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On Taking Things for Granted

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My pretty ruby red Naida CI Q90 next to my Dark Sienna Harmony processor

You know, one of the reasons my posts slowed down here was because things just became … normal. I woke up every day, put on my CI processors, heard my world in a way that felt normal to me, and that was about it. Once you get past the early days where every new sound is a revelation and it’s just so freaking cool to HEAR again, there’s not much to say.  And, um, you kind of start to take things for granted.

This past Saturday I expected to be like any other day. I put on my right processor … beep, I can hear, good to go. (Actually, with the new processors I can switch them up and it doesn’t matter which ear they go on – another really helpful improvement.)  Put on the left, start applying my moisturizer, finish my moisturizer and hey, I can’t hear. WTF?! I took off the processor, pulled the battery off and put it back on, and watched the LED lights to see what happened. Usually I’ll see four flashes to indicate a full battery, and then a quick green light. This time I saw nothing for a long time, and then a solid red light that didn’t go away. Fuck.

I still wasn’t too nervous; I figured maybe somehow my battery didn’t recharge overnight. So I tried all the others, with the same result.

It’s funny how entitled I feel now – how dare I not be able to hear?! This is ridiculous and awful! And then I remember that it was my reality (only worse, because I couldn’t hear AT ALL) for so many months when I first went deaf.

Dave was still sleeping so I began quietly opening dresser drawers, trying to remember where I put my old Harmony processors, batteries and battery charger. I never expected to be using my backup processor so quickly but at least I had it. Since my left ear is much stronger, I put the new Naida CI on that ear and put the Harmony on my right. (Which meant I had to figure out which processor went on that ear; with the Harmony, if you put the wrong processor on the wrong ear, it will not work at all.)

I came downstairs to use the computer and see if other people had experienced a similar issue and if it was, indeed, a fault in the processor. It wasn’t too bad, really – I could tell that I was hearing differently on the right side but it wasn’t really jarring. But the house was silent, and once Dave woke up and came downstairs, it really hit home how differently I hear with the Naida Q90 versus the Harmony.

My right ear is weird – I have electrodes turned off on that ear, and high pitched sounds make me really dizzy. With the Harmony I was always turning the volume down or covering the microphone if there were sudden loud noises. It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I realized I hadn’t had to do that once with the Naida.

Dave pulled out dishes to feed the cats, filled the metal vacuum pot and put it on the stove to heat for coffee, coughed and cleared his throat … and I immediately had to pull the Harmony CI off my ear, look at the volume wheel and turn it down.  All of those high-pitched sounds were unbearably sharp to me, almost painfully so.

As I went about my morning, I remembered that my headpiece cable for the Harmony was frayed, which meant sound was cutting out every time I turned my head or smiled.  So I’d smile, suddenly hear nothing, after a second there’d be a loud WHOOSH of sound (because remember, the Harmony doesn’t activate ClearVoice right away), and finally the sound would moderate to a comfortable level … then I’d turn my head and the whole thing would repeat. It was maddening.

I thought hey, maybe I can wear the new headpiece with my old Harmony! I went upstairs to check, but the connections aren’t compatible. Then I remembered I’d received some old equipment from a fellow who had upgraded quite a while back, and there’d been a headpiece cable included. I never even opened it because my headpiece and cable for the Harmony is a one-piece unit. But I figured I’d check and YES, this cable worked with my Harmony! So I do have one functional unit using that cable and the new magnet headpiece that I wear with my Naida.

My email to Advanced Bionics was in vain because it was the weekend, but I did hear back on Monday afternoon. I have to admit I’ve noticed a difference in the Customer Service response compared to my early days of wearing a CI. The customer service reps often seem confused and not as knowledgeable as they used to be. The person who helped me asked for some information, which I provided, and then said she entered a processor replacement request, gave me an RMA number and referenced my old audiologist in Illinois, even though I’d just given her my new Michigan audiologist information. That really gave me pause. I corrected her, but come on, really?! This is pretty important stuff here!

I’m supposed to have a new processor in two business days but I’ve heard nothing since – no tracking information, etc. I don’t know if my processor will arrive already programmed or if I have to take it in to have the programming put on. (I know I could ask but eh, I figure I’ll know soon enough once it gets here.) In the meantime, I’m realizing how much I’d already gotten used to my new hearing. I can’t really use the ComPilot – it only works in one ear (the Naida) and everything sounds really uneven, so I prefer just to do without for now.  I’m back to wearing headphones and using an MP3 player at the gym.

And I know, boo hoo, poor me — “You want some cheese with your whine?” I am still a deaf person who can hear! Totally not complaining. But I can’t help but compare and realize how much I really did take my bionic hearing for granted, especially with the improvements since I upgraded. I guess it made more of a difference than I realized!

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What’s New

 

Naida CIQ90 on top (Ruby Red) and my old Harmony CI processor on bottom -- the Naida is so much smaller and lighter!

Naida CIQ90 on top (Ruby Red) and my old Harmony CI processor on bottom — the Naida is so much smaller and lighter!

Oddly enough, the way the processors bring in sound when I first put them on is the biggest change for me between my old and new CIs. I had my Harmony programming (called a ‘map’) put on my new processors and it works really well, so things sound pretty much the same. I do find that I never need to adjust the volume with these processors; on my old ones, I usually had to fiddle with my right processor (my worse ear, the one that’s been deaf longest and has some high pitched electrodes turned off because they make me dizzy). I asked about getting specific hearing strategies put onto these processors (I have five slots per ear for different programs) and my audiologist told me that everything is pretty much automatic now. They’ve found that people really don’t like to have to switch programs for different environments, although that’s still an option for the future if I decide I want them.

Speaking of my audiologist, I just LOVE her. The whole clinic, actually. I’m going to the Audiology Clinic at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, a town I had never been to before my Nov. 30 appointment to have my new processors activated. I thought it was really far away but honestly, the drive is about as long as it took me to get to my Illinois clinic in Hinsdale … and the drive is a lot less stressful. I was always a bit uncomfortable knowing I had no audiologist in Michigan after we moved, and it’s a big relief to have that sorted out and to be working with someone who really listens to my feedback. It’s obvious that quality of life is important to her, and my visits have been helpful and informative. She even gives me encouraging feedback during those dreaded hearing tests, which makes them a bit less onerous.

The activation appointment was really not as big a deal as I expected it to be. I had two huge backpacks full of parts and accessories and the processor parts themselves, and I wasn’t sure what to actually bring. I ended up fitting just about everything (except the extra/backup parts and some accessories like the TVLink) into one backpack and I brought that, just to be safe. It took no time at all to put the programming from my Harmony processors onto the Naidas, and after that we just went over some of the basics (how to change certain parts) and how to pair the ComPilot to my phone and the TVLink.

The Phonak ComPilot almost deserves its own post, but I’m planning to write an entry focusing on music (which ties in to this topic) so I’ll just briefly explain what it is.  The Naida processor is Bluetooth-capable, and the ComPilot is a streamer that you wear around your neck so you can get stereo sound from things like cell phones, MP3 players, tablets, laptops and computers.  No more headphones!  I also use it with the TVLink device – again, it turns my CIs into wireless headphones and puts the TV sound right into my ears; there’s also a small clip-on mic that I can have someone wear so I can hear them better (a presenter/speaker in a seminar, a dining companion in a restaurant, etc). Although I do have to have the ComPilot hanging around my neck, it’s a far cry from the wires I used to have to use to get this kind of sound, and the quality of sound that I get is truly remarkable. It’s my favorite feature of my new CIs, by far!

When Things Come Into Focus

Every day I have a moment where I go from being deaf to actually hearing sound.  It’s not when I first wake up – my cochlear implant processors are nowhere near my head at that time. Generally I get out of bed, grab a couple of rechargeable batteries off the charger, carefully pick up my CIs (I’ve learned the hard way that the cord connecting the headpiece to the processor is fragile) and carry them with me to the bathroom. Sometimes I put my CIs on right when I get out of bed, but usually I wait until I’ve had time to fix my hair. That involves sliding my hands up under my hair, against my scalp, and shaking to get the curls going and fix any areas that got pressed down or wonky overnight. If I do that when I’m wearing the CIs, I basically would fling them right off my head!

Before I upgraded to the Naida Q90 processors, I had to brace myself for this moment. It’s overwhelming, going from total silence to a rush of sound all at once. My Harmony processors had a program called ClearVoice that would compress any steady background sound and kind of mute it. So if, for example, I had the fan on in the bathroom, my first sound would be the roar of the fan and then ClearVoice would kick in and the sound would get compressed down to a less overwhelming level.  If Dave were to come in and start talking to me at that point, his voice would be the main thing I heard and the fan would fade away to the background – hence the ClearVoice name. It helps you hear when background noise is present.

Even though I’ve had the Naida processors since the end of November, I’m still not used to the difference when I first put them on. I still inwardly cringe and wait to be bombarded with sound for that first few seconds before the compression program takes over. Now, though, what happens is this: I hear nothing for a second or two, and then I hear a beep. After that beep, I can hear. Generally I’m in a quiet environment so there’s not a whole lot going on noise-wise, but there’s always slight sounds happening even in a quiet room. It’s like everything gets clicked into focus, the difference between A and B in a vision exam where A is the blurry lens and B is the one that lets you read that last line on the eye chart.

But the way these processors activate each time I put them on is such a relief. There’s no overwhelming loud sound coming in first and then getting compressed. The first sounds I hear are already compressed. That alone is a huge improvement. But there’s also that beep, which (for me anyway) serves to prepare me for hearing. I focus on that and I know I’ll be hearing in a second. My little warning tone, I love it so.

(Nearly) Ten Years of Deafness

I haven’t posted in forever so I’m sure nobody’s reading this anymore, but for the first time in ages I actually have cochlear implant-related news.  In April 2018 it will be ten years since I went deaf (and ten years since I started this blog, geez).  I can remember getting my cochlear implants and thinking they were all I ever needed – I couldn’t imagine needing to upgrade. But ten years on, and I’m down to one headpiece that functions well, one that is okay for the most part, one that doesn’t work at all and one that cuts out every time I smile, turn my head, etc. (the cord is frayed and loses connection).  I think the only functioning T-mics I have are the ones on my two processors; the backups long since stopped working. And I received a letter from Advanced Bionics this spring telling me that my Harmony processors are now obsolete and no longer covered. When I called last year to get a replacement headpiece, I was told they don’t make that style anymore and I should really upgrade.

“Oh, I’ll wait until we move,” I said. “I want to see how our finances look at that point.” I had no idea how expensive it would be to upgrade, and it made me nervous. A house was more important to me than hearing at that point.

So now we have a house. (Yes! We bought a house in June, in Michigan. I really need to start writing here again.) My headpieces really started acting up, so I contacted Advanced Bionics with my long list of questions.  And I’m shocked to say that less than a month later, I’ve been notified that my insurance approved the upgrade, they are accepting my two backup processors as a trade-in to cover the 20% balance I owed (which leaves a big fat ZERO due) and my new processors are being shipped to me today!

I also had to find a new clinic since I haven’t been mapped since I lived in Illinois, so I’ll be going to Western Michigan University to have these babies activated and mapped. I can’t even tell you all the new features I’ll have – I’m getting the Advanced Bionics Naida Q90 in ruby red – so I have some learnin’ to do.

Advanced Bionics CI Q90

Isn’t she pretty?!

But I’m pretty sure I can listen to music wirelessly with the ComPilot (which I’ll wear around my neck) and Bluetooth technology. I used to have to hook all these wires up to have the music go right into my CIs, so I’m really excited about this!

What a difference (almost) ten years makes.  I’m still reeling.

Teamwork

I went to a new dentist last week, for my regular cleaning and updated x-rays.  I’ve never been fond of the dentist to begin with, but since I got CIs it is extra challenging because being reclined makes my CI processors (aka my “ears”) fall off.

I’ve tried many things over the years — wig tape, headbands, scarves, even a knit cap.  Nothing is foolproof (although the knit cap worked the best, since it also helps to keep my magnets where they need to be).  However, I am not about to pull out a knit cap in August.

This time around I used something called a Snuggie from Advanced Bionics, basically tubing made to fit my Harmony processors that fits snugly around my ear.  It works perfectly to keep the processor from being pulled off my ear as my head is reclined back.  The only issue that remained was keeping the magnets from being knocked out of place by the headrest.

Advanced Bionics Snuggie for the Harmony cochlear implant -- the clear tubing goes around the ear

Advanced Bionics Snuggie for the Harmony cochlear implant — the clear tubing goes around the ear

I played around with a scarf tied strategically over both magnets, but eventually decided it was too fussy.  I figured I’d just deal with the magnet situation if and when it arose.

In the end I didn’t have too much trouble; they were able to adjust the headrest so that my magnets stayed in place during most of my visit.  They did slip off when I was told to turn my head to the side, but those instances were brief and my other magnet stayed in place so I had enough hearing to still follow instructions.

What really impressed me, though, was when the dentist came in for the exam portion.  She had a bit of an accent, and originally asked me a question when her back was turned (she also had a mask over her mouth, just for an added challenge).  I had no idea if she was talking to the dental hygienist or me, so I stayed silent.  She turned back to me, and I met her eyes and said, “I can hear you, but I also read lips to understand what you’re saying.”

Her face lit up and she pulled the mask down.  “Thank you for telling me! That’s very good to know.”  Then she turned to the hygienist and asked her to repeat everything for me — although the dentist kept her mask on, everything she said was repeated by the hygienist so I could read the hygienist’s lips.  I’ve never had anyone in the medical profession do that for me before and it made a huge difference.

Not only did I get a clean bill of dental health, I came away feeling like my needs were met with respect, kindness and ingenuity.  It almost makes me not dread going to the dentist again!

Re-post: Being Bionic

It’s been about two years since I first posted this, and I thought I’d re-post for those who haven’t seen it before:

I realized the other day that there’s a lot of things about having cochlear implants that I assume everyone just knows. When I first started this blog, I think my main ‘audience’ was other people with cochlear implants or who were considering one. As the years go by that’s no longer the case, and there are certain questions that I frequently get asked, so I figured I’d write a little bit about being bionic.

Just as a quick refresher, for anyone who doesn’t already know, I am profoundly deaf. I lost my hearing three separate times during my life, for reasons nobody has ever been able to figure out. So I didn’t grow up deaf (I wore hearing aids). When I lost my hearing the third time, in April 2008, it left me with no usable hearing – I don’t respond to anything on hearing tests, and there is nothing that I hear, even with hearing aids.

I received a cochlear implant in each ear in July 2008. Instead of thousands of little hairs in my cochlea waving around and helping me to hear, I now have a teeny strip of 16 electrodes that do the job. The sound is interpreted by my brain after it’s routed through an internal micro-computer to the electrodes. The signal is transmitted via the headpiece/antenna connected to a processor (also containing a micro-computer) that I wear on my ear; it looks like a big hearing aid. There’s a magnet inside my head, and there’s one in the headpiece that is attached to my CI processor via a wire. The magnets are of opposite polarity. I put the magnet headpiece up to my head, feel around until I can feel the magnet pull, and let go. It clings to my head via the magnet in my skull. Here’s a couple pictures:

My Left Side CI (purple metallic color) My Left Side CI (purple metallic color) A better view of the processor on the ear. A better view of the processor on the ear.

So that’s what I mean when I talk about “having CIs.”

I didn’t have brain surgery. I won’t get graphic (because I don’t know enough to!) but basically they make an incision behind your ear, along the curve, and then (for me, anyway) up and back a bit. They thread the electrodes into the cochlea and they shave/drill some of the skull to fit the magnet/radio antenna component, which is a couple of inches up and back from the ear. (I think this is slightly different for everyone, based on skull thickness.)

When I attach the magnet, it doesn’t hurt; I don’t feel anything at all. Once it connects, there’s a pause and then a woosh of sound as I begin to hear. (If the magnet is not attached, I don’t hear at all.) Now that I have a program called ClearVoice on my CIs, there’s another change as any loud, steady background noise (fans, etc.) gets suppressed.

If I run my fingers over my scalp, I can feel bumps – very, very slight on the right side and very, very noticeable on the left side. They did shave a bit of hair for the surgery, right behind my ear. Since my hair is long, it covered the shaved areas pretty well. For about 6 months after my surgery, I had my mom (a hair stylist) and my husband use clippers and keep the hair trimmed where the magnet connects. Your head stays swollen for quite a while and the less hair in that area, the better the magnet can connect.

I don’t wear my CIs in the shower and I don’t wear them to bed. I usually take them off if I’m going to nap, because the magnets get knocked off anyway when I lie back. I can get my CIs slightly damp (I don’t freak out too badly in the rain) but they aren’t waterproof like a newer offering from Advanced Bionics, the Neptune.

I find it really difficult to do anything that requires lying back if I have my CIs on. The weight of the processor pulls it off my ear and if the magnets bump into anything, they slide off. This makes going to the doctor and the dentist a bit of a challenge (especially the dentist), and makes things like yoga and sit ups fairly tricky unless I take my CIs off. I have a contraption that helps keep the processor on my ear so I can use that, but after a while it makes my ear ache…plus it’s really hard to put on!

Because I don’t sleep with my CIs on, it’s a catch-22. It’s very easy to sleep because I hear nothing at all, hence nothing wakes me up … but it’s hard to wake up if I have to be up at a certain time. I use an alarm clock that can do a few things: it can connect to a light and flash it to wake me up (this would never, ever wake me up), it has a very loud alarm that can be made higher- or lower-pitched (this would never, ever wake me up), and it connects to a little disc that you can slip under your mattress or pillow, which vibrates/shakes the bed when the alarm goes off. THIS wakes me up. Boy, does it wake me up!!

The cochlear implants didn’t cure my deafness; I will always be deaf. Thanks to my CIs, I have a foot in the hearing world and a foot in the deaf world, which is pretty cool.

My CIs use rechargeable batteries. (This is different by brand – I use Advanced Bionics CIs.) There are two sizes – a smaller SlimCel and the larger Plus, which lasts longer. I started out with the Slims because the Plus size was too heavy for my ear, especially while I was healing. After a while, my left ear was able to handle the Plus size but up until about a month ago, I wore mainly Slims on my right ear. Now I just use a Plus on each ear, and the batteries usually last me the entire day. If I’m staying up really late, I might need to switch them out. With the Slimcel, it was getting to where I had to change batteries at least once, sometimes twice. (I need to get new batteries, since these are now four years old!) I keep two backup batteries in my purse, and I have four on my charging station that are always ready to go.

When my batteries die, there is no warning. With hearing aids, I could usually tell when the battery was about to go…my hearing would get slightly worse. Now, you could take the CI off, slip the battery off and then back on, and see how many lights flash on the processor. (Four lights means it’s fully charged; one means it’s almost depleted.) But as far as just wearing it and having the battery die, it just goes. I mean, one second you hear and the next you don’t. It’s a little weird, but I’m used to it now.

The CIs have enabled me to hear things I didn’t hear with my hearing aids. Before I lost all my hearing, I wore bi-CROS hearing aids because my right ear was completely deaf. So I wore a ‘transmitter’ on that ear, which looked like a regular hearing aid, and it wirelessly transmitted the sound coming in on that side over to the hearing aid I wore on my left ear. Now I actually hear things in each ear, which took some getting used to. I always used to position people on my hearing side, the left. It took a long time to stop placing myself in position to hear (sitting or walking with people to my left, that is). I never used to be able to tell what direction sound was coming from. It took about two years to start to really be able to do this with my cochlear implants, but now I can often discern which ear “heard” the sound. It is very, very cool!! I also hear more high-pitched sounds, things I never knew even made noise…like bubbles popping, for instance. I have still never heard a mosquito or fly buzz. I suspect my hearing loss is such that I just will never hear that.

I do have some electrodes in the higher pitches completely turned off (two or perhaps three). This is different with everybody – we all have different reasons for our hearing loss. When I hear the higher tones, it makes me very, very dizzy. I can’t tolerate it at all. I think this is probably why I have trouble on the phone. Many people with CIs use the phone, but for me it is very difficult. I can understand computer voices (the voicemail menu, for instance) but when a real voice kicks in, I often struggle to comprehend what I’m hearing. I have a phone that captions the conversation on a screen for me. There’s a bit of a delay, and many times the words are captioned incorrectly, but it’s definitely better than nothing! I can handle a very short conversation but I no longer use the phone about 95% of the time. I stick to texting and email. I think missing those higher pitches makes it harder for me in that situation, since that’s what helps us understand voices.

Same with the TV – I do still need captions when I watch TV or movies. It’s hard to explain, but unless I can see a face and read lips, it just sounds like…sound. If it’s very quiet, the person is not speaking quickly and their voice is very clear, I can sometimes follow along. But there’s almost always some kind of other background noise – music, laughter, gunshots, what have you — that get in the way of understanding what I’m hearing.

I’m not disappointed by this, or apologizing for it. I mean, my gosh—I’m deaf, hearing via a little computer I wear on my ear, and I can talk a bit on the phone and hear music, television and movies. So I still need some help with captions – so what? I was going to be happy even if all I heard was environmental sounds…anything other than 24/7 tinnitus and no real sound other than the crazy noises in my head. So I’m extremely pleased, thrilled even, to be watching TV with captions and cautiously, sparingly, using the telephone.

After I had the surgery, I could not hear. I had to wait a month before I wore the external parts (the processor and magnet headpiece) and got them ‘activated’ so I could hear. This is different with every CI clinic; some places do activations a week after surgery, some wait longer than a month. I was glad to wait a month because my ears were definitely too sore to wear the processors before that. I really did need that time to heal. My skull was still swollen even a month later and I had to use really strong magnets to keep the headpieces in place (I’ve since switched out to lighter magnets).

To activate the CIs, the audiologist will hook you up via a cable to his/her computer. (They take the battery off the CI and replace it with the cable.) You listen to beeps and tones and tell them what sounds most comfortable. At first it all sounds weird and robotic; some people just hear beeps instead of actual sound. As days go by, your brain adapts and you begin to hear things in a more normal way. Voices sound strange, like Darth Vader or the chipmunks.

I go back periodically for “mappings,” where I get connected to the computer and the audiologist adjusts the volume and fine-tunes electrode-related things. In the beginning I went every week, then every month, every 6 months, every year…now I just go when I feel I need an adjustment because my hearing seems off. I can get future improvements via the computer programs they put on my processor, without having my internal component replaced.

The surgery usually makes you lose whatever residual hearing you had. This was not an issue for me – I had no hearing to lose – so being deaf during recovery was just more of the same. But you don’t have to be completely deaf to get a CI – you just have to score low enough, wearing a hearing aid, on the hearing test. (How low your score needs to be depends on insurance and/or the clinic.) It used to be that you had to be pretty much deaf to get one, but over the years that threshold has changed and now there are many people who still have hearing and get a CI in order to improve upon that hearing and be able to hear voices again. There are many people who have a CI in one ear and wear a hearing aid in the other. Incidentally, Dave has looked into getting a CI because he is completely deaf in his left ear and wears a hearing aid in the right. He gets his medical coverage through the VA, and right now he tests too well with his hearing aid on to qualify for a CI for his left ear.

Styling my hair can be a little bit of a pain – I have this cord running from my ear back a couple inches on my head to the magnet. I can’t run my fingers through my hair to fluff it up or smooth it out without catching on the wire. I take my CIs off to style my hair, and I have to be careful when I put them on to keep the wire from flattening a big section of hair. (This is a girly thing…I’m sure guys don’t have this problem!)

View from back, wearing both CI's View from back, wearing both CI’s

I don’t try to hide my CIs. I think they’re really amazing and I like to show them off. I very rarely get asked about them. I never notice people looking at them although Dave has said he’s seen people behind me looking at my head (I have colorful covers on the magnets). Only once have I had someone ask me about them; it was in Target, and a lady walked past me and then doubled back. She asked if I had cochlear implants and we began talking; it turned out that her daughter had a CI as well. I also saw one guy with a CI at my daughter’s school her senior year. (She won an award and they had a breakfast for the kids and their families.) Afterward, when people were mingling, I saw him talking to somebody and it was very easy to see his CI. When there was a lull in the conversation, I went over to him and we talked a bit about our CIs. I never did this with people who had hearing aids! 🙂

I just realized how absurdly long this is, so I’ll wrap it up. I know I didn’t cover everything, so if anyone is reading and has a question about what it’s like to have CIs, I’d be happy to answer (if I can…I’m not really up on the technical aspects of things, for instance).

Three Things I Like; One Thing I Don’t

Although I’m calling this post “Three Things I Like; One Thing I Don’t”, I have realized there is one more thing I like … I mean, really like, and that is autumn. It’s here in full swing now and I find myself staring out the window and grinning, while I contemplate all the recipes I can make now without turning our kitchen into a sauna. YAY AUTUMN.

And also, I’m not getting paid to write any of this or getting any perks or anything. These are just some things I’ve been very happy with lately and I wanted to talk about them. And also one thing I wanted to complain about, which is something I try not to do very often, but this really deserves some complaining in my opinion.

Thing I Like #1 is on my mind because we just had it for breakfast, so I’ll start there. It’s this biscuit recipe I got from King Arthur Flour. When I started counting calories last year (can’t believe it’s been a year already), I was appalled at how many calories there are in one homemade biscuit. It’s just so little, you know? How can it be around 150 calories?! So we’d make biscuits and gravy (turkey breakfast sausage, 2% milk) and I’d watch sadly as Dave crumbled four biscuits onto his plate while I tried to stick with one and half, maybe two if they were the smallest ones.

This biscuit recipe just uses two ingredients: cream and self-rising flour. The biscuits are one ounce each, and you use equal amounts of flour and cream so it’s easy to adapt. If you want 12 biscuits (you lucky thing, you) then you use six ounces of flour, six ounces of cream. We made eight this morning (two for me, four for Dave, two left over) so it was four ounces flour, four ounces cream. We use water to wet them. They are delicious and only 70 calories each! They make me happy.

Thing #2 is a girly thing (just a warning for the fellas). I think it’s very cliché to assume that menopause begins at 50, and yet that is just what my body seems to have decided. Right around my 50th birthday, my monthly visitor stopped arriving and I had an annoying new friend, Hot Flash, who rang my doorbell every 15 minutes or so and just would not leave. At first it was kind of funny, and I’d announce it to Dave. “Whew!” I’d pant, reaching for my fan (seriously, a little cloth fan, like what Christina Aguilera always used on The Voice, was my lifesaver), “I’ve got another hot flash! Feel my forehead!” I could see the look of pity on his face every time I turned on the fan/changed into a tank top/mopped my brow.

One day I looked up hot flashes online and saw that they could last for, like, five years or more. I was really and truly getting 5-6 hot flashes every hour, and sweating through my nightgown at night, and it was started to become very much not funny. So I started looking for anything that might minimize them.

I had run out of my Costco multivitamins, and since we aren’t Costco members anymore I was looking for a new brand to replace them. Then I thought, hmmm, maybe there’s a menopause multivitamin? Kill two birds with one stone and all that? And yes, there was. And ladies, it WORKS. For me, anyway. I am completely amazed to be saying this, but I might get one hot flash a day now; sometimes I don’t have any. I started noticing a decrease after about a week, week and a half on the vitamin so it must be a cumulative effect. It’s not some weird voodoo stuff either, it’s just One-A-Day Menopause multivitamins. I take mine at lunch to help minimize the chance of any nighttime hot flashes. Good, good stuff.

Finally, I noticed I was getting dry eyes (also, probably, because of menopause). First I had a bit of a cold and my left eye was all gunky and gross one morning. I thought it would clear up in a week or so, and the morning gunk did just last one day. But it persisted, this feeling of grit in my eye later at night (it was fine in the morning) and my eye would water a lot overnight. After over a month of this, I decided to do a search for a contact lens solution that was better for dry eyes, and I came across Clear Care. It’s more of a deep cleaner, like the enzymatic cleanings I used to have to do years ago. You have to use the special case it comes with, leave the contacts in for at least six hours to neutralize the hydrogen peroxide solution, and never, ever use Clear Care in your eyes. But just two days with this stuff and my eye is back to normal. Amazing!

I fill the case with Clear Care, put the Clear Care bottle away, and then leave a bottle of plain saline solution (not multipurpose solution, just plain saline) on the bathroom counter. That way if I’m tempted to rinse my lenses, I’m not going to burn my eyes out by accidentally using Clear Care. That’s my little tip for you all. But if you’re noticing your contacts are really bothering your eyes by the evening, give this stuff a try. It totally makes a difference for me.

The Thing I Don’t Like, and want to complain about, is the VA healthcare system. At least the VA in this part of Michigan. Dave caught some kind of upper respiratory virus the first week of September, and has been coughing ever since. It’s kind of a pattern with him; it usually turns into bronchitis, sometimes pneumonia. He waited a while, figuring it would go away on its own, but finally he’d had enough. He decided it was time to go to urgent care, get an x-ray and whatever medicine he needed. I knew he had to be feeling really bad because Dave is even worse than I am about going to the doctor.

So we started checking out where the nearest VA hospital was. In Illinois, it was a 40 minute drive to Hines VA but they had an emergency room so he was always seen, even if it involved a bit of a wait. It turns out that there really isn’t a VA hospital nearby; Benton Harbor has a clinic with one doctor and no urgent care, according to what they told Dave. There’s a hospital in Battle Creek, which is 1-1/2 hours away by car. There’s a clinic in South Bend, IN which is the closest to us, but they claim they don’t have a walk-in clinic (although they do have a lab, do x-rays and that sort of thing).

So he held off another day or two, and then he decided to make the long drive to Battle Creek because he was really feeling sick. He insisted that I stay home; he wanted to get on the road really early so he left before I was even awake. I hated that he had to make a three hour round-trip drive but, as he said, it’s free healthcare so he did whatever he had to.

He walked back in that afternoon with empty hands; no medicine, no discharge paperwork. Turns out that they have NO emergency room at the hospital, just what they call an Urgent Care center. But you have to have an appointment to be seen. What the hell?! He got there, was seen by an intake nurse who took his blood pressure and temperature, and was then told it might be a while because he didn’t have an appointment. So he sat out in the waiting room for two hours, before finally getting fed up and leaving. Three hours of driving for that!

One thing they did do was make an appointment for him. For three weeks later, on September 29.

So I was livid, and he was all, “It’s fine, I actually think I’m feeling better,” trying to calm me down. And he did seem better for a couple of days, but then he went back to feeling terrible. So this time he called the South Bend Clinic, which is about 20 minutes from us. Turns out they don’t have a walk-in clinic either, gosh, but they had received his records from Hines (he asked for them to be transferred a week or two prior) and they could make an appointment for him! On October 22, just a little over a month away!

So at this point I’m just freaking out, telling him to go to the walk-in clinic at Walgreens and we’ll pay whatever it costs. But no, he swears that he’s feeling better. In the meantime, I’m despairing because where would we take him if he gets another kidney stone, for instance, and needs to be seen immediately?

So Sept. 29 rolls around and even though he hadn’t planned to keep that appointment (he wants to use the South Bend clinic as his primary care place), he decided to go because he was still coughing. This time I went with. He was seen by an older woman doctor, who just pretty much went over the list of medications that he takes and got them switched from Hines to Battle Creek (they mail his routine medications from the hospital pharmacy). Then she listened to his lungs. And in the process, he had one of his coughing jags.

“Hmmm,” she said dourly, “That sounds like a smoker’s cough. Are you sure you quit smoking?” (He had told her he quit in 1985, which he quite definitely did.) I thought she was joking, but she was serious, kind of bitchy. He confirmed that yes, he quit smoking, and she said, “Well, I don’t hear anything. But if you start to feel bad you can always come back.” And then I was PISSED.

“He DID THAT,” I said calmly, through gritted teeth. “He was here over three weeks ago, really sick, and they sent him away without doing anything for him except to make this appointment.” She just kind of shrugged and said again that she didn’t hear anything that suggested bronchitis or pneumonia, but had he ever used an inhaler? After he explained that he had one but it expired long ago, she did at least prescribe a new one for him. And that was it. He’s supposed to go back in nine months but yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

So now we are waiting for his Oct. 22 appointment in South Bend. Maybe the cough will be gone by then, or maybe it will be worse. Who knows. All I know is, if you live in southwestern Michigan and use the VA for healthcare, you better hope you never need medical attention that same day. Lord knows where you’d get it. (Dave does have good things to say about Ann Arbor’s VA hospital, but that’s a 2-1/2 hour drive from here … it would be shorter to drive back to Hines in Illinois!)

And now, to put a smile back on your face after reading all my crabbing, here’s a fun autumn practical joke:

onionapples

Is anyone mean enough to really do this, I wonder?

(I could not bring myself to do that, but I do think it’s funny. )

Self-Sacrifice | Willpower | Becoming Bionic

My two weeks with regular contact lenses is almost up.  Earlier today, I put my head on Dave’s shoulder and mock-sobbed with relief, “I just ordered bifocal contacts!”  He patted me on the back and said, “You done good, kid.”  As the kids and I know, that is High Praise from Dave…his way of saying, “Holy crap, you did an amazing job!”

I hang my head in shame as I admit that after the first day, I seriously thought, “I can’t do this.  I can’t spend another day wearing these contacts.”  It sucks so bad.  I hate wearing glasses, and here I am, wearing (reading) glasses almost all day long.  I have to wear them to see during just about every activity I engage in, except for watching TV and driving.  At the end of the day, when I finally take the glasses off, I can still feel them on the bridge of my nose.  It’s like phantom pain, except not really pain, just pressure.

I know how whiny and spoiled I sound, but hey, it’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to.  😉  Wearing regular contacts after being used to bifocal contacts is like going back to Windows 3.1.  But I did it, man.  I’m wearing these suckers for their full two weeks, so I have to suffer until this Friday.  But then I can switch to the one pair of bifocals I’ve been hoarding…by the time I’m done with those, my new shipment of contact lenses will be here.  Huzzah!

In other amazing feats of self-sacrifice, yesterday was National Ice Cream Day.  Did you know that?  I didn’t realize until someone mentioned it on Facebook in the early evening.  I like me some ice cream, but nobody likes ice cream like Dave does.  It was no surprise when he turned to me after dinner and casually said, “Hey, maybe we’ll run out and get some ice cream later on.”  This is kind of a big deal for us because we almost never eat after dinner – we eat early (we’re usually finished by 6 pm) and then don’t eat again until around 10 am the next day.  After some discussion, we decided to use a Culver’s coupon for Concrete Mixers.

Since we don’t do this very often, we didn’t know what flavors they had.  I pulled up the Culver’s website so we could check out our options, and then made the mistake of clicking on the Nutrition tab.  The coupon was for a medium size (buy one, get one free), and the calories in one Concrete Mixer of that size were equal to about half of my entire daily allotment of calories.  If I hadn’t read that, I probably could have eaten the entire thing without a second thought.  Instead, I did some quick math and decided to split it into three servings:  One for last night, and the other two for today (one for me, one for Dave).

So yes, I came home and weighed my Concrete Mixer, took out five ounces and put the rest in the freezer.  How’s that for willpower?  (Well, I know I could have just not had any at all but…it was National Ice Cream Day!)  I got Mint Oreo, and it was really freaking good.

When we went out for the ice cream (custard…we’ll call it the same thing), we realized it had really cooled off.  Yesterday started off fairly pleasant, and then hit ‘hot, humid, disgusting’ levels by early afternoon.  We had the air conditioning on and had pretty much stayed inside all day so we were pleasantly surprised by the cool outside air.  We came home, turned off the A/C and opened the windows.  When we went to bed, though, I had to turn on the overhead fan.  Poor Dave.

This is how it goes in our house lately, thanks to my perimenopause and Dave’s thyroid craziness.  I never used to sweat, ever.  I mean, I could do the Jane Fonda workout and not a bead of sweat would grace my brow.  Now that I’m staring down menopause (not there yet, but I’m almost 49 so it’s on the distant horizon), I sweat.  Especially if it’s humid.  And I’m not used to it, so it grosses me out.  It’s like walking around wearing a damp bathing suit under your clothes, all day long.

One thing that helps is keeping a fan going, blowing cool air on my skin.  But Dave’s crazy thyroid makes him get cold much easier, so while I’m standing in front of a fan, he’s wrapping up in a quilt.  I saw the look on his face when I turned on the bedroom fan before climbing into bed, so I took my side of the sheet and blanket and threw it over him, wrapping him like a burrito.  Poor guy!  His next thyroid test is this Friday.  He’s been feeling less tired, so we think his thyroid level must be coming down, but things still don’t feel ‘right’ just yet.  We’ll know more when his test result comes back next week.

Today, by the way, is the day I had my cochlear implant surgery five years ago.  (Let’s just say that I feel a LOT better right now than I did at this time five years ago.)  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to just go about my business on July 22 without remembering that.  This is the day I became bionic!

Slowly Becoming Obsolete

Not much has been happening here, other than being slammed with a wave of heat and humidity, and praying for no power outages whenever a storm rolls through.  Having the car in the shop for three days kept us homebound (not that I wanted to be out and about in the heat anyway).  Our biggest entertainment was waiting for the phone to ring, so we could find out the damage on the car repairs.  (More than I wanted to pay, but less than it could’ve been, so…yay?)

I did notice, when I was looking at the calendar earlier this week, that my five year cochlear implant surgery anniversary is coming up (next week on July 22).  It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long…and then other times it kind of feels like I’ve had CIs forever.  What really illustrates the passage of time, though, is new technology.

When I got activated in August of 2008, I got the newest Advanced Bionics processor on the market at the time, the Harmony.  There were people still upgrading from earlier models at that point, and it was kind of exciting to have this cutting edge tech sitting on my ears.  Since then, there have been some new software strategies released (and I did get ClearVoice last year, which I love) as well as the Neptune, which is their waterproof, off-the-ear processor.

From time to time I mentor people who are considering getting an AB cochlear implant; since I got both ears done at once, I often correspond with people who are considering that option.  But now I’ve noticed that I’m not as useful when it comes to the hardware.  I can definitely talk about what it was like to have both ears operated on and activated, but I have no idea what it’s like to wear a Neptune, or what all the accessories are.

On top of that, Advanced Bionics has a new behind-the-ear processor coming out soon, called the Naida CI Q70.  Anyone that’s activated at this point will get that instead of the Harmony (I believe they get a voucher that they can trade in for the new BTE when it’s officially available).  Which is awesome, of course – but that makes me kind of obsolete.  Already!

I’m hoping to upgrade to the Naida Q70, depending on the cost and my insurance coverage, next year sometime.  Still, though, it’s strange to think that my newfangled bionic ears are being passed by already.  Of course, they are still amazing and work just fine – it’s just not as easy to upgrade bionic ears to the latest and greatest as it is to upgrade your phone or your computer.

I’m only five years into this…kind of makes me wonder what lies ahead in the next ten or fifteen years, you know?  Hopefully technology will just keep advancing by leaps and bounds.  What I’m really waiting for isn’t even for me, but for my friends with degenerative vision diseases and conditions…I really want to see them get implants to help with vision the way cochlear implants help with hearing.

In other news, Dave got his very first cell phone…is he possibly the last person around to get a cell phone?  He’s resisted with all his might, and then something just snapped and now he’s a little obsessed.  It’s kind of fun to see him playing with his new toy, even if he won’t give his phone number out to anybody.  (He’s got a pay-as-you-go plan and doesn’t want to use his minutes for anything!)

On the Road Again

It’s been a long time since Dave and I took a road trip.  Usually we make at least one trip to Michigan each year, but when gas prices became astronomical we were hesitant to hit the road.  It was one thing when gas was $1.99 a gallon, but at one point it was nearly $5/gallon here in Illinois.  Crazy!

We realized, though, that we definitely never made a Michigan trip last year, at all, and really couldn’t remember when our last trip was.  At this point we’re a little numb to the gas prices (when we left yesterday, we got a few gallons at a station near our house and it was $4.04 a gallon…we didn’t even blink an eye).  So we made plans with Dave’s sister, Laurie, got up bright and early yesterday and then, as always, didn’t actually get on the road until 7:30 am.

Depending on which way we go, traffic conditions and how many times we stop, we usually can make it there in four to four and a half hours.  We were heading to the tollway and the first entrance is always unmanned; you just toss your coins in the basket and go.  This toll used to be about 20 cents (I swear it wasn’t that long ago!) but we couldn’t remember how much it was now.  Dave was thinking 80 cents, which sounded about right to me, but I decided to check on my phone’s browser before we got there, since we weren’t exactly rolling in change at that point and you can’t toss dollar bills into the basket.

“Um…honey…that toll is $1.50 now!”  I looked at Dave in shock.  “I don’t think we have $1.50 in coins…do we?!”  A quick glance confirmed that no, our coin situation was not that flush, so when we stopped for gas Dave went in to buy a lotto ticket (no, unfortunately we didn’t win) and got some change for the toll.  Crisis averted.

We started driving and the first toll came up, and it was $2.50.  We both started freaking out.  “What?!  This toll used to be 40 cents!  What’s going on?!”  We were like two old-timers reliving the good old days, but really, I swear it wasn’t that long ago that this toll was truly 40 cents.  We begrudgingly paid and went on; the next toll was $1.90 which wasn’t quite as painful.  We started joking about the fact that we were going to just bring $10 to cover tolls there and back, and it’s a good thing we went with $20 instead since we still had the Indiana Toll Road ahead of us.  It made me think of when I was a teenager and I asked my dad for money to buy new jeans…and he handed me a $10 bill.  Now I can see how he so quickly lost his frame of reference as far as what things cost.  Sorry, Dad!

As we got to the last toll in this particular stretch, we could see the warning signs letting us know a toll booth was approaching…and that this toll was $3.80.  Well, that just blew our minds.  $3.80!  For one toll!  What was the world coming to?!  (I’ll tell you what…it’s the tollway’s way of forcing people to buy an I-Pass, which we don’t have because we use the tollways once every two or three years, apparently.)  As we had an animated discussion about this latest toll, Dave said, “Uh…what just happened?  What happened to the toll booth?”  I glanced up and saw that we were sailing through the section of the road that said ‘Open Road Tolling,’ leaving the toll booth quickly receding in our rearview mirror.

“Huh,” I mused, “I think we just blew through that toll.  Now what?!”  Luckily I saw a sign coming up that gave a website where you could go to pay an unpaid toll.  I grabbed my Field Notes book and jotted it down, along with the amount of the toll.  Pro Tip:  If you do this as well, also note the time of day and the location of the toll booth.  You’ll need those things when you pay the toll online.  *deep sigh*

After we drove along for a while, we were in the middle of another good discussion when Dave said, “Hey…is that the exit for the Indiana Toll Road over there?”  And sure enough, there it was, fading quickly in the distance to my right as we sailed on by.  Dave shrugged.  “Oh well, no biggie…we’ll take 12, it’s not much longer than the toll road, believe it or not.”

So we got on US Rt 12 and drove along, until we reached Niles, Michigan.  (This is the area we want to move to, if we can ever sell our freaking house, for the love of God.  Ahem.)  It was 10:30 our time, but 11:30 Michigan time, and we’d been up since 5:30 so we were getting hungry.  We figured we’d stop for a quick lunch and eat in the car so we could get right back on the road.  (As a side note, when I pulled out my phone in Michigan, I noticed that it automatically switched to the new time zone.  I don’t get out much, and I’m not a big cell phone user, so this may happen with all the phones now for all I know.  In any case, I got a huge kick out of it.  I’m easily entertained.)

We had stopped for gas not long before we stopped for lunch, since gas was 30 cents cheaper in Michigan (what’s up with that, Illinois?!) and our tank, at three-quarters full,  was filled up more than I’d seen it in many months.  We usually put in about $15-$20 at a time, and that gives us maybe a quarter of a tank if we’re lucky.  I pointed it out to Dave, as we waited for our food to come to the window at the drive-through.  “Look how high our gas gauge is!  I can’t remember the last time I saw it that high.  And hey, how come the temperature gauge is as high as the gas gauge?”

Sure enough, the temperature gauge was hovering just below the ominous red area next to the H.  It’s normally below the mid-point between Cool and Hot.  We got our food and got on the road, both watching the temperature gauge nervously.  As we drove, it went back down to the normal position.  Still though, every time we came to a stop, we’d watch that gauge.  It was impossible to look away.

Stopping at a stop light wasn’t a big deal, but we got stopped at a train not much further down the road and at that point we watched the needle creep up again.  Dave had noticed this happening back in April when he was working on the car (replacing the starter and, ultimately, replacing the battery which turned out to be the real culprit).  At the time, he did some stuff with ground wires and (mumble mumble car stuff) and it seemed to be okay.  This was the first time we noticed an issue with it again…of course, when we were on a long car trip!

I was reading the manual for the car, which mentioned something about a … fan belt, maybe?  Some kind of belt, anyway.  So Dave pulled over and checked that, and it was fine.  We drove some more and he decided maybe the radiator was dirty, so we stopped at a self-serve car wash and he rinsed it off, then added both our bottles of water to the radiator.  After that, the needle didn’t go too high but we couldn’t help but watch the gauge every time we came to a stop and the car was idling.

Because of all our stops, it ended up taking more like five and a half hours to get there.  But it was so worth it!  Time just flies when we visit, and I absolutely love visiting with my sister and brother in law, my nieces and nephews and their kids – our visits never last long enough for us!  When it came time to head back home, Dave and I agreed that we can’t let so much time pass between visits.  The gas was really not bad at all, and at least now we have a realistic expectation with the crazy tolls.

Speaking of which, on the way home we had the bright idea to just bypass the three most expensive tolls since I was already going to have to pay online for that first one from earlier in the day.  I did jot down the amounts and the toll locations when we were coming home, but not the time we passed each toll booth.  I just got done paying the tolls online and believe me, it would have been a faster process if I’d had all the right information!

In more positive road trip news, I brought along some CDs in case we wanted to listen to music.  We generally don’t listen to the same music – Dave is a country boy and I’m an 80s/90s alternative girl.  We do, however, both like ‘classic rock’ (I guess that’s the term) so I grabbed Hot Rocks by the Rolling Stones, Steve Miller Band’s greatest hits, and Dave had a compilation with Bob Seger, the Eagles, etc.  Normally we don’t listen to music in the car because in order to hear the music well, we have to turn it up pretty loud…and then we can’t hear if we talk to each other.  And obviously, we like to talk to each other!

Normally though, we spend the four (or so) hours going there doing nothing but talking.  At night, we talk a lot for the first hour and then as it gets darker (and we get more tired) we drive in silence for longer stretches.  So I broke out the CDs for those quiet stretches.  This was the first time since I had Clear Voice added to my CIs last summer that we drove in the car with music playing.  We had the volume up to where we could both hear well, and then Dave pointed out some deer on the side of the road.  (And he told me to send them vibes so they would stay there, and not in front of us on the highway!)  I realized I could hear him really well – his voice just came through nice and clear, and the music faded into the background while he was speaking.  It was a fun way to cap off a great day!

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