Being Bilateral

It dawned on me in the past few days what a huge, tremendous difference it is to truly be bilateral.  The change in the way things sound is absolutely enormous.  It is the difference between just hearing sounds or noises when someone talks, and actually understanding what they are saying.  Sound completely changes.

It’s not a subtle change…it’s like being nearsighted with no glasses on, and then suddenly being fitted with a perfect prescription that brings every small detail into focus.

I’ve never really heard from both ears.  Ever since my hearing loss was detected, when I was preschool age, my left ear has had better hearing but both ears have had some degree of hearing loss.  Once I turned 28, I had no usable hearing at all in my right ear.

I got some semblance of bilateral hearing from my bi-CROS hearing aids, which I started wearing in 1993.  Although I absolutely loved these aids, they weren’t very popular and I’m not sure how often (if at all) they are dispensed these days.  I wore a ‘transmitter’ hearing aid in my totally deaf right ear, and it sent sounds from my right side via radio frequency over to the receiver hearing aid in my left ear where I heard them.  There were no wires between the hearing aids.  So although my right ear didn’t hear sounds, I was still able to catch the sounds from my right side and hear them in my left ear.  I really noticed a huge difference if I turned the transmitting HA off and only listened with my left ear.  It was kind of like the difference between black and white and color.

Because I already had an idea of how different things sounded when I only heard with one ear, it was just instinct for me to ask about getting cochlear implants in both ears when I lost the rest of my hearing.  It seemed logical to me.  It would be like losing your vision and being able to get eyesight back…why do just one eye?  It wasn’t until I brought it up to the doctor that I found out it really wasn’t the norm to implant both ears at once.  When I asked why, I was told mostly for insurance and financial reasons – most insurance companies just don’t approve both ears at once.

We decided to go ahead and request bilateral surgery, and I figured they wouldn’t approve it…but it couldn’t hurt to try.  If they had denied me for bilateral implants but had approved one ear, I would’ve just done one ear and then tried for the second one later.

It was only after the insurance company approved bilateral implants right from the start that I got kind of nervous.  I hadn’t really thought much about what the surgery would be like, the extra recovery time and the fact that I wouldn’t be able to sleep on either side until I was healed.

I’m glad I didn’t get much time to dwell on it and talk myself out of bilateral surgery.  The recovery period was nowhere near as long or painful as I thought it might be and now I’m really glad I just had one surgery for both ears.  The most prolonged recovery aspect was, indeed, sleeping…but sleeping on my back on the couch for 3 weeks was well worth it!

I had Dave do some tests with me a few days ago.  I stood with my back to him while he said words and sentences behind me.  First we tried with my left ear only.  This is the ear that hears things in a really low-pitched, bass way.  Everything sounds very echo-y and buzzy…nothing is sharp or clear, and sounds are softer with this ear by itself.  Voices sound robotic.  I think I understood maybe one word that Dave said.

Then we tried my right ear only.  This ear hears things in a high-pitched way.  Sounds are a little sharper and louder, but voices sound more “heliumized” with this ear by itself.  The high pitched sound makes speech easier to understand though, and I was about to get a little less than half of what he said using this ear only.  Oddly enough, this is the ear that has had NO sound coming through at all for 15 years, and has been my worst ear for 42 years.

Once I put both CI’s on, it was a completely different experience.  I got all but one word that Dave said.  Sounds in general sound much closer to the way I remember them.  Voices sound more like real voices.  I still have kind of a buzzing sound around the edge of certain sounds (for example, running water sounds like an electric razor to me right now).  Still though, the difference when I am using both ears is absolutely tremendous.

If I was working with just one ear right now, I would be reporting drastically different results.  My speech comprehension would be almost nil, depending on which ear I was using.  I really hadn’t realized what a difference it made to be using both ears, until we did that little test at home.  (At the mapping sessions, I’ve always been tested with both CI’s on…so far, anyway.)

If anyone is on the fence about going bilateral, wondering if it really makes that much of a difference and if it’s worth it to go through the surgery again…YES!  It makes a huge, huge difference.  It is utterly amazing.


About wendiwendy

I'm a real-life bionic woman.

Posted on September 2, 2008, in Cochlear Implants & Hearing Loss and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I told you it would not be just a little change, but a huge change. It is as if the ears work together. One ear will pick up some sounds and the other different sounds, but together they make it complete. So from one bi to another bi, it is first time in my life that both ears work. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!


  2. Our daughter has finally gotten the green light from the doctor to get bilateral. Her right cochlea is ossified, so he has to drill it out, which has stopped the process in the past. Now we just need to get insurance approval. I’m excited to hear how helpful bilateral can be. Hopefully she will join the ranks early next year.


  3. Awesome! I’m so happy for you!

    Congratulations! You are doing super!

    Laurie in TN


  4. I am beaming for you, Wendi! 😀

    In such a short time you have made such tremendous progress from Sudden Silence to Now New and Improved with Bionic Hearing! I look forward to the continuing saga of your journey.



  5. thank you for this post. I’m one of those who have been thinking about getting a second cochlear implant. I had an evaluation for this a couple months ago. One of the tests was for hearing levels with my hearing aid and the CI on together. Another test was to see how much I can discriminate words and sentences. With the HA/CI combination, I hear all the speech sounds but still only understand about 20% of the single words. There was no difference with the HA on. Based on the test results, the audiologist and I decided that I would probably not get that much more benefit from a second CI in terms of auditory discrimination. What do you think? With one CI, I can occasionally grasp familiar phrases in known context (“Can I see your ID?” as I’m looking down at my purse in the store). I’m really not sure how much more I could expect from a second CI, and would like to learn from others who went from one to two CIs.


  6. I am so glad that dual CIs work so well for you together. With one CI, things come along slowly. I hear things and I know what they are but they don’t sound the same. I keep thinking what it would have been like if I didn’t have the “back-up” ear to compensate. I don’t know if it slows the process or not to wear the HA in the other ear. I just turn it down mostly when I am alone.

    I know that if my aided ear would get worse, I’ll consider going for a second CI. Hopefully by that time, the CI and I arew acclimated. 🙂


  7. Congratulations on your new bilateral hearing! I went bilateral earlier this year, and I would never go back. I didn’t initially go bilateral, because 1) my insurance company didn’t go for it, and 2) I was not keen on losing my residual hearing in both ears. But after a couple years passed, and the hearing in my other ear had gotten to the point that it was not useful at all to me, I felt it was time. I’m so glad I did!

    What a gift to be able to have our hearing restored through bionics. My mother was nearly deaf at the time that she died – I wish that she’d had the opportunity to have her hearing restored in this fashion.


  1. Pingback: Bookmarks about Sound

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