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!!