On any given day, you can usually find me or Dave frozen in position like startled rabbits; head tilted, eyes to the ceiling. “Where is that sound coming from?” we murmur, as something beeps, clicks or bangs in the distance.
We start wandering around, turning back and forth as the beeping or dripping continues. Sometimes we can’t even tell what we’re hearing: “What the hell is that sound? Is the water running?”
If we’re lucky, Paige is home and she can clear up the mystery with a few words: “It’s coming from downstairs.” “The faucet is dripping.” “It’s Dave’s hearing aid whistling.” (This last happened when he was asleep and had set his hearing aid on the coffee table, but forgot to open the battery compartment door to shut it off…hence the whistling.)
Being able to localize sound is one of those things we take for granted. You hear someone call out to you and you turn in their direction. You hear a car engine and know to look in that direction to see how far away it is. Something beeps and you walk towards it to change the battery or get your food out of the microwave.
Dave and I have the double challenge of first trying to figure out what it is we’re hearing (for some reason, running water is really hard to ‘understand’) and then figure out where the heck the sound is coming from. It’s incredibly frustrating!
I used to wear bi-CROS hearing aids, which meant that I wore a receiver on my deaf right ear, and it transmitted the sounds wirelessly over to my left ear, which had a moderate-to-severe loss. It gave me the impression of hearing from both sides, but was absolutely no help when it came to localizing a sound. Everything just sounded like it was in front of me or off in the vague distance.
Dave can’t stand the way bi-CROS aids sound, so he doesn’t wear anything on his deaf left ear and just wears a hearing aid in his right ear. Of course, everything sounds like it’s coming from his right side.
I’ve noticed, now that I’ve had my cochlear implants for over 2 years, that I’m getting better at figuring out where a sound is coming from. More and more, I’m the one who answers when Dave asks where a noise is coming from. I can tell if it’s inside or outside (this is more of an issue when the windows are open), upstairs or downstairs, to my right or left.
Sometimes I close my eyes and listen for a while; it just happens. I can just tell which ear is receiving the sound I’m hearing. It’s something I’ve never experienced before and it’s not a big dramatic thing – it just kind of happens and my brain makes the connection. I don’t know how long it took before I realized I knew which direction sounds were coming from, but it’s definitely something that is quietly improving as time goes on…behind the scenes, so to speak.
Right now I can hear my cat meowing and I can tell she’s to my left. Dave just cleared his throat and my right ear heard it. I hear a kind of ambient noise and my guess is that it’s the refrigerator…I hear it more in my left ear, and the fridge is behind me and to the left. It is so cool to hear this way!!
The first few months after I was activated, everything just sounded like it was “in my head”. I was so busy learning what everything sounded like that figuring out where the sound was coming from was just too much information. It’s amazing to me how much my brain is still learning and how much it’s adapting, even a couple of years later.
It’s still not perfect; that incident with Dave’s hearing aid happened last week, and I actually didn’t hear the high-pitched whistle at all…Paige heard it. But I know it will just get better with time, and that’s fine with me!