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Hearing Again

“Isn’t it wonderful to hear again?” they ask.  “What is it like?  Is it amazing?”

It’s so difficult to describe.  For me, there was no jaw-dropping moment, no instance when I felt like shouting “Eureka!” or heard perfect, crystal clear, normal sounds.  It was all so gradual and so ever-changing that now, 3 weeks after activation, it just seems normal.  I don’t spend every minute thinking “Oh my gosh, I can hear!”

It feels like it’s been longer, to be honest.  I had to count twice when I was checking the amount of time since my activation day.  Three weeks, really?  That’s it?!

The initial moment when I first heard sound was so annoying (with the magnet falling off my head) and so bizarre, with the robotic and buzzing sounds I was hearing, that it was almost anti-climactic.  What’s been really fun and cool is realizing how the sounds are changing once my brain realizes what I’m hearing.  But the way things sound right now is very familiar to me, and it feels just like it did when I had hearing aids.  So it’s almost just like old times, and I can even forget that there was a period of time when I couldn’t hear anything at all…until I take my CI’s off and there I am again.

Maybe if I hadn’t had any hearing before, I would still be in more constant awe of what I’m hearing.  And it’s not that I’m not in awe, really, because I’m always aware of the fact that it’s a miracle that I can sit here and feel like nothing has changed, I can hear just like before.  Because I’m still deaf.  But now I can hear too!

Today Dave and I took a walk with Toby.  I heard a loud, buzzing sound.  “What’s that?” I asked.  This can be a challenge for Dave because sometimes he doesn’t recognize the source of the sound either, or sometimes I’m actually hearing something he can’t.  So we looked around.  “A plane?” he posited.  “Maybe”, I nodded, as we continued walking.  Then we saw it – to our right, someone mowing their lawn.  Once I saw the lawn mower the sound started to change for me.  Maybe because I was getting closer so the sound was clearer, or maybe because I knew what I was hearing.  But I heard the sputtering of the motor and heard the nuances of the sound instead of just a buzzing roar.

Today I was reading and got sleepy, so I set the book down and closed my eyes.  I could hear something, kind of like scraping or a scratching sound.  I kept my eyes closed and tried to think of what it could be.  I decided it had to be Dave cleaning the litter box on the landing, the scoop scraping along the bottom of the box.  I opened my eyes and I was totally wrong – Dave was cutting up strawberries, then using a masher to kind of smash them up into a puree.  I closed my eyes again, and this time I heard another sound.  It was clear and unmistakable – our guinea pigs wheeking!  (If you’ve never been around guinea pigs, they make a whistling, wheeking sound — almost like birds chirping – when they want attention or food.)  They probably heard Dave opening the refrigerator (and they know we keep the carrots in the fridge).  I don’t even know when was the last time I heard the pigs wheeking, to be honest.  It’s a high pitched sound and I think I was starting to lose those sounds even when I could still hear with my hearing aids.

I actually hear better with the CI’s than I did with the hearing aids.  I can’t say whether sound is more natural through CI’s since I don’t remember natural sound…I was probably less than 18 months old the last time I heard that.  But I can definitely say that I prefer sound through the CI’s than sound through a hearing aid.  I never had digital hearing aids, so I never had experience with sound compression.  But I love the way the CI’s handle sound.  For example, I took a shower and had the exhaust fan on in the bathroom.  I didn’t have my CI’s on at that time, of course, but later on after I put them in, I walked into the bathroom to put my makeup on.  The fan was still going and it was the loudest sound, by far.  Then I turned the water on – and that noise jumped to the foreground.  I heard the water best, with the exhaust fan faintly in the background.  Dave walked into the bathroom, opened a canister and got a Q-tip.  The sound of the lid settling back onto the canister was more clear than either the water or the exhaust fan.  It was kind of amazing!  With hearing aids everything was the same level unless you turned down the volume, in which case then everything was harder to hear.

High pitched sounds are much easier for me to hear, and when I do hear them they don’t hurt my ears they way they did when I wore hearing aids.

The only things that still aren’t the way I remember them are music (which I can hear, but does still have a “buzzy” edge to it), the television (again, it’s got a buzz surrounding all the sound), and the telephone.

Still though, it’s kind of funny how it just all feels normal now.  Only three weeks in!  I still have so much ahead of me but what I’ve had so far has been, well, a miracle.  A kind of everyday brilliance that I should never take for granted.

Old Habits Die Hard

Ever since I went completely deaf, I wake up in the morning and put my hearing aids in.  Every morning, without fail.  This is as helpful as putting in my contacts after I’ve lost all my vision, but still I persist.

The first week or so after I lost all of my hearing, I actually was still able to hear certain sounds if my hearing aids were in.  Well, I can think of two sounds:  our dog barking, and the high-pitched beep that my electric scale makes when it’s first turned on.  (I use it to measure fragrance oil when I’m making candles.)  That helped perpetuate the feeling that I was getting some help from hearing aids.  But within a week, even those sounds were gone.

For a while I turned them up as high as they would go, and that would help me get some vibration in my ears from super-loud noises.  That didn’t last long though, because Dave would tap me and say, “You’re squealing.”  Take the hearing aid out, turn it down a bit, look inquisitively at Dave.  He shakes his head; nope, still squealing.  By the time I got it to stop squealing, it was back at the old volume level.

And to be honest, even at the highest level they stopped giving vibrations eventually.  So here I am, wearing these totally useless hearing aids in my ears day after day.  It’s kind of funny, considering most people avoid wearing hearing aids even if they help them hear.  I remember my grandmother leaving hers in her dresser drawer all the time.  I know many people are self-conscious about how they look or hate the way they make things sound.

I loved my hearing aids.  I put them in as soon as I woke up and wore them until my head hit the pillow at night.  I was loyal to the brand (Beltone, which I know many people scoff at) and the type – I wore analog hearing aids all my life.  Those bi-CROS hearing aids were the best things I ever purchased and I absolutely treasured them and they way they made things sound.

Today is the first day I faced reality and didn’t put my hearing aids in.  They’re still in the bedroom in the little box next to my bed.  I started putting them there back in 1985, when I got my first cat.  Before Bear came along, I used to just lay the hearing aids on the nightstand.  (For some reason, I never used one of those Dri-Aid containers – nobody ever told me about them, I guess.)  Well, Bear decided that ear molds were tasty and dragged my hearing aid off the nightstand one night.  I was totally panicked when I woke up the next morning and couldn’t find it!  I eventually found it under the couch but I did need to get a new ear mold.  After that I started keeping my hearing aids in a little decorative box with a lid, to keep them safe from earwax-loving felines.  🙂  (Bear, by the way, lived to nearly 20 years of age – he was an awesome cat!)

I can’t believe how naked I feel.  For the first time in nearly 40 years, I’m not wearing a hearing aid in either ear.  I will never wear hearing aids again.

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