It has been three full days since I got the cochlear implant switched on, and boy, is it amazing.
Let me tell you things I have been hearing.
Ben and I decided to go to Kangaroo Valley for two days, to get away from it all, and give me a tranquil rural atmosphere in order to get used to the sound of the implant.
I realised that the drive up was going to be the first time I would be able to experience what music was going to sound like. We have quite a good stereo in the car, and we had a good two hours to go through all the archives.
What a drive.
I had mentally prepared myself for the horror of music. Blips and pings replacing beautiful harmonies that I remember from my childhood before I lost all my hearing.
But it was totally, mega, awesome, cool, futuristic, and the sounds in my head were like the feeling you get after drinking a big cold glass of water on a really hot day – like hearing those sounds was quenching this huge thirst in my ears – the thirst to hear the sounds I had been missing for so long.
It was electronic.
The best way to describe it is as if a synthesiser is playing all your favourite songs.
One of my favourite bands, Cut Copy, sounds GREAT. And of course, Daft Punk sounds flipping awesome too.
Then I listened to my favourite song of all time, kind of my ‘coming of age’ song, which I used to listen to at age 16: Portishead’s “Glory Box” …
And I could hear the voice of the lead singer, Beth Gibbons. Even though I couldn’t understand all of what she said, I could make out some of the words – and I would say to Ben “did she just sing ‘a thousand flowers’ something something????” And he cried “Yes!! She did!” These were words that I had never really heard before (this was the song I had to get my school friends to write out the lyrics for me, so I could sing along to it, even though I couldn’t hear what she was singing.)
I was just so happy. I couldn’t believe it.
So, as we drove I tried to focus entirely on the sound of the music in the implanted ear. The harmony and rhythm of all the different songs sounded like aliens playing electronic keyboards with two fingers at the speed of light.
Weird. But not when you think about how a sound is produced in the cochlear implant.
The implant and the processor extracts noise and sounds from the environment around you, and then converts it into electrical digital signals, and transmits them to the electrodes in my inner ear. My nerve endings get stimulated electronically, and then send the signals to my brain, telling me its a sound.
Here is a perfect example:
Imagine the sound made by a flute, or maybe a violin. One long continuous note can be emitted, and you’ll hear it like that.
With the implant, sound is more like an individual piano key being played at an extremely fast rate in sequence – so fast, that it sounds like one long, smooth note, because they are played so rapidly.
This means that the sounds are different to me when I hear an old favourite song, but I can recognise it.
This is what makes it so amazing. As another song came on, I said to Ben: “I can hear that this is ‘Saturday’ by Cut Copy playing, but what is that whacky rhythm and melody playing in the background?”
I have never heard that melody of notes before! So even though it sounded very electronic, it was like my eyes were being opened to a tune I hadn’t been able to hear before. It was so worth it.
Then, huge moment … for two hours we’d been listening to music, and it was playing a song I didn’t recognise, but then suddenly, I definitely heard the words “1, 2, 3, 4”, and I turned to Ben, repeating what I thought I had heard: “Ben??? 1234????”
And he looked at me astounded, and yelped “Yes! But you don’t even know this song?”
Oh my god, we were just looking at each other so happy. Then I asked him what the song was. It was apparently ‘The Number Song’ by Cut Chemist. HAHAHAHAHA
The lyrics throughout the song are “1234” all the way through. hahaha!
But I had no idea … I HEARD IT!!!! I REALLY HEARD IT!
OK, so there were other lyrics in that same song that I hadn’t heard, but the fact that I could pick up those particular numbers that I would never normally have heard before just blew us away.
I just hope it will continue to improve… I wanted to include a very interesting analogy by Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, who has been mentoring me through this experience (she has TWO cochlear implants!), and she described the every day learning to hear with an implant below:
Think of your auditory pathways as like a gravel road at the moment … cars can’t go fast on them, electrical signals can’t whizz up them.
But everyday, the workmen are laying down the foundations of a super highway, smooth and capable of cars going 250 kms an hour. It takes time to do this … weeks, months and even a couple of years … but you’ll notice the difference … week by week, there’ll be a detectable difference. You’ll enjoy the journey, no matter what the speed.
Amazingly well described. Thanks Jennie.
And I believe it.
I am so excited!