I finally got my cochlear implant, and on July 1 they turned it on. The surgery on June 20 had gone well, but like everyone else who must await activation, I had no idea how well it would work in restoring my hearing once it went live. But when the audiologist attached the external processor and activated it, I experienced a modern miracle.
After about 20 seconds of some electrical whining and echoing, my brain started tuning directly in to all the sounds in the room. When the audiologist started speaking to me, I could actually understand what she was saying. My wife started speaking, and for the first time in years I understood what she was saying without having to look at her. The audiologist got behind me, turned her back to me, and spoke to the wall, and I could still understand what she was saying.
It’s been nearly a month now, and I’m still overwhelmed. I’d done extensive research on cochlear implants, and I knew outcomes ranged from just okay to excellent. Just okay would have been fine with me, as my hearing loss had progressed to profound deafness in my right ear and very near profound in my left.
A simply adequate outcome would have restored enough hearing to enable me to manage my life as I had for many years when I coped with severe hearing loss. Fifty-percent word and sentence recognition without looking at the speaker can translate to 80 percent with good speech reading skills, which I had developed over time. Even if using the phone were a hit-or-miss proposition, as it is for many cochlear implant recipients, being able to use it at all would have been a big improvement for me.
But my immediate ability to understand what people were saying made it clear I’d gotten an excellent, perhaps extraordinary, result. In my first follow-up tests a week later, my word recognition (without speech reading) was better than 80 percent, and my sentence recognition exceeded 90 percent. In the weeks since then, sound has gotten more natural, and my comprehension has increased. And they say improvement can continue for months as the brain gets used to processing the sounds delivered to it electronically through the implant.
I started using the phone right away, and though voices on the other end initially sounded like Mickey Mouse, I could understand what they were saying and have real conversations for the first time in two years. And in the weeks since then, voices on the phone have begun to sound a lot more normal.
I have no idea how much better my hearing and comprehension will get with the implant, but for the first time in over a decade I feel like I’m experiencing sound naturally again. I feel like I’ve won a mega-millions lottery. And I’m only just starting to comprehend how big a change this will be.
I feel like I’ve gotten my life back. I feel like I can breathe freely again. I feel like I’ve been let out of prison and am readjusting to society reliving all the experiences I’d given up on. Chatting with the salesperson at the store, having real conversations on the phone with friends and family, holding my own in business meetings, listening to talk radio, hearing the birds cry and the wind on the water on my walks around the reservoir — these and literally thousands of other experiences normal-hearing people take for granted have come back to me in a rush. It’s overwhelming.
For nearly ten years I’ve been writing about hearing loss, hearing aid technologies, and a global hearing industry that’s committed to delivering constant innovations and improvements to people’s hearing health. I’m a big believer in the power of technology and modern medicine to transform people’s lives. And now I’ve experienced such a transformation with restoration of most of my hearing from profound deafness.
I’d been planning all along to chronicle this process in Hearing Mojo. Though I’ve started half a dozen posts in the past month, until now I’ve simply been too overwhelmed to organize and communicate my thoughts clearly. But now I will. Stay tuned.
Update: In April 2015 I got a second cochlear implant on my left side, which had declined to profound deafness in the year since the first. The results have been equally great! Read more at: