Billy 2.0 – Getting my new audiogram

Standard Audiogram

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.

audiogram1

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.

audiogram2

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.

audiogram3

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).

audiogramoriginalI'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.

Further reading:
How to understand your hearing test

16 Comments

  1. Jeremy Freeman says:

    You are doing great man.

    Reply
  2. Tina says:

    You're doing just great. Your hearing can be made more sensitive at a mapping session but you don't want to be so sensitive that you're cringing at every tiny sound.

    I felt the same way as you do, after about 6 months, I felt like I had a long long way to go and was seeing other people get almost 'instant' results. Hang in there and keep working at the rehab!

    Reply
  3. Carol says:

    Its sounds really good to me. I am considering having this done myself. just a question.....are you able to talk on the telephone yet? if so is it with amplified sound or on a normal phone?

    Reply
    • WLMager says:

      I have had a couple of brief phone chats with my mum. I can hear everything that's said on the telephone without amplification. Understanding it is another matter entirely!

      Reply
  4. Shane says:

    Do you know how well people hear music with the cochlear implants? I have heard that this is not one of the cochlear's strengths! Great Blog and very encouraging, keep at it and you may find that your hearing gets better with time as your brain becomes accustomed to the sound.

    Reply
  5. Cris says:

    Don't give up! It will keep getting better but I know it is hard to be patient. You can not compare your journey to anyone else. This is yours and yours alone. It is harder for some than others but those that really want it can achieve it if willing to work for it. Best of luck to you!

    Reply
    • WLMager says:

      I suppose the hardest part is trying to get on with day to day stuff as well as think about the exercises I need to do to keep the brain learning... it gets very tiring sometimes. But no, won't give up just yet!

      Reply
  6. Katherine says:

    Hi Billy - Thanks for your blog posts, I've been enjoying reading them over the last month or two. Newly implanted myself, turn on Feb 20th. Similar hearing background (stable S/P hearing loss from birth), so just hoping to receive more "cues" from the implant to make everyday conversations easier. Looks like you're off to a brilliant start even if there is lots of grueling rehab ahead -- but since you've already spent a lifetime working hard to hear, hopefully the new cues will make all the difference in the long run. If I get even close to your results on the test I would be thrilled.

    Reply
  7. wheresthefish says:

    Now you've got a sense that, to all intents and purposes, is entirely new to you so it's not a great surprise you're struggling to make sense of it. If my hearing acuity increased tenfold overnight there's no doubt I'd struggle with it initially too. Plus side is though, the brain is a wonderful organ and will start sorting all this out in its own time. I suppose most of us go through that process of learning to recognise, interpret, and mentally block out sounds at a very young age - I get the impression that's not something you've had to deal with much before.

    In short, the hardware is now upgraded, it's simply a matter of time until the software fix is developed.

    Reply
  8. Paul T says:

    you are doing great! your audiogram hearing levels are very similar to what mine were before i was implanted and activated.
    I hope your CI journey is good. mine is, things went bit wrong but its all good now and i am happy :D

    Paul
    London, UK

    Reply
  9. Morgan says:

    looks so good! a lot llike mine.

    Reply

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