Last Thursday marked my one-month checkup and remapping with the audiologist at Stanford. I’m getting used to the tune-up process: sit down, discuss my progress over the past few weeks, plug into a computer program, adjust the sound levels to a new place where they’re louder, but more even and comfortable. I’m still with the Fidelity Hi-Res program like before, but have been told that I’m currently ramped up to three times the volume that I had at my very first mapping (which I’ve come to think of as electric shock day). That’s rapid progress, and the audiologist was very pleased, but I got the sense that I’ll soon approach a plateau in which more increase in volume input won’t be necessary. In other words, the first major hurdle is nearly past, and now my major challenge is learning how to use what I’ve got.
Which I still feel like I don’t do very well. My appointment involved an audiogram test in a listening chamber, an exercise which I’ve always disliked but tolerated out of necessity. (No one likes to be reminded too often of what they can’t do.) Beep. Raise my hand. Beep. Raise my hand. B – wait, was that really a beep? Or am I going crazy? Heck, raise my hand anyway. Same old drill. Although the CI has allowed me to take a huge jump up in what I can hear, pure tone-wise, I was discouraged by the fact that I still can’t make much sense of those sounds without visual input. They’re loud and dynamic and grating, but holding on to them is like trying to fold origami from water. On sentence and word comprehension tasks, I scored nearly 100 percent with lipreading – no big surprise. But when I judged by sound alone, the meaning was not quite there. Even less so than usual. Perhaps the audiologist’s voice was unfamiliar and jarring, perhaps my mind was under pressure; I won’t make excuses. I haven’t had the time to form the neural connections to make sense of what I’m hearing. I can accept that, and commit to more practice, yet I left the audiologist’s office with a tang of disappointment. Ah, the curse of being a perfectionist!
My day also involved a visit with an aural therapist in San Jose, who explained how my rehab might progress and the tasks I might tackle moving forward. In short, it’s now time for me to move from single-word listening exercises to entire integrated sentences and phrases. I felt pleased to be given a new direction; I function well with a definite task, goal, and purpose. My family has also been advised to sign less with me, or not to sign unless it’s clear I don’t understand, which will be a huge step away from the norm. Our house has been a sign-filled refuge for so long (even if I personally prefer to speak), and changing that alters the entire family dynamic. Watching my parents practically sit on their hands, in order to stop themselves from signing, amuses me so much that I sometimes do miss what they’re saying! But then again, I already know – too well – that the daunting norm in the hearing world is absence of sign. I’d best adapt to that with the CI, hard and unnatural as it might feel.
But, structured progress aside, practical experience is still the most useful (and enjoyable!) way of learning to hear. On the way back from California, I got more of that experience under my belt. Instead of driving the direct route back, south to I-40, we detoured and stopped in two places. The first, Yosemite Valley, is a destination I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. The scenery, needless to say, was stunning. I found it a real treat to combine the spectacular sights with the drama of the sounds unrolling around me. Jays calling in the trees, nature sounds playing in the visitors’ center, the river lapping by, the wind threading through the trees. My world felt three-dimensional and alive. I was tingling. The sound of the waterfalls, swooshing and rushing against the towering rock, especially took my breath away.
Our second destination also took my breath away, but for a very different reason. Las Vegas is a cacophony of voices, music, trinkets, tones and ring-a-dings, attractions, and flashing lights, all racing toward the cliff’s edge of overstimulation. Admittedly I’ve always become overwhelmed by visual excess, but that was without sound thrown in! I witnessed (and heard) it all with curious objectivity, and for five or six hours it was amusing. Amusing, but enough. Soon I wanted my own mind back. After watching a rousing musical show on Fremont Street, in which graphics, musical notes, and video clips flashed by on a gigantic ceiling, I staggered into the hotel and up to bed. I’ve never fallen asleep so fast.
Not to mention the endless audiobook-reading and music-listening that went on in the car!