People have been asking me how long it is until I hear again; whether I will actually have to wear something external to ‘hear’, or if its all internal; and if it will be like completely normal sound.
Well, in answer to those questions – the implant will be activated in 14 days, so in the implanted ear, I currently hear absolutely nothing. But I am doing okay on my other ear that still has the hearing aid, I am hearing about 20 per cent of words that people are saying, but understanding about 80 per cent of sentences. (When I want to. If Ben is annoying me, I can understand 5 to 7 per cent of what he says. Isn’t the brain an interesting thing?)
It is quite freaky, because with my implanted ear, I used to be able to hear some very loud noises such as trucks and buses, or someone clapping or shouting right next to my head, unaided. But now, the insertion of the electrodes into my cochlea has destroyed all the remaining hair cells that would have detected those sounds for me. And now it is like my head is like wood.
Check out this incredible picture of cochlea hair cells. I am not sure whether these are animal hair cells or human – if you want to read more, check out this great article: ‘Hair Cell Regeneration as a Therapy for Deafness‘ by Shelley Batts, a Neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Michigan.
Of course hair cell regeneration is a good couple of decades away, so not an option for me.
Second query – I will definitely have to wear something externally in order to be able to hear. A cochlear implant comes in two parts – an internal, and an external part. So, yup, I will have to wear a magnet and wires on my head if I want to be able to hear out of that ear – hence all the robot jokes people keeping making … See what an implant looks like here.
And finally, the million dollar question… will I be able to hear like a normal person?
Well, the short answer is no.
Imagine your inner ear – it has thousands of tiny hair cells, the things that send the sound to the nerves of your ear. Each hair cell stimulates a part of the nerve, giving you a different sound.
The cochlear implant seeks to ‘replace’ those hair cells – and it only has the equivalent of 22 hair cells – or rather 22 electrodes that stimulate your nerves via the computer in your head. (robot! robot! robot! ok that’s enough)
Also – the human cochea is so tiny, that when the cochlear implant is inserted, it can’t reach all the way into it – it only reaches into the section of the ear where the high pitched nerves are…
So this means that every sound your microphone picks up around you will be translated into this new high-pitched, supersonic, electronic, robotic, ’22 electrode’ tone. You don’t hear low pitched sounds.
My god, you can see why I have waited so long before I do this! It is going to sound like robots, darth vader, electronica, screaming cats, El Horiffico!
And the SCIC pamphlet says: “Don’t worry about how awful the sounds are at first. You’ll get used to them.”
Like Rudd telling us the stimulus package has worked – how very, very reassuring!
In short – if I were to calculate how long it would take me before I am hearing quite well out of my implanted ear. I would say …. by Christmas? That’s almost 5 months of hearing rehab. Cool. I sound like Amy Winehouse (mum, she’s a jazz/blues singer that’s on drugs and sings about it – way cool. Love kate).