Oticon Alta

A Trip Through Bionic Land

I am sure that almost everyone who was around in the 1970s remembers Lee Majors in ''The Six Million Dollar Man,'' right? After that show became successful, they introduced Lindsay Wagner as ''The Bionic Woman'' and America was hooked on the idea of such incredible technology and possibilitieseven if it was a ''tad unrealistic!''

Here we are a few decades later and the idea of bionics is now a reality! In fact, I am a ''bionic woman'' of sorts, though Ms. Wagner definitely has me one-upped with her jumping and strength skills!

I was surgically implanted with the Advanced Bionics Clarion Cochlear Implant (CI), on May 30th, 2002. I was not able to ''fast forward'' to the ''good stuff'' like they do in T.V. land. I had to wait a full month of recuperation time before I was ''hooked up'' with the external components to my CI. That process started for me on July 3rd, 2002 and was an incredible and defining moment!

My hearing loss is a hereditary one that progresses from normal hearing as a youth, to a severe to profound loss as an adult. My mother was deaf by the time she was 24; my grandmother even earlier. I have no memories of either of them with ''normal hearing.'' My own hearing loss was noticed in my early years, though I did not decide to utilize a hearing aid or other Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) until I was 18. By that time, I had a moderate to severe loss.

I did things that many deaf/hard of hearing (HOH) people isolate themselves from. I had married and had children very young, and, I subsequently divorced pretty young. I later dated both hearing and HOH men; went to Parents Without Partners events where I danced to the beat of the music on the floor; got into music though I tended to stick with familiar ''classic rock'' genre; attended college with honors; and even worked full time. I communicated mostly by lipreading, though my HAs helped a bit. My hearing loss worsened, and after my mom received her cochlear implant in 1990, I was tested for candidacy but found ineligible. I was actually quite relieved. After all, it is invasive surgery even though its risks are minimal. I was a big ''fraidy cat!''

In August, 2001 I fought a battle with cancerand won! I had to undergo a total hysterectomy, which showed me that I could conquer the worse. My fears of surgery did not disappear, but they certainly faded. I was amazed at the changes that had occurred in the world of CIs since mom was implanted! I started researching online and checking into insurance coverage.

In October, 2001 I went to Washington University to the Cochlear Implant Center. They performed a series of tests on me and I was told the very same day that I was indeed a candidate for a CI! CI candidates commonly shed some tears at this time -- not knowing whether they are happy tears that you are a candidate, or sad tears that come with the realization of just how bad your hearing is!

That day I was sent home with information on the different implants available. It was up to me to make the choice! There are currently three manufacturers of CIs approved for implantation in the USA. My center had been only implanting one, but started using a second manufacturer around the same time I came to them. I was, in fact, only CI recipient number three for the manufacturer I chosethe AB Clarion BTE (Behind The Ear).

Today, one of my goals in advocating for CIs, is that all candidates have all of the available choicesnot be forced to choose which implant(s) that their center offers. Choosing a manufacturer was very difficult for me. You have this nagging feeling that you are somehow going to make the ''wrong choice'' when there really are no wrong choices. Each manufacturer brags of their specific features and each seems to be competing to appear the most ''futuristic.'' I had also felt a sense of obligation to the manufacturer that worked so miraculously for my mombut I ultimately chose a different one.

Hook up day rolled around and I woke feeling excited, nervous, anxiousa lot of emotions playing in one field! I had planned to bring my family along. Almost the whole family waited in the waiting room for the initialization process. I was hooked up to a computer specially designed for each manufacturers implant.

A series of tones were played and I had to let the audiologist know when I heard them at their softest levels, the loudest and also the most comfortable levels. They do not want sounds to hurt a CI user! I was instantly "turned on" to the environmental soundsand wow! What a shock that was!

The rest of the family was brought in at this timethe pressure of not disappointing them or being disappointed, was high! My motto was, ''High Hopes and Low Expectations.'' There are different strategies and programs for each CI and I started with the most common one, called MPS. This made things sound to me like ''Morse Code.'' Anything and everything that made a sound came through to me as a monotonous beep. If someone said to me, ''My name is Fred.'' Then I heard, ''Bee beep be beep.'' It was disappointingbut it was also exhilarating and more than I had heard in that ear since childhood! I was sent off into the world and try out my new hearing!

We had a celebration party the next day on the 4th and I never once removed the CI. Though it was far from pleasant, I agreed to be patient and never give up on this sound journey I had embarked on. Hearing is not instantaneous with a CI, even though the famous recipients like Rush Limbaugh seem to have mastered it all quickly! It takes time. Lots of time and patientce. It is a learned thing. The brain must get used to receiving and interpreting the sounds the CI is providing. A CI literally bypasses the natural cochleawhere most CI recipients have nothing but deadened nerve cells or malformations.

At the next ''mapping'' session I had on the 5th of July, I was started on a different strategy called SAS. I consider that day, my true hook up day! We went through the same series of programming and determining loudness levels. However, when I was turned on to environmental sounds, I heard voices! I heard the A/C unit running! I heard people in other offices! I heard heels clicking in the corridor! It was not all great, well, it was, but it was also very different! Voices had a mechanical quality to themas if coming through a synthesizer. They were also delayed, which is a little like watching an old ''Godzilla'' movie where their lips move and yet the dialog comes afterwards!

I left the CI Center feeling I was walking in another worldso many things making sounds I never imagined or had forgotten! I heard the elevator announce, ''10th floorgoing down!'' I heard the water splashing in the lobby fountain! I listened to a CD en-route to the restaurant we headed to and picked up so much more than I previously heard with my hearing aids! At the restaurant, it was loud and overwhelming. So many people talking at once!

Within hours, I was losing the mechanical quality and voices were sounding more natural. I could even tell the difference between voices, such as who was saying what!

My CI is also omni-directionalso I get a sense of where the sound is coming from.

I am now two months post hook-up and I am what some consider a ''CI Superstar.'' I have had outstanding successes with my cochlear implant. Success that some, sadly, may never reach. I feel blessed that this is happening to me. We are all guilty of taking things for granted and hearing is not excluded from this.

How many of these sounds do you probably hear dailyyet never marvel at? A paper towel zipping loose of its roll? Bare feet patty caking with the wood floors? A neighbors dog barking a welcome home to them? The morning greeting of chirping birds on the deck? Feet shuffling the carpet or the bedroom door swishing against it? Water tinkling from the gutters after a rain? The dog lapping up water from her bowl or panting after a run? A childs gigglethe hearty kind that is contagious? How about a budding saxophonist practicing his heart out? Have you heard these things lately? I have!

A lot of people ask me what my favorite sound is? So hard to pick just one! But I just love my daughters giggle and her protests when she says, ''Mo-o-o-mI am too old to be tickled!'' I also love feet slapping against our ceramic tile! My family teases that I now walk like a Clydesdale horse, on purpose!

One sound I have discovered that really puts this entire journey into perspective, and really impacts what an amazing miracle this is, is talk radio! Yes, when I am driving in my car, with so many other interfering sounds like wind and traffic, I can HEAR talk radio.

Before my cochlear implant, I was lucky if I could make out a song I knew by the end of it, even at full blast! But there are also least favorite sounds, which might make a CI recipient feel guilty for not liking the sound! Cicadas, incessantly screaming that their presence be known! Crickets are not my favorite, either, they remind me of the tinnitus I had before my cochlear implant. A fork scraped against a plate is nerve-wracking and always followed by a, ''Stop doing that,'' from me! Nonetheless, I am still waiting to hear the infamous ''nails against the chalkboard'' sound!

Another terrific thing about my cochlear implant, is that it is not something that is easily outdated or replaced by a more sophisticated or advanced CI. It is compatible with upgrades and Advanced Bionics is consistently researching ways to improve this already miraculous device.

One recently released item is called the "T-Mic." The T-Mic takes the place of my regular ear hook and allows me easier access to phone use. Prior to having the T-Mic, I had to unscrew my regular ear hook, screw on my auxillary device ear hook, and hook up to an auxillary microphone, which I held close to the speaker part of my phones. Obviously, this was a time consuming task and one that did not allow me to just pick up the phone when it rang! The T-Mic does allow this. I just pick up the phone and hold it to my ear like a "normal hearing person" might do! I also get a much clearer conversation during calls because the microphone of the T-Mic is cupped under the receiver of the phone which helps cut down on background noise. An added bonus...the T-Mic allows for a more comfortable fit of the BTE CI. I just leave mine on at all times. This incredible little piece has given me a new sense of freedom and self confidence to communicate freely and easily. This is indeed a gift to someone who once feared phone use!

All in all, I love my Cochlear Implant and would not trade it for anythingnot even having a hunky six million dollar man for a co-star! Which brings to mindin the 70s that was a 6 million dollar packagewhile mine was about $60,000so I think I got quite a bargaindont you?

Written By: Kat Ellis 09-25-2002

To contact the author, please send email to kathiellis@juno.com

Visit www.bionicear.com for more information about Advanced Bionics.

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