Friday, 27 November 2009

Preparing for Surgery

Just to let everyone know that my surgery consultation on Wednesday went better than expected. Judging by the MRI and CT scans my cochleas are in good shape with very little ossification (bony growth - often happens as a result of meningitis and would have meant a complicated surgery - so it's a VERY good job that this is not the case!)

I have decided to be implanted in my profoundly deaf right ear - the one which has benefitted from a hearing aid for the best part of 20 years. The main reason for this is because the hearing nerve will already be stimulated and my rehabilitation process will be a LOT quicker than if I went for my fully deaf, unstimulated left ear. There are other, personal reaons too, but I will update about this when I have more time to reflect. (I'm taking a notebook into hospital with me as it's very unlikely I'll get any sleep tonight!)

So... at 4pm this afternoon I will be checking into a private hospital (lucky me!) in Nottingham where I will be all set up for my op at 7am tomorrow morning. Early huh?!... hope the surgeon has had his morning coffee by then :| So if all goes to plan I should be stitched up and home by Sunday afternoon :)

I can't believe that last night will be the last time I hear music as I know it.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Harmony Processor

It appears there is a bit of confusion amongst my friends as to where the "round bit" goes. (No it doesn't go in my "ear hole"! :P) It is a magnet, and it sits on my head like so:

This headpiece is what connects the external sound processor to the implanted part, which will be surgically positioned beneath the muscle, tissue and skin on the side of my head. The implant looks like this:

The implant (A) is what receives sound information from the external sound processor, converting them into electronic signals and sending them down the electrode array (B), which will be inserted into my cochlear.

I hope this helps make things clearer to understand. Any questions please don't hesitate to ask and I will try my best to answer!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Choosing a System

There are only three manufacturers of cochlear implants worldwide. At my assessment centre, I was given the choice between two : Advanced Bionics and Cochlear. Although Cochlear were the first company to pioneer CI technology and have recently made vast improvements to the aesthetics of their latest processor, they have not updated their software in a DECADE. Advanced Bionics on the other hand, have been an industry leader in CI technology for sixteen years, ever since they came onto the market.

I have to admit that I was initially tempted by the sleek, lightweight processor offered by Cochlear (it looks like a descendant of the iPod!). But after weeks of thinking, reading and researching I have eventually decided to opt for the larger, less attractive AB Harmony HiResolution Bionic Ear System.

The reason for this is simple - how the sound processor looks will undoubtedly change over time. (Cochlear are AB's main competitor, so they have no choice but to challenge their aesthetics). What matters most is the technology on the inside and what it is capable of allowing me to hear. At the end of the day, how well I can hear with a device is far more important than how good I look wearing it. (image below - colours are changeable!)

Here are just a few of the things that swayed me towards Advanced Bionics:

The actual implant (internal component) is capable of so much more than the external processor. The current sound processor (Harmony) only utilizes 25% of the implant's full potential, leaving room for future technological improvements which are being made all the time. AB has a commitment to innovations in hearing science, proven by the fact that they are the manufacturers of the most technologically advanced CI system in the world.

AB's Harmony processor captures the widest range of sounds (from soft to loud) of any CI system. Where other systems (Cochlear) have an Input Dynamic Range as narrow as 30dB, Harmony is able to capture a window of sound up to 80dB wide.

Built-in AutoSound automatically adapts to the changing environment, just like a normal hearing ear. HiResolution technology offers five times more resolution than any other CI system. Just like with a digital camera, the higher the resolution, the more complete the (sound) picture.

Both of these things make for a fast stimulation rate, meaning that pitch and timing of sound can be delivered with more accuracy. This is not only beneficial for speech perception, but also essential for music enjoyment - something which is quite important to me. (Unfortunately music is often a disappointment for CI users, a topic I will discuss further in another post).

If any of us needed any more convincing, check out the following results of an independent study (click to enlarge):

I can't tell you how relieved I am to have finally made this life changing decision!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

One Month Later

Four weeks later I am almost at the end of the assessment process - I was originally told it could take up to 18 weeks! This all seems to be happening so fast I've barely had time to stop and take it all in, let alone choose which device I want to be implanted with. Well... it looks like I'll have to get a move on because I'm booked in for surgery next Saturday 28th. Yes, that soon!!

Before I do this I want you all to be aware that having a cochlear implant is NOT some kind of miracle cure for deafness. I will still be deaf - I will just be implanted with a device which will hopefully allow me a higher definition and range of sounds than a hearing aid does. Think of the difference between VHS and DVD and this probably goes some way to explaining it... HOWEVER, there won't be a sudden drastic improvement in my hearing. It could take weeks, months, years to get used to the difference in sound quality. One of the major changes for me (and indeed many other deaf people) is that even with a hearing aid I have never been able to perceive very high pitched sounds... I can hear a door shutting but not a fire alarm going off at full volume..! Post-implant, I have been told to expect an experience similar to that of this CI user:

"I had been missing high-pitch sounds for so long. Now that I heard them, they tended to overpower the low-pitch sounds coming into my brain. The result was that everyone sounded like Donald Duck."

Humorous as this may sound I think it could get annoying after a minute or two(!) Generally what happens is after a few weeks the brain sorts out a sense of balance and voices begin to sound more normal again. Basically I have to be patient and not be tempted to turn the sound processor off if the noise is uncomfortable or frustrating for me, which it most likely will be, in a lot of situations. The level of success I get out of my CI will ultimately depend on how much effort I put into listening with it. Technology alone will not restore my ability to hear. It will take a combination of time, patience, therapy and practice for my brain to adapt to this new way of hearing.

In the long run, I hope to gain improved speech perception and be better able to distinguish one sound from the next in a noisy environment. Both of these things will hopefully aid conversations in group situations or where there is an element of background noise. I hope to be able to ease off on the lip reading and not have to concentrate so hard to understand voices (both familiar and unfamiliar). I don't want to expect too much and risk being disappointed, but I think that even just a small improvement in these areas will make a big difference to my quality of life :)

Before this though, I first have to deal with the 4-6 weeks of complete silence following my operation, possibly even over Christmas and New Year :| Hey, at least this means I won't have to listen to the annoying singing Santa my dad insists on putting in the hallway!! I have to wait until my wound has completely healed before they can activate the technology, and unfortunately I won't be able to use a hearing aid in the meantime (or ever again) because the surgery is likely to destroy whatever acoustic hearing I have left. This is just a sacrifice I have to make in order to benefit from the CI.

To all my friends - please come and visit me during this time, please drag me out of the house. I am going to need a lot of support because knowing me I'll go out of my way to avoid social situations and end up getting depressed at the lack of social contact :| So please keep in touch, but be aware that conversation may be difficult so don't expect to be having elaborate discussions! Your company will be enough :) For those of you who are interested, I would love to share with you the basic sign language skills I have learnt. I don't know much, but a little knowledge and awareness really does go a long way in communicating with the fully deaf.

So, one week to go... wish me luck!!