It has been over 15 years since I lost my hearing. In 1993 I was told that a CI would not help me. That they didn’t produce very good sound and that speech comprehension with one was lower than I was getting with my hearing aids. I wasn’t that deaf.
Honestly, I didn’t really think about it again after that until 2006. I got new hearing aids twice while I was a student at RIT and things were pretty good with them. Put me in a group and I’m definitely hard of hearing, try to get me to use the phone and I will make a mess of it, but talk to me one-on-one in a fairly quiet space and you will soon forget.
In 2006 I read about a new type of hearing aid, hearing implant really, that promised a totally implantable solution that used your ear and ear drum instead of a microphone. I was, and still am, intrigued. I think microphones are a very poor substitute for our ear drums and outer ears. I think hearing aids should at least be waterproof so that I can kayak and swim and kiteboard without damaging the electronics. A device that solves both of those problems had me calling them up to get them to provide more information.
Well the response from them was kind of a shock to me.
Thank you for sending your audiogram. Unfortunately, your hearing loss is too profound to be a candidate for our clinical trial. Candidates have to show a mild to severe hearing loss in both ears (nothing over 85dbHL) to be considered.
Thank you for your interest in our program.
I thanked them for the quick reply and was surprised to get an email back “have you ever thought about a cochlear implant? Just a thought…..”
Really? Me? A CI? Am I really That deaf? I don’t feel like I’m that deaf. I told her I had not seriously considered it. I didn’t want to give up my residual hearing. I didn’t think a CI had much benefit to my quality of life over hearing aids. I didn’t give it much thought.
Fast forward to 2007, I wanted to get new hearing aids. So I put $2500 into a flexible spending plan at work and had to spend it that year. I didn’t have a local audiologist, so I set up appointments at the UVA Medical Center. I figured they’d like it if I saw their ENT too since I was a new patient.
Well that visit was also a surprise. My hearing was still stable but my speech comprehension on a CNC test was really low in my right ear. I definitely had recruitment during that test but didn’t ask the audiologist to set the volume lower. Both ears were tested separately at 105 dB and the right ear was really feeling the recruitment. I think it was a recording I was listening to for the test, but I can’t remember for sure. The CNC test has always been hard. CNC stands for consonant-nucleus-consonant so is a list of one syllable words that I have to listen to and repeat back. I can’t even tell you what the words are because I have no idea (though that link explains the test and has a sample list, maybe if I study I’ll do better! or is that cheating?). They all sound like “Blah”. I make myself try and usually score higher than expected, but obviously guessing since I don’t know any of the words at all. Not like the compound words like ice cream, rainbow, firetruck, baseball, railroad, hot dog, etc. Those are used to determine the speech threshold.
Anyway, the audiologist didn’t seem that interested in selling me hearing aids for some reason. I saw the ENT and he talked to me for about 30 seconds and recommended I be evaluated for a cochlear implant. Still in shock but trying to keep an open mind, I agreed and set up an appointment.
The CI audiologist was very sweet. She did more hearing tests, just with my hearing aids, both ears at the same time. Words, and then sentences, something I’d never been tested on before. I scored 60% on sentences - for those of you unfamiliar with hearing tests - this means in a sound booth with no visual cues, i.e. no lipreading. I guess I’m just a good guesser. I even got 10% of sentences in noise.
We finished the tests and the CI audiologist said I do qualify for a cochlear implant and then she actually asked me if thought I wanted to peruse getting one! Finally. Someone who actually cares what I think about it. I told her, no I didn’t so, not yet anyway. She said that she understood, that she thought I was doing very well with my hearing aids, and that since I had had hearing aids so long I was obviously very used to them and that I might really dislike how a CI sounded. This echoed my own thoughts very closely. It was so nice to have my cautiousness reaffirmed by someone.
And so we left it at that and I ended up going back to NTID again to get new hearing aids that fall.
But the few weeks between appointments at UVA was the first time I had seriously thought about a CI. I knew I wasn’t ready. My boyfriend, Don, told me that I didn’t have to worry about it. For everything in my life, when I’m ready to do something I just go ahead and do it. Boy was he right, because that’s where I am now.