Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Word is a Word

Ice cream, baseball, hotdog, toothpaste, bluebird, rainbow. All right? Go.

“Hotdog.” Hotdog.

“Baseball.” Bluebird? No, baseball? Yes!

“Toothpaste.” Toothpaste.

“Hotdog.” H – hot – yes, hotdog, again.

“Ice cream.” Ice cream!

This has been me, listening, for the last two days. And, as you see, I’m getting them right! These common auditory testing words, which I’ve seen and listened to, over and over, in more hearing tests than I can remember, are finally fitting together. While I was able to distinguish them reasonably well with hearing aids, considering how little I had to work with, the CI has allowed me to jump to a new level. For the first time in my life, I’m starting to feel confident about what I’m hearing. It’s unbelievably self-affirming. Once I’ve learned words like these, the sound flows in, and oftentimes I know what it means! Much less guesswork, uncertainty, and even embarrassment for not understanding. The words are themselves, as clear in their identity as a fork or knife on the table, though of course it takes practice to sort through and recognize the sounds.

My family has been composing and working through lists of words since my remapping on Monday. This tune-up mainly consisted of increasing the neural input for each of the electrodes, finding a new (louder) level that I found comfortable. Since my turn-on two weeks ago, I’ve made a big jump up in stimulation, and the audiologist was a little concerned that it’d be too much and I’d make myself nuts. I feel very sane, though, and already the adjustment has made a difference. Music, for the first time, is starting to sound not only likeable and rhythmic, but actually a little bit beautiful. The tinkling notes dance through my head, dynamic and more complex, less staticky depending on the song. I’ve heard new sounds like the tone that accompanies the “walk” signal across the street – I never knew what blind people experienced! (The feeling is mutual, I guess.) The windowshades in my house zip as they go up and down. Sliding doors rattle in their frames as a breeze blows through the hallway. The car bumps and rumbles across the asphalt, objects clacking in the back seat. I rubbed my hands together the other day and jumped at the light "zzzzzt" they made. Whoa.

Concerning speech, I still have a ways to go, but I’m thrilled that I’m making progress. The higher frequencies like “shhhh” and “sssss” still sound nearly like mirror twins, as do “f” and “v” and other pairs of closely related cousins. I know the theoretical differences, but have yet to integrate them into my baby ear. The lists we make are arbitrary, groups of words with the same number of syllables and – just for the heck of it – a common theme. Furniture, kitchen utensils, office supplies, animals. The words make little sense at first. With each new list, I need to take the time to learn each new word, to differentiate it from its counterparts, but once I practice it becomes clear and natural. This process of learning, I admit, has been frustrating as well as wonderful: I keep wondering if I’m going to have to learn every word, one by one, like this. (A common joke lately: I should start reading myself the dictionary.)

But it’s happening, slowly. A word is a word is a word!


  1. I'm impressed you can hear the sound of hands rubbing together. And also a note about the traffic-light noises: I always wondered how that worked, like how would the blind person know that they're actually crossing the street in the direction they want to go?? I guess you develop a very good internal sense of direction?

    Ironic that you know more about phonetics than all of us who actually hear the sounds clearly every day =D

    I'm so glad you're getting the hang of it, though! Sounds exciting!!

  2. Yay you can hear shhh? High frequency!!!