I bet you are wondering what it’s like!

One word.

Bizarre.

Totally. And. Utterly. Bizarre.

Triangle percussionists have taken over my ear.

Triangle percussionists have taken over my ear.

Remember playing the ‘triangle’ at school? Well, imagine everything I am hearing translated into that sound. That is the cochlear implant for me.

As I type on the computer right now, it’s as if the keys are either triangles dinging, or perhaps one of those old 80s electronic Casio Keyboards, and every computer key is making a dinging sound. I kid you not. I am really ‘playing’ my computer.

“..Ooooooooooh…”

If I say that, it sounds like one long beep.

When I click the mouse, it is such a clear, nice, satisfying click! I bet that is going to annoy me later!!!

My new favourite words are “wheel” and “forces”. They sound TOTALLY MEGA AWESOME with a cochlear implant.

Actually, maybe another way of describing it is as if Kraftwerk had set up and was translating every sound for me.  

If you have ever heard Kraftwerk, then you will know what I am talking about when I say that it sounds like they've moved into my head.

If you have ever heard Kraftwerk, then you will know what I am talking about when I say that it sounds like they've moved into my head.

So I can hear pings and bips and bops and zings and more pings, some zoinks, robotic gings, paps, whizzes, swizzles, dongs and midges, wasps and bees.

Everything also sounds robotic. Very, very robotic.

So, should I start from the beginning?

We went to the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre (SCIC) this morning, and it was all a bit out of the ordinary. The NSW State Minister for Health, John Della Bosca, had decided to use my switch on to launch some extra funding for the SCIC’s Adult Program.

Whoot! Extra funding! (They must have read my blog post “How much did my cochlear implant cost me?“.)

So, the Government has agreed to fund something like 15 extra implants for adults on top of the already existing 44. Might not sound like a lot to some, but when you realise that every implant will cost almost $30,000, you can see why it’s a big deal.

So, when we arrived, they had set up the ‘switch on room’ upstairs, with video cameras, so that it was beamed downstairs to the surgeons and ministerial staff, and journalists in the press conference area. Talk about pressure, man.

L-R: Rachel Stawski, John Della Bosca, journalists from the Daily Telegraph, Sharan Westcott, and my surgeon, Professor da Cruz.

L-R: Rachel Stawski, John Della Bosca, journalists from the Daily Telegraph, Sharan Westcott, and my surgeon, Professor da Cruz.

Luckily, Ben and mum were allowed upstairs to experience it with me. And I was REALLY happy that my surgeon, Professor da Cruz, was able to come. He apparently had a day full of surgeries – but managed to slip out for an hour or so in the middle (I am sure no one was left mid-surgery!) and be there for the switch on. How incredible is that? “Oh, just gotta pop back in a few minutes and finish that electrode array placement”. Nice! So was happy to see him there, because he was the one that ‘put it in’ so to speak. Nice that he was able to view it actually working.

So, we sat down and Rachel and Sharan plugged me in. Ben just watched bemused.

Getting plugged in is a bit fiddly. I was pretty nervous at this point. I mean what do you say to waiting media and a ministerial party if you can't hear anything! Gah!

Getting plugged in is a bit fiddly. I was pretty nervous at this point. I mean what do you say to waiting media and a ministerial party if you can't hear anything! Gah!

A switch on usually takes an hour or so. To set everything in the electrodes, they do a test to see if they are all working inside your ear (you can’t hear that test), and then each electrode is activated, and Rachel asked me to tell her whenever I heard three beeps in quick succession, for each tone. She said they would be really soft at first – but I wasn’t prepared for quite how soft. And it wasn’t really sound I was experiencing – more sensations!

So, she started – and I was thinking: “Hang on, what was that? Was that a sound? No?.. No. ..Yes! …No?.. I think? …Maybe? ….No….” it was really hard to tell.

Was that sound I could hear? It was so hard to tell - it just sounded so faint and strange - like nothing I have ever heard, so I wasn't even sure if I was actually hearing anything!

Mum and Professor da Cruz sit waiting to see if I can hear. I'm thinking to myself: "Was that sound I could hear?" It was so hard to tell - it just sounded so faint and strange - like nothing I have ever heard, so I wasn't even sure if I was actually hearing anything!

She turned it up and up and up, slowly slowly slowly. And by golly.

It was sound!

Holy crap, I heard that! It was a beep!

Holy crap, I heard that! It was a beep!

So then of course I started to giggle like a maniac, because I was hearing tones and sounds that I had not heard in a VERY LONG TIME.

Even though they were obviously electronic, it was like they were stimulating my deadened nerves, waking them from a very deep sleep.

So, this wasn’t even the official switch on! This was just mapping them. Once they had all the beeps and tones ‘set’, then they switched it on.

Feeling gleefully happy that I could actually hear tones and sounds that I hadn't heard in ages. Maybe I might be able to play the piano yet!

Feeling gleefully happy that I could actually hear tones and sounds that I hadn't heard in ages. Maybe I might be able to play the piano yet!

Bang!

Noise! Noisy noise! No understanding! (‘Like normal?’ Ben might naughtily suggest?) 

Bells, pings, dings, all put together in one mish-mash so that it sounded like a high pitched static. And this was mainly sensations. I just do not know how to describe it any better. It is not like hearing normal sounds. It was like sensing a feeling in my head, imagine the sound that pins and needles would make if … they made a sound! Or it felt like I had eaten an ice-cream, and was getting an ice-cream headache. But it wasn’t unpleasant, even though it sounds bad.

If anything, I wanted it turned up louder.

It was great to hear those sounds. But totally and utterly weird.

Then came the test of speech.

OK, so I was hearing sounds … But the real question that I always had was … would I be able to understand what people are saying to me? I knew I would get lots of ‘noise’, but would I be able to decipher words and sentences? Would I actually be to ‘understand’ what someone was saying to me?

For the first few minutes, no. I couldn’t even work out a word someone was saying to me. But I could ‘hear’ them.

So when Rachel said, “ok, we’ll check you speech perception in that ear, switch your hearing aid off, and repeat back to me what you hear with just the implant”, I thought to myself – there is NO WAY I will be able to understand what anyone is saying to me. It is all garbled, all high pitched bells dinging. It doesn’t make any sense.

But then, as Rachel did the test, she covered her mouth and said some basic words.

The first word I ever heard in that ear, without lip-reading – was “August”.

To my UTTER amazement, I actually could also hear her saying “January”, and “October” without lip-reading, and some other months of the year.

I mean, I did confuse March with November (don’t ask me how that is possible – not even the syllables are the same!). But, still – I got most of them. Wow. That blew me away. It was hard, but even though I didn’t think I would be able to make out the words – suddenly, there they were. My brain was already going mad trying to process all this new stuff in my head.

But apart from those simple words, I couldn’t really understand what was being said to me. It was just too ‘ding-y’.

My head felt really ‘full’ of something. Nothing was very clear. It just felt full.

I really just wanted to sit down somewhere nice and quiet, and just listen to easy words, maybe just with Ben and me.

But you can’t do that when the world wants to talk.

The Daily Telegraph was there to film a video for their website, and write an article for the newspaper about John Della Bosca's increase in funding for the SCIC.

The Daily Telegraph was there to film a video for their website, and write an article for the newspaper about John Della Bosca's increase in funding for the SCIC.

After describing it to everyone, then I actually went back to Rachel and said “Do you reckon you could turn it up a bit more?? Right now?”

Already my brain had gotten used to it, and within an hour, my ears were wanting more sound.

So, she turned them up higher, and then that was it.

I got the run through of how to work it, how to look after it, all the extra bits and pieces I got in the cochlear pack, how to change the battery case.

And then everyone went home, and my family and I all went out to lunch!

So now I am at home, and I keep hearing something weird, and it is the talking on the TV.

I can hear paper crackling, but it is not very clear yet, just muffled. Of course, the computer keyboard is dinging and dinging like a percussionist, this is the coolest thing ever.

When we were in the car, I didn’t hear any indicator’s clicking like everyone says – but I did hear a strange alarm that went off when we parked the car, and Ben switched the engine off. He told me that it happens every time, it’s apparently to remind you to take the stereo with you! I had not really heard it until now.

So … as soon as I got home with Ben, he said “I’ll read to you!”, and asked me what book I wanted to read. I said “The Cheese Book”, which just lists cheese, HAHA. But he said “how about the Great Battles book?” and looked so hopeful, that I agreed.

So we sat together for about half an hour, with him just reading to me, and me following the words on the page.

It is truly amazing. I am having trouble hearing people’s voices, but that is because they sound like nothing on earth. It is like having to learn a new language. It just doesn’t sound like the english we know. I know that’s weird, and it’s hard to explain, but … you can see why you have to practice for months and months after this, just to be able to understand what people are saying.

Once I heard the bizarre cool way “wheels” and “forces” sound (terms taken and pronounced by Ben so nicely from his “Battles” book – they sound like a xylaphone sweeping up a scale, with robots harmonising in the background), I just realised how crazy cool this whole experience is going to be.

It will be hard.

I will have to totally re-train my brain.

But it’s going to be worth it.

Tomorrow at 11.30am I get switched-on.

I have been waiting for this moment, not just since the surgery 3 weeks ago, but for about 10 years.

I first knew I was a candidate for a cochlear implant when I was about 17 or 18 years old. I always thought to myself  “one day I will get it, but not now”. It was too scary a thought back then.

As the years progressed, and my hearing worsened, I always thought, “if worst comes to worst, and it gets unbearable, I can get an implant”. It was always this distant, frightening aspect of the future – a moment when my hearing loss would get the better of me, and I would ‘succumb’.

In fact, it hasn’t really been like that. I probably could have continued on the way I have been – with hearing aids doing very little! Because I lip-read, I can ‘get by’. But who wants to spent their lives just ‘getting by’!?

Some people might say, why did you wait so long?

Well, if you were the one talking to all the doctors and audiologists about the pros and cons, you would wait too! It is not simple. It is not easy. It requires a lot of planning, there are so many potential risks, you need to have a supportive network of people around you, and unless you have private health insurance like I did, it costs a hell of a lot. It also requires a certain amount of faith in yourself, because it’s also a lot about the way you think that affects the success of the implant.

So, you can see why tomorrow is so huge for me.

All the different people I have spoken to that have implants have all had such amazing and different experiences.

I think the 4 main hopes I have for my cochlear implant would be:

  1. I’d love to be able to hear and understand the voices of my little nieces and nephew. They are all under the age of 5, and they are so hard for me to hear. I want to hear when they ask me stuff, and make comments on things
  2. I want to be able to play the piano again – I had to stop when I was 18 because I couldn’t hear the differences between the notes anymore. That was devastating, so I stopped playing. I’d be so happy if I could play again.
  3. I ‘d love to be able to hear the voices on the radio when I’m in the car, and hear the lyrics to my favourite music. Maybe even watch a movie at the cinema.
  4. And most of all, I’d like to be able to call my mum, and tell her I love her, without having to have someone standing next to me telling me what she’s saying.

If anyone of these things was made possible by an implant, then I will be happy.

But either way, I think that tomorrow will be up there with the other big life moments I’ve had that get mentally added to  “The Grand and Unabridged Compendium of the Historical Moments of Kate Locke’s Life”.

2009’s entry will say something like “Cochlear implant happened, and it was good/bad/awesome/stupid/changed my life/ruined my life/made me grow wings/caused nuclear war/saved the planet (select correct corresponding descriptive term).”

Who knows what the future will bring?

Let’s hope not nuclear war!

To my family in New Zealand, South America, Brisbane and Melbourne – I will post all about the switch on tomorrow night! Wish me luck! And maybe one day I might even be able to call you on the phone.

Associate Professor Melville Da Cruz is my surgeon - lets hope he's had a good nights sleep, and isn't grumpy before my surgery!

Associate Professor Melville Da Cruz is my surgeon - lets hope he's had a good nights sleep, and isn't grumpy before my surgery!

Have you ever thought about what it must be like to be a surgeon? Do you ever compare it to what you do at work, and how you work? Call me weird, but I often do – even before I was booked in to get this implant, I often wondered how they do it.

I mean, think about it – how many times you get to work in the morning, and do things half-heartedly because you are just not in the mood? Or maybe your best friend is getting married so you celebrated “a la Hens Night”, and ended up waking up somewhere with beer bottle lids stuck to your forehead, and the knowledge you are going to be late for work?

I can’t exactly imagine a surgeon wiping the sleep and beer from their eyes, looking at their watch and saying “Oh shit!  Quadruple by-pass heart surgery in 30 minutes! God, I need a coffee. Will they be able to smell the Vodka Cruisers on my breath? Oh where’s the visine! My eyes!”

No. Well. You would hope not!

I have great faith in my surgeon. He seems like a good guy. He also plays a delicate instrument, the violin, which has gotta be a good thing if he’s performing cochlear implant surgery, huh? I can’t say I would feel the same way if he was a rugby player or sumo wrestler. That’s not to say Sumo Wrestlers wouldn’t make fantastic ENT surgeons. I know Rugby players wouldn’t.

And what about my audiologist?

Monica Bray, Senior Audiologist at the SCIC

Monica Bray, Senior Audiologist at the SCIC

Monica Bray is a Senior Audiologist at the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre, and she is very reassuring because she has had so much experience with cochlear implants. She is my audiologist, and has been has been ‘mapping’ & fitting cochlear implants since 1989, and she was the one that suggested that I wait for a bit before I get my implant – and that was definitely a good move. You have to be so ‘mentally ready’ for an implant.

And finally, my cochlear implant hero – is Professor Jennie Brand-Miller. She is a bilateral cochlear implantee, which means she has TWO implants!

Professor Jennie Brand-Miller’s GI concept overturned our dietary ideas about carbohydrates, and she’s sold millions of books. So she is not just a pretty face, but a very clever woman.

She has a similar hearing loss to mine, and also had Monica as her audiologist – and now that she has had her implants, she can … (*gasp*)… talk on the phone!

Well, that would be awesome, but understandbly, they always say “don’t expect to be able to hear on the phone”, because many people are never able to hear on the phone after a cochlear implant.

But I know Jennie can, because I saw her!

I asked her once if I could come and talk to her about her implant, when I was thinking about getting one. I just really wanted to talk to someone, and see someone who had experienced this scary massive operation and rehabilitation, and had actually benefited.

Professor Jennie Brand-Miller

Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, bilateral cochlear implantee

So, I went to Sydney Uni to visit her in her office, and I arrived a bit early, and was standing outside the door to her office, and could see through her window. And there she was … SPEAKING ON THE PHONE. I couldn’t believe it. Like I said in an earlier post, I haven’t been able to hear on a phone for about 5 years.

So, to see that… I was taken aback, amazed, freaked out, happy, bewildered, hopeful. Couldnt wait to get in there and talk to her.

And so, Jennie would have to be my cochlear implant hero, because she started off with a very realistic, very intelligent view of the implants – that they would require work, and getting used to – but if she persevered and remained positive, she would ultimately benefit.

So – I salute you Jennie! And here’s hoping mine is as successful as yours. High five!

If you want to read about Jennie, check out her ABC Talking Heads interview about her career.