In the Waiting Room: 0 Minutes to Assimilation

My wife is in an operating room right now. Probably in the final stages of the procedure. Any moment now, a doctor will come to talk to me about how things went. Hopefully this will be extremely boring. Hospital excitement gets you sent to the ICU. We don’t want that.

We’re in a thoroughly modern hospital that has thoroughly embraced the cell phone. There is a phone in the surgery waiting room, in case you don’t have one. There’s maybe one person who doesn’t.

I’ve already gotten one call from a nurse. They call you once the procedure is underway, to let you know that everything is going okay. It’s nice, though at the same time I couldn’t help but think “Why are you talking to me? Get back to work!” I suppose it helps people worry less.

This is one place where I don’t mind that everyone is on their laptops or on their phones. They’re doing what I’m doing, keeping everybody updated. I remember how this worked when I was younger and my sister was in the hospital a lot. Waiting for my mother to call, because we didn’t have any way to call her. Theoretically, you could call the hospital and maybe someone could find her, but that was for emergencies. She’d have to leave my sick sister’s hospital room, go find a phone and call my dad. He’d call everyone who needed updates.

Now I’ve got my cell phone ready to go with a “surgery updates” list. I can text blast the whole family, for all that there’s not much news. On top of that, there’s a wifi network and I can update this.

This is definitely a hospital used to doing CI. They offered a sign interpreter, asked if they needed to write notes. Every single person has asked if she’s reading their lips, and are they enunciating okay, and is there a particular person among them who enunciates better and should tell her things. The head nurse promised to take off her surgery mask when she needed to tell my wife things, which is about the most useful thing for lip reading ever.

The only exception has been the lady at check-in, who was trying to be nice and quiet and private, even while she was reading the file that said we were here for C.I. Here’s a clue: if someone is getting a cochlear implant, THEY CAN’T HERE YOU. Talking quietly is polite, but not useful. Plus, that was the first time someone asked the same bunch of questions. It got easier by the fifth time. My wife knew all the answers.

You can spot the people going into surgery. They’re all wearing pajama pants. We followed a guy with hearing aid up the elevator, and wondered if he was here for CI, too.

This hospital has my favorite modern hospital innovation: the colorful linoleum lines. Follow the purple line and you’ll get to the surgery waiting room! Beats trying to follow the labyrinth of arrows.

Unlike the last surgery, I remembered my hospital 101 training and brought breakfast with me. The amount of glares my cold pizza received makes me think that not everyone has remembered. People are getting muffins from somewhere, so there’s food some place.

Now there’s nothing to do but wait for someone to come in and tell me they’re done. And then to wait until someone says she’s come out of it. And then to wait until the anesthesia has worn off enough that they’ll let us leave.

Here’s hoping to an uneventful day.

Update: Electrode all the way in and tests as fully functional. Now to wait an hour or so for my wife to become sort of conscious. Also: Woo!

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Messages from the Future: 2 Days to Assimilation

There’s a box from The Future sitting in our dining room.

On it are the words “Advanced Bionics”. The kind of company name you would expect to see in a William Gibson novel. Bland, kind of innocuous, obviously going to be responsible for turning you into a badass cyborg.

We picked it up from the doctor’s office on Monday, during the pre-cybernetic implantation appointment. There, they told us about possible side effects of the procedure. What kind of headaches were normal. What kind meant you should call the doctor now. What kind meant the implant had malfunctions and signalled your brain to kill all the meat humans.

Not so much the last one. At least not that they’ll admit. And even if my wife did become homicidal, they’re not giving her super-strength, or super-speed, or chain-guns in her arms. She’s not even supposed to lift the cat for a month after implantation.

What my wife is getting: a cybernetic implant to give her enhanced hearing (by her standards) with a range of situational modular add-ons.

The case of add-ons is so large that she’s not supposed to lift it for as long as she can’t lift the cat. It contains only the water-proof processor (or, as Deux Ex would say: the Neptune Device) and its accessories. The behind-the-ear processor (Stealth Mode) will come later, because Advanced Bionics is coming out with a smaller, sleeker, version soon. Not nanite based yet. Maybe the next version.

The suitcase of add-ons is for the Neptune Device alone. Sadly, there’s no long-distance hearing, or recording devices. But if this were an RPG, I would brag about character model options, about how many hundreds of color schemes and outfits you could unlock for your cyborg. You would pay extra for special color schemes beyond the base five. In fact, this is the case.

Once you select the correct module for the situation (Is this a water level? What dress sphere are you using?) the external processer transmits data directly to your brain via magnet. I can’t decide if this would get you rejected by jugallos or make you their god.

If you’d rather, you can synch the processor to bluetooth. Put another way: you can set up your phone to wirelessly beam sound to a magnet that will transmit it electronically DIRECTLY INTO YOUR BRAIN.

Or at least that’s how it will work when we’re done.

For now, the box sits in our dining room, full of electronics we’re not allowed to open. Because Advanced Bionics, as the evil mega-corp they obviously are, won’t take it back if you open it at home. It has to be opened by certified specialists, who surely aren’t planning on getting you hooked on “hearing”, to control your processor so only they can give you your “hearing” fix, making you a slave to Advanced Bionics. Just like that light on the processor, the one that indicates “power”, surely won’t switch from green to red when they activate the over-ride and send my cyborg wife on the aforementioned spree to kill all meat humans.

That probably won’t happen. So I’m just going to say it one more time: modular cybernetic enhancements.

The future called. It says I told you so.

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Preperation Time: 16 Days to Assimilation

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.

  1. Younger is better: young brains are more adaptable. We’re not dealing with age-related hearing loss here, so that’s a good sign.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Practice Run: Sinus Surgery

As some of you may remember, part of getting cochlear implants has turned out to be getting sinus surgery done first. Because getting that done now means not accidently shorting out some hardware later. Woo!

We’ve also been looking at it as a kind of practice run for the big surgery in three weeks.

This is kind of handy because, happily, my wife hasn’t had a whole lot of surgeries. Before today, in the time we’ve been together, we’ve had two surgeries between the two of us. Both of those were mine. Both hernia surgeries.

The curious result of this is that I found myself taking my wife to a surgery center that I’ve been to twice, and realizing I’ve never really been conscious there for more than ten minutes.

It’s a different experience, being on the other side of the doors. For all that my family has a long and colorful medical history, I’ve never been the one to wait for someone to be out of surgery. So that’s new.

But the worst part was last night.

See, I have what you might call an overactive imagination. I once saw an internet list of why dating a writer was horrible. One is that writer’s jump straight to the most interesting possible outcomes of things. Fun Fact: Most Interesting is almost always bad.

Skin rash? Could be leprosy. Headache? Probably dying of brain cancer. Someone running five minutes late? Car crashed, dead in a ditch.

It’s not a terribly serious pursuit for me. It’s more of a game that, in the end, makes you appreciate the little good things more. (“You didn’t die of leprosy! Hurray!”)

When it’s me going into surgery, it’s not too bad. Sure, I’ll fixate on the fact that there’s some slight chance that I could bleed out and die.  But I’ll come to the conclusion that I’ve had a pretty good life, and maybe today is, in fact, a good day to die.

My wife dying, on the other hand, is the Great Unfathomable Bad Thing.

Well, unfathomable until I try to sleep, and my brain keeps reminding me that possible side effects include something slipping and jamming upwards into my wife’s brain. I find myself pondering things I learned in Middle School, about how Egyptians used to pull out the brain by yanking it down through a person’s nostrils, and I wonder how if they could have embalmed a woman with a nostril you couldn’t stick a toothpick up.

On the plus side, this had the effect that this morning I was so exhausted that I couldn’t ponder that anymore. That and, strangely, the surgery center seemed very soothing. I could look at the medical equipment in my wife’s room, and realize that I have used every peace of equipment there. (Seriously. Colorful medical history.)

And then there was a lot of waiting.

And then Erin somewhat came up from her drugged out haze, and I had something else to do for a while. She could hardly move her lips enough to say “Juice,” so I sat with her and periodically got her some juice. Because it’s nice to feel useful.

So now she’s passed out on the couch, sleeping off the last of the anesthesia, and I have time to write this.

Everything that I’ve learned from this experience boils down to two things. 1) Take sleepy making drugs the night before. I’ll need them. And 2) EAT GOD DAMN BREAKFAST. Because otherwise I will be tired, hungry, and still won’t get to eat until everything else is finished.

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The “Why Now?” Post

My wife’s hearing has been bad for as long as I’ve known her. When we first met, we spent long nights up altogether too late chatting about the joys of long rounds of medical tests with no resolution and no answers. My family has a long history of that. Not for hearing, but it all sounded familiar.

As to cochlear implants, they’ve been around for quite a while. They haven’t been as good as they are now, but they’ve been around.

So why now? Why not twenty years ago?

The answer is complicated. As in, I haven’t been updating because I’ve been trying to find a way to make this post not a thousand pages.

Tonight, I think my wife put it about as simply as it can be. When you’re deaf, you don’t look disabled. You’re not in a wheelchair. Your face has normal proportions. People don’t treat you like a disabled person (or differently abled, or special needs, or whatever form of politically correct terminology you’d like), they treat you like a person.

Maybe like a dumb person, sometimes. Because how did you miss the clearly spoken instructions, or why did you make a comment about squid in the middle of a conversation about llamas, or why are you so mean that you didn’t say hello when I yelled at you? Especially if, like my wife, you’re ninja-good at lip reading. Like good enough to fool audiologists. So good people have been to our house every week for 3 months before they work she’s deaf, and not just kind of dense.

So my wife adapted. She acted like her hearing was much better than it was. And she was so convincing that, for the most part, it was easy to run with it and forget how deaf she really was.

At least until we were driving in a car at night, and she informed me that she couldn’t see me, so I needed to stop talking.

So what changed?

Well, first she lost her job.

Since my wife had been at that job, her hearing had gotten quite a bit worse. Enough worse that she couldn’t get a job, unless it’s a really crappy one. Because every job, at some point, wants you to talk to a customer on the phone. And sure, there’s the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that seems to apply more to the photogenically disabled, the guy in the wheelchair who you look at and say “Hey, that guy’s disabled! Good job installing that wheelchair ramp, guys!”

So, unable to get a job, she started a business. A retail business. Where she has to talk to customers all day.

And that experience has been, I think, an awakening. It has infused confusing conversations with the horrible joy of capitalism. Confusion costs money, her money. If she can’t understand the question, she can’t sell you things. If she can’t sell you things, her business won’t go.

If her business doesn’t go, we have to pay back the money she borrowed ourselves.

You know, no pressure.

And yeah, it helps that technology has come a long way. It helps that I’ve changed jobs, and now my benefits are excellent. But mostly, what has changed is my wife’s horrifying, sinking realization that she is really, really deaf.

Which has been a terribly sad thing to see. But I suppose it’s one of those things where things have to get bad enough before you can do something about them. Which means that optimism has to take a break, at least for a while.

And that’s where we are. In an optimism lull. We’re optimistic about the cybernetic enhancement. But we’re not really that optimistic about the how quick the end result will come.

Maybe that’s not such a bad place to be.

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Living With Living With Subtitles – A Pre-Cochlear Rant

Most people don’t really think about subtitles. To most people, things without subtitles are kind of “What’s the big deal? So you can’t watch a few movies and TV shows. It doesn’t matter that much.” And a decade ago, I would have agreed with you.

But think, for a moment, about how our culture is organized. Think about how big of a deal the Oscars are. How many magazines celebrate actors. How much of our shared cultural experience comes in the form of shared movies and TV shows.

To get an idea of the subtitle experience, try the following:

Imagine that of all the TV shows and movies you’d like to see, all the shows that your friends have told you are amazing and that you’d like to get from Netflix, either streaming or DVD. Make a list.

Okay, now remove anything Disney. That includes Pixar. Cross them off. Because Disney has decided that subtitles only belong on their super-deluxe editions, which Netflix doesn’t get. (Fun Fact: There is a special library format that has no special features except subtitles, because librarians went to fucking war. Go Mom. But Netflix doesn’t get those.)

Now flip a coin for everything left. Heads, Netflix says it has subtitles. Tails, it doesn’t so you can’t watch it.

So now you have a list of things you think you can watch. But flip a coin again.

Heads, the subtitles are perfect. You’re probably watching How I Met Your Mother or 30 Rock.

Tails, subtitles kind of work, mostly, maybe. No Reservations is subtitled for exactly one episode. Every ongoing plot episode of Bones doesn’t have subtitles. The first 7 seasons of Top Gear lacks subtitles. Every other episode of That 70s Show only displays ever other line of subtitles. A DVD has closed captions rather than subtitles, which aren’t supported by HDMI cables (because, heck, nothing uses those any more, right?).

Are you beginning to get the idea?

This morning I went through our Netflix queue and removed everything that didn’t have subtitles. In the past, I’ve though “Oh come on. It doesn’t list them, but it has to have subtitles!” I’ve been disappointed every time.

Of the 52 DVDs on our queue at the beginning, we now have 20. So that half number? It’s a little low.

And if you’re thinking “It can’t be as random as a coin flip!”, consider this:

Dexter, kind of major show on cable, has no subtitles. Orgasmo, a movie made by Trey Parker for no money, has subtitles. Gone Baby Gone, nominated for an Oscar and responsible for reviving Affleck’s career, has no subtitles. Machete Maidens: Unleashed, a low-budget documentary about women who stared in grindhouse films, has subtitles. Leverage? No. Game of Thrones? Subtitled in English, Spanish, French, Korean, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Thai.

At the very least, looking forward to CI has changed one conversation. It’s no longer “Maybe some day it will have subtitles.” Now it can be “Maybe we can try this again once you’ve gotten used to your CI…”

It’s not a lot, but it helps.

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We are.

Insurance has been convinced that my wife is, really, truly, sufficiently deaf. February 5th, my wife will become a cyborg. Two weeks after that, they will activate her first implant, and begin the process of adapting to hearing through SCIENCE!

But first, she’s getting surgery to fix her septum. Because instead of getting super-senses for hearing loss, my wife got nostrils the side of toothpicks and a sense of smell so bad she asks me things like “Can you smell this box and tell me if the cat peed in it?”

And neat thing about the nose surgery: the easiest way to do it involves a device that can short out a cochlear implant.

On the plus side, that makes this the year I get my wife implants and a nose job. A fact which amuses me more than it probably should.

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