Last Saturday was World Hearing Day, so I showed a few shots of my Bionic Ear on instagram. Some people were shocked to see I had one! So I decided it was time to do a little updated series here about why I have one, how I got it, how I like it, and what life is like with one. You can read the other parts here: Part I, Part II.
So let's talk about my day-to-day CI experience (and a little bit about accommodations, at the end, but we'll talk more about that tomorrow.).
There are times I don't wear my CI:
- When I'm sleeping (although I can--it's just not really comfortable. But when I'm in the hospital, I do.)
- When I'm swimming *
- When I ride certain rides (roller coasters? It comes off. I really don't want to have to look for it later...)
There are also times when my head just hurts. Keep in mind--there's a magnet in bone. That's going to hurt sometimes. On those days, I have to take the CI off and I'm deaf for most of the day. It's not fun, but it's not terrible. It's inconvenient.
I do have to keep the hair there cut short, or the magnet has trouble connecting. I don't shave it, but I do cut it reaaaallly close.
Currently I'm having issues with the magnet. The outside processor doesn't always like to attach correctly so there are times when it will shift and I'll have to move it in place to get it to work again. That's irritating, but it should stop when I get a new processor.
That's a fun process, by the way, because insurance companies don't like to pay for new processors. The one I currently have will be declared obsolete next year, and then insurance companies will have to pay for an upgrade, because my current one can't be fixed anymore, and there won't be parts made for it anymore. But until then, they won't. Well, they will. We'll just have to fight them on it. (Here's a trick, guys: Never assume that insurance won't pay for something. Don't just pay the bill. ARGUE WITH THEM!)
Why insurance companies do not pay for hearing aids, or CI upgrades, is beyond my understanding. It's so ridiculous. Hearing is just as important as sight, but hearing gets shafted. (Part IV is going to be all about accommodations. So more on that then!) For example, insurance will pay for an entire evaluation and surgery and a processor for my right ear, but they won't pay for an upgrade for my left ear. Which is cheaper? Which is better for everyone? And which will the insurance company pay for? Yeah. sigh.
Cochlear implants cost about $5,000. Now, the first one is covered. If you have surgery, then the surgery, the implant, the processor--all that's covered. But upgrades aren't. About every five years or so, you can try and I've had luck with insurance paying then. This year is my five year mark for my current processor. So we will either try this year, to get a new one, or try next year, when it's more likely we won't have to argue as much!
Think about cell phone or computer updates. Every time there's an upgrade, it's better, right? CIs are the same way. The one I have now is much better than my first one. There are not just cosmetic things (i.e., it's smaller) that are "better", but also in terms of power, of programming, of what it can do. So it's not like upgrading to be "cool". It really is a substantial difference, usually.
The batteries are around $200-250 each. At some point they stop holding a charge and you have to replace them. I currently have three, but one is cracked so I don't use it on a daily basis. It's an emergency battery. The two I have I rotate, so they'll last longer.
There are other parts, like microphone covers, and ear hooks, and things like that, that have to be paid for. You get some of these things when you upgrade, or get your processor, but often I have to buy more.
In general, my CI is great. But like I said in the last installment, I can't use the phone. Everyone sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher. (That goes for people like my parents, too. I should know their voices better than any other--and I do--but I can't call them on the phone. That should tell you how terrible my hearing is on the phone.)
I do rely on lip reading, a little bit. But not many words are lip-readable. I think around 10% of English words are uniquely identifiable in lip reading. Go talk to yourself in front of the mirror and notice how many words look similar. Really, for me, lip reading helps in context. But on an airplane? Forget it. There's way too much noise for me to understand what the flight attendant is saying, even if she's leaning right over me. I can guess that it's time for beverage orders because she'll have the little pad out. :) Flying is sort of rough, when you're hearing impaired. **
FaceTime is a godsend. That's really the only way I can use the phone. Do I have a cell phone? Yes. :) But I don't use it as a phone, most often. I FaceTime people, and I text. And I did take ASL in high school, just for fun--God prompting, there....
In restaurants, I want to sit against a wall, or in an area where there won't be sound coming from behind me. I'll generally adjust my CI settings, but I try to make as "optimal" an arrangement as possible for me, to help out. If you're walking on my right side and talking to me, I'm not going to hear you as well as I could.
The other thing about the CI is that there's a little bit of a lag...a few seconds. So sometimes I'll ask someone to repeat something, and then I'll understand what they said, because my brain has caught up.
Also, please folks--repeat what you said. Don't say you said "nothing." You clearly said something. Don't huff and puff if I ask you to repeat yourself. If you do that, then guess what? I don't ask you anymore. And then things get worse. And then people say, well, why didn't you ask for the person to repeat it? BECAUSE PEOPLE GET ANGRY. So please, do not roll your eyes or sigh or be like, why aren't you listening. I am. Believe me.
It is very, very, very irritating to be left out of conversations. A lot of the time, especially in large groups, I don't know what's going on if people don't keep me in the loop. So, please do that. Tell me what we're talking about. Include me. Imagine you're at a table with people and everyone is talking around you. It's not fun. It makes you not want to do things! So please include people.
My CI is much better than my hearing aids ever were. But there are still things I can't do, and there are still accommodations I need to make. It's not magic. It's awesome, and I'm glad I have it. But it's not perfect. I'm underlining that point so people really understand that.
*There are things I could do to swim with the CI--there's a waterproof cover, for example. I just don't. But I could get one of those.
**Flight attendants are just part of it. The safety thing? I can't understand that speech at all. Everything the pilot says? No idea. And we won't even TALK about how airports don't always have message boards, so I can miss important announcements about flight gates being changed, etc. If my friend Mary hadn't been with me for our California adventure, I probably would've missed my flight home, because they changed the gate! It is TERRIBLE. Fortunately airports let you take a "support person" back, so I have people wait with me before I board. I can--and have--flown alone. It's just stressful because I have to be on constant alert for any changes.