Part of the fun of CI is not having the slightest idea how recovery is going to go.
There’s the “Will my wife be stuck no the couch with crushing dizziness for a a month?” question, of course. But even once we make it past the initial effect of the surgery, there’s the question of how long it will take before the world stops sounding like R2D2, Mickey Mouse, or Darth Vader.
See, once the implant is in and activated, my wife will need to train her brain to make sound out of electrical signals coming from a microphone stuck to her head. (Fun Fact: You can seriously retrain your brain to make sound of electrical signals coming from a microphone stuck to your head. Which is pretty freaking awesome.) How long it will take to make that adaptation is an open question, but we have a couple of guidelines, based on conversations my wife has had with various people who have had this done.
- Younger is better: young brains are more adaptable. We’re not dealing with age-related hearing loss here, so that’s a good sign.
- Sudden hearing loss is better: If you’ve lost your hearing all at once, your brain still knows how to hear sound, and just has to learn to hear sounds from a different input. My wife has been losing her hearing since she was five. Less good there.
- The better you can read lips, the worse it will be: Your brain uses lots of oxygen and energy. If a part isn’t getting used (by way of, say, not getting any useful input from the ears), your brain will convert it into something useful (like, say, lip-reading). The more complete this process is, the longer it will take to reverse. My wife reads lips like a ninja. So… crap.
All in all, we’re probably not looking for an instant recovery sort of thing. Hopefully, we’re not looking at the far end of the spectrum, either, which is where it takes two years not to sound like “beep beep boop.”
To help in the process, we’ve begun the process of assembling recovery aids, ranging from the standard to the “stuff we’ve thought up and we’ll see if it works.” Things we’re trying include
- iPhone apps: Apparently the best stuff is being produced for apple products that we don’t own. Luckily, my brother has an old iPhone that he’s upgraded out of, and it runs them fine. These have neat exercises like “listen to this sentence,” followed by “listen to this sentence with crowd noise.”
- Linguistic Research Conversations: I have a friend with a masters in linguistics. One of the things that he came out of school with is a large pile of anonymous phone conversations with transcripts. The theory is that these are more normal conversations: people interrupting each other, talking over each other, all the things that actual people do in real life. So we’ll see if that helps.
- Audiobooks: This is the biggest, most standard recovery tool: Listen to an audiobook while you read along. We’re doing that, plus something a little different. My wife was talking to someone online who said that sound came together when she started hanging out with someone who sounded like one of the audiobook readers. So I figured why not skip the middle man? Which is why we’re currently working on recording as many audiobooks as we can, read by a whole bunch of people that we know. In the hopes that things will go easier if she’s re-learning to hear by listening to people she’ll hear anyway.
Of course, the question here is: will any of this help? We don’t really know, but it gives me something to do other than sit around and wait for the surgery to happen. And that’s nice.
Either way, I’ll report back on what works or doesn’t once we know.