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(NL-0025) CI Activation - Crickets in a cave.

Posted Apr 02 2009 12:00am

My CI was first activated and initially mapped today.  (sorry , no photos, I forgot to take the camera today.... I'll get some photos at next week's mapping).  It was what I expected and it was not what I expected. But it all makes sense to me, and, of course knowledge, is the beginning of wisdom.

Not having done this before, and just having the CI procedure 12 days ago, I was a bit apprehensive.  OK, I admit, I was outright concerned.  I think I played forty-and-two-questions with my implant mapping specialist, Pam.  Eventually, I was all hooked up to a laptop and there and then I began my life as an official cyborg (way cool, eh?).

As most people know, I'm an engineer.  Not just any old engineer, but a "test" engineer, and I own and am the principal engineer of San Jose Test Engineering (in Silicon Valley).  What my company does is create machines and computer programs to test every kind of electronic device. Right now, I am working on some medical devices (heart monitors) and night vision camera systems, but we also test lots of audio products, so I was very eager to learn all about the process.

The mapping program looked just like many of the programs my company creates for audio tests and Pam-the-specialist was happy to explain the various features and functions of the mapping system for me. 

Mapping was easy. I just sat there and chatted with Pam while the program played "name that tune" inside my head. What I heard were 22 different tones at various volumes.  Pam said that some people react to the louder tones by perceiving pain, watery eyes, or unpleasant feelings. But I was in my natural drunk state of drinking up every bit of the technology that I could lay eyes on, and so really, I felt pretty well buzzed and very relaxed (I don't actually drink alcohol so I need to get my fix where I can).

Actually I felt pretty awed at being able to hear so clearly and also being able identify each of the 22 tones. Apparently my audio memory is still pretty good.  I was able to tell Pam the exact frequency of the vast majority of tones, and was not far off for the remainder. 

After the initial map, I was asked to interactively set levels for threshold hearing and comfortable hearing levels so as to set a dynamic range of hearing for each of the 22 channels.  It was all I could do to keep in my place and let Pam press the buttons on program (as a rule, engineers that are drunk on technology do not like to be sidelined when there are keyboards and software to operate). But I managed to contain myself. Just barely.

After we set the dynamic range, it was turn on time.  What was it like?  

Mostly like listening to nails-on-glass.  Really distorted, way too much "wow" and "flutter." Everything sounded like chirping; think thousands of crickets in a cave.

It took sometime, but through more of the interactive process, we were able to make a first complete audio map for my CI.  Not by any means is the map perfect, but that's the rub here, how do you tell a machine how to calibrate your ears?  I do have a pretty good idea on how to do it, but it's still a matter of guessing and tweaking and practicing at listening. And so with the first map in place, off I went.

The first thing I notice was that my SUV makes a "ding ding ding" sound when you put the key in the ignition. I never hear that before.  The next thing I heard was the air conditioner (how annoying!).  Then the third was the rubber tires on the road (I don't want to hear that, do I?) Then I heard the blinkers.  I can't even remember when I heard car blinkers ticking.  Sounds like the clock ticker on a bomb that Inspector Clouseau would be disarming.

At home, I discovered that everything makes racket. So much, in fact, that it's highly annoying. Roxanne seemed to delight in ripping up junk mail just to watch me cringe! 

Actually, when I got home, Roxanne asked how the mapping went, then acted like it was oh-so ho-hum... and now it was time to get my rear in gear and get out to the plant nursery to pick up some shrubs, flowers, and bell pepper plants (guess who has yard duty tomorrow?). No rest for the weary or the newly CI activated.

Yard work aside, I seemed to have set my upper frequency range maps a tad too loud, as the CI processor likes to go into what I call "super-banshee-wail" mode at the slightest hint of a higher frequency. If I rub my hand on the desk, or even if I draw a sharp breath, the microphone picks that up and goes all "feedback" on me (it's not really feedback, but that's a very close analogy as to the sound). But, I'm sure that can be corrected. And it's not unlike the first time I had hearing aides activated.

I do remember that my first hearing aides presented me with the same learning curve as I now have with the CI (otherwise known as voluntary audio torture).  My problem is that I stopped using hearing aides about 15 years ago.  I need to relearn how to hear some sounds. Mostly high frequency sounds.

That aside, I had some very good progress with CI listening today.  I connected my CI to my laptop the same way folks connect a set of headphones.  My CI package comes with a lot of accessories and this one is an isolated TV/HI-FI cable that connects between the CI and the computer's audio jack.

For the first time in about 20 years, I watched ABC, CNN, and other news videos with no caption and I didn't miss a word.  I'd call that significant progress, especially since I have had to fully lip read for that same exact time period and/or have required real time captions.  

Mind you, Charles Gibson and his guest have all the wonderful fidelity of a 1930's radio broadcast (very tinny indeed), but I can fully understand everyone, and that's gotta count for something in my book.  

And I know, that with continued CI use, my perception of voices will soon fall back to what I consider to be "normal" (the human brain is so good at adapting).  I haven't tried a phone yet, but I think I'll wait until the 2nd mapping for that.  Already, I am hearing other sounds that have escaped me over the years: The sound of water spilling from the fish tank filter onto the surface of the tank's water; ringing sounds of dishes placed on the marble counter tops, I even tuned up my guitar (I cheated and used an audio tuner)  and could make out a pretty decent scale andplay some chords  - although everything is still distorted due to my somewhat klutzy mapping.

The most interesting sound of the day lies in the very simple. I can now hear myself whistle and I found out I can still carry a tune.

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