Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Do you remember how you felt when you were a little kid and could not wait for Santa? This is how I feel about the night before activation day. Waiting for activation day, I felt excited, nervous, hopeful, and filled with wonder. It is the next major milestone in the #hearingspanglish CI journey.
It is blessing to experience this process as an audiologist and a patient. I work as an educational audiologist with kids who have CI’s but I have not been on the clinical/programming side. During my own appointment, I wanted to know everything about what was happening with the technical/programming aspects. It quickly became surreal because WAIT this is happening to me!
My husband (Troy) and daughter (Hannah) were able to come to the appointment with me and I so appreciated them being there for support. It was a long day with a lot of prep, testing, retesting, information sharing, and of course ACTIVATION.
Again, I am SO thankful for the excellent team that I have at OSU. I was feeling assured knowing that I was in excellent activation hands with Dr. Debby LaPrete (my CI audiologist) and Dr. Johnny Sabol (Advanced Bionics Clinical Specialist).
The appointment started with an unaided hearing test for the left ear (CI side). This was to measure the residual hearing (post surgery) in order to utilize an acoustic earhook with an integrated Phonak XP receiver. This allows me to take advantage of my residual low frequency hearing through hearing aid amplification while gaining the CI advantage for the higher frequencies in an all-in-one device! The hearing test today measured even more low frequency hearing than my post-op appointment one week ago! As a professional looking at my audiogram, I am still astonished that Dr. Adunka through surgery was able to preserve so much of my low frequency hearing.
After all of the preliminary testing and acoustic verification, THE moment of anticipation was finally here. Once the impedances/electrodes were checked, it was time to start the mapping (or programming) process. Dr. LaPrete hooked me up. This was the first time I got to experience what the magnet and cochlear implant processor would feel like on my head. I was surprised that the headpiece/magnet really was not tactilely noticeable once it was in place. I imagined some sort of magnetic strength that would feel uncomfortable on my head. Next each of the electrodes was tested individually through the programming software. I had to subjectively judge the perceived loudness of each of the 16 electrodes ranging from low to high frequencies using a loudness growth chart (ranging from no sound extending through too loud). Once I reached a subjective comfort level, I felt like I was at the eye doctor trying to figure out if “1 or 2” was clearer. Once all of the soft and comfort levels were subjectively determined, it was time to experience listening to ALL of the electrodes together…the real CI activation experience. I know that I have a lot of my friends and family who are not in the field reading this blog so here is a link to what my CI looks like internally and externally (https://advancedbionics.com/com/en/home/cochlear-implants-for-you/the-advanced-bionics-cochlear-implant.html).
ACTIVATING the Cochlear Implant! It is REALLY hard to describe what you have never heard, EVER. At first I didn’t think that I was actually hearing anything at all. I kept thinking that my hearing aid was squealing in my ear (confession…no hearing aid was in either ear) and then I realized that no one else was hearing the feedback. This was the aha moment that I realized I was actually hearing sound from the activated CI. The best way for me to explain what I initially heard is what I think hearing aid feedback, bells, chirps, and whistles sound like.
The activation continued with quite a few listening situations in which I would listen through the CI only (take out my hearing aid and plug up my ear), as well as listen with both the CI and hearing aid (bimodal) to make sure that I could tolerate both at the same time. At one point later in the mapping session, Debby turned off the CI for and I just had my hearing aid in. I know I was exhausted from trying to make sense of all of this sound and I made the spontaneous and fatigued comment, “oh, back to normal”. Debby and Johnny immediately asked if I could expand on my “back to normal” (hearing aid) and the CI. The analogy that came into my mind was that the CI would be like going to New York City for the first time. It is busy, noisy, full of activity, exciting, and overwhelming. The hearing aid would be like going out for a weekend drive in the country. It is a calm, quiet, leisurely, tranquil drive through back country roads.
Personally and faithfully, I have to remind myself that there needs to be focused times of NYC life sprinkled with back country roads life as I go through this CI journey. I was strengthened by this verse before my activation. “Being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” Col 1:11.
It is now time for me to experience what I imagine the New York City way of life strengthened with endurance to make sense of the beeps, chirps, whistles with my activated CI sprinkled with back country roads to renew my patience and strength as I learn to hear!
Next Blog: Post Activation Discoveries