Activation in the cochlear implant world is the day that the external equipment is connected to the internal equipment and sound begins to be created. Many celebrate it as a birthday of sorts because for many it is the first time sound has been heard in years, or maybe forever. My activation day was March 10th.
We’ve all seen, and been emotionally moved by the videos of people who hear for the first time when their CI is activated. I could hear prior to surgery thanks to hearing aids. My experience wasn’t as emotionally moving, but it was exciting nonetheless.
Step one – a basic hearing test to see if I have any residual hearing following surgery. Many people, who like me have some, although bad, hearing lose it all following surgery due to trauma from the surgery itself. I signed up to be in a research study that is focused on understanding how the approach to placing the electrode in the cochlea of the ear impacts the preservation of residual hearing. There are benefits to preserving residual hearing and I was excited to be a part of that exploration. On my basic hearing test I did have residual hearing. It wasn’t as great as before surgery, but that could have been due to post-op swelling and inner ear fluid. We will test it again to see.
Step two – connecting the external equipment and turning it on. The external equipment includes a headpiece that connects to the back of my head magnetically. It has a cable that is connected to the processor, the actual computer, that sits on top of my ear much like a hearing aid, and a microphone that is connected to the front of the processor on top of my ear. When the magnet in the headpiece connects with the magnet inside my head, electromagnetic transmission of sound impulses occurs.
My audiologist went through some simple adjustments asking me to identify when I could first hear a beeping sound and then when the beeping sound became so loud that it was uncomfortable. We made a few other adjustments and set 3 programs that were only different from each other based upon the amount of volume/loudness each produced.
Step three – more testing, so back to the hearing booth we went. We did two tests with the CI on. The first was a basic hearing tone test (push the button when you hear the beep). If I came close to a very emotional moment it was during this test. I experienced hearing loss in my left ear in 2008 and since then I have done poorly on the basic hearing test. No chance that the button is going to be wore out when testing this ear! We got started and I heard the very first series of beeps. Then I heard more beeps. I tested in the range of someone with mild to moderate hearing loss! It was an amazing moment in time, amazing! The next test we did was one where 3 sounds are played and one of them is different – different pitch, volume, something that makes it unlike the other 2 sounds. I honestly don’t know if I got more than 10% correct on that test and I was told that will improve greatly in time.
Step four – learning about the equipment and accessories. Advanced Bionics, the manufacturer I selected, has a very professional presentation of the equipment and accessories for their clients. A black backpack embroidered with the Advanced Bionics logo contained a very large box that was full of much smaller boxes containing items ordered for me. We went through all of the contents in detail. How to assemble them, how to care for them. We discussed battery life. I selected rechargeable batteries. One should provide enough power to last during my waking hours.
Sound from the cochlear implant during the first two weeks won’t be “natural” or as natural as it should become. The initial programming was very basic. Many environmental sounds are very clear and natural, others aren’t and I think that has a lot to do with the tone/pitch of the sound itself. Voices sound helium-filled or somewhat metallic/robotic. I can’t really distinguish one voice from another just yet. When I wear my hearing aid in my right ear and my cochlear implant on my left, I hear each sound differently at the same time – it is hard to describe. I can say that I’m honestly amazed at how the cochlear implant puts sound in my ear. I’m also amazed at the sounds I hear – so many more than I hear with my hearing aid. This journey just gets more and more interesting!
During work, I’ve been wearing both for meetings and most conversations. When I leave work, I’ve only been using the CI. In addition, I’ve been utilizing some great resources for listening exercises that will help my brain learn to distinguish sounds again. I go back for my second appointment for additional programming, called “mapping” on Tuesday. I’ll report more then!