Now, most people who know me, know I love cats. I was intrigued when I came across this photo on the web, which I didn’t really believe was true. Until my audiologist told me that apparently it IS true! This is how scientist have been studying the effects of cochlear implants on deafness!

How cool is this! Implanted cat 5 months after surgery. The cat wears the device 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.   These cats are born deaf and offer an excellent model for studying congenital deafness. With the implant, cats will come when called and demonstrate behaviorally that they can hear.

Cat: "One more photo of me in this state, and you die, man." Just kidding! How cool is this! I have to admit, it's my new dream pet! Implanted cat 5 months after surgery. The cat wears the device 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. These cats are born deaf and offer an excellent model for studying congenital deafness. With the implant, cats will come when called and demonstrate behaviorally that they can hear.

After 3 months of using the cochlear implant, the synapses of auditory nerve fibers in these implanted cats were compared to those of normal hearing cats and congenitally deaf cats of the same age.   They discovered that cochlear implants “rescued” the synapses of the deaf cats.

Check out the website for more details on this:  Endbulbs, Activity, and Cochlear Implants

I am sure many people would call this cruel; but hey, I’ve got an implant, and I love it! So, I find it fascinating – but geez, that poor cat doesn’t look too happy in the photo, huh?

But it has inspired me!

I am not alone!

There are cats out there that are like me too! haha!

I almost feel like getting a deaf kitten from the RSPCA, taking it to Professor Da Cruz, and pleading: “Work your magic, Melville!! My cat wants to hear again!”

And then, post surgery,  the kitten and I will prance off into the sunset, happily talking to each other in robotic meows, and comparing battery shelf-life.

Yep, that’s what it’s come to now – I am day dreaming about having a ‘matching’ pet  (like people who get haircuts to match their pets!). Instead of B1 and B2, it will be Cochlear Kate, and Cochlear Cat. I’ll get it a leash too, so I can walk it! Awesome. We can share processors. So many possibilities!

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).