2011-09-07

Hello hullo hallo hella hulla

One of my earliest, strongest memories is the day I got my first set of hearing aids. I don't remember the testing. I can't recall the fitting. What I do remember is the zoo and the long drive home, with my endless "Hello"s.

I was born and raised in Flagstaff, and at the time, they had very few services for deaf people. So my parents drove to Phoenix, some 2 hours away. I got my hearing aids, and the first thing I did after we left the office was to begin constantly repeating "Hello" in many different ways. "Hello. Hullooo. Hallo. HELLO. hello. Hulloooohhhelloellooo."

After leaving the office, my parents took my brother and me to the Phoenix zoo. They wanted to know if I could hear the various sounds the animals were making. Unfortunately, all I was doing was making more "hello, hello, hello" sounds. That lasted all through the zoo and on the way home. I was _fascinated_ with this new sensation.

While I'm sure they tired quickly of my hellos, they did later tell me that they were excited at my excitement. Thus assisted, my hearing, while nowhere near "normal", was "acceptable." I could understand my family, I could understand my teachers and peers, and I had no problem being called "weird ears."

That was 1982. At the time, my parents were informed of the really early stages of cochlear implant development. Fortunately (in my opinion), they decided that the cons at the time outweighed the pros.

By almost 30 years later, in 2010, nearly all of the cons involved in implants were obsoleted by advances in technology:
  • Considerably smaller sizes of implants and surgical tools allowed for less invasive surgery, and allowed the skull to remain nice and thick. No longer would a basketball bouncing off the implant point risk brain damage.
  • Stronger materials allowed for longer lasting, better performing implants.
  • Water diving depth increased from 30 feet (1atm) to more than 100 feet. (4 atm).
  • General technical quality improvements: More electrodes, finer control, etc.

Conversely (or inversely?), my hearing went the other way:
  • My word and sentence recognition dropped from 80% as a child to 40% by high school, and 0% by college.
  • My decibel loss went from 50 to 80 by high school, 95 by college, and 115 by 2010.
  • The range of my hearing shrunk. Even amplified, I couldn't hear high pitched noises.
  • My left ear developed some weird issues that made it constantly sound like an echo chamber, giving me headaches so I stopped using hearing aids in my left ear altogether.

Then, in December of 2010 came the final blow to my use of hearing aids: I began experiencing something known as Tullio's Phenomenon, most probably caused by some swelling and scarring in my inner ear. Whenever I used a hearing aid in my right ear, the sheer volume it pumped noises out at (115 db! Louder than a jet engine!) would rattle my balance organ at a very high frequency, making me violently dizzy.

So for me, the choice was between not hearing at all, or a cochlear implant. This triggered a lot of thinking: Did I want to hear? What would make me want to hear? Would I be happier if I went ahead and got an implant, or just went full deaf?

Obviously, I had a lot to think about.

For the past 15 years, I've viewed hearing as primarily a tool. With word and sentence recognition at 0%, that's all it really could be. It helped, a little, with lipreading. It was nice to hear sound effects at movies. Friends and family in the same room could hoot or shout to get my attention. When using the radio in my flight lessons, I could hear whether there somebody speaking or not. (Not what they were speaking, just an "Oh, there's noise."). Hearing the beat in some types of music. Listening to rain and thunder in the silence of the night.

It also added a personal touch to many things: The voice of my girlfriend as she says "I love you", the sound of my niece and nephew saying "Unca Geg!", picking up on the laughter of a circle of friends, and all the little touches of sound that fill a little bit more color into my memories, like giving a child with a coloring book a few more crayons for just that much more detail.

While I can easily imagine living a good and happy life without the tool or crayon that is my sense of hearing, it appeared to me to be a shade dimmer - a slightly muted life experience.

I'm 31. If my grandparents are any indication, I'll be well into my 90s before I kick the bucket. Is the cost (in both cash and 'cons') of the cochlear implant worth another 60 years?

Given the lack of anything really bad with today's implants and those thoughts, it really was a no brainer at this point: Yes, it's definitely worth it to me. If I later decide otherwise, there's really no harm done other than a small lump on both sides of my skull.

So - I got the implant. July 11th was the surgery. What followed was one week of "Whee, painkillers", then one week of "Waugh, annoying annoying annoying!" (Bilateral implants meant that I couldn't sleep on the side of my head, which is the only way I can really comfortably sleep! :-/.). Then on July 25th, I got my processors connected.

"Hello, hullo, hallo, hella, hulla".

6 comments:

  1. Hullo hello hallo Unca "Weird Ears" Geg! I had no idea Tullio's was taxonomically related to Meniere's ...

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  2. "Tullio's Phenomenon" isn't a cause or anything, it's more of a description of a symptom. Meniere's is the cause.

    Like: "fever" is a symptom, "flu" is a cause. In this case, "Tullio's Phenomenon" is the symptom, Meniere's is the cause.

    Though Meniere's is itself really too nonspecific: It's just "swelling in the inner ear" and lists a bunch of possible causes of Meniere's. So Tulli's is a symptom of Meniere's, which is a symptom of something else. Though in my case, it's most likely simply the constant barrage of 115db noises combined with whatever's been causing my progressive hearing loss.

    So "Tullio's Phemonenon" is a symptom of "Meinere's", which itself is a symptom of something else :D.

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  3. Ahhhh I see. I've got Tullio's, and the only cure is cowbell! No seriously, right now I have an urge to go to Tully's for a latte.

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  4. By the way, what kind of hearing aid did you use previously? Was it big? The recent hearing aids are now advanced and you can even conceal them. But anyway, I hope that you are doing great with your new implants.

    hearing solutions

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    Replies
    1. I had Phonak analog hearing aids. They didn't make digital hearing aids that were powerful enough for my level of loss until relatively recently. And when I did try digital, they never really made a difference for me.

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  5. I love your descriptions how sound enriches your life and how you came about this decision! I came into wearing hearing aids in the more recent digital world and was amazed at hearing the sound of the shag carpet crunching noise under my feet or the beeps in my voicemail system at work for the first time back in 2001! Technology is amazing and I'm so grateful to people who chose to design better tools to help the hard of hearing appreciate more things in life!

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