The big ‘Switch On’ !

June 10, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Posted in BBC See Hear, Cochlear Implants, My Cochlear Implant choice | 13 Comments
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Today is my first full day as a fully fledged Cyborg.  It has been a long hard journey to get to this point today and I wish I could say that it is all smelling of roses right now………but I can’t……….not yet anyway!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very positive about the whole Cochlear Implant journey but today it feels like my hearing has taken a step backwards in some respects as well as a step forward in others.  For someone who has had normal hearing for most of my life it has been hard to keep my expectations in check.  No matter how hard you tell yourself not to expect much, you can’t help but have that secret hope buried deep down that suddenly everything will be normal again.  I’ve told so many people exactly that, that maybe I forgot somewhere down the line to tell myself!!

For those of you who don’t know, this is what happens at ‘switch on’.

Firstly you are attached with your external unit.  In my case I have the Advanced Bionics.  You sit there and are asked to listen for some beeps and to tell them to stop turning it up once the volume seems loud but comfortable.  They did this for all the 16 electrodes in my head.  I was pleased to say that I could hear them all.  Although it was the strangest sounding noise I have ever experienced.  I can only describe it as ‘controlled tinny robotic sounding tinnitus’.  Not horrible tinnitus but right inside the head where tinnitus seems to lurk none the less.

Then, once the levels have been set, the audiologist switches you on.  Sound immediately flowed into my right hand side in a very mechanical way.  Exactly what I had expected or what I thought I’d expected because this is something that, no matter how you describe it or read about it, you just cannot understand until it actually happens to you.  Someone I was talking to today compared it to child-birth!!  Before all you ladies start sending me evil messages it was only a comparison in the fact that you can never know what child-birth is like until you actually experience it for yourself!!  I for one will stick to the CI switch on thank you very much!!! 🙂

So.  What can I hear now?  Well, on activation I very quickly began to pick out voices.  Not very clearly and nothing I could really understand but voices none the less.  Everyone did and still does sound like they have been sucking on helium balloons before they speak!!! 

Voices are definitely the hardest to work out.  I can however hear random things like…..me typing this……..and the kettle and microwave.  I could hear the radio in the car a little and managed to work out a song that was playing.  You’re the one that I want……ooh……oooh……oooooh!! 🙂  Yes it was dodgy local radio but I haven’t been able to control the radio for a while!!  I’m looking forward to getting talksport back on soon!!!

I am strangely finding that I can pick out music better than expected.  I came straight home with my box of gadgets you get with the Implant and went straight for the MP3 player.  Plugged straight in and managed to make out Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chilli Peppers!!  That was only after 2 hours activation!!  I haven’t had the chance to try it again yet today but I’ve been told not to rush it as I don’t want to overload the old brain.

I have been back to work today and found I need to use my Hearing aid in the other ear to improve my communication.  Again, I have been told to try to use my CI with and without the HA so I am sat back at home now with just the CI.  I must admit though it is tempting to use both as suddenly I find I’m hearing in stereo for the first time in over 10 years!!!  I like that a lot!!!  Even though it is still mainly noise I’m hearing………at least it’s in stereo!! 🙂

Did I start this post sounding a bit negative??  Now I’ve just read what I have typed I realise that actually it has been a really positive switch on!!  See what writing a blog does for you!!  I am already finding that I want more volume but will have to wait until next Wednesday when I go back for a re-tuning session.  Patience Graham!!

Oh…….yeah……..I can hear the dial tone on the telephone!!  I rang my wife on it and could clearly hear that she said something…………no idea what………..but hey………..that was only after 4 hours switch on!!  See this is getting better by the minute!!

Right.  I’m waffling now so I’m gonna sign off with the best part of all.  I can hear my little robotic girls!!  They will sound more normal in time but hey ho………one step at a time!!! 🙂

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Quick operation update………..

May 15, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Posted in Cochlear Implants | 18 Comments
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Well, I’m back from Hotel Southmead in Bristol feeling pretty good at the moment.

I went in to hospital on the Wednesday afternoon as my operation was scheduled for 8.30am the following morning.  It was a farely restless night as you can imagine but the morning came round quite quickly and I was visited by my surgeons registrar to go through the formalities before the op.  Whilst we were talking, all the lights went out in the hospital and then straight back on again.  He joked with me about it not being a good sign and it appeared he was right.  A builder in the area had managed to cut through a major electric cable and forced the hospital on to its emergency generator!!  Great.  Although it would have been safe to carry on with the op the policy is, and quite rightly so, that all operations would be put on hold until the main power was back up and running.  Well after another 4 hours of waiting I finally got taken down to theatre and before I could say anything other than ‘ make sure you do my right ear!!’ I was waking up in recovery wondering if they had actually done anything.  Then I felt my head and realised that it was all over.  Nice!

The whole thing was filmed by the BBC and took about 3 hours.  My surgeon was very happy with the results and I was informed the next morning that the they had managed to insert the electrodes the whole way into my cochlear, that all the electrodes were working and my inner ear was already being stimulated ready for sound on my switch on, in about 4 weeks time.

How do I feel now?  Well, the pain is fine.  Nothing a few pain killers wont cure.  My neck and jaw are a bit stiff but considering I have had a whole drilled into my skull I’m pretty amazed at the lack of pain.  Not that I want anymore!!!  I’m not complaining!!

The worst thing, apart from the tights they make you wear, has been the tinnitus, which is way worse and sounds like a train rumbling through my head.  My balance has been a little dodgy but that is improving after every little sleep I have.  Just need to remember to move slowly!!

I have been told that I do not need to go back again until my actual switch on appointment so now it’s a question of sitting back and recovering and waiting for that switch on appointment to come through the post.

Beam me up Scottie!!

May 4, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Posted in Cochlear Implants | 1 Comment
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Well, I had my pre-operation appointment last week and it is all seeming that much more real now!  I’m going to finally get my Bionic Ear!!

I have been making lots of CI friends online over last few months and one of them has had her implant switched on around 5 weeks ago now.   She had the same surgeon as me at Bristol Southmead and lives very close to the hospital so we decided to meet up before my appointment to compare notes.  It was a really good and helpful meeting and for two deaf people we managed to have a great converstion without the use of any signing (which is lucky because I’m pants at that!!) or writing things down!!  She is doing really well since switch on and it was great for me to actually see how well she was doing.  It has really made me feel positive about the operation and following switch on.

With the operation looming I have been getting lots of good luck messages from people and everyone is looking forward to me hearing again.  I find myself having to say to everyone that ‘fingers crossed it will all go well……..but……….any success I have will not be immediate and it will take another 6 months or so before I get the full benefit’.  It will be like starting from scratch again and my brain will have to learn how to hear again with electronic assistance.  I am keeping my expectations at an all time low but in the same breath hoping that things will return back to some sort of normality in time!!

The positives I have are that I have good speach and good memory of sound so hopefully my brain will know how to translate the beeps.

The negatives are that the side I am having the implant done on has not heard a dicky bird for over 10 years!!  It will be extremely wierd to get noises into that side of my head!!

At the moment my wife and I are on automatic pilot as to where to sit and what side to walk on so as to help with conversation and we will now have to change sides………..sounds simple enough but when you have been positioning yourselves in a certain way for so long it will take some getting used to.

After my meeting with my CI friend I went off to the hospital for my appointment and met up again with the BBC who want to film every aspect of my CI process.  Although they had contacted the hospital about the filming and been told it was fine no one had informed the poor lady, Tina, that they would be filming!!!  The look on her face when the camera showed up was a picture 🙂

Anyway, the appointment went fine and my blood pressure and heart and lungs etc were all working fine and I was given the go ahead for the operation.  I was informed that my surgeon would be Mr Robinson ( the top honcho) and given all the information I needed for the operation.  It should take about 2 hours.

The clock is ticking and it is only 9 days now until the operation!!  Although not nervous now I know I will be on the day.  I am a bit of a control freak and I think the worst part for me is the fact I will not be able to overlook the operation and say ‘careful of my facial nerve & go on try and get the electodes in a little bit further’!!

Oh well, the BBC will be filming the operation so you should all look forward to seeing the inside of my head…………..not that there is much to see!! 🙂  I will get that joke in now before anyone else decides to!!

I will begin my planning now for my role as a real life CYBORG in the next Star Trek movie!!  Beam me up Scottie!!

The future of Cochlear Implants……..

April 15, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Cochlear Implants | 4 Comments
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Read this aloud and your inner ear, by itself, will be carrying out at least the equivalent of a billion floating-point operations per second, about the workload of a typical game console. The inner ear together with the brain can distinguish sounds that have intensities ranging over 120 decibels, from the roar of a jet engine to the rustle of a leaf, and it can pick out one conversation from among dozens in a crowded room. It is a feat no artificial system comes close to matching.

But what’s truly amazing is the neural system’s efficiency. Consuming about 50 watts, that game console throws off enough heat to bake a cookie, whereas the inner ear uses just 14 microwatts and could run for 15 years on one AA battery. If engineers could borrow nature’s tricks, maybe they could build faster, better, and smaller devices that don’t literally burn holes in our pockets. The idea, called neuromorphic engineering, has been around for 20 years, and its first fruits are finally approaching the market.

The likely first application is bionics–the use of devices implanted into the nervous system to help the deaf, blind, paralyzed, and others. There are two reasons for this choice: the biological inspiration crosses over to the application, and the premium on energy efficiency is particularly important.

Bionic ears are a case in point. Today’s device, called a cochlear implant, consists of an implanted electrode array; a bulky, power-hungry digital-signal processor worn outside the ear; and a wireless link that conveys data and power to the implanted electrodes. In the near future, these devices will be fully implanted inside the body so that deaf people will be indistinguishable from everyone else in both appearance and, we hope, ability to hear. In the past year, a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has completed work on a bionic-ear processor that does the job of the digital-signal processor, is small enough to be implanted, and could run on a 2-gram battery needing a wireless recharge only every two weeks [see illustration, “Mimicking the Ear“]. As the best batteries currently available can be recharged about 1000 times, this device is the first to permit 30-year operation without surgery to replace the battery.

Neuromorphic engineering and, more generally, biologically inspired electronics are still in their infancy, but practitioners have already accomplished amazing things. These include the attempt to understand biological systems, such as the retina of the human eye and the sonar systems of bats, by modeling them in microchips. Some of the lessons learned have been turned to practical purposes–for instance, applying the principles of vision in the housefly to the control of robotic motion and designing radio-frequency spectrum analyzers that mimic the architecture of the human inner ear. Some devices now measure oxygen saturation in the blood with sensors and processors inspired by the photoreceptors in our eyes; others employ pattern-recognition circuits that rely on the mix of analog and digital features found in the brain.

One of biology’s big power-saving secrets is that it relies on the physics of special-purpose structures, such as ears and eyes, to do a lot of analog computing. Ears, for example, are complex structures that by their inherent physics alone perform filtering, frequency-spectrum analysis, and signal compression–all before the signals are transmitted to the brain. Many of the initial insights into biology’s computing efficiency originated with Carver Mead, professor emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena–the founding father of neuromorphic engineering.

But ears, eyes, and even individual brain cells also have a digital aspect. Brain cells, or neurons, can be viewed as special-purpose analog-to-digital converters. They recognize particular patterns of voltage inputs from other neurons, integrate these signals in an analog manner, and then output a digital-like signal, a voltage spike (1) or its absence (0). Output spikes from one neuron act as inputs to the next neuron. And this simple process, amplified and repeated by billions of interconnected neurons, leads to movement, hearing, thought, and everything else under our brain’s control.

Analog devices in the ear, such as the eardrum and the cochlea, process sound. The ear then digitizes the processed sound signal by encoding it as spikes of voltage that travel down the auditory nerve to the brain, which interprets the spikes to distinguish a jazz tune from an oncoming train or a whisper. Because the ear has already done a great deal of analog computation on the sound, the information it provides the brain is more compact and far better suited than raw sound to human tasks, such as understanding what a child is whispering in a crowded movie theater. This scheme of low-power analog processing followed by digitization is one of the most important lessons biology has to teach designers of electronics.

Good things come to those who wait…..and wait…and wait

March 15, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Posted in BBC See Hear, Cochlear Implants | 7 Comments
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Quite a lot has happened since my last post and it has all been quite hectic.

Firstly……..I got the good news I wanted and have been given the go ahead for the operation.  Woopeee.  I go into hospital on the 12th May and have the operation on the 13th May and hopefully I will be back home on the 14th May.  Assuming everything goes well and I heal well I should be ‘switched on’ between 3 to 6 weeks later.  I can’t wait!!  Good timing for the world cup!! 😉

A lot of people I have been talking to about it are assuming I will come out of hospital and be able to hear again!!  Er, no!!  The op is to implant the device that will send the sound to my cochlear.  I still need to have the external processor ‘switched on’ to allow the clever stuff to happen.  Remember, I will always be deaf.  When I sleep at night and have a shower etc……..I will not be able to have the unit on so I will not be able to hear.  As long as the device works when I wear it I think I can cope with that!!! 🙂  If you want to have a listen to hear what I can hear at the moment then have a look at this link.  I showed it to my wife and she said; ‘they’re just mumbling……I cant work out anything they are saying!!’  Welcome to my world 🙂

 Example of  High Frequency Hearing Loss

On my return from the hospital I had a letter in the post from Access to Work allowing me a budget to improve the acoustics in my gym and therefore improve my ability to hear my clients.  Great news.  I honestly don’t think I could have kept my business going forward without their help.  If you work for someone then get your employer to contact them because they could help with all sorts of assistance in improving your ability to work.  Likewise if you are self employed contact them yourself ( I got my wife to phone) and they will assess you to see if you qualify for help.  You don’t know if you don’t ask!!

Next in my crazy world came my starring role on the BBC’s See Hear Programme.  I was kind of dreading this but they actually did a really good job.  If you missed it then have a look on the BBC iplayer.  My eldest daughter, Lucy, seems to want to get on camera as much as possible 🙂

Now I have to sit around (chance would be a fine thing!) and wait for my operation.  Two of my online CI buddies have just had their operations and I am really looking forward to their ‘switch on’.  As part of my research I wanted to be as prepared as possible and one of them sent me a link to an actual operation!!  So I watched it.  At the time I wished I hadn’t but now I have had time to take it all in I’m glad I know what exactly they will be doing to me.  Have a look if you want.  After the jump click on high resolution as it seems to play better.  Happy viewing.  Click here for the Implant Operation.

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