Sunday, February 26, 2012

Relaxing at the Spa

I decided to treat myself to a nice massage at a local Spa.  It's usually something I only do when I am on vacation but I needed a nice treat now.  It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and I made my way to the Spa just minutes away from my house.  I drank a cup of Aveda's Comforting tea as I waited for my appointment.  When the time came, my masseuse led me into a serene room with beautiful music playing.  It was my first visit so I filled out a form, then I was onto my massage.

Oh, it felt good.  Her fingers soothed away the tight muscles and stretched the bones.  She massaged the shoulders and back and I could feel the tightness slip away.  Slowly, my body transitioned to a relaxed and peaceful state.  As I relished the feeling of those soothing fingers working away my stressed body, I realized that I was enjoying this beautiful serene music.  This is new, up to this point, I hadn't been able to enjoy complex musical sounds.  I embraced this new auditory experience and let the soothing hum fill my ears as her fingers worked.  I smiled.  I didn't ever want to leave this room.  The beautiful music or those soothing hands.

When the appointment was over, I asked her if they had a CD of the music that was played and she said I could just go to Target and look at the LifeStyle Relaxation CDs.  I went to online to their website and listened to several samples of music.  I'm going to get a new one soon.  I just might get several.  I should check out Adele - I haven't listened to her yet.  She's all the rage this year at the Grammy's.

Someone recently asked my sister what was the coolest thing she heard so far and she mentioned hearing the birds singing.  I haven't really had an opportunity to enjoy them yet.  The adjustment in October opened up my hearing world and the last one in January really fine tuned things.  Most of the birds had already left Minnesota by October and the ones that stay behind don't really sing.  They sing in the spring though.

In the spring.... in the spring.  I look forward to hearing the birds sing.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Seven Months

It's been a little over seven months since activation day.  I was happier after my adjustment in October, but things were even better with the adjustment I just had on January 17th.  My hearing has stabilized and there isn't going to be much change as far as what sounds I have access to.  I have all the access to sounds  that I can possibly handle.  What will change from this point is my ability to understand what I am hearing.  This is what takes time.

I'm on track though.  My audiologist said that they like to see cochlear implant recipients plateau before they reach their one year anniversary, I hit this in 7 months.  I did better in my hearing tests and in one of them I scored 10% better (47% to 57%).  Dave and I got a kick out of some of the silly sentences I had to repeat like "the horse's head is on the bed".  Would you believe I got one that right?  When I first heard it, I thought "that can't be right".  I did get it though.  It makes sense - this is a better test of what I actually hear rather than sentences that have enough context for me to fill in the blanks.  I'm an expert at that - I've had years and years of experience filling in the blanks!!

I brought up that music still wasn't that enjoyable for me and she said that some people are never able learn to enjoy music after cochlear implant.  There is some music I enjoy such as Techno.  I do not enjoy orchestra music or strings at this point.  Kind of makes me sad.  I watched the first few American Idol shows and as far as I could tell, none of those kids were any good.  I'd be like "she's terrible, horrible vibrato" and the judges on the show would be like "Best singer of the day!  Blah, blah, blah."  I still say they don't have any talent.  But now I literally wouldn't know would I?

Weird thing happened that day at the Mayo though.  I got up early in the morning and decided to run over to the clinic to do my blood test right away.  Dave got up and showered while I was out.  I went into an elevator that had three people that were already in there and suddenly my device was acting strange.  It would cut out for a split second and follow with a quick beep.  It did this several times while I was walking toward my destination in the clinic.  It had never done that before.  At first I wondered if the people in the elevator had some kind of device that was beeping but then I realized it was coming from my cochlear implant.  Then I wondered if they had some kind of device that was causing mine to go funky.  It kept doing it even as I was separated from everyone that was in the elevator.  I changed batteries and I thought it quit, but then I realized that the hearing settings weren't working correctly.  I have four hearing settings, one for everyday hearing, one for music, one for focus (to focus on what's in front of me in noisy situations) and one for noise (somehow it brings noise down a little).  The hearing was strange and I could only fix it by keeping it on the music setting.  I told my audiologist this and she said occasionally devices act "hinky" and they need to be replaced.  Just like that, she ordered me a new one from the company and I was to send them the defective one.  I have two devices, so I was able to use the other one.  I'm very impressed though, the new piece was in my hands the very next day. It's a good thing that it happened while it was at the Mayo!  My mom said God must have been watching out for me!

A few days ago, Dave & I went out to dinner and my cousin Rana joined us for dinner at Chili's.  She was sitting in the back seat and we were chatting.  I wasn't paying much attention to it, but she suddenly commented that she could tell that I could hear better.  I was able to converse with her without looking at her while she was talking.  It was a nice feeling.  

I think my challenge is to learn to listen.  I've spent so many years tuning out noise.  I've learned to ignore it.  I was at a grocery store and there was a guy standing close to me saying "Excuse me, excuse me".  I faintly heard him say it, but I ignored it.  It didn't dawn on me until he nudged me (gently) that I was blocking his path and he was politely trying to ask me to move.  I was embarrassed and happy at the same time.  I heard that!!  Oops I wasn't paying attention!!

Another neat thing that happened is Jamie called me on my cell phone while she was driving and we chatted.  She was on her way to visit my cousin Ronda's family for the weekend and wanted to pass some of the time.  We chatted for a long time.  I could hear most of what she said.  The only problem I have though is that my house has an awful buzzing sound that is very loud when I have my device on telephone mode.  And it's very hard to hear people when I'm on the phone.  No other house I've been to has that awful buzzing sound.  It's like trying to get reception in a bad cell area, I try to find the best spot in the house with the least amount of buzzing.  So far, the best spot is on my bed and only if I face a certain direction.  (sigh...)

It gets better and better.  I wonder what things will be like on my one year anniversary.  :o)  Better get back to my audiobooks and practice some more listening! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Reason to be Happy

A couple of wonderful things happened recently.  My daughter sent me a text saying "I LOVE MY JOB!!".  She had just started a new job last Friday (Nov. 18th) after being hired on the spot the Wednesday before.  A well known independently owned coffee house in Boulder, Colorado.  She is thrilled with the opportunity to work for a coffee house that has a lot to offer her in experience.  I am happy for her.

My mother sent me an email letting me know that my sister who had her cochlear implant one month after I did called and talked to my dad for the first time in several years.  My sister mentioned to me that it had been over 5 years since she talked on the phone.  My mom was out shopping at the time she called, so my dad had the opportunity to talk to her.  My parents are thrilled that she talked on the phone.  I am happy for this momentous occasion.

I am happy for me too.  I had an adjustment on October 27th.  It was a major improvement for me.  I finally reached that turning point where I know it's better.  I've turned that corner and it's only the beginning.  I often find myself surprised by the occasional things I overhear.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I was on a flight from Colorado when suddenly I heard "... we have Coke products... we have Pepsi products ... blah, blah, blah and we have blah, blah for three dollars and blah, blah for five dollars..."  I didn't hear every word but you can tell I picked up enough to realize that they were talking about the snack cart.  Wow.  I didn't even know that they announced what was on the snack cart.  All those years of flying and I didn't know.  And here I used to agonize whether they carried the beverages I would want (other than the obvious Coke and Pepsi products) and what snacks would be available.  I would always ask for the cookie, but it wasn't always there.

I was flying back from Colorado because I had taken a road trip to Colorado with my daughter Jamie.  She had quit her job a few weeks after college graduation, took off a few months and stayed with us for a few of those weeks.  When it was time for her to leave, I rode with her back to Colorado.  We left the house at 2 in the afternoon and drove until midnight.  South on 35 down to Des Moines, Iowa then west on 80 through most of Nebraska.  It was a glorious day.  Beautiful skies all the way into the late evening hours.  We chatted and talked about many things.  As it got dark, it was hard for me to hear what she was saying, so I encouraged her to turn the music on and listen to that.  I turned my attention to my iPad and played a little Solitaire and Aliens vs. Plants.  I'm kind of hooked on Aliens vs. Plants, they are out to eat my brains.

Jamie plugged in her iPod and listened to her favorite tunes.  I began to notice that I was enjoying some of the music.  At one point, I thought a techno piece was playing and I asked her if it was and she confirmed it.  I mentioned that I actually liked the piece that was playing.  She looked at me and smiled.  We both knew that this was a big deal, this is the first time I enjoyed myself listening to music.  Without telling me, she searched her iPod and selected a song she knew that I would know.  I forget what the first song was, but when I heard it and recognized it, I smiled at her.  She went through a bunch of songs to see if I could recognize them.  Some songs I could recognize by the tune and others by the words.  We sang along with some and just enjoyed others.  Eventually, she pulled out her Joan Jett tunes and away we went.  Two girls road tripping with Joan Jett blaring on the speaker in the middle of Nebraska on a starry night.  Life is good.

Talking to people is easier than it used to be and I hear a lot more of what is said.  I think I'm distracted by the fact that they sound different but I can still hear what is being said if I just focus.  I was on a conference call with my team the other day and I could hear a lot of what was being said.  I am familiar with these voices though.  I was on a conference call a few days before that and I couldn't hear a word.  I'll be honest though, I am terrified of having difficulties on the phone so I haven't opened up the phone lines so to speak.  I am just not ready.  Slow and steady there.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I'd like to share what I am thankful for.  There is so much to be thankful for this year.  I know it seems obvious, but here it goes.  I am thankful that I am alive in a time where the technology exists to give me better hearing.  I am thankful for the skilled surgeons and specialists that we worked with at the Mayo Clinic.  I am thankful for my friends and family who shared this journey with me and encouraged me every step of the way.  There were times I despaired, and they reached out.  I am thankful for my daughter Jamie who came and stayed with me for a week while I was adjusting to hearing through the cochlear device for the first time.  I treasured that week with her even though my hearing was so confusing at that time.  I am thankful for my sister who took the same journey and we were there for each other. There is nothing like having someone who knew exactly what you were going through.  I am thankful for my husband who went to every single appointment with me and helped me make the best decisions.  He never complained about the 2+ hour drives each way to the Mayo Clinic or the times we had to stay overnight in Rochester in order to make our appointments the following morning.

All my love to those who were with me whether it be a few minutes or every step of the way, your kindness and encouragement means a lot to me.  An acquaintance of mine said that I must have a whole new outlook on life with this new hearing.  I do and I'm sure that as it gets better I will come to appreciate this gift of hearing.  I can't wait for the next surprise.

Monday, October 31, 2011

I went to a movie with Jamie the other day.  We went to see Footloose which I figured would be a good first movie to hear with my cochlear implant.  I didn’t want to see a movie that had too much dialogue because I knew I wasn’t going to hear every word when I don’t hear every word in normal conversation.  I figured that since this movie was a remake of the original Footloose done back in the 80’s that I had seen dozens of times, I should be able to follow it pretty well.  I did hear some lines, and noticed that some of those lines were switched between characters or used in a different setting than the original.  Call me sentimental but I just don’t think it compares to the original.  Jamie & I watched the original that night and Jamie said that there would good and bad things with both versions but prefers the remake version.  I’ll keep the original just the same.
I didn’t enjoy the music part of the new one – I just can’t tell what the beat is.  I did recognize the original Footloose a little bit, but didn’t recognize any of the other songs. 
Again, I’m frustrated by the lack of perceived improvement.  I feel like I was hearing things  “better” the “old” way.  I have to remind myself that I would have eventually gone completely deaf and this is actually a better option than that.  I also have to remind myself that it could take a year or two before I will have adapted to the new way of hearing.  It just seems like sounds aren’t sharp enough for me to understand speech without lip reading.  I do think that lip reading is a little bit easier, but …. I wouldn’t want to trade off the ability to enjoy music with easier lip reading.  I really liked listening to music. 
Music is a BIG part of everything we do.  You cannot watch TV or a movie without some music being played.  Music is a good mood elevator – and I’ve played music to suit my moods or emotional needs.  To relax, I play relaxing spa or nature sounds.  To energize, I listen to some techno or classic hard rock – to feel inspired I listen to inspirational music.  Right now, there isn’t a lot of music that appeals to me.  If all I get from this cochlear implant is the ability to read lips easier – well….. I don’t know.  But then how long would I have held out before I go completely deaf??
Overall, it’s only been a little over 4 months.  That’s barely 1/3 of the way through one year.  Patience, patience…..

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Planes, Tours and Spanish

First of all, before we get to Planes, Tours and Spanish – I’d like to follow up on my previous story where I talked about the disposable batteries running out on me during my weekend getaway at my folk’s cabin.

During my last adjustment visit with the Mayo Clinic on September 15th, we discovered that the batteries were fine.  They are highly specialized disposable lithium batteries and did not have enough power for my cochlear device at that time.  Both my implant and the external part use power from the same battery.  (Kind of freaky if you think about it, there is a miniscule amount of power being transmitted through my skin from the external device to the implant – but hey – not complaining!)  Anyway, the implant was drawing a lot of energy that the regular disposable battery was unable to provide.   It didn’t appear that disposable batteries were going to be an option for me.

Our daughter Jamie was able to join us at the Mayo and watch me go through my tests and stuff, she was very interested in what was going on.   She watched me as I was going through my series of sound tolerance testing.  Each frequency would start out loud and work down to a very quiet sound.  I would be straining to see if I could hear the next lower sound, but instead the next frequency would start at the loudest level and my eyes would sort of bug out with this unexpected change.  Jamie and my audiologist would get a chuckle out of this.

After my testing, we checked the power usage of the device and discovered that my implant with the new settings didn’t need as much power anymore and that the disposables should last me 23 hours.  So, we went from no usable power to being able to use it for almost 2 days.  Nice!  My audiologist did mention that they had another customer whose implant could not use disposable batteries either and had to buy a special portable solar panel in order to recharge his rechargeable batteries while he was backpacking in Nepal.  I DO plan to visit Nepal someday, so a portable solar panel might possibly be something that I need.  Okay, enough technical information about batteries, let’s talk about some things that happened on our vacation to Puerto Rico!  

We had to leave our house at 2:30 am for a 5:30 am flight to Atlanta on Saturday, September 24th.   Dave and Jamie never went to bed, just stayed up all night.  I couldn’t do it, but I only got about 3 or 4 hours of sleep anyway.  Sleepy eyed, we made it through security.  I didn’t encounter any difficulties with my cochlear device and equipment going through.  Yay!  (Separate story – I’m on a national “watch list” because several years ago  I accidently carried a multi-purpose tool with a knife in my carry-on luggage so I am always anxious with the security aspect of travelling – no liquids and NO sharp objects!!)  We went through those new “non-descript body image” imaging machines, Dave & I still had to go through a “pat down” after going through those.

Anyway, I had a couple of “aha” moments on our flight from Minneapolis to San Juan, Puerto Rico with a layover in Atlanta.  To entertain myself, I brought my CD player for the audio book I was going to read along with along with my iPad and my Kindle.  I pulled out my CD player and the book only to realize that I did not bring a screw to flip open my cochlear device to attach my audio cord between the device and the CD player. It can only be opened by a small screwdriver.  Bummer.  No audio book during this flight anyway.

I made use of my iPad and my Kindle.  About halfway through our the second leg of the flight I could hear one line from the pilot's public announcement.  Clear as a bell "we will arrive at our destination in one hour and 15 minutes."  I am sure that this is minor to most people, but up until now public announcements on planes was about as decipherable as the adults in a Charlie Brown show.  It was only one line, but it was ONE whole sentence!!!  I quick looked over at Dave and Jamie sitting next to me but found them both asleep.  They missed it.

While we were in Puerto Rico, we got to go down to the beach and I could hear the waves.  They sounded more normal to me than ever before.  The owner of the Bed & Breakfast that we stayed at was building a beach house right on the beach and took us to see it.  It was pretty cool.  The house is in a part of old San Juan that we had never dared venture to before.  Not very dangerous in the light of day.

All around us, I could hear the spanish language.  Voices would be right behind me and I could hear the rolling r's and trilling d's.  Of course, I don't speak spanish but it was cool to hear the distinctly spanish vowels.

We had a wonderful time in Puerto Rico, the people are very friendly and lots of fun.  It was hot and sunny.  Our inn was on the outer edge of Old Town San Juan and we were situated between the famous spanish forts El Morro and San Cristobel.  The inn was a run by artist Jan D'Esopo whose artwork covered walls and surrounded gardens.