Monday, October 03, 2005

Fall, 2005, in Southern Europe

Our travels in southern Europe in the fall of 2005 to visit my brother will forever bring back some wonderful memories and a few CI recollections as well. Gerry and I traveled in a rather non-conventional way, crossing the Atlantic and hopping from country to country in military aircrafts as space permitted. This entailed a considerable amount of sitting in terminals waiting for flight announcements. We came back to the states via a cruise ship that was repositioning from the Meditteranean to a new season of service in North America.

I gave my CI quite a workout with a whole host of hearing environments in the five weeks we were away from home. The final "CI tally" had more on the plus side than the minus column. There were both surprising successes and some not-so-great acoustical encounters.

What I learned:

  • Understanding English when it is spoken with a heavy accent over a PA system is just too tall an order for this CIer. Only a word or two per sentence would come through, not enough to comprehend the total message. A hearing companion is such a blessing since military terminals have no visual message boards, and the personnel we encountered had no apparent training in communicating with the hearing impaired.

  • A cochlear implant can get knocked off accidentally by this same blessed spouse, which does make for a brief and terrifying moment of sheer panic! I could not hear my precious BTE hit that stone floor, but my eyes registered the potential catastrophe. Thank the Lord that glorious sound was restored as soon as my trembling hands re-connected the headpiece to my noggin'.

  • Italian architects know nothing about acoustics. Those beautiful tile floors, grand high ceilings and tall arches, winding marble staircases, and spacious atriums are visually appealing but an auditory nightmare for the hearing challenged. The absence of drapes and other sound-absorbing interior fabrics also contribute to the echo chamber effect. My brother lives in one of these Italian villas.

  • An infrared ALD was delivered to our stateroom on the first day of our cruise. I was so impressed and promptly deposited it in my pocket for use at the first night's entertainment. It never occurred to me to check to see if it had any batteries!

  • Arranging in advance for a stateroom TV with closed captioning does not guaranteed that there will be anything broadcasted that is closed captioned. The movies they televised, although current releases, were stored in the ship's computer bank without captioning. We could get CNN via the ship's satellite system, but no captioning.

  • Cruise directors are like so many other people. (How's that for a profound declaration!) They graciously receive the suggestion to lower the microphone slightly when addressing an assembled group of passengers so that those hearing impaired people in the audience can see their lips. I suppose they intend to do so, but old habits are hard to break.

  • What a thrill to be able to pick up the stateroom phone and understand the caller's words! Most hearing people just take that for granted.

    • Friday, August 05, 2005

      Summer Trips

      The bags are unpacked, the laundry’s done, and the accumulated mail is sorted and awaiting action. It’s a bit of a letdown that our summer trips are over, and the mundane routines of life at home have resumed. But what an adventure Gerry and I have shared, and now I’ll record some of the highlights.

      California: June 7-9

      In June, Gerry and I had a wonderful 3 days in southern California (my first time to see the LA area), the first leg of our week’s adventure. There were 16 of us volunteers in attendance at the home office of Advanced Bionics, coming from all over the USA and from Canada. The agenda for the 2 days of training was packed with presentations by senior managers, research directors, and training supervisors. Their goal was to equip us with knowledge: to understand the company's history, to increase our understanding of the implant technology, and to inform us of current research and future vision. We were provided with many resources to take home and were free to ask questions and to share our experiences with them and with each other. It was so exciting to meet the leadership and to see in action the company's commitment to service to the customer and of their pursuit of “best-in-class” technology.

      On the second day, we were given a marvelous tour of the manufacturing plant by the facility's Vice President. I was so awed by the privilege of seeing the complexity of the "miracle" in my head, of learning of the years of research to develop each component, and of observing the skill of so many hands in assembling the parts under high-powered microscopes in sterile rooms with specially designed instruments, high-tech machines, computers, and . . . . It was really an overwhelming 2 days, to say the least!

      Georgia: June 9-12

      We left California to fly to Georgia to begin Phase 2 of our trip. My parents met us in Atlanta, and Gerry took the wheel to drive us to the north Georgia mountains for the GPCIA (Georgia Peach Cochlear Implant Association) family weekend retreat. God graciously provided safety on the highways for my folks' journey from Orlando, and the trip northward on Friday seemed effortless since we had so much to share. We even missed our exit because we were too busy talking!

      Our task at the conference was to give 2 presentations during the workshop times and to interact during the "free" time and mealtimes with fellow CIers and those who had come to investigate/learn about implants. Following the keynote address Saturday morning by Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1995, we spoke on the topic, "We're in This Together: the Shared Journey of Hearing Loss and Restoration". Gerry and I wanted to alternate in our sharing, using a back-and-forth style as we shared both personal experiences and practical suggestions. Being unpracticed at this, we asked God for smoothness and ease, as well as a clear testimony of God's design for marriage. We jointly felt His empowering and the prayer support of family and friends! We were reminded afresh that God keeps His promises! I noticed that Mom and Dad were misty-eyed throughout our presentation!

      An interactive "rap" session was on the schedule following our talk in which we were to field questions and encourage the audience to share their reactions to what we had said. To think that I could actually hear people’s questions and could interact with individuals afterwards is nothing short of miraculous!

      Miami: July 13-14

      After a long, hot drive and a less-than-invigorating encounter with Miami’s afternoon gridlock traffic, we arrived at the Airport Hilton. The beautiful view of the surrounding lake and the distant downtown skyline from our 17th floor window immediately refreshed us.

      It was such a joy to share our story that evening with the attendees of the Advanced Bionics summer seminar. Back in our room, we critiqued our presentation and made many changes in the hopes of improving it for our next opportunity. I was too mentally stimulated to sleep soundly that night, which turned out to be a blessing as I was easily awakened by the glorious colors of the sunrise.

      New Orleans: July 27-28

      Flying Southwest Airlines to New Orleans was not one of the highlights of our trip to New Orleans. We didn't realize that we'd be at the end of the line for first-come-first-serve seating on a flight that originated from Hartford - - - ah, the stuff of which memories are made! After checking in at the Hyatt Regency and photographing our very urban view from the 26th floor, we decided we had time to walk to the river before our evening commitments. I'd never seen the mighty Mississippi and was eager to get a sense of this famous city of good food, old architecture, and jazz music. The way to see the city is on foot, but on a humid July afternoon it's also the way to become a pool of sweat!
      Our second summer seminar began with lots of informal conversations before the start of the official program. I think that it's the interesting people we are privileged to meet and the sharing of common struggles and triumphs that warms our hearts at Advanced Bionics events. One dear gentleman emailed me the next day and said, "It was so refreshing to see someone like you, who had experienced the pain, discomfort, embarrassment, etc., come out a winner with the implant . . . . You are one of the big reasons that I'm following through with this surgery. You've made it a lot easier for me . . . . Thanks for your positive attitude and prayers. I'm dedicating this surgery to the ADAMS!! " Now, I ask you, who needs any greater reward!

      Saturday, January 01, 2005


      My Heart will be Blessed
      with the Sound of Music

      Music --- for some, it's just that annoying sound piped into restaurants that interferes with conversation, or it's that incredibly loud racket that causes people and even cars to visibly gyrate at traffic lights. It may bring to mind the word diversity since music comes in many different styles and tastes: jazz, classical, sacred, country, R & B, folk, rock, etc. It is the language of the soul, a means of expression that has no equal.

      For me, the word music conjures up a great deal of emotion. As I was losing my hearing, I was also losing music with all its beauty and pleasure. Because understanding people's words, not the lyrics of a song, was crucial to maintaining a social and professional life, I tried to ignore the impact that the loss of melody was having on my quality of life. The cassette player was relegated to the back of the closet; the radio was turned off. The newspaper announcements or posted flyers about upcoming concerts were dismissed after only a quick glance and a deep sigh.

      But every Sunday when I'd ask my husband Gerry to "mouth" what the organist was playing during the prelude and the offertory, the grief would move closer to the surface. I grew up in a home where music was played almost every waking hour, and hymns were an especially meaningful part of my life. Gerry has a beautiful baritone voice, and he does a lot of solo work in church and elsewhere. My hearing, aided by the latest state-of-the-art hearing aids, had deteriorated so drastically that his voice had become almost painful to me, especially in a confined space like our car.

      I have one particularly personal and poignant memory during those dark days when my hearing aids no longer helped me to stay connected and I knew nothing of cochlear implants. Gerry had purchased the newly restored version of Disney's Fantasia and was so excited about the superb sound quality. I remarked casually, "Honey, I can't hear that at all." There was silence and when I glanced his way, he was crying. At that moment, I understood the pain that was his because of my loss and more importantly, the depth of his love for me.

      I knew before my surgery that a cochlear implant was, by design, intended for improving speech perception and that hearing/enjoying music was not a "given". I knew that some people were able, over time and with much practice, to enjoy music again, and that there were even some successful musicians with CI's. I also knew that many CIers didn't listen to music at all, because they couldn't follow the melody or couldn't "hear" it as music. So I went into the "adventure" with the perspective that getting music back in any degree would be a bonus, a blessing beyond expectation.

      For me, the first sounds after activation of my CI were very electronic. Gerry and I experimented with the piano keyboard during the first week, and discovered that there were certain points on the scale where notes went up instead of down (or vice versa), even though my eyes told me which way the pitch should be going. But, unlike with hearing aids, no pitch or loudness was painful, and no notes were silent. There were many tears of joy! The high frequencies were the most tantalizing, perhaps because they had been gone for so many years. Wind chimes, music boxes, birds . . . I was like a kid in a candy store, only it was a music box store at the nearby mall!

      With subsequent trips to the CI clinic for computer programming changes and as my brain adapted over time, there were fewer notes on the scale where pitch was "off". It was probably about 3 or 4 months down the road when CI sound began to lose its mechanical, electronic quality. At the same time that the "PA system"disappeared, Gerry began to sing on key again! Not a coincidence, I'm sure. I began to hear the melody lines again whenever the tune was a song I knew.

      After about a year of gradual improvement in the overall sound of music, I realized that most sopranos still did not quite get "up there" as they should. The piano keyboard continued to have a few wayward notes that refused to change pitch. I found certain instruments very beautiful and melodic (e.g., a pan flute, xylophone, handbells) almost immediately after activation, and others, like violins, to be scratchy, whiny, or just plain awful!

      At about my three-year anniversary, we attended a symphony concert, and I was overcome with emotion as I realized that I was actually hearing the instruments as they should be - - - distinct and resonant and melodic and beautiful . . . well, there were just no words to describe the experience! What my "ordinary" brain had accomplished was nothing short of miraculous. What a Creator!

      The final stanza from my favorite musical, The Sound of Music, will always and forever bring tears to my eyes:

      "I go to the hills when my heart is lonely. I know I will hear what I've heard before. My heart will be blessed with the sound of music. And I'll sing once more."