Auditory Implant Service

Early Experience of Hearing Sounds Through A Cochlear Implant

self-funded cochlear implant user Ian and Audiologist, Nicci

Life has changed significantly since I received my cochlear implant in October 2015, at the age of 77. Having my implant has given me access again to the hearing world. Here is my story and early experience of hearing sounds through a cochlear implant.

Prior to my implant I had suffered bilateral progressive hearing loss. It had reached a stage where I was unable to use the telephone, enjoy a visit to a restaurant, take part in committee work or have an impromptu chat with a friend in the street.  There were occasions when my mishearing generated misunderstanding and friction over the washing up!

My local Audiologist and I configured my hearing aid curves as best we could. Despite this my hearing aids increasingly gave less benefit and so I also joined a lip-reading class. A further drop in my hearing prompted me to research cochlear implants and the NICE criteria – my hearing was, frustratingly, just outside the NICE criteria, despite the significant impact my hearing loss was having on my life. A visit to an ENT consultant in my local hospital confirmed this. Further online investigation led me to the self-funded pathway at AIS. A thorough hearing and multi-disciplinary assessment revealed that I met the self-funded pathway criteria. It was a big decision and great expense but I took the plunge. Mr Tim Mitchell did the surgery in October 2015.

The ‘switch on’ was done in November 2015. I felt apprehensive as Nicci Campbell (Audiologist) placed the coil in position and started tuning the 16 individual electrodes. Would I hear anything?  What if the implant had failed? Suddenly, I perceived a distant faint sound ‘out in space somewhere’ which became louder as Nicci increased the levels on her keyboard. My job was to tell her when it was comfortable – not too loud. Once the individual electrodes were set we went ‘live’. By watching my wife’s lips, I could make out some of what she was saying as if from another planet with tissue paper in between.  My own voice seemed to belong to me but I had to pause to see if it really was me for I sounded as if I had a badly fitting denture – shlurfey!   After a bit of acclimatisation Nicci held a piece of paper in front of her mouth so I could not see her lips and said ‘red’ or ‘yellow’ (one versus 2 syllable words), I could correctly identify them!  I caught the eye of my wife who was sitting across the room and we both smiled with delight.

In the first week voices seemed metallic and harsh – a bit like ‘barking foxes’.  I was able to hear the rustle of my slippers on the carpet and the water running from the tap; both of these seemed to have little distortion.  When Nicci swept through the electrodes at the second appointment I was able hear the different pitches crudely rising and falling.  Speech sounded strange in those first few weeks, as if it was ‘pushing at a barrier’ and causing me to miss the first part of the sound which created the ‘barking’ sensation which together with the elevated pitch of voices made it sound as if everyone was telling me off.  My own voice sounded higher than I remembered it.

There were further tuning and intervention sessions with Anna Lyford (Hearing Therapist).  As it was approaching Christmas time Anna suggested I try listen to carols through YouTube and so I linked my iPad to my sound processor with Bluetooth.  At first the tune of a familiar carol sounded nothing like I knew it to be; notes for me rose when I knew they descended and vice versa.  However, after a day or two, by humming the tune I was able, with a lot of effort, to perceive the tune more correctly.  I also listened to e-books via my laptop while reading the text from the paper version.  Initially, I could not differentiate between male and female voices but this soon changed and I found myself listening to e-books without the text. Voices were losing their metallic edge and the ‘barrier’ was almost gone.  By now it was two months since ‘switch on’ and at Anna’s suggestion; I followed a music course prepared for implant users by the University of Southampton.  It was quite a challenge but there were instruments I could distinguish. I could track rising and falling cadences and had no trouble recognising rhythms – but it also confirmed, as I had been warned, that I will not be able to hear music, as I once did.

self-funded cochlear implant user Ian

There is so much more I could share with you about these exciting five months since ‘switch on’.  At this stage I am able to communicate easily and hear others in quiet listening environments and can follow conversation without looking at the speaker. I am using the telephone with increasing confidence.  I still perceive my wife’s voice as higher in pitch than I know it to be. I cannot understand sudden asides she makes when I am not prepared for her to speak and have no idea of the context; but perhaps I was not too good at that even before my hearing deteriorated!  Recently we attended ‘The Last Night of the Proms’ where the audience participation made up for the melodies I missed.  I am attending society meetings again using a Bluetooth microphone clipped to the presenter and we have just seen a relay of ‘Giselle’ where the music just supported the ballet sequences, so my music limitations did not matter.

The past 5 months have been a tremendous journey. Thanks to the patient and friendly team at the AIS, life is back on track for me, my wife and our family.