hearing aids


So, I am thinking this might be my last ever post on this blog.

I have reached the point where there is not really much new stuff to report.

I know it has only been 7 months since I got the implant (7 months! is that all???! Can you believe it?) But already, I think I have reached the peak, and plateaued. The implant will not get any better or different now in my right ear. It has reached its’ ‘zenith’.

And what a zenith that is.

I can hear on the phone now. Very well.

Normal pjhone and TTY phone now sit on my desk together.

It's goodbye TTY, hello normal phone since I had the implant. However, I keep the TTY on my desk just in case! Can't shake the feeling of needing it there.

So well in fact, that I have had a normal phone installed on my desk at work alongside my trusty TTY phone that I always used when totally deaf.

So, as you can see – the cochlear implant actually did what I dreamt it would do – it allowed me to reconnect with the world on the phone again.

I can also hear a lot better in group conversations and meetings. Where I used to strain to hear someone at the other end of a meeting table, now I can sit back and hear almost every word. That never ceases to amaze me.

The things I still can’t do all that well are:

  • hearing lyrics to music (I can hear them better than I could with the hearing aids, but they are still a bit unclear at times)
  • watching movies and TV – I still need captions if I am going to really relax and enjoy movies and TV – however, I have been to see Avatar and
    TV captions

    I still need to watch TV with captions. Which is why it's so frustrating when they don't have them!

    District 9 without captions, and understood most of it. I can also understand most TV news without captions.

  • I still tend to lip-read in noisy environments, but I can hear people a lot better in noise.

So, if I am going to leave anyone with a word of advice, or perhaps a message to the deaf community, or maybe parents considering an implant – having been through this all before, having met so many people who’ve had implants, having talked to ENT surgeons, doctors, audiologists and researched online – it would be this:

Kate’s Final View on Cochlear Implants

Disclaimer, this is only my view, no one elses. You might think it’s completely wrong, yo! If you do, then leave a comment, but make sure its a clever, well-thought out comment. I’ll delete stoopid ones!

  • A cochlear implant is not a cure for deafness. It is just like a hearing aid, except it is implanted in your head.
  • It does work wonders for some people, and not so well for others, just like hearing aids. To find out whether you are a good candidate, you need to see your cochlear implant specialist. A normal audiologist just won’t cut it – they just don’t know the real facts and figures.
  • It appears that people who go deaf later in life are probably going to benefit most. I was one of those, losing hearing over ages 11-19 years.
  • It appears that people who are deaf since birth, and get the implant after 5 years old seem to find it harder to adjust – maybe because of crucial years of language development have passed? Not sure.
  • From what I have seen, deaf people who get an implant before the age of 5 years old seem to find their cochlear implant more useful.
  • Even with an implant, you will always be deaf, and something like 20 per cent of the time you will not be using it (i.e. swimming, shower, in bed, when playing messy sports), so it pays to learn sign language and lip-reading to use with your family and friends.

I am glad I got the implant. I am also glad I waited because it was an emotional ride. But I would do it all again, definitely. If I had a deaf child tomorrow, I would give it a cochlear implant before the age of 4, teach it sign language and show it how to lip-read.

There, getting off my soap-box now.

Here are my final test results for the 6 month test at the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre – please note the disclaimer my audi asked that I include on my hearing aid result!

These are the test results for my Phonak hearing aid in my right ear:

These are the test results for my Phonak hearing aid in my right ear: Note: These hearing aids use “Input Compression” or “AGCI” (Automatic Gain Control for inputs). This feature means that the hearing aids vary the amount of amplification according to the loudness of incoming sounds. Soft sounds are amplified more, while loud sounds are amplified less. The complexityof the aids means that they amplify warble sounds used in aided threshold testing differently to running spech. For this reason, aided thresholds measuired with a non-linear aid can only give a general impression about what is audible for complex sounds such as running speech.

Freedom Cochlear Implant hearing test result

This is the test result for my Freedom Cochlear Implant, in my left ear.

My final speech recognition tests were:

Sentences

  • 100 per cent for both hearing aid and cochlear implant together
  • 100 per cent for just the cochlear implant
  • 66 per cent for just my old hearing aid

Words

  • 84 per cent for just the cochlear implant (I was zero per cent when I used my hearing aid)
  • 20 per cent for just my hearing aid

So, I as you can imagine, I am contemplating getting a second cochlear implant.

But I am going to hold off for a few years, only because the hearing aid balances out the sound of the cochlear implant, and makes everything sound ‘normal’.

So I guess you could say ‘watch this space’ – I may come back with a new blog:

“Kate’s Second And Hopefully Final Cochlear Implant”!

Who knows!

Until then, bye, and thanks for reading!

Kate Locke, signing off!

Kate Locke, signing off! That's it from me - have a great 2010!

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Kate Locke making acceptance speech at Australian Human Rights Awards ceremony in 2009

Do I look a little nervous? Perhaps! Not every day you have to stand up in front of 400 people to talk for 3 minutes.

Can you imagine my face when they told me I had won? I was in shock.

It was the Australian Human Rights Community Award for an Individual.

It’s a big thing for me, because when you do the sort of stuff I am doing, it’s very lonely work – you think no one notices it. You do it, not for recognition, just for trying to change things for the better.

Plus, I’ve barely won ANYTHING in my life. So this is mega epic for me.

You can actually hear the acceptance speech at the awards ceremony which was held at the Sheraton on Park in Sydney on 10 December 2009.

For all my deaf friends, I have asked them to please put up a transcript for hearing impaired people! And lo and behold, mine is the ONLY one that comes with a transcript. HAHA.

Click on the link below to hear the audio of Human Rights awards speech:

Ben and I flew to Perth last month to attend the Hear For You mentoring program for deaf kids in Western Australia.

It’s a 5 hour flight from Sydney to Perth – I normally hate flying long flights because I can’t hear the announcements (freak out when pilot says anything, think we’re going to crash); can’t watch TV (no captions); can’t listen to the radio (I’m deaf remember); can’t read a newspaper (too big for economy!); and get bored of my book after 3 hours of reading.

So had readied myself for torture.

View out of the aeroplane, flying over Australia

I am a nervous flyer. All the captain has to do is murmur "It's a beautiful day outside, and we're 20 minutes from Sydney." and because I can never quite hear clearly what the announcements say, I'll freak out, thinking "What did he say?? Did he say we are going to crash??!! Oh my god, we're all going to die!" And then wonder why everyone else starts reading the newspaper and ordering beer. Delightful.

We were flying Virgin Blue which is budget, so you have to pay to watch TV if you want it. After we settled in, and took off, they made an announcement that the credit card payment machines attached to the back of the headrests were broken, so they were going to give everyone free TV for the whole flight.

Everyone whooped and cheered, except me, because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to hear anything, so would be left out yet again.

But then I thought, geez, if it’s 5 hours of free TV and movies, I’m going to have a go. I’ll just watch the pictures if I have to – that will be better than just being bored out of my mind.

I held up the headphones to my hearing aid and cochlear implant and tried to follow the TV – I could hear it, but it was so static-ey and unclear, it was really disappointing. On a whim, I decided to try the ‘t-switch’ on both hearing aid and cochlear implant, which shuts out all the background noise, and only picks up the radio signals coming from TV. You have to have special headphones for that, so I didn’t think the Virgin ones would work.

But surprise! They had an operational telecoil built in! No notification anywhere, those stupid dolts. It turned out even Virgin Blue themselves didn’t know their flipping ear phones were built in with telecoil adaptability. Pathetic.

Holding the ear bud up to my ear, suddenly I could hear the audio quite clearly! I turned to Ben going “I can hear it! I can hear it!”

Kate with headphones wrapped up in scarf

Wrapping my scraf around my head I managed to get the ear bud close enough to the cochlear implant microphone to be able to hear the audio for the TV/movies on the Virgin Blue flight. I sat like this for 5 hours from Perth to Sydney.

Small obstacle was the fact that the headphones provided were ear-bud types. Now that is difficult for cochlear implantees, since the microphone for picking up sound is behind your ear, not in it!

Ben said: “Why don’t you try sticking it to your microphone?” and I’m like “With what??”

In the end we wrapped a scarf around my head, and I sat like that for the whole 5 hours, and was able to watch TV and hear it perfectly.

This is an important shout-out to all my Australian readers with a hearing loss.

The Australian Federal Government has launched a full Senate Inquiry into deafness!

Is there anything about having a hearing loss or being deaf that frustrates you?

  • Have you ever felt annoyed at the cost of buying – and maintaining – hearing aids and cochlear implants?
  • Have you ever been upset by the low standard of services of an audiologist?
  • Ever wished you could stay with Australian Hearing after you were 21 years old?

The Australian Federal Government want to hear from EVERYONE in Australia about what issues they face when they have to deal with a hearing loss.

They are planning on using your input to change the way hearing health is dealt with in Australia.

It is so important that you email them to let them know what it is like for YOU personally.

All you have to do is send a short email to community.affairs.sen@aph.gov.au by 9 October 2009, letting them know what frustrates you most about your hearing loss in Australia, and what you would like to change.

I have done one already. If you need help in knowing what to write, have a look here.

https://katelocke.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/submission-australian-senate-inquiry-hearing-health/

This is your chance to finally let your Government know how difficult it can be living with a hearing loss in a hearing world.

Don’t miss this chance.

30 September 2009

Re: Inquiry into Hearing Health in Australia

To the Community Affairs References Committee (community.affairs.sen@aph.gov.au):

I would like to make a submission to the Hearing Health Inquiry.

I am a deaf young professional living and working in Australia.

The current Australian hearing health system is antiquated and not working well at all – it makes being deaf in Australia very difficult and expensive.

For example:

  • my hearing loss was first discovered at age 11, and I was given hearing aids without any sort of rehabilitation or support. it took me ages to get used to them and to wear them. It was a traumatising experience as a child. I didnt wear the ones I was given at 13 until I was 18, because I hadnt been given adequate support in understanding how to use them
  • When I did start wearing them, I received free hearing aids and batteries through Australian Hearing which was fantastic, and really helped.
  • then suddenly at the age of 21, just when I was unemployed and studying full time at university, I was told I could no longer get any services through Australian Hearing
  • I had to find a private audiologist, and many that I had didnt understand my hearing loss well enough, and I bought hearing aids from each of them, when one would have been enough. Each hearing aid is about $3,500 to $4,000. I was also convinced to buy expensive additional gadgets  for up to $1,500, which I have never used, because it was not correct for my hearing loss.
  • One of my hearing aids broke and I had to buy a new one, as it was not covered under private health insurance
  • I had to get a personal loan to pay for it, and then I had to go on Centrelink payments as well, because I had trouble paying my rent.
  • I have just received my first cochlear implant. I had to take out private health insurance in order to get this over 3 years at $90 per month. None of my hearing friends pay anywhere near this amount for private health insurance.
  • I had to take out special cochlear implant insurance at $300 per year to cover my cochlear implant, when someone who has an ipod can get that covered with their home and contents insurance. I have tried to get my cochlear implant covered under home and contents, and all the big insurers refuse to cover them.
  • I’ve had to buy a special TTY phone and special Telstra HipTop mobile phone in order to communicate with people, as these are the only two I can use being a deaf person.
  • Audiologists charge huge amounts for ear moulds when you don’t need them (up to $250), and for repairs (up to $500), and for batteries (they cost me $300 a year).
  • I have been to see the Minister for Ageing about these issues, but as hearing health is under Ageing, it’s not the main part of the portfolio. Hearing health gets lost in Ageing. It needs to be put over into Health.
  • Hearing health is not an ageing issue, I am only 29 years old, it is a health issue. Many of my deaf friends are under 30 years old.

There is an essential inequity as to how hearing health is perceived as compared to other health issues, even though hearing loss is one of the most prevalent health issues in Australia.

According to the Access Economics Report, one in six Australians has some form of hearing impairment, and this is projected to increase to one in four by 2050 (from Access Economics (2006) Listen Hear – The Economic Impact and Cost of hearing loss in Australia).

I would like to see the following changes made to the way hearing health is dealt with in Australia:

  1. Hearing health should be moved out from under the Federal government Ageing portfolio, and placed under the Federal Government Health portfolio, alongside eye health. It currently does not receive the attention it deserves under the Ageing portfolio.
  2. Subsidised government services should be offered via ‘Australian Hearing’ to people between the ages of 21 and 65 if they are on a low income, unemployed, full time students, or part time students. In Australia there is currently no help for these people in affording hearing aids, implants and other hearing health services.
  3. Insurance companies should cover hearing aids and cochlear implants if they are lost or broken. Currently most insurers will cover silly things like iPods, but not a cochlear implant processor, which is $8,000 to replace, and vital for many to be able to hear.
  4. Former child clients of Australian Hearing who are not unemployed, students, or on low incomes should not be suddenly cut off from services of Australian Hearing. They should be able to pay for services to stay on at Australian Hearing with their audiologist.
  5. All hearing aids, cochlear implants and other hearing health aides should be able to be claimed as a tax deduction once someone starts work. Currently you can’t claim expensive hearing aids as a tax deduction.

Thanks for accepting my submission.

Sincerely,

Kate Locke

Me (mostly recovered!) and my nieces, Nina and Amandine, at Neutral Bay Wharf in Sydney.

Me (mostly recovered!) and my nieces, Nina and Amandine, at Neutral Bay Wharf in Sydney.

I am back to some semblance of normal life, being able to go back to work, and wash my hair. (Although am still without any sound in my right ear. Only 6 days until switch on.)

But having everything ‘go back to normal’ has had the interesting affect of making me much more aware of the changes to my head and ear.

My ear feels tender to touch now – whereas before it didn’t at all!

I get popping in my inner ear every time I swallow.

And I can REALLY feel the lump under my skin where the implant sits now – and I have to say that it is one thing that freaks me out. Sometimes I just walk down the street, with my hearing aid turned off, in total silence, feeling this lump under my skin on my skull, and wondering what it will sound like, what it is doing under there.

I mean, geez. I have a computer in my head! It’s going to take some getting used to.

One other thing that happened too, today – I was ‘testing’ how much I could hear in the implanted ear (basically nothing, until I get switched-on), but I got Ben to sing against my ear, and all of a sudden, I could hear his voice, though I couldn’t make out what he was saying – I could tell the pitch he was singing in, and the rhythm.

I got all excited, thinking that maybe the sound waves were making the electrodes move, and therefore maybe I would be able to hear without powering up the microchip – perhpas sound could be powerful enough to make the electrodes act like normal hair cells?

A dedicated boyfriend: thank you to Ben for yodelling into my ear when I wanted to 'test'.

A dedicated boyfriend: thank you to Ben for yodelling into my ear when I wanted to 'test'.

But then we realised that as soon as he moved away from my ear, i.e. let go of me, and moved his lips away from touching my ear, it was like the sound stopped. I couldn’t hear it anymore. Even though he was still yodelling away like a mad man. (*sigh* what boyfriends will do huh?)

In fact, I was feeling the sound through my body, via vibrations!

Before I got the implant, I couldn’t understand speech much at all in that ear, though I could hear noise – but I didn’t realise because I used to test it by saying “Ben, talk into my ear loudly”, and then I could make out what he was saying (usually stuff that made me blush). However, it turned out I was actually ‘lip-reading’ by the feel of Ben’s lips making the sounds against my ear – because once he moved away – again, it was like suddenly it became muffled.

But now I can’t even lip-read through my ear, but my body picks up the vibrations, and makes me think I am hearing sounds.

Weird I know. The human body is an amazing thing.

The bionic ear will have to contend with Super Ear!! who will win??

The bionic ear will have to contend with Super Ear!! who will win??

The other weird thing is that since getting the implant, the left ‘hearing-aided’ ear has gotten bizarrely super-sensitive. So I am hearing things out of it that I had never heard before. Like bumps and things coming from the apartment above us. Apparently they happen all the time, but I have only just started noticing it!

And my breathing! It sounds SO LOUD.

So, I don’t know, maybe my ‘bad ear’ was holding back the ‘good’ ear, and now it’s finally free, realised its destiny and become SuperEar.

But all this will probably change after the switch-on. 6 days to go.

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?)

Here is a scanning electron micrograph of a normal hair cell region (called the organ of Corti)

Here is a scanning electron micrograph of a normal hair cell region (called the organ of Corti)

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…

My face at switch-on? Gaaah! What am I getting myself into!

My face at switch-on? Gaaah! What am I getting myself into!

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).

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