Saturday, July 9, 2011

And the Horizons Creep Outward

Ahhh, there's nothing like a remapping to push one's boundaries. During the last week and a half, I've felt like someone who's been knocked slightly off balance, or who has found that the ground beneath her feet is shifting and undulating. But as I reorient myself to the changes in my auditory input, I find that my current sound quality is better than before. Sounds that had been driving me bonkers for months, or growing steadily more annoying, are much more manageable. And I've noticed new sounds, or continued to progress with new auditory developments that have emerged only in the past few weeks. Here are a couple:

When riding my bicycle or riding a horse or driving with the car window down or otherwise traveling at speed, I'm no longer distracted by the ROAR WHOOSH GRAWWLL ROAR RUSHHH of air blowing past. That sound is still there, but it's not as harsh or grating, and it doesn't drown out everything else. Thank goodness. I was starting to tilt my head when I rode my bike if only to avoid my ear facing directly into the jetstream!

In the absence of those air-blowing-past noises, I've noticed new sounds when I'm active or on the go. My bicycle chain clicks (okay, I should probably oil it). My brakes squeal. My backpack groans on my back, ice rattles in my water bottle in my bag. The car makes finer and more unique acceleration noises than I ever knew. My saddle creaks so, so loudly, and creaks in different ways and at different tempos depending on what gait my horse is traveling at - how did I never notice that before?

A few of my friends have car GPS navigation systems, and I've been amusing myself to no end listening to the robotic voices speak as we drive. "I recognized that street name!" I'll say, or "Turn left, turn left! It said turn left!" Earlier today I found it funny when the GPS kept crying, "Wrong turn. Wrong turn." Having that disembodied voice suddenly take on meaning was, for me, wondrous.

I've had the chance to visit the ocean twice in the last few weeks. While sitting on the shore, I've realized that this is the first time I've heard waves. I knew from reading books that they were supposed to roar, or crash, and admittedly I associated unpleasant things with those noises (or adjectives). But, in reality, when I looked out at the blue plain of the sea and saw the cresting foam and the receding swells, the accompanying sound was one of the most rhythmic and peaceful that I have heard. I could have listened to it all day, and I suddenly realized why people record the sound of the sea to play in their houses, or to lull themselves to sleep (that always seemed weird and fetish-like to me before). A friend and I jumped up and down, looking at each other and grinning, when we both realized that that sound I had been wondering about was the sea, and that it was completely unexpected and completely new.

People's voices seem louder than ever, even from far away. I keep noticing more often, with my back turned, when people whistle or grunt or exhale or sigh. It's startlingly invasive, startlingly intimate. And pretty awesome to note: I've been picking up, more regularly, greetings called to me when my back is turned. "Have a good day" or "see you later" - when people say these things to me as I'm walking out the door, without thinking that I'm not looking at them, I'm able to understand and reply, without looking over my shoulder. Every time I smother a grin and bask in a private sense of triumph. How much of this was lost on me before? Now, in such situations, how normal I must seem. Whoa. And while my speech comprehension skills continue to progress in quiet controlled situations, these sorts of real-world breakthroughs give me the hope that, someday, I will be able to broaden and apply those skills in a more general way.

Old sounds: these aren't quite unexpected or new, but they're different. When I inhale and exhale, it sounds gentler and smoother than before. Typing is more crisply defined (but not the dice-rolling-Las-Vegas-gambling-casino-annoying noise it was last summer). When I brush my teeth, I can hear the sound change based on which angle I'm directing my toothbrush - it's very dynamic. I can hear when I shift about in my chair, or when fabric slides against fabric, but again more gently and - I don't know - subtly. Plus there have been a few unidentified noises that have jumped out in my apartment in the last few weeks. Clicking and weird popping and such. I've tried to hunt them down, but to no avail. I need a hearing person with me at all times!

Finally, I feel like clarifying something that has been a common misconception among friends and other people who ask me about the CI. At this stage of my listening progress, when I go in for a remapping, I'm not just getting the volume turned up. Not exactly. The volume input I'm receiving right now is right around where we want it to be. It's stabilized. While I would theoretically be able to tolerate more, turning it up would interfere with clarity. So, when I go in for a remapping, it's literally giving my neurons a different "map," or balance, or picture of sound to work with. My brain is adjusting itself all the time, becoming gradually more familiar with noises and frequencies it never heard before. To keep this learning curve stabilized, it's necessary to go in and rebalance the frequencies my brain gets from the CI. That way, sound perception remains more accurate. It's not necessarily louder.

That's a rough layman's description, but it should do. I'm still learning about this entire process myself. Now, on to more noises and more practice!

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