Sometimes the most obvious things are the most hidden. When I was first confronted with my hearing loss, a friend said to me, “Jerry, you do an excellent job of lip reading”. I had never even thought about lip reading and surely I did not think I was doing it. That was nineteen years ago.

Practicing with my new cochlear implant has revealed my secret life as a proficient lip reader, after all these years. What that means is I don’t understand diddly without looking at the lips of the speaker. Carol Ann and I can have a CI only conversation for an hour and when she hides here face it’s as though she had suddenly switched into ancient Navaho. It’s distressing.

My friend John on Hearing Journey – an online forum run by Advanced Bionics, the maker of my device – has just received his second implant. He talks about working with sounds that do not remotely resemble speech – yet. He gently reminds me that working outside my comfort zone is the only pathway to making sense of ancient Navaho – so to speak. This is hard. Much harder than I imagined.

Having a forum, a relationship with people on the same journey as I am, is proving to be a wonderful and meaningful resource. These people are scattered across the continent. It’s unlikely we would ever meet. I do have a friend – a fellow Mainer – who had her operation on the same ear, on the same day in the same town but different hospitals. Her husband was a nurse and my partner in life CA was a nurse as well. With all those share points we decided that we should meet on one of their trips down to Boston. We are having similar experiences in our initial learning phase. We encourage each other and take nourishment from the knowledge that we are in good company, and are not alone.

This is a rather boring journal accounting of my beginning moments with a cochlear implant ( CI ) yesterday and this morning. Be warned. 🙂

Yesterday was a most amazing day.  CA and I are exhausted.  The trip down and back from Portland to Boston is easy but with all the emotional stress, it was real work.  When we arrived at South Station we decided to walk the ten or eleven short blocks to the hospital. It takes about fifteen minutes. It is almost a straight shot sort of through China Town down Kneeland to Washington and then you’re there. The walk did us good going as well as returning.

The activation was remarkable.  I was able to hear voices at once.  Understanding was iffy, but there was an immediate acquisition of my audiologist’s voice.  It was not a normal sounding voice but one that might have been produced by a computer. I suppose it was. It sounded like someone was talking from the other end of a large diameter pipe or culvert producing a bell like overtone that made understanding difficult. Some of this might be dealt with through programing in concert with the brain making “sense” of what information it is getting through the CI.

With the CI alone I was able to understand about 75% of what she said.  As we progressed with the configuration these results began to fall off, increase and then settle in somewhere in between. 

She gave me 4 programs that essentially gave increasing volume and one that turned on the T-coil, which allows me to listen to TV and audio books through my hearing aids and implant when I am inside my audio loop.

I go back in a week and in the meantime I am going to listen to children’s audio books.  I am told that this is a great way to grasp simple words and increase brain function as it seeks to make sense of what it’s hearing.  

As time passed after we left the hospital I noticed subtile changes happening.  For instance, with both the HA and Ci going I was understanding CA more than usual.   I guess this will be the case for a while yet.  New discoveries around every corner.

Upon waking this morning my ability to understand speech was a little better. It seems that there are subtile changes happening all the while.

With the Ci alone, I would be lost most of the time.  As time goes on I am told that will get better. When I go bi-model – using the hearing aid and the implant my hearing is greatly improved from before the implant. This makes sense as i was getting little to no useful information from the left ear.

I am so pleased with the whole experience.  I have been tied in a knot these past few days – more so than before the surgery.

It seems that wearing a hat is going to be a huge problem.  I’ll be working on that.  I do hats. But that’s a minor challenge.

One of he most difficult parts about having hearing loss is helping friends who have normal hearing to understand what I am experiencing and what I need from them. Without fail, everyone understands, and without fail their behavior briefly changes before reverting to previous patterns. So I had this idea … …

What if at the next dinner party, cookout or celebration where I – a person well known to have serious hearing loss – was invited, I brought a supply of ear plugs and asked everyone to wear them then try to communicate as usual? … . . Well, it was a thought.

I remember hearing perfectly. I remember waking up to birdsong and wind in the trees. I remember the nuances of music – the overtones in every aspect of life that flows on a bed of sound.

I am two days away from the activation of my cochlear implant. Friends have expressed some serious hope and expectations about this. The advise I get from the hearing loss community is, “High hopes and low expectations”. It’s a process, I am told. It gets better, I am told. I’m looking forward to the time when my mind is filled with other thoughts – or perhaps none at all. Sometimes, I think that would be best.

Coming up on two weeks post CI surgery and every day there is some noticeable positive change in regards to the incision and surrounding area which was affected with some soreness and sensitivity.

I am finding that waiting is the most difficult part of recovery. The device won’t be activated until June 9th, and at this point that seems like a long time off. Meanwhile, I have developed some worrisome vertigo/dizziness that is not that unusual and is mostly temporary. I can’t tell you how much I am longing for the “temporary” part to kick in.

I was released to “full duty” (whatever that means) and spent the better part of an hour cutting grass – walking behind a lawnmower. It was good exercise for me and the dizziness seemed to be helped by the effort. Then this morning it was back. I am reminded of the old principle of two steps forward, one step back. There is progress, but not without encumbrances.

CA, my partner in life, says I think about this too much. She’s right of course.

Here is an interesting sidebar to all this. What are the chances that two people in Maine were having CI surgery on the same day in the same city, on the same ear? What’s more, what are the chances that each of these people are partnered with a retired nurse, both of whom were involved in hospice work? What a hoot! We connected on a forum sponsored by the people who make the devices we are getting. When the coincidences became known we decided ti meet for coffee. It was one of those “I’ll show you mine if you will show me yours”, kind of things. It was fun and quite comforting to talk with someone who was going through the same experiences that I was having.

Since my vertigo seem to get somewhat better from being up and moving around, I’ll see if a little more grass cutting might be in my future. Let’s see now – where did I put that bug dope?

Be well, and stay tuned.

On the morning of May 6, 2016, I received a cochlear implant at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. All reports say it was a successful operation and that the device works. I can’t tell you how happy I am to know that. It won’ t be activated for another month, which is a little longer than usual because of some personal conflicts.

We spent the night before – because I was first in line at 6am, and the night after the operation in Boston – because we figured after a general anesthesia and the two hour bus ride ahead of us we thought we might be better off staying over. It was a good decision.

It could be said that we didn’t sleep well in Boston. The tension before and the discomfort after the procedure fought against relaxing and sleeping. As soon as my head hit my own pillow I was out like a light. I have been able to sleep well for the past three nights as well as the odd pick-up nap here and there.

I thought I would just pop back and take up normal activities quickly. I quickly discovered that there was hardly any pop at all. I mean it was surgery on my head, general anesthesia, pain medication and – – – my age. That’s the clincher.

The idea of “Day Surgery” tends to instill a false sense of “Easy”. It ain’t that easy. At least not for octogenarians. It is true that you walk in and walk out. But you walk out with something less than what you brought in.

I’m good. I’d do it again. But it’s this kind of experience that really defines what it means to be old. Diminishing resilience. The bounce is gone. I could write a book about that.

Stay tuned.

One week until implantation. I keep having to remind myself that getting a cochlear implant is only the beginning of the process. It ’s important to remember a few things, such as, nothing can restore “normal” hearing. I believe the best that can be expected is the possibility of being able to better understand what is heard. Being able to take part in a group discussion and actually keep up would be like music to my ears – so to speak.

That being said, what is clearly understood about the CI is that when it is activated, no one knows what the recipient will hear. It is highly unusual to be able to hear and understand clear speech at first. The sound is digitally processed and presented to the auditory nerve. The brain may or may not know what to do with that information at first. Based on my personal experience, my brain often does not know what to do with the information it gets, so I’ll reserve judgement until activation day – May 31. That’s another long month away. I think that I think too much.

It’s been suggested that I go fishing. You know what’s really sad? I’d have to search for my fishing pole. I’m not even sure I have one that works. It’s been that long.

Stay tuned.

One of the sidebar features I have discovered on my journey toward a cochlear implant is support community that is out there. Advanced Bionics ( AB ), the makers of the device I will be getting, provide space for an excellent forum on their web site. There are hundreds of people there from all around the world who either have a cochlear implant ( CI ) or are waiting, as I am, to get one.

I thought I’d check it out and left a short note on the “I’m new here” page about my impending operation. Before long there was a page full of responses from people who were willing to share their experiences and offer encouragement. As in almost every other area of life, talking to “users” is often the best source of useful information. It was very comforting.

I was amazed to find that more than half of those respondents were bilateral recipients of a CI. I have only seen two people with a CI. Both were unilateral recipients. I personally do not know anyone who has one. I follow a blog written by a woman living in New York City who speaks of going out to dinner with three other friends, all of whom had a cochlear implant. Life in the city!

The actual information I have received on the forum has been very helpful for me as I am in the process of making some decisions about some options that are available to me. That’s when talking to someone who has had to make similar choices and who have opinions based on personal experience becomes useful. I’m here to tell you that the personal testimony is alive and well.

One more thing: I found a video of the actual operation and watched it. I’m not sure that was a good idea. But there it is. 🙂

Two weeks now until my operation. I just knew you wanted to know. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned.

By now, just about all my friends know I am Hard Of Hearing (HOH). That being said, only a few know just how HOH I really am. In recent years I have, sometimes conscientiously and sometimes un-conscientiously, withdrawn from “normal” social society. Concerts, meetings, parties and other gatherings of more than a few participants, are impossible for me. If one can not hear, and more importantly, understand then it is a most uncomfortable experience.

It is not easy to confess that after nineteen years wearing hearing aids, that I had never been examined by a Ear Nose and Throat specialist. I’m not sure about why that is, but I decided to ask for such an examination through my primary care physician. Subsequently, I have learned this is not unusual. Unless there is some sudden change in hearing, it is assumed that any problem with hearing is a matter for an audiologist who can prescribe a hearing aid to amplify sound for you.

I had not had an audiogram done in several years. That examination revealed that I had profound asymmetrical sensorineural hearing loss. There was hardly anything useful coming through my left ear and the right ear was seriously affected. The opinion was that if I wanted to pursue it – I was a valid candidate for a cochlear implant.

Moving forward, I am scheduled for implantation on May 6 at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. That sentence just glossed over several months of grappling with insurance, travel arrangements, more examinations and endless waiting that has been the core of this experience to date. It’s hard not to complain, and I do complain, but I am also grateful for the people who have advocated for me and helped me to navigate these stormy medical – insurance waters. Thank you.

I’m sorry, but I have to add this: Single Payor universal health care would fix this in a heartbeat.

Now I wait. My operation is three weeks away and I am a nervous basket case. It could be said that this is a growth experience for me – admitting such a weakness – but I choose to think of it as simple acknowledgement of my delightful humanity. How’s that for a juicy rationalization? Anyway, it’s all I can think about. There is more and I’ll seek to deal with it in later posts. Thank you for reading.

Be well – Stay tuned

Jerry Henderson

These days, you’d have to be a mantra intoxicated monk on a mountaintop NOT to think about politics. This country is about 240 years old, depending on when you start counting. It only takes a skimming of it’s history to know that politics in this country has never been a textbook clean process. That being the case, what you see going on today is beyond the pale.

When I went to high school I had to take a class in civics. It left me with nice rosy warm feeling inside that this political process that I just learned about would insure peace and tranquility in my lifetime. Uh, well – not really. It left me feeling rather numb. Phrases like checks and balances, representative government, free elections and ideas like a true participatory democracy floated around from which I took a confidence that my government had my best interests at heart. Well, naiveté has always been easy for me.

Now we find ourselves in a situation that no one ever dreamed would happen – not in this country. A major contender for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination is proudly advocating mob rule that presents itself as above law, decency and respect. Mr. Trump openly encourages his followers to beat up protesters while his response is a pouty mouthed adolescent posture more appropriate to a delinquent teenager or a street gang capo, than a front runner for the Republican Party.

Everybody knows, or should know, that the rule of law and mutual respect are the only forces that keep these thugs, wannabe criminals and proudly ignorant people in check. These are the looters of our democratic form of government by consent. They are willing to trash the constitution for selfishly uninformed reasons. When it becomes dangerous to oppose hate mongers and advocates of violence in the political process the very fabric of democracy is torn.

When you look closely at the Trump Platform you don’t find one. Making American great again and building a wall between Mexico and the US do not constitute viable programs to benefit the American people. They make no sense. They are mob epithets and crowd pleasers if, that is, your crowd came only for a fist fight.

More is needed than the “summer soldier and sunshine patriot”. We must reject mob rule. We must demand character in our leaders. We must demand reason, respect and the rule of law. And above all – we must vote. If we loose this battle, we will have lost America.

Speak up. Don’t be shouted down. America is worth it. You’re worth it.

Magazine publishers are getting desperate. I’m sure they have fallen on hard times. No one wants them anymore. Take “National Geographic”, for instance. I have never subscribed to it. There’s no need to. Any doctor’s office has them which you can steal if you need to have one. You have many friends who would gladly load you up with all you can carry, just for the asking.

So, I get this official looking envelope in the mail yesterday with one of those notices in it telling me that I MUST reply within the next few minutes or the FBI will knock on my door at 3am tomorrow. For only $175 I can have this slick highbrow magazine for the next couple of years delivered to my mail box. Now, understand this: I never communicated in any form with these people. This is a scam and should be illegal. Some poor slob is writing out a check now terrified that the Federal Storm Troupers are going to haul him off to some Gulag in the wee hours tomorrow. OK, so I’m exaggerating a bit. So what? You get the point.

The other scam is when you actually have a subscription to a magazine of your choice, and have two years before it expires, you start getting notices on a monthly basis telling you that you can renew for some really cheap price if you do it today. This is a simple scam to give them operating money in an interest free loan. You don’t owe them a dime for the next two years! If you just want to send them money, have your lawyer send them a bill for the interest you will charge them for using your money years before it is actually owed them. What are these jerks thinking? Oh, sorry, I forgot: they think we are stupid. Often enough, of course, they are right.

My solution is to dump them all and if you do want to get a magazine, do it on your iPad or Amazon reader or Nook, and avoid the clutter while feeling green at the same time.

Under the “It Ought To Be The Law” category we should be able to stamp all unsolicited mail with RETURN TO SENDER and the post office would have to take it back to them. That would be he day!