Archive for March, 2011

Inventors Wanted

If you had a chance to read my last blog, you know that I’m traveling to the nation of Albania this week on a humanitarian aid trip. What you don’t know is that I’ve had a pretty interesting trip so far.

I don’t know why, but I keep thinking that, now that I’m pretty well adjusted to my Cochlear Implant, I won’t really find much that surprises me. Don’t ask me where I get that.

My husband, myself, and my father-in-law departed by plane from DFW airport at about ten thirty this morning. As we were sitting in the plane. Preparing for takeoff, the flight attendants pull out their nifty little safety guides and some lady begins the safety speech over the plane’s PA system. It surprised me that I understood every word of that! It almost made me want to pull out my own little safety manual on front of me to follow along. Almost.

When we landed here in JFK, I kept trying to understand the PA system for the entire airport terminal, bit alas, there are some limits to my hearing comprehension thus far. It’s has such a bad echo to it that I’m just not used to hearing. All in good time, I tell myself. I will try again on the return trip.

Now, you may wonder what I did during my spare time on the flight to JFK, so let me tell you.

I shopped.

Have you ever shopped in the SkyMall magazines aboard an airplane? Let me show you what I found.

Who doesn’t have a pair of these? I wear flip-flops pretty often in Texas, but I doubt there’s much that could entice me to put these on. Maybe if I had a toe fungus. Or maybe not.

This is nearly guaranteed to, and I quote, “Get your confidence back.” If your hairline is receding, I think you might look better just borrowing Mr. Trump’s hairpiece than this. Just sayin’.

Bottom line?

SkyMall. Now hiring inventors.

My next adventure.

I’m leaving soon.

And traveling to Albania.

I tell myself that I’ve been watching all the Masterpiece Theater versions of Jane Austen’s classics to get used to understanding people with strong accents. Really I’m just a sucker for 18th century everything. But I really am hoping that, because I can watch those movies without subtitles, I will be able to understand the conversations with our Albanian friends.

Why am I going to Albania?

These are the streets of Elbasan, Albania.

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According to the U.S. Department of State, Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe with it’s average yearly income a mere $4,070 in 2009. With an official unemployment rate of 13.9%, many are forced to seek jobs in nearby countries in order to send money home to support their families.

The reason my husband and I are going is to check on the current status of our Mission Base in Albania, which helps numerous children and families across the country. My husband is pastor of Ovation Church, and we’re so thankful to be able to, through the church, send monthly financial support to help so many in this nation. When we go next week, we will take lots of pictures, which enable us to show the many families here in the U.S. how their generous giving is affecting so many lives.

Our history?

My husband’s great grandfather immigrated from Albania many many years ago. My husband’s late mother had a vision to help the nation of her grandfather, and just four days after the fall of communism in Albania in 1991, her and my husband’s father traveled to Albania and began a humanitarian work in the war torn country. Tons of food and clothing have been shipped and distributed over the years, and it all continues to this day, nearly 30 years later.

My husband and I have sacrificed our yearly vacation (to the usual beach destination) for a trip to Albania. Although he goes every year, it’s been almost sixteen years since I’ve been. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. I’m so ecstatic about seeing the local family that has run the Mission Base all these years, and to see all of the people we are able to help. It’s amazing to be able to help someone so far away, and something completely more to be able to experience it. Especially in a place like Albania.

Here are just a few of the faces of people that we’ve been able to help.

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My great hope is that I’m not completely lost to the language. It’s amazing to be able to comprehend more and more speech here at home, but I can imagine the challenges ahead as I attempt to understand individuals with very strong accents.

I’m hoping to be able to squeeze in a few posts while I’m away, keeping you updated on my progress, and giving little snippets of my trip.

Until then, if you’d like to give to our work in Albania, you can click here. All donations are tax deductible, and they go directly to our humanitarian work in Albania.

Not so long ago…

After getting out of bed the other morning, I quickly donned some clothes and sat down to check my facebook before having to make the kids’ breakfast.

My husband was getting ready for work, and he walks up to my chair and stops. I turned to look up at him, and he’s eying me expectantly. Did he say something?

“What?” I asked.

Blah blah blah.

“Huh?” I say, scrunching my nose and clearly puzzled at what he just said.

He sighs, obviously frustrated and then proceeds to motion at his ear, and I catch something like, “Do you have your processor on?”

“Uh, no.” I say.

He sighs again, which I can’t hear obviously, but his body language is clearly one of a frustrated individual. I give him a smile and tell him I forgot to put it on a second ago. He nods, and walks off, and I almost fall into a fit of laughter.

It’s funny. Heartwarming. And so hard to believe that it was just a few short weeks ago that this was what our life was like. Constantly.

I know a little sign language, and I’ve tried to teach him a few signs, but when he kept getting the “A” and “S” letters mixed up, despite how many times I showed him, I finally just gave up. We were destined to just survive, albeit how hard it was, and wait for technology to annihilate our communication barriers.

It’s in these little moments that I realize how completely different it is now.

Have I said how much I love my husband? I can’t imagine what it was like for him to experience this past decade with me. But he did. And he’s still here, something which I’m always grateful for.

Processor Features

Today marks Day 22 post-activation of my Cochlear Implant.

One thing I’ve learned over the past week is that I love the sound of birds. I heard them for the first time on Day 9, but for a few days after, I never noticed them. I assume it just takes time for my brain to “click”, but it did finally. Every time I walk out my front door, birds chirping is the first sound I notice. I haven’t picked up leaves swaying in the wind, or airplanes passing overhead, but the birds have become distinct.

And did I say I smile? It’s weird how I walk out my door, hear the loud high-pitched singing, and as soon as I realize what I’ve heard, I just can’t stop from smiling. It’s often these days that I go through half a day, or even a full day without rendering the fact that I can hear now. It’s easy how something becomes so constant so fast. But those birds? They remind me that even though my hearing is long lost, I’ve been given the gift of hearing once more, through this remarkable technological device. They remind me to be forever thankful.

Last week I had my second mapping. Mapping being adjustments of the sounds/pitches that I hear with my processor.

Just like during my activation, or first mapping, I spent part of my audiologist appointment listening to each pitch as she sent them through her computer to my processor, and I determined how loud it needed to be to comfortably hear it. This time, I was able to bring up the volume on the lower pitches, and I think my audiologist also slightly brought down the volume of the higher pitches. I’ve been much happier with the result, and I find that everything has a better fullness of sound.

This time around I was also given the features on my remote for the processor. Before, all I had were four programs on my remote, each with different volume settings. But now I have four different programs that each include a feature.

Feature #1 is “Everyday.” This is what I had with the volumes. It’s complete surround sound, with everything being the same level of volume. From the dishes clattering behind me, or the person talking in front of me, everything sounds the same. I use this program at home constantly. My kids were outside a few moments ago, and when my daughter started to cry because they bumped heads on the trampoline, I heard it clear enough (even with my typing noise) that I was able to go outside to get her. Have I said how much I love that I can hear the kids now?

Feature #2 is “Noise.” This one is supposed to suppress the noise around me, while still being able to hear somewhat surround sound, but I can’t really tell much difference. My mom and I were sitting in the hospital waiting room last week and there was so much noise around us (i.e. TV, kids, people on cell phones, intercom, etc) and I couldn’t tell that it helped me converse with her any more than the Everyday feature. So I can’t say that I’ve used this one. At all.

Feature #3 is “Focus.” This one I definitely use. I had originally thought that this one would mute a lot of background noise and focus in front, but that’s not really the case. It very very minutely suppresses the sounds behind me, but more than anything, I find that it brings out a person’s speech if they are in front or on my processor side. I don’t really know how to explain it. More than muting anything, it’s like it brightens a person speaking, making it easier to understand them amidst noise. Obviously I use this one anytime I’m out and around adult company. If my kids are with me, I usually stick to Everyday, so that I can hear them no matter where they are. But with adults, and in restaurants, I want to be able to pick out speech of a particular person or persons.

Feature #4 is “Music.” Now I’d love to say that I’ve used this and give some sort of educated advice, but I just haven’t had the opportunity to use it yet. One day soon. My days certainly won’t slow down over the weekend, but hopefully I’ll be able to blog about it in the near future. I love music, so I’m excited about testing the same songs with this new feature, to see if it makes instruments and additional vocalists clearer.

Today I end with a story.

I was at my local grocery store yesterday afternoon and was walking away from the cashier, having already finished paying. I’d walked a good twenty feet or more when I heard someone calling out behind me. It took them about three times before it actually “clicked” as to what I was hearing, but I stopped and turned. Then I backed up a little before the cashier caught up with me and handed me a bag of groceries that I hadn’t seen. I was embarrassed, sure. But I was actually smiling when I walked away, because when I looked at her face, she was smiling at me. She’d known that I just hadn’t seen them.

Can I tell you in words how different this experience is? I’ve certainly had this happen to me before. When I couldn’t hear. But months ago, when it happened before, I had walked from the store with a tear streaked face, hating that I hadn’t heard a cashier. She had had to completely run me down and touch my arm to get my attention. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the look from the cashier today wasn’t a I’m-so-frustrated-because-you-never-heard-me-call-you-ten-times-until-I-caught-you look, like the lady had given me a few months ago. Hers yesterday afternoon was a smile, mixed with a oh-you-forgot-your-groceries look. Big difference people. Big difference.

Days 11-14

Over the past two weeks, I’ve kept a written journal to keep track of my milestones each day until I have a chance to detail them here. As I said in my last blog, the milestones are further between.

Days 11-14 post-activation of my Cochlear Implant kind of ran together in a giant mush. I was so busy I hardly had time to breathe, and you don’t even want to know what my house looked like when the whirlwind of activity slowed down.

I feel like my biggest milestone for those days was that I finally increased my volume. This may seem like a minute detail, but I was very happy to see that the headaches had not returned and for the first time since Day 5, I could finally begin progress again. I needed volume. It was like listening to the television slightly too low, forcing you to concentrate a little harder than you might have to if it was turned up a notch or two. Bringing the volume up gradually over the course of Days 11-14, I noticed that I concentrated less on what people were saying.

Milestones?

Sitting in a restaurant with my husband and kids and finally being able to converse with my husband.

Volunteering at a ginormous children’s clothing consignment sale, that’s in a large convention hall, and conversing with other volunteers without problems.

Not having to tell every single person that I talk to that I can’t hear.

Not having to tell anyone in the course of Days 11-14 that I have a hearing problem.

Milestones? Heck yeah!

Day 10: Conversations with children. They don’t stop.

Day 10 post-activation has only a little to report. I’ve found that I’m adjusting more and more to the sounds around me, but I don’t have those big milestones of the first few days. Don’t think I’m complaining. I’m grateful for those overwhelming first sensations of hearing, but I’m also glad that my day to day life is returning to a somewhat normal state of being. It’s exhausting to be so emotionally involved in something like this, so I’ve welcomed the slow in pace.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my kids talk nonstop in the car. When I first had my activation, the kids didn’t really talk so much to me. They’d ask me a question now and then, but they didn’t just get engrossed with conversation. But now? I may not understand everything they say behind me while I’m driving, but somewhere between Day 1 and Day 10, the kids learned they can ask me anything at any point in time that I’m driving down the street or the highway.

Since about Day 3, my daughter has known that all she has to do is call my name and I’ll understand that she wants me. My son took a bit longer. Even now, he will often hit an object loudly in order to get my attention. He’ll understand eventually, and I know that he’s been accustomed to my hearing loss for much longer than my daughter. But I think it’s so wonderful to be able to hear my little girl just call Mommy and I can turn to see what she wants.

I never heard either of my children’s first words. Nor their first full sentences. Often I’d be at my mom’s house and she’d tell me all the funny things my kids would say while I was there. I laughed. But I also cried. I missed all of their toddler years of talking, and for so long I felt I was robbed of so many memories that other parents get with their children.

I don’t feel that anymore.

I know it’s still true, that I didn’t really hear either of those first few years of learning to talk, but I can honestly say that it doesn’t bother me anymore. I no longer mourn all these things that would pass me by, that I missed. I now celebrate every day with all the amusing conversations that I have with my kids. I’m eternally grateful for every day with these two munchkins that I’ve been blessed with, no matter what point in our lives that we are now.

In the quiet of the evening one night, my husband told me I’m glad you’re happy again. And it’s true. I’m genuinely happy again.

Day 9 – From the mouth of babes

I’ve been brutally absent here these last few days, partially because of being so busy, and also because someone close to me had been in the hospital. I’m so incredibly glad to say that the said person is making a full recovery. Having a loved one in the hospital reminds me that life is so precious, and we must remember not to take our relationships for granted.

On to Day 9 post-activation of my Cochlear Implant.

By Day 5, I had increased the volume on my processor so much, that I had begun getting headaches. By the end of that day, I had to pull my volume down a whole lot. I was discouraged to go backward in volume, because I felt as though I really needed it. It was really helping me understand so much better, but apparently my brain just couldn’t take in so many sounds at once. And even though I had pulled down the volume, I continued to have headaches daily.

Day 9 was the first day that I didn’t wake up with a headache. I was happy, to say the least, but I was still cautious. I left my volume level at Program 2, where I had brought it down to on Day 5, and enjoyed the day headache-free.

I did a yoga workout sometime mid-morning and while the tinnitus did return while doing the workout, it faded and stopped shortly after finishing. I think it is interesting that the tinnitus that I’m experiencing is obviously related to my physical activity. I have done my very best to keep any “workouts” at this point to very minimum exertion. I’ve been told through use of an online forum that activity equivalent to a 30-45 minute walk is recommended, but anything beyond that is frowned upon for quite some time. I’ve certainly kept that advice in mind anytime that I am exercising.

Later on in the day, I sat on the floor in my son and daughter’s room, waiting until they fell asleep for naps before leaving the room. My son had fallen asleep for about 15-20mins, but because my daughter was shaking their bunk bed when tossing and turning, she woke my son up before she fell asleep herself. After I was sure she was asleep, I whispered to my son, who was on the top bunk of the bed, and told him he could get down and play.

The whisper was odd. In the last few years, I’ve come to find that I couldn’t hear my voice much anymore. Even with a hearing aid in, it was always very hard to determine how loud I was talking, which was usually too loud. It was always easy to accidentally talk to loud, because that’s when I could actually hear myself speaking. But whispering? If I had tried that, I’d probably be either not actually making a noise, or not even whispering and just plain talking instead. Judging the sound of my voice, or loudness, had become impossible.

So it was fun to know that I could whisper to my son. He whispered back to me, and guess what? I heard it! We whispered back and forth to each other several times before he finally got down from the bed and we quietly left to a different room.

Remember playing telephone as a kid? I certainly remember playing, but I always sucked at it. I know that as a very young child in private school, I had hearing tests that proved I heard normally, but I wonder sometimes if my hearing started declining earlier than my late teens. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had unknowingly lost some by the time I was first entering my teen years.

Let’s just say that it had been a very long time since I’d been privy to a whispering conversation. Stuff like that makes me feel like a kid again. Enjoying those little things. They aren’t important really, but they just bring a spark to my life, enabling me to clearly see how fortunate I am.

Later in the day I took the kids with me to the store, and as we exited, we saw an enormous flock of birds overhead. I don’t know why it happens, but these black birds often choose my local grocery parking lot to congregate. I don’t mean a few hundred birds. I bet there are well over a thousand that cover the lot frequently. A car drove through the back of the parking lot about the time we exited the building, and all those black birds flew into the air, flapping their wings and chirping a million chirps.

I heard it too. I heard the flutter of so many pairs of wings and their high pitched voices as they filled the air. Try as I might, I can’t even remember the last time I heard a bird. It’s been so long that it’s simply just faded from my memory. But I heard them that day.

I don’t typically hear birds chirping, even now several days later, and I know it’s just because I automatically tune most everything out. Sounds are so overwhelming right now, and because I can’t differentiate between a lot of things, I get a constant static background noise with most everything I hear. Gradually my mind will start picking out different things and they’ll pull apart from the static. So it was fun hearing the birds as they drifted from the background of noise to the forefront into recognizable sounds.

I will leave here with a conversation from my kids. I converse with them more and more these days, and I laugh at what they say more than I ever have. Most people know that kids say funny things. But this mother is just now learning that.

Me: [Girl] please put your seatbelt on.
Son: If a Cop saw her with no seatbelt on, he would try and catch us and give us a ticket.
Me: Umm.. yes.. But more importantly, if she didn’t have her seatbelt on and I had an accident, she might fall out of her seat and hurt herself.
Son: And then an ambulance would come.
Me: Uhh, yeah I guess so.
Daughter: The ambulance would take you to the doctor’s office.
Me: Well, no, an ambulance takes you to the hospital. (thinking: how did this conversation get here?)