Wilma’s Cochlear Implant

Introduction: A cochlear implant is an electronic device that can help some people to hear. The device has both internal and external components. The internal components are surgically implanted in the mastoid area behind the ear; they are comprised of a receiver and an electrode array in the inner ear to stimulate the cochlea. The external parts consist of a microphone, a programmed speech processor, and a transmitting coil.

Following post-surgical healing, a newly implanted person must work with a specialized audiologist to hook up the implant to the processor equipment and re-learn how to hear. The following is an email from Wilma, who describes the first days of her hook-up to her friends, including one who has just been implanted and is waiting for her own hook-up. Wilma has never had hearing in her left ear. She began to lose the hearing in her right ear in 1994, and in 1998 experienced a sudden hearing loss, going from 60% hearing to a 60% loss. Her hearing continued to decrease rapidly until she had very little hearing at all. After being assessed for a cochlear implant, Wilma was on a waiting list for her surgery for four years, and she had to travel from Winnipeg to Ottawa for the operation as it was not yet available in Manitoba.

Wilma’s email: I just finished with my first two days of hook-up. Things went quite well. My audiologist set up two programs on Thursday; one was soft and the second a little louder and clearer. There was a lot of listening to beeps and telling her how many of them I heard. Then she turned the processor on and tried talking – it was a big rumbling sound but I was able to detect that she was talking and picked out a few words. She was pleased with that. Then the family tried speaking and their voices were this rumble also, but with lip-reading I was able to understand a lot of what they said.

Everyone’s voices sounded the same and there was no different pitch to their voices. I was shocked at the sound of my own voice, it was really strange and I didn’t realize that I was speaking out loud when I just figured that I was thinking to myself. When I came home, I heard a tinkle, tinkle, tinkle noise as I came in the door. It turned out that it was the dog’s tags jingling…I never realized that they made any noise. Everything sounds very strange but I have figured out a lot of the sounds around the house. I hear a lot of tinny, squeaky noises that the audiologist told me are the endings of things that I haven’t heard for years.

Today’s session was easier, the audiologist set up another program and this one is much clearer and I was able to hear her speaking. Then the family tried speaking without me looking at them and I understood most of it. So my audiologist was very pleased as not too many people hear speech on the second day. There is a slight cartoony quality to the voices at times but with the family I am beginning to tell the difference between male and female voices. So it is starting off well and my audiologist wants me to work with this program until next week’s appointment. Then she will give me exercises to practice and also do some more programming.

Be well prepared when you go for your own hook-up, as yesterday’s session was just exhausting. Today’s session was easier and the audiologist spent a lot of time going over the accessories that come with the processor, making sure that I understand how it all works. So we are all quite pleased with my progress so far and will continue working towards more improvements.