…….and it was fine. I could hear him quite distinctly and comfortably, so well that I even took a few notes. That’s right; I was so confident and relaxed I could take my eyes from his lips for a few seconds to write things down. There were some people there that I knew and I could talk to them, clearly hearing what they were saying. As I said to one couple, I feel like I’m back in the world.