The above is an audiogram. Most deaf people have seen one of these before, but if you’re like me, you won’t have bothered to find out what they mean, other than ‘You are deaf. You are very, very, very deaf.’
From left to right, the audiogram is arranged like the keys on a piano, with low frequencies on the left and higher frequencies on the right.
From top to bottom is a measure of volume, in decibels.
Most people are born with perfect hearing. At the age of 18, your hearing is as good as it’s ever going to be. In fact, you’ll probably hear higher frequencies that people in their 30s and later in life can’t. As people age, they lose more and more hearing in the high frequency range.
Now, let’s look at the hearing that I was born with. My hearing has been more or less the same since I was born. I’m usually tested with a pair of headphones in a soundproofed room, using a cable with a button on the end which I press every time I hear a tone.
So… I’m in the ‘profoundly deaf’ range. Without hearing aids, I hear nothing. If I put my head underwater and hum loudly, I can hear that. If someone fired a .357 Magnum next to my head, I might hear it (more likely feel it, but more on that later).
I’ve worn hearing aids most of my life, with varying levels of success.
Just before the operation to have a bionic ear installed, I took a hearing test with both hearing aids in, sitting in front of speakers instead of wearing headphones.
As you can see, I get a substantial increase in volume… but going towards the higher frequencies, my hearing falls off a cliff. With hearing aids I’m getting all the low bass sounds, but hearing nothing in the higher frequencies, like smoke alarms, birdsong, the higher end of a cat’s meow, or the consonant sounds of speech.
My expectations were quite low when I went in last week for a hearing test, wearing my cochlear implant. My mum was in the room with me too. I could hear most of the sounds being played through the speakers, but as they played quieter and quieter sounds, I was less and less sure of what I heard.
Anyway – this was the audiogram.
I now hear all the frequencies of sound, at a volume which is just touching on the ‘normal’ range. My mum couldn’t hear many of the higher frequencies, so not only am I hearing much better than before, I’m hearing better than my mum!
According to my current settings, my cochlear implant is set at 75% microphone sensitivity, and at 85% internal volume. So there’s even a possibility that I’ll achieve better results in future listening tests.
On a purely technical and scientific level… the operation has been a complete and utter success. Like Jesse in Breaking Bad might say:
So why do I still feel so low? Probably because I now realise that it’s going to take me a long, long time before I can use that hearing to actually hear (by the way, for the avoidance of doubt, this is the original audiogram that the hospital gave me below).
I’ve had so many people contact me via the blog since I started writing, which has been fantastic. I’m trying to help them by answering their questions and concerns as best as I can. At the same time, I can’t help but compare myself against them. Take, for example, the chap who asked me lots of questions about the process before his switch on… and found that the same day he was switched on he could understand the audiologist’s speech without lipreading.
He was hearing until 18, then became profoundly deaf overnight. 20 years later, his implant seems to have almost instantly given him most of his hearing back. I’m happy for him, but as time goes on I understand more and more now why I’m a non-traditional candidate, and the hospital don’t like to implant ‘people like me’.
The big positive is that on paper, I seem to have pretty damn good hearing at last, after 35 years of having to deal with pretty limited input. I suppose what I’m scared of is never fully understanding or realising the potential of that increased hearing before I can really make use of it.
How to understand your hearing test