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Sounds of Silence

Posted Oct 17 2008 9:01pm

Stop whatever it is that you're doing for 30 seconds. Take a deep breath, exhale and be silent. Listen. What do you hear?

Music? A phone ringing? Distant people talking? Nothing?

Think twice about whether you're really hearing "nothing". Even in the quietest of inside rooms, there is likely a relatively loud whirring of an air conditioner or refrigerator, spinning fan of a computer or even the sound of a breeze against the walls of your home. Sound is all around us, all the time. We just don't think of it much since we're so used to it. Do you hear it?

I write this from Panera Bread where I'm having lunch and doing some work, and as I concentrate on writing I hear little. When I push back from the keyboard, however, I notice the sounds around me. I hear the classical music playing, the din of conversation, rattling plates, cups, and silverware, an ice machine rattling, as well as doors opening and closing.

If I really listen, the noise is almost unbearable. It is extraordinary that those of us who can hear deal with these many auditory stimuli all at once. There are loud noises, soft noises, high frequency sounds and low frequency sounds. All of these different inputs may take up nearly the entire spectrum of what the ear can hear at one instant, yet our brains are able to make sense of all of it.

The conversation in this large room and the coffee grinder together make for what would seem to be an impenetrable wall of noise, but yet if I focus I can hear the lady 4 tables away speak to her acquaintance about the nanny they interviewed.

A few short minutes ago I sat here in what seemed to be silence, and now I feel overwhelmed and annoyed by these sounds. However, as my focus shifts from writing this, I know that it will only take a few seconds until I am no longer conscious of the sounds that surround me and my mind will block out all but those sounds which I am interested in hearing. That's amazing.

One woman describes her first hearing experiences as follows:

“Everyone with a cochlear implant says the first day will be the worst because everything sounds strange. I knew that for me that would be squared a million times,” she said.

But after sensing vibrations rattling the inside of her skull she felt miserable.

“I felt like it was a huge mistake for about five hours. Then it started to get better. My husband put a Beatles song on the radio, ‘When I’m 64.’ At first it was just bumps in my head. Then I heard a little of the beat,” she said.

“I got home and turned on the water, rang the doorbell” and created other everyday sounds to see if she could hear.

Her dog’s bark sounded like a gunshot. A toilet flushing felt like a truck had hit the house. Then she took off the external pieces of the implant apparatus and went to sleep.

The next morning she put the sound processor behind her ear, connected the magnetic headpiece to the implant under the skin of her cranium and went for a walk in the woods.

The sense of hearing impacts our daily lives whether we know it from second-to-second or not. While many adapt and live wonderful lives without it, hearing is a part of my life that I want to share with my son. That's one reason we want to "turn on his ears".

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