Monthly Archives: May 2009

Sick Hearing

So last week my hearing got really weird.  I realized things were sounding really loud again and I was tempted to turn down my volume.  I thought, “Oh, maybe this new T-Mic is going out like the other one” and switched it with one of my back-ups.  Nah, everything still sounded the same (and weird).

As the day went on, I realized everything sounded like it was echoing, especially voices (including my own voice).  The volume stopped being an issue, and instead it was just the quality of the sound…echoey and almost like I was in a tunnel, hearing things shouted down to me.

It kind of freaked me out, so I went and changed out my headpiece (the magnet that attracts to the magnet inside my head).  I even went to one of my back-up processors, but still, everything sounded weird and echoey.

This is one of the things I still need to get used to with my cochlear implants.  When things sound different from what I’m used to, does that mean it’s an equipment/hardware problem?  Do I need a new mapping (which is the software that the audiologist programs for me)?  Or is it just a temporary change due to fluctuations in my health?

Maybe in time it’s one of those things I’ll just get a feel for, but right now I’m hyper-sensitive to any changes in my hearing…especially after the recent revelation that my T-Mic wasn’t working to full capacity.  So my first move now is to check the hardware.  I switch out my processor, T-Mic and headpiece to my back-ups and see if there’s a change in how things sound.

Since there was no change, I figured my next move would just be patience.  If it was a health-related hearing change then I would expect to see improvement in about a week.  If a week or so went by and my hearing didn’t improve (or got worse), I’d put in a call for a visit (and mapping) with my audiologist.

You know how your hearing gets weird when you have a cold?  Usually it gets kind of muffled, and you feel like if you could just yawn and “pop” your ear, things would be clearer?  I assumed that kind of thing wouldn’t happen to me anymore now that what I hear goes right from the electrodes in my cochlea to my hearing nerve.  I figured I was bypassing all the stuff that makes your hearing get weird when you have a cold.  But I’m not a doctor and don’t know the workings of the inner ear very well.  A while back, I’d mentioned to other CI recipients that when I felt like I might be coming down with a cold, my hearing (with the CIs) got weird.  Most said the same thing happened to them.

So I thought, well, a cold has been going around the house.  My husband and daughter had it, and my son and his girlfriend stopped by the Monday after Mother’s Day and they ended up getting sick too.  I never got sick, but I figured maybe my body was fighting something off and I didn’t have the usual symptoms (runny nose, sore throat) but it was still affecting my hearing somehow.  I don’t know – maybe the Eustachian tube was swollen or something?

So I waited it out.  It was a little scary because the first day I noticed it (this was earlier this week, on Monday or Tuesday) I was actually having a hard time hearing by the end of the day.  I had my volume up around 2:00 (12:00 is the normal level) and I never, EVER move it past 12:00.  The next day it was a little better though…voices were still echoing a bit but my volume stayed stable all day long.  By the third day, things sounded back to normal again.

I never did have any typical cold symptoms, other than being a little more tired than usual, but I’m going to assume this was a health-related hearing fluctuation.

If anyone knows why hearing changes when you’re sick even once you have cochlear implants, I would love to know!  Or if you’ve experienced the same kind of thing, please leave a comment and share…I just find it really interesting that this happens (and I like to know I’m not alone, as well).  🙂

Going to Court (with cochlear implants)

One afternoon in April, Dave brought the mail in and began sifting through the envelopes.  Then he froze, staring at one envelope in particular and murmuring “Uh oh” under his breath.

“What?  What’s wrong, what is it?”  Sometimes Dave can be dramatic but usually a comment like that from him is very much warranted, so I was worried.

He pulled the paper out of the envelope, looked at it and passed it to me.  It was a subpoena, addressed to me.  I’ve never even seen one before, and my first reaction was that somehow I’d gotten in trouble for something I didn’t even know I’d done.

It came from the Cook County Criminal Court, and I tried to calm down and read over it in order, without glancing all over the page trying to glean some quick information about what this pertained to.

I noticed that it was a case brought by the State of Illinois against somebody I’d never heard of.  Then I saw that I was being called to testify, basically as a witness.  It stated that if I didn’t show up, I would be in contempt of court.

Finally, it said I needed to be in court May 11 in Chicago at 9 am, but to report to a certain room first.  Then it said to call a phone number when I received the subpoena.

This was late on Friday afternoon, so we knew there was no point calling that day…it would have to wait until Monday.  Why do things like this always arrive on the weekend, making me worry for nearly 3 days before I can find out any information?!  It’s like an unwritten rule…even my doctor’s office always tends to call with test results late on a Friday afternoon, so I have to wait until Monday to call them back.  😐

So I sat there, quietly freaking out.  People, I have NEVER been to court before.  I’ve only stepped foot in a courtroom two times before, and never for my own self.  Once with a friend in high school when she got a speeding ticket and showed up in court so that she could get the fee waived and go to driving school instead, and once when my son got a ticket for being out after curfew when he was 16 years old.  Both times I was just there as an observer, not involved at all.  The one time I got a notice for jury duty (back when I still had some hearing, in the early 2000s) I told them I would need CART, and included a note from my doctor to confirm my hearing loss.  They wrote back and told me I was excused and didn’t need to show up at all.

And really, I had NO idea what this subpoena related to.  Never heard of the person named.  There was no information at all included with the subpoena, telling me what they wanted from me.  It was completely mind boggling!

I sat and tried to think of every possible situation it might involve, and then I remembered that a while back, I disputed a balance transfer made against one of my credit cards.  It was for a HUGE amount ($8,500) and the credit card company sent me an affidavit that I had to sign, stating that I had no knowledge of the transfer and I didn’t approve it.

I couldn’t remember when exactly this happened, just that it was in December (because it was the credit card I was using exclusively for Christmas gift purchases) and that it was before I went totally deaf, because I called them as soon as I saw the charge show up when I checked my account online.

I pulled up my Quicken program and found that yes, it happened Dec. 13, 2007 – so it was a year and a half ago.  I remembered we had some weirdness about 6 months later with a lady calling us, saying she was with the Mail Fraud department of the post office.  Dave talked to her and explained that I was now deaf (these calls started after April of 2008) so I couldn’t talk to her.  She mentioned a guy’s name that we didn’t recognize, asking if we’d ever heard of him (I hadn’t).  She was asking Dave for account numbers and other things he assumed she would have if she was really working on this case, so he got suspicious.  He didn’t talk to her again after that phone call but he actually wondered if she was one of the thieves, somehow trying to get more information out of us.  It was all really strange and we never received anything in the mail or heard more about it.

I asked Dave if he thought the name on the subpoena was the same as the one mentioned by the Mail Fraud investigator and he agreed, he did think it was the same person.  At the time we were getting calls from the Postal inspector, I did a search on this person’s name in Google and saw they had been convicted of credit card fraud in Colorado.  So I did another search, entering in the name of the person on the subpoena, and got that same article.  Yep, it was the same person.

Once I realized what it was all about, I calmed down a lot.  But really, couldn’t they give you at least a hint why you’re being called as a witness?!  It’s kind of crazy!  So we let it go for the weekend, and on Monday Dave called the State’s Attorney.  He never did answer the phone (Dave called more than once) so he left him a message, explaining that I was deaf but that we did receive the subpoena.

It took a couple of weeks but we finally got a return phone call (when we weren’t home, of course) and the State’s Attorney left a message saying that the case was still on, and to show up at that office the day of the case.

So on Monday of this week, we got Paige off to school and left the house at 7:30 am.  It’s about a 45 minute drive to Chicago from our house, but rush hour traffic is terrible and unpredictable, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time.  I brought along the credit card statement that showed the fraudulent charge and the subsequent credit the credit card company gave me after I disputed the charge, just in case.

Traffic wasn’t too bad getting into the city, but once we got within sight of the parking garage things pretty much stopped dead.  For some reason, there was no left turn arrow onto the street where the garage was located.  Oncoming traffic was totally solid so nobody could turn left except after the light turned red…then 3 or 4 cars would zoom through the red light, making a left turn so they could get to the courthouse garage.  It was really insane!

After we made our own wild left turn (yes, I closed my eyes) we found out that yes, we were at the right garage and it wouldn’t cost anything to park, and we were finally walking across the street to the courthouse.  My heart was pounding by this time because it was 9:00 already, we still had to go through the long security lines and my morning coffee was making itself known … there was no way I was doing anything until I got to a bathroom!

They divided us up into a men’s line and women’s line, which Dave didn’t catch – they kept telling him he needed to go to the left but he didn’t hear them because it was so loud inside.  Finally I tapped his arm and talked right to his hearing aid, letting him know he needed to go in the other line.  I was wondering if my CIs would pose a problem, going through the metal detector.  They had a sign posted in front of it but it didn’t say anything about people with pacemakers or other types of implants so I just put my purse on the belt and walked through the detector…no problem at all.  They checked out my purse and that was fine, so I just had to wait for Dave.

Now that we were in the building, I calmed down a lot because my biggest worry had been actually getting down there on time.  We found a bathroom, then rode an elevator to the office we needed to go to.  I kept my CIs on the background noise program because it was just so loud in there – people talking, high heels clacking on the floor, everything echoing, etc.  Right after we checked in with the receptionist, the State’s Attorney walked up (we had gotten there before he did!) and we showed him the subpoena.  He told us he’d be back in a few minutes to explain what was going to happen that day.

We waited for quite a while, watching all the people coming in and out, the lawyers pulling carts full of folders and documents out to the court rooms, etc.  I mentioned to Dave that the background noise program made hearing voices a lot easier, so he tried it on his hearing aid and agreed – we both stayed on those programs for the rest of the day.

In the back of my mind I kind of hoped the case would be dismissed once the prosecution realized a witness had shown up – a lot of people told me that’s usually what happened.  But not for me.  A couple of different lawyers were working on my case – the original one was working on a murder case so we ended up working with his associate.  We walked with her down to the court room and originally sat down where all the observers sit.  She came back to get us and showed us to a room behind the actual court room.

The room was filled with police officers, detectives and lawyers.  After a while a few guys came in, witnesses for the murder case.  It was all kind of exciting and interesting!  We explained in detail what happened so the attorney knew the specifics (they originally didn’t know whether my actual credit card had been stolen, etc.)  I still don’t know how this guy got a hold of my credit card number, by the way – that was never explained.

They told me if they worked it out with the prosecution, they might just have me sign some papers and that would be it.  But apparently that didn’t happen, and I was actually called as a witness.

I had explained to every single person I came in contact with that I was deaf, but had cochlear implants to help me hear and also that I could read lips.  Not one person seemed taken aback or put off by this; they were all really nice and accommodating.  They offered to get an interpreter, but I explained that I didn’t know sign language.  I told them all I needed was to be able to see everyone’s faces so I could lip read.  In other words, don’t sit at a table across the room, looking down at your notes, and talk to me…because I won’t understand!  Everyone said it was not a problem at all.

Finally the time came and I was waiting outside the courtroom door with the bailiff.  They called me in and the witness box was right to the left of the door I went through, next to the judge.  I did the whole “raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth” business.  Then the State’s Attorney came right up and asked her questions.  I only had 5 questions to answer, about how and when I noticed the fraudulent transaction, etc.  I had to look at the two guys and say whether I knew them, whether I gave them or anyone else permission to make this transfer.  Then the prosecutor came up (right up in front of me) and just asked a couple of questions, including whether I had the credit card statement with me (they ended up keeping a copy of it).  And then I was dismissed!

We went back to the room and waited about 5 minutes, and the State’s Attorney came in and thanked me profusely for my time.  I guess these guys had been doing this from July 2007 through Jan. 2008 – there were a lot of other victims listed, but I was the only one who showed up.  I guess I was the only one intimidated by the whole ‘contempt of court’ thing!  😉  Seriously though, I’m glad I did it.  It was a pain going to Chicago at that time of day, but it was kind of interesting and made me feel like I did my part to get some justice.

It also was one of the better experiences I’ve had as far as accommodations go.  Although I didn’t need much, they were pretty much willing to do whatever I needed to have total understanding/communication that day, and nobody seemed put out or annoyed.  They even had a victim’s advocate come talk to me, although I really didn’t feel too victimized since I wasn’t even out any money in the end.  It was just a good experience all in all.

Now I can chalk off another life experience … I’ve been to court and survived it!

Troubleshooting

For the past few weeks, the weirdest thing was happening with my hearing. Everything was starting to sound loud…painfully loud. When my CIs get programmed, the volume is at the 12:00 position…that is 0, essentially. I turn it to the left to decrease volume, to the right to increase it. I realized I was pretty much having to leave my CI volume at the 9 or 10:00 position if I wanted sound to be tolerable.

At times I would swear my right side CI wasn’t working. It just seemed so quiet. I would tap on the T-Mic and yes, sound was coming through…so I figured it must be because my right side is the one that’s been deaf the longest. Maybe it was rehabbing at a different rate, or in a different way, than my left. I just figured it was always going to be the weaker ear, hearing less than the left ear does.

Still though, it was puzzling and annoying to have sounds suddenly be so piercing and almost unbearable. I couldn’t figure out why, 9 months after activation, I suddenly would want LESS sound rather than more. Usually you get used to a mapping, things start to sound a little soft or fuzzy, and you know it’s time to go in for a new mapping to get things reprogrammed. I felt like I was sliding backwards if I couldn’t even tolerate the 0 setting for sound.

This was all happening at the end of April/beginning of May. On May 5, I was working on candles down in the workshop and Dave was upstairs, so it was very quiet…no conversation. I realized that although there was no sound/noise in my environment, I was hearing a faint kind of hiss or static-type noise from my right CI. I’d been noticing this periodically, never sure if it was an equipment-related noise or an actual sound in my environment. I also noticed that some mornings when I put my right CI on, the magnet would connect, sound would come in, then there would be a loud hiss that would slowly die away. It only happened right after I connected my magnet in the morning. The sound I was now hearing in the workshop was like that loud initial hiss, but at a lower, constant volume.

To test it, I walked upstairs and went into the bedroom, shut the door and listened. It was another quiet environment and I wanted to see if maybe it was an environmental thing I had been hearing down in the workshop. Again, I was hearing the soft hissing static sound in my right ear. I decided to do some troubleshooting to see if it was the CI.

My plan was to change the battery, try a different T-Mic, and try a different headpiece. The CI uses rechargeable batteries, which slide on and off the actual processor and blend seamless with it so it looks like all one piece (like the body of a behind-the-ear hearing aid). I have 8 batteries that I rotate through – two Slim batteries (with less power, smaller size) and two Plus batteries which are larger, a bit heavier and last longer. I tried a few of my other batteries and it didn’t change the sound.

The headpiece is the round magnet that I wear on my head – it attracts to the internal magnet and is held in place that way. The magnet connects to the processor part on my ear via a cable that snaps into the processor. I figured it was possible there was a problem with the headpiece, but I thought I would try the T-Mic next.

The T-Mic is a part that attaches to the processor of the CI and curves around my ear, down into my ear canal. It serves as an earhook to hold the CI on my ear, and has a microphone at the end of it which picks up the sound in the bowl of my ear, much like the way my ear would pick up actual sound if I could hear. As a side note, the T-Mic is not a T-coil even though it sounds like it would be. My hearing aids had a T-coil switch that I would use for the phone or other devices that utilize that kind of technology. My CI is capable of being T-coil compatible but it would have to be programmed into one of the slots on my processor. I chose not to do that since I use the T-coil so rarely.

So anyway, I took the T-Mic off and put one of my backup T-Mics on. (One nice thing is that I received backups from Advanced Bionics for each CI, so in essence I have 4 processors, 4 T-Mics, 4 Direct Connects, etc.) When I did this, I was utterly astounded. Sound poured into my brain…loud, rich sound. I pulled the CI off to check the volume level, thinking I had accidentally pushed the volume wheel when I was putting on the different batteries and other T-Mic. Nope, still the same. I took off my left CI and tried that T-Mic on the right side. Same sound, same level of volume. I put the original T-Mic back on and the sound dropped back to whisper level. All this time, my T-Mic had been barely working!

No wonder my volume seemed so messed up…my left sound was way out of sync with the right. In order to get the volume to sound even, I was turning the left side down. I realized I rarely ever turned down the volume on my right CI, it was almost always just the left. As I mentioned before, I just figured that the right side was the weaker one and naturally wouldn’t hear as well. I was wrong!

I came dancing out of the bedroom, telling Dave, “Talk to me! Say something!” I could hear SO MUCH more. Even though the volume was much, much louder than what I’d been used to recently, it wasn’t bothersome at all now that it was even on both sides. I was able to turn my volume back to the 0 level on both CIs.

I went back down to the workshop, to see if I could still hear the hiss. Now instead of the total silence I had been hearing, I heard the click – click – click of the clock on the wall as it ticked away. No hissing or static. I went back to the bedroom to listen…no hissing. Not only did I solve the hissing problem, I resolved a problem I didn’t even know I had!

This is such a learning process…I guess I was just used to hearing the way I did and didn’t even think it might be an equipment problem. Now I know better, and I’ll be aware of checking and testing my various CI components from time to time.

After I finally got over my excitement at all the wonderful sounds I was hearing again, I sat down and emailed customer service at Advanced Bionics. Within 5 minutes I had an answer from them. My T-Mic is still under warranty so they overnighted a replacement T-Mic to me, along with a postage-paid envelope to return the defective one. On top of that, they sent me a pediatric (Small) size in replacement, because the full size T-Mic is so long it nearly hits the bottom of my ear. When I asked if it was possible to get a small T-Mic as a replacement, they didn’t even blink an eye.

The small T-Mics not only fit my ear better, they relieve some of the aching so my ears are less sore (this is more of a problem with the Plus battery).

I am thrilled to have both ears working at full (comfortable) capacity again! 🙂

%d bloggers like this: