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The real meaning of Bi-lateral hearing

Even though my new cochlear implant is a long way from working at maximum, when I remove this implant for any reason (battery replacement, testing what I hear etc) I am now very conscious of not hearing on that side and my ear feels plugged up. I want it back on as quickly as possible.

Already I notice sounds coming from different sides as I move around the house or drive the car. I can clearly hear the sound of water running change from ear to ear when I move around the kitchen and the car indicator clicking changes from side to side as I look around to make sure the road is clear of traffic. Previously these sounds had diminished or disappeared entirely when I moved around.

Amazingly, not only can I tolerate the 100% increase in volume, I find my first implant is too soft Ė when I had previously thought it too loud. If I try listening with just my original implant I struggle in a way I didnít before. The sound is still 100% clear but it seems so soft and far away.

With two implants, listening seems natural. It is simply easier - something I do without trying though I thought I was doing that with one implant. I can move around and sound remains clear. I donít have to position myself in front of the radio to understand. I can move further away, clatter dishes, open the fridge or cook and still understand. Sounds become localised so being bi-lateral has added a new dimension that I have been missing for decades.

Background noise is easier to tolerate. Despite the doubling in input, or perhaps because of it, my brain puts the two directional sound together, recognises the sounds I donít need and better filters them out. Where once I had to turn my processor to a lower sensitivity while driving to cut out road noise I now find I donít need to turn my original processor down at all. [I am still struggling a little with road noise with my new implant but this is part of the learning and programming process because after all I have only been switched on for five days.]

And then of course there is music. As I went deaf I had to give up playing the piano. With my first implant I got that back and it was wonderful. However, having missed two decades of music meant there were many bands, groups, singers and songs I had never heard. When I listened to these, while generally pleasant, they had a monotonal quality and I often couldnít hear the tune. It is early days for me with my new music experience so I havenít pushed it, but music accompanies everything so itís hard to miss Ė radio (even if it is only the news call tune), television, movies, parties, celebrations and so on.

I heard ABC1ís news call tune the other night and it sounded so different Ė it sounded right whereas before it was pleasant but somehow still didnít sound quite right. I played a CD in the car. Susan Boyle was singing an anthem I knew well before I went deaf. With one implant the sound was nice and I recognised it and could sing along. I could hear she was rising in tone. I could hear the choir and it was lovely. But now Ė not only were her tones sweet and true, the tune was completely clear. And then I heard the choir came in. Suddenly I heard the male voices drop into harmony something I hadnít heard in years.

At the movies, because the sound is so loud I sometimes found the background music wailed. But when seeing my first movie since being bi-lateral the music did not wail even though I was getting double the sound. And my piano Ė oh the joy of the sound of those growly bottom notes. I had a favourite note on the piano - lowest C Ė but now the whole octave is just superb. I played a couple of songs and I can hear when Iíve played a wrong note Ė in among all those right notes. Wow!

Being bi-lateral means sound has more depth and by this I mean dimension not low frequencies. Instead of just hearing a choir (a lovely sound), with two ears itís easier to hear the nuances of individual groups and even voices providing the richness of harmony and counter melodies which go to make up the choir. Instead of hearing the sounds of an orchestra I can now discriminate between strings and flutes and other members of the orchestral family as they weave their way through the whole. I can hear sounds move across the room from speaker to speaker as if it has a three dimensional quality. When playing a note on the piano I can hear the individual strings which vibrate together to make that note and tonal quality. All this added information (depth) makes music easier to listen to and far more enjoyable. Iím sitting here listening to a Richard Clayderman CD, the CD I first listened to when I had my first implant. The listening experience is so different itís remarkable. It is so much richer, clearer while the tunes are easy to pick out.

For those thinking about becoming bi-lateral.
As a veteran Cochlear Implant user I considered I couldnít possibly hear better than I was. I have found this was just not true Ė I can and will. Ask a one eyed person what is different when they can only see with one eye. They already see everything so how could having two eyes be better? What is missing is dimension. With two eyes there is double the light so everything is brighter, clearer and colours more easily distinguished while distance is easier to gauge.

Most of the differences between single-sided hearing and bi-lateral hearing are to do with quality rather than quantity. I could hear at 100% but now there is an added dimension. Someone said it was like going from Black & White to colour television. Being single sided compared to bi-lateral hearing is a classic example of ďthe whole being greater than the sum of the individual partsĒ. I am already experiencing a whole new world of bilateral hearing something I thought was not possible. Having my first cochlear implant was great, and now having my second cochlear implant has opened up my world even further and I am loving it.


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