I want to clear up a few things, because it has come to my attention lately that a lot of people really don’t know much about cochlear implants. Which is fine, why would you unless you know someone getting one or who has one? So there is a big one I want to clear up. I am not going to wake up from surgery on Tuesday and suddenly be able to hear.
The device is implanted during surgery, and it stimulated so that they make sure it works, but I don’t actually get it turned on until I’m healed, over a month after surgery. August 31, in my case. I don’t even get the external piece, the processor, until that time.
I’m also not going to be suddenly able to hear once it’s activated. I mean, yes, I will, but I won’t hear like you hear, or like I used to hear. We’ve all seen these videos of babies getting theirs activated and hearing their mom’s voice for the first time and everyone cries and it’s all happy, right? For an adult, especially one who remembers hearing, it’s far more complex than that.
Babies have no concept or memory of hearing. Their brain doesn’t know anything different, so when they hear their mom’s voice for the first time, the awe and amazement is not this recognition of “oh, that’s mom’s voice!” it’s the shock and awe of hearing anything at all, after never having heard before. For me, I remember what normal hearing sounds like. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 15 years or so, it’s how incredible my auditory memory is. So what I am going to hear when mine is activated?
Most likely, I’m going to hear sounds that don’t sound like anything I remember, at least not at first. I’m told voices will be cartoony or robotic, and I probably won’t actually understand any words for awhile. See, my brain has this catalog of sounds in it, and it needs to be trained that the new signal that it’s hearing is something from that vast catalog. Once the connection is made of “oh, that’s a bird”, then I’ll probably be able to hear that same sound again and my brain will recognize “bird”.
I have to go through this sort of brain training every time I get a new hearing aid. It takes work to get used to the new sounds. And it’s tiring and often leaves me with a headache. But then it’s suddenly there and it sounds mostly as I have come to expect. Occasionally I’ll have to go back to the audiologist and get an adjustment to the hearing program because something just sounds “wrong” compared to the way my brain thinks it should sound. Sort of like when you get a new pair of glasses with a new prescription and it takes you awhile to adjust, and you get a headache. Adjusting to a cochlear implant in an ear that hasn’t heard since 1999 is going to be about 100x that difficult. There will be a LOT of learning and training and listening in my future.
But, I will take video of my mom’s first words to me and see if we all cry like in the baby videos!