Before I start on telling you what I am hearing now, I want to just waffle on about something else for a second!

The best thing about this blog for me…

The very best thing about this blog for me has been the parents from around the world that have either emailed me or left comments on my posts, telling me how this blog has enabled them to understand a bit more what it is like for their own hearing impaired baby or toddler – and maybe allows them to kind of ‘experience’ what it must be like as a kid to have a cochlear implant.

Because you can’t really ask a 9 month old baby, “How does it feel?” or “What exactly are you hearing?”

Imagine:

Baby: “Well Mum? Your voice really sounds sooooo stoopid when you coo to me and talk in ‘mumsy gibberish’. Stop that, I aint a baby! Oh, hang on … I AM a baby. Whatever.”

The comment that really struck me was one from Iman (at the end of my previous post). It really made me feel like awwwww! I mean, imagine being a mum to a baby with an implant – it is, in some ways, kind of heart rending, you know, like as a mother, you just want to be able to know and understand how your child is feeling – so I felt really good that maybe that’s what my blog was doing – giving a tiny little voice to babies out there that have cochlear implants – see Iman’s comment below:

i gave birth to my third child, 19 months ago and he was born hearing impaired, with profound hearing loss. he has had the implant for a year now and he is doing really good but he has difficulty sleeping at night, he will sit in his bed for hours during the night awake and talking to himself and i never understood why. when reading your blog about how you would still hear noises even when the processor was off, it made sense. i would love to know how it gets down the track.
Iman

So that was totally mega cool, and really made my day.

As for an update on what I am hearing now, see below:

8 weeks since surgery, 4 weeks since switch on … What can I hear now?

Well, it is amazing – it sounds much more natural now.

Audio book

On the plane home from Queensland on Sunday night, I plugged myself (using the Cochlear Personal Audio cable) into Ben’s iRiver ipod thing.

He had to show me how to use it – I am so totally web savvy and tech savvy, but when it comes to things that only produce sound, I have never used them!

And I listened to my audio book that Ben had downloaded for me.

I could hear it so clearly, even with the roar of the jet engines in the background. I was truly amazed. I flipped through the book, kept finding the pages I was up to, and then decided it was too easy following along with the book.

And I leant back, and listened to the story with my eyes closed!  *sigh*

Conversations without lipreading!

At home last night while cooking dinner, Ben and I had a full conversation without me looking at him. As we were preparing stuff in the kitchen, he was telling me the synopsis of this new series on TV called “The Last Enemy”, and it had some weird futuristic bizarre plot-line involving biotechnological diseases and government espionage – the usual.

The only reason I realised that I was listening to him without looking at him was because Ben stopped talking mid-sentence, and said in his best hurt voice: “Well, if you’re not interested, I’ll stop telling you!”

And I looked up, and said “I AM listening!” And we both realised that because I wasn’t facing him, he thought I couldn’t hear him!!!!!

We both had these huge grins on our faces!

So the rest of the conversation, Ben said to me “You have to say ‘yes? yes?’ after each sentence so I feel like you can hear what I am saying!”

It was hilarious.

Our conversation was tainted by those typical broad Aussie accents where everything ends in a question:

Ben: “So there’s this disease outbreak that was hidden by the Government?”
Kate: “Yes?”
Ben: “And the brother of the bio-terrorist scientist gets blown up by a land mine?”
Kate: “Yes?”
Ben: “but then he comes back from the dead, because he didn’t really die, he just faked his death?
Kate: “Yes?”

It might not sound like it, but to me it was a wonderfully satisfying conversation!

I went to the Cinema!

Oh, and I went to a movie at the cinema for the first time since I was about 24 years old – a movie without subtitles I mean.

So, it’s been 6 years since I have seen a normal movie at the cinema.

I was with my three girlfriends, we were having a girls weekend at the Gold Coast, and were killing time at Pacific Fair before our flight left.

And we decided to see ‘District 9’, (I don’t know WHAT we were thinking – it’s about Aliens and things getting blown up).

I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to hear much, but I was amazed that I managed to get maybe 75 per cent of the movie! There were lots of moments when people shouted something as they were blown up, or mutilated, or maybe there was a voice-over during a shoot-out – these ones I had trouble hearing – but the majority of it I could hear!

When we came out of the cinema, I was so excited, and said to the girls: “Man, I could hear almost everything, I understood it all! This is great! The only thing I didn’t get was – why was the guy smiling when was blowing up the alien’s babies? I must’ve missed something there.”

And they were like: “Ah – we didn’t get that either. No idea!”

HAHA!

So there you go.

This scientific invention, the cochlear implant, is ACTUALLY WORKING!!!!

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It has been exactly one week since my switch on, and the experience has been astounding – and not always for the good bits, which is obviously hearing things.

I have discovered several weird things about cochlear implants which have confirmed for me that I did the right thing in waiting until I was well and truly ready to deal with everything that came way as a consequence of it. I knew that things would be difficult, but nothing quite prepares you for it.

I’ll tell you what’s been happening.

The Good

Obviously, hearing stuff is the good part! I went to the movies last night to see “Coco avant Chanel” with mum, and with both the hearing aid and cochlear implant, I was hearing the french pronunciations really well. Good old mum, she sat through it with me, having seen it before, because the Spanish film we were initially going to, “Limits of Control”, turned out not to have subtitles! Gah!

I mean, my hearing is getting better, but there is no way I can watch a full movie without subtitles or captions yet. The only other film that was on with subtitles was the one mum had seen. And what a wonderful mum – she offered to watch it again.

So, the good is that I am definitely picking up words that I couldn’t hear before, and it’s clearer.

The Bad

The very worst thing about the cochlear implant is what it sounds like. It’s just not a nice sound. It’s a cool sound – but it’s not a nice sound – if you can understand that. Most of the time I can enjoy it, because I am hearing things I haven’t heard before, and it sounds like sound effects from Star Wars, a film I grew up with, and loved.

But overall, the sound is kind of like a constant tinnitus, a ringing in the ears… And can you imagine having to listen to that all day, every day? Like every sound translated into an annoying high-pitched ringing?

It gets on your nerves a bit.

The other bad thing is that sometimes I can hear people talking, but I just can’t make out what they are saying. It is SO frustrating. It’s like I am on the tip of the ice-berg, listening to a language that I am not very good at, picking up things here and there, but just not being able to follow.

The Ugly

Lastly, the really weird part of the implant – is that now when I switch it off …. it doesn’t ‘switch off’ in my head.

*cue creepy music*

In the shower, without the implant on, it sounds like it is on. I can hear the implant version of water.

In bed at night, I think I can hear voices, or running water as well.

No, the implant hasn’t malfunctioned, or started being controlled by a Russian satellite hovering above earth for use in spying to get state secrets. Though that would be kind of cool.

I have a theory that it is my nerves in my cochlea going a bit nuts from being stimulated so constantly all this week after years of silence. If you consider, from about 5 years ago, right up until the switch on last week, I never heard anything in that ear, and never even got tinnitus. I always counted myself lucky in that respect, because I know tinnitus can drive you nuts.

But now – at night when I take it all off, and go to bed, I lie there listening to the range of sounds going through my ear like a scale, wondering what on earth is going on in there. I have double checked with Ben, and there is no sound when these things happen. It is literally my nerves creating ‘phantom’ noises.

It must be what it is like when you get an arm or leg amputated – but you can still feel it there.

I had been ready for something like this – mentally preparing myself for my ear and brain to be doing weird things – but it definitely makes me glad that I waited for so long to get it. Because I am a lot stronger and a lot calmer now than I have ever been. I have all the faculties to deal with this kind of thing. I have been thinking that it would not be good to get a cochlear implant with a fragile mental state, as it is these things that could possibly push someone over the edge.

Because I can feel myself lying there in the darkness at night thinking “Stop! Stop!” to my ear, and it doesn’t! The panic rises, all your normal senses are out of whack. It takes a lot to lie there and think of something else.

I think that the only thing that would stop those weird noises would be to put the bloody implant back in! GAH!

But, having said this … deep down I know that these ‘phantom sounds’ that my ear is making are actually a good thing. Those nerve-endings must be freaking out in there, being electrocuted ever second of every day just when a noise happens. It really feels like my ear has been ‘awakened’, and now doesn’t want to ever sleep. Like my ear is taking intensive language classes in the middle of the night while the implant is away, so as to be on top of things when it comes back.

The implant is like the school principle with a big long cane ready for whacking my cochlea into shape in time for exams.

It is my body and my brain dealing with something that humans are not normally meant to deal with.

So, I am just trying to be kind to myself – it is interesting just how hard I am being on myself actually. Trying so hard, when sometimes you just have to sit back and let everything flow over you.  

My new motto (well for this week at least) is now “Kate! : be kind to Kate, or I’ll cane you”.

Today it took me an hour to walk to work instead of the normal 40 minutes, because as I walked, I had to keep stopping to work out what the hell it was that I was hearing!

I had taken my hearing aid out, and just had the implant on – and suddenly, as I walked up my empty street, I thought I heard laughing, and then someone screaming. I stood in the middle of Harrison Street in quiet little Cremorne, thinking “It either sounds like a serial killer after his morning coffee, or maybe a Kookaburra – but we don’t really get Kookaburra’s in Cremorne”, and then I looked up – and there it was.

No, not a serial killer, a Kookaburra!

I could hear it! A kookaburra sitting waaaaaaay up on a TV antenna on someone’s house! And the ‘screaming’ was about 6 other little Indian Myna birds attacking it!!! I am not sure I would have heard that with just the hearing aid. So it was pretty cool.

At work, everyone sounds very robotic, but I think that I can hear my boss Penny better! She is certainly typing loudly. HAHA!

My work colleagues sound like 'The Daleks' from Doctor Who! Cool!

My work colleagues sound like 'The Daleks' from Doctor Who. Poor things, I won't tell them, but I prefer them sounding like that. (Ah. They might read this. Well - you guys sound delightful. Please don't exterminate me.)

And then, our brand manager has a booming voice, I didn’t realise. When he started talking, I paused my typing thinking “The head of the Daleks! I can hear the Head of the Daleks!!” And then suddenly, it was like an army of Daleks. But when I checked it out – realised it was just Dean, Penny and Sylvia talking. I think they sound better like that.

I called out t o everyone:  “Hey cool! Dean sounds like a Dalek!”, and I wasn’t looking at him, but I very clearly heard him say, over the partition: “Exterrrrminate! Exterrrrrrminate!”

Though I couldn’t understand what he was saying without lip-reading once he went back to normal talking, so I might have to ask him to always talk like a Dalek when we discuss things. Like monotone: “Kaaaaaaaate! Pleeeeeeeease doooooo thiiissssssssss jobbbbbbb forrrrrrr meeeeeeeee!”

Other cool things are the pings of the lift. I didn’t realise that the lift makes a very quiet ‘ping’ as it goes past each floor up to Level 11. Awesome. I love the lift.

I have to say, I am really happy I did this. But I am also so glad I waited until now. Because as great as I feel about it, it is still hard – walking around and not quite knowing what all the sounds are – voices are still not very clear, but with the hearing aid as well, I think every now and then they are clearer than I have heard them in a long time. Yippee!

And if you are interested, you can read the official media release from the State Minister for Health’s office about the extra funding allocated to the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre:

Cochlear Implant funding, 22 July 2009

Love the spelling mistake, and anecdotal error about my career: “Kate Loche can now continue her career as a journalist.”

Still, who cares, when it means that there will be more cochlear implants available for people who need them!

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!

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.

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).