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Cochlear Implant Activation Day, Sep 16, 2019

I’m Still Hear: My Cochlear Implant Adventure Part 2 by Ruth Bernstein

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I want to thank all the people who are sharing their support, expertise and love on my cochlear implant journey. I am making very good progress because of your encouragement and caring.

Special thanks to my family, who cheer me on as my hearing continues to improve on a daily basis. For the first time in many decades, I heard birds tweeting as I walked to the subway, on my way to my weekly CHC audio therapy session. When I texted this accomplishment to my family, I received a flurry of excited responses: Amazing! Way to go, Grandma! Good news! People on the subway smiled at me because I was grinning from ear to ear.

A shout-out to my friends who follow up with me to find out how I’m doing, to the Rabbis and friends who pray for my well-being, and to my Columbia Doctors and Center for Hearing and Communication audiology and speech teams, whose dedicated professionals are contributing so much to my relearning how to hear electronically in my left ear.

Becoming Bionic Grandma

Ruth Bernstein with CI staff at Columbia

Ruth with Megan Kuhlmey and William Stoll

In my last blog post describing how I became a CI user, I promised to describe the activation process—the day the computer in my head got turned on and I became a bionic grandma. On September 16th, 2019, three weeks after Dr. Lustig performed the implant surgery, my daughter-in-law Amy accompanied me to my activation appointment. I spent two hours at Columbia Uptown with Megan Kuhlmey, my CI audiologist, and her intern, William Stoll. Amy gets the photo credits for this blog post.

cochlear implant activation

Plugged into Megan’s computer

William tested my hearing with and without my hearing aid and, of course, without my CI. That gave Megan a base line audiogram. She will use it in the months and years to come to track the progress my left ear makes as it learns to hear electronically. William and I returned to Megan’s office, where she set up her computer to monitor my responses to the sounds she was sending into the audio processor. She attached a device to my implant and the wires to her computer. Using my index finger, I indicated on a chart if the sound was loud or soft, while Megan recorded my responses on the computer. Based on my answers, Megan programmed the MED-EL Rondo 2 receiver, which has a strong magnet, and attached it to the implanted processor in my head, which also has a strong magnet.

My “Good News This IS Working!” Feeling

As my brain registered and reacted positively to what it was hearing, I had a “good news, this IS working!” feeling. Despite lots of reassurances that “you will be fine” from the professionals, I had been harboring a niggling anxiety that it might not succeed.

The sounds I was hearing were weird and tinny, not at all like those I heard when I was wearing my left hearing aid. I was not surprised, because my CI friends had told me to expect Mickey Mouse and unintelligible noise. Megan adjusted the program so it sounded  a little better. It takes time for the auditory nerve and brain to process the electronic signals it is receiving and transmit them as meaningful speech. A lot of practice and patience is required for the best result. What I did not realize was that my beleaguered brain, which has been working in full gear for many decades to process what it was hearing resulting in enormous physical fatigue, would be able to relax a lot, and I would have a level of energy I haven’t felt in many decades.

Megan demonstrated the device that controls the Rondo 2. It looks a lot like a miniature TV remote. She gave me a MED-EL ID card, which I carry in my wallet at all times. It indicates I’m bionic because I have a medical device implanted in my head. As my appointment came to an end, I received a huge, heavy red box, full of equipment that goes with a MED-EL CI. Luckily, my friend Barbara Bryan, who has  the same device, warned me about the size and weight of the box. I brought my backpack on wheels, so I could transport the unwieldy package home easily.

Cochlear implant accessories at activation

Exciting Firsts for Me

Several weeks ago, Rebecca Piper, my CHC speech therapist, introduced me to the free Voice of America app that teaches English and works on my iPad. Included on the Learning English app are American Stories by Jack London, O’Henry, Melville, Edgar Allan Poe and other classical writers. I can listen to and read sections that describe the US  National Parks—check out Arches!—and People in America where I found a story about Nat King Cole, which includes his glorious voice singing Mona Lisa, When I Fall in Love and Unforgettable, three of my favorite songs when I was a teenager many decades ago. Although I have been lucky and never lost my ability to hear orchestral music, I could not understand lyrics. Thanks to my CI, I am beginning to listen to and understand stories, audio books and songs. The line on my left ear audiogram is going up, all exciting firsts for me.

Cochlear implant with headphone

Using CI with headphone at the Met

I’m proud to have a CI and decided to switch from the blah beige cover to one one with pizazz so everyone can see it. I volunteer to distribute equipment at hearing accessible gallery tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I used my CI and a headphone (no neck loop available) to listen to Rayyane Tabet, the artist who created the rubbings, talk about his work and the Alien Property exhibition.

I would love to hear about your CI adventures and hope you will join me again when I report on my exciting CI experiences in the future.

Here’s to many more hearing-loving days.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ruth D. Bernstein Consumer Advocate

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