I remember my activation day like it was yesterday. I spent two hours with my technical audiologist and went home with a rucksack full of new equipment. Feeling totally overwhelmed, and with Mickey Mouse babbling into my ear, a new hearing chapter had begun.
I had already been warned about the so-called Mickey Mouse effect – which basically describes the initial experience for many CI users, of a high-pitched, robot-like chatter. I knew Mickey would disappear with time and a little patience. The golden rule was to keep my sound processor on for as many hours as possible so my brain could be exposed to forgotten sounds and slowly relearn them.
Hearing the birds sing
The sounds came back to me slowly but surely. I remember how proud I was when I could activate my new visa card on the phone, how happy I felt when I could hear the birds sing, my puppy’s paw steps on the wooden floors, and gentle rain tapping on the windowpanes. I also remember hearing odd sounds and having to reidentify and mentally acknowledge what an airplane sounded like, a car horn, and traffic in general. Even today, more than three years on, I don’t take sound for granted and I still hear new things. Before my CI operation, I shied away from the telephone and almost totally avoided using it. Today, I happily and confidently use the phone in my daily life without thinking about it.
For me, the CI operation was life-altering. However, reflecting on the process, I feel I was left to my own devices and had to figure things out as I went along. It would have been nice to have a mentor – someone who understands what it feels like to be a new CI user and can share different tips and tricks. There seems to be a gap in the healthcare system in terms of support beyond the standard journey offered. I think the visibility of support fora could definitely be improved. Person-centered care doesn’t have to come from a healthcare professional. When you start a new job, the onboarding program can make or break your experience. Well, it’s the same for life with a CI sound processor.
Looking back, I would have appreciated some practical help figuring out how to use some of the equipment I was given. I felt so overwhelmed with the amount of equipment, that I left it on my dining room table for two weeks, simply staring at it – only to move it into a cupboard in the end. One year on, I returned some of it, saying I didn’t need it or wasn’t using it.
A shift to the virtual arena
Luckily, I am now in a different place. I’ve recently ordered an activity case for my CI sound processor, which I can use when I go swimming and a band to keep my CI sound processor in place when I run. From someone in my network, I’ve also recently learned about a device which can help stream sound from your iPad, computer, or phone – hugely helpful for online yoga classes, virtual meetings, and podcasts where the sound quality is weaker. Since I got my CI sound processor, my life has shifted to the virtual arena. But with support from a mentor, I may have found joy in some of these accessories sooner rather than later.
A CI buddy system
As for myself, I’m happy to share my experiences with new CI users. I was recently contacted by a hearing-impaired individual in my network whose father is about to have a CI operation. We met over a coffee so I could share my personal journey leading up to and post operation. This is exactly what I needed and couldn’t find. I now know that there are many ‘buddy systems’ out there – and I strongly encourage new CI users to look for one as they embark on their journey.
My ears were given years
Even with the CI, there are still a few challenges. Conversations outside when it’s windy are uphill. Conversations with mask wearers are a nightmare. Hearing everything clearly when I am inverted in yoga is hit and miss. But overall, the joys in my life have increased in volume (literally), and I remain forever grateful for technology. My ears have been given years. My life has been enriched with podcasts, audio books and conversations that matter. Most of all, my confidence has soared.
Karin is British by birth, global by choice. Karin has a professional background in communications and learning and development. She has lived and worked in nine countries across four continents and speaks four languages. Karin lives with hearing loss and got her first cochlear implant in 2017. Karin works as an International Business Coach and (copy)writer. She offers coaching to support other hearing-impaired individuals (globally) who need to build self-coping strategies and prepare for a CI. Learn more at www.karinweiser.com.
If you are looking for CI mentorship and advice, fortunately there are many support groups out there. Below a couple of helpful links: