Friday, September 17, 2010


The summer is almost over; my return to classes and university life is imminent. This change of pace, I feel, commands a bit of reflection.

Looking back, I am not the same person I was in June. This statement, of course, is true after almost any summer, but mine has been unusually enlightening. It was not a summer that I looked forward to, at first. I only saw the void of the unknown, combined with mundane home life and a separation from my friends and independent lifestyle. Yet I emerge from it having discovered so much, and feeling so eager to go on discovering more.

Only now do I have the presence of mind to look back at myself, pre-cochlear implant, and realize just how much I was struggling with. At times, I remember feeling as if I had the entire weight and expectations of the hearing world on my shoulders. As highly developed as my skills were, I couldn’t quite handle that burden, and I don’t think even I realized how unhappy I was at times. Now, challenges still lie ahead, and my listening skills are still far from perfect, but I’m empowered by the thought that I can change, that I can progress. This in itself has brought unexpected peace.

I had my three-month checkup and remapping this past Monday. In the days and weeks immediately before the appointment, I’d become increasingly dissatisfied with the sound quality from the CI. I’d had a while to acclimate to that program, so that as a result the volume felt diminished, sometimes making me strain to hear. My head was no longer full of sound – a feeling which, in all honesty, I’ve come to crave. During my appointment, I must have sounded like a drug addict – more, give me more! But, interestingly, my audiologist explained that the purpose of this remapping wasn’t as simple as turning the volume up. It was time to tweak in other ways, and to begin negotiating the fine balance between volume and clarity. A huge leap up in electrode volume would likely have negatively affected the clarity from the CI – just like, when a person shouts, the increased volume doesn’t make his/her voice any clearer. Often quite the opposite. (This is something hearing people frequently don’t realize; shouting at me doesn’t help.) The bottom line is: I have to continue learning how to use what I’ve got.

Still, we did increase the electrode input, and adjusted the balance of stimulation across the array. And, since then, the subtle improvements in the sound quality with the CI have left me amazed. Music – oh, music, who would have thought I’d feel the notes so physically and personally? A friend of mine recently challenged me to think about dominant chords and the tension buildup and release inherent in any musical piece. I still don’t really understand how or why one chord can be “dominant” over another (C versus G? what?), but while listening to classical right after my remapping I felt that tension – felt the chords building, swelling, then abiding. I can’t quite describe what it sounded like; I experienced it more in the form of a physical response. In any case, it was a real “wow” moment! In the days since, my iTunes (fleshed out with a compilation of songs from one of my best friends) has gotten rather heavy use…

Since the remapping, even people’s voices are sounding smoother and more natural than ever. I was startled to discover how rich and resonant the reader on my audiobooks sounded – quite different from the mechanical robot (slash duck) I heard at the beginning! Who’d’ve thunk it, there’s a real human voice on that CD! I keep noticing other environmental sounds poking through, too – the boink-boink of elastic bands, my fingers rubbing against the grain of wood, other people chewing food across the room (slightly gross). The last few days and weeks have really marked the first time that the CI has started feeling like an inherent part of me. By all accounts, this normalization does tend to happen at around three months – hurrah, the worst is over! And I still have a steep learning curve ahead. I still tend to set the bar a little too high while practicing, and resultantly come down too hard on myself – but who would have thought I’d feel this optimistic, compared with the unpleasant chaos of two months ago?

All that said, this is the last post I will make on this blog for a little while. I’m currently preparing to leave for a quarter abroad at Oxford. (Follow my travels at Upon reflection, my hearing experiences this summer have prepared me for this further leap into the unknown – for what could be more unknown to me than sound? Comparatively, living in a foreign country seems like a piece of cake!

Now we’ll have to see how my baby CI helps me cope with those British accents!

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