Monday, September 13, 2010

What is this doing hear?

Intro: I'm going to keep a log of my observations about my new, expensive, and much-needed ears that I just received, thanks to J's encouragement. I've decided to make the log public (on this blog) because few people experience and/or talk about this and because it will motivate me to keep this updated, which will facilitate the adjustment period. So far my observations have collided into three categories--physical feeling, positive/neutral new sounds, and negative new sounds--so that's how I'll organize my log.
Hypothesis: over the next couple weeks the negative observations will decrease and I will feel more relaxed, less on alert, and a little less auditorily conscious.

Day 1
Physical feeling
nauseous (stomach)
very alert
short concentration span

Positive/Neutral new sounds
I don't see them, but there are birds everywhere, many different kinds, even downtown.
what I thought was a car motor running turned out to be water running into a gutter.
my keyboard makes a soft noise when I type.
my printer has a little fan that runs for a couple minutes after I print something.
noises outside my office window (birds, cars beeping, someone hammering).
wind sound is MUCH LESS distracting than before!
trucks sound like monsters when they are going uphill.
I can hear all cars now so I feel more confidence jaywalking.
much more than before, I am aware from what direction noises are coming.
there is music coming from my colleague's office.
music from my laptop is a bit more nuanced, more "high frequencies."
there is some fan or soft motor noise in my apartment...
random thumps from the apartment above.

Negative new sounds
my jacket makes an annoying crackling noise when I walk!
peoples' voices sound weird, kind of booming.
my voice sounds like I'm speaking on a microphone, especially when there is background noise.
because the microphones are now behind my ears, when my near-ear hair moves (like when I'm walking) it makes a brushing-rustling-crunchy-plastic-bag noise over the microphone. I might need to start pulling my hair back.

Day 2
Physical feeling
Normal, as I usually feel, kind of tired.

Positive/Neutral new sounds
In a quiet situation, I don´t hear soft static as I did before.
the couch creaks.
pretty comfortable outside, sometimes I forget I'm wearing new ears.

Negative new sounds
These new ears are not doing so well when there are different sound sources. An example: the microwave was running on my left side, and then I played some music on my laptop (in front of me) and within about 3 seconds the left ear faded out the sound of the music almost completely blocking it and mostly just picking up the sound of the microwave. I hope this doesn´t turn out to be a big annoyance because the next step up technology is $3000 more...
there is a fan in my classroom, there are fans or motors everywhere!
my voice doesn't sound clear or loud enough when I teach, a bit muffled... and students' voices seem a bit too soft from a distance.
there is a loud low-frequency noise, there seems to be some lagging between the time the sound is made and the time it gets into my ears.
this might be my imagination, but it seems that when there is a loud noise on one side it sort of blocks sound out of that side, and then over the next 1-4 seconds it increases the general volume on the opposite side! this is very frustrating/confusing. I will have to double check to see if this is really happening.

Day 3
Physical feeling

Positive/Neutral new sounds
I´m comfortably working at home with my ears. Before, home alone = comfortable deafness/silence.
In a quiet situation, these new ears work very well in picking up minor/soft sounds (a fan, something far away...).

Negative new sounds
Something weird happened again when there was a long ongoing fan noise on one side... must figure out what´s happening... I think I figured it out with a bit of microwave experimentation: when one side hears the loud/medium ongoing fan the closest ear focuses on that noise solely, blocking out other noises, then after about 4-5 seconds, as if it were adjusting to the new acoustic situation, it gradually starts to "open up" and incorporate a better balance of all the surrounding sounds... This lag-time confuses my brain.
I'm convinced now that there might be a problem with both or the left one. Today I had two meetings in semi-noisy public places and I noticed that occasionally the focus, regardless if I was speaking or not, was moving from my mouth-outwards to include background noise-and then back to my mouth again. This meant that I could hear myself clearly and then not...etc.
Even though the audiologist insisted that the volume level was set correctly in both ears, simple sounds (mouse click, keyboard...) are in fact louder in the right ear. I´m pretty sure this will need to be corrected, but I´m wondering if I should get it corrected now or wait a while in case this is just part of the "adjustment."
I ate at a restaurant tonight and it was pretty unbearable. Voices, including my own, were on volume-par with tons of background noise. There was no "depth" as the audiologist put it. It sounded all pixelated (after all, my ears are digital), little clarity, and I could barely make out any conversations on my left side (this possibly could be improved a little bit by increasing the volume on the left side--a feature to which I don't have automatic access). It made speaking, listening, following conversations so unnatural that, since I was surrounded by people that didn't know me, I had to politely interrupt several one-on-one conversations to say "look, I can't hear, I'm dealing with these new ears..." which seemed to have a bit of shock factor to it (I guess because it broke protocol). This is disappointing because it means I ought to have the next up technology level, but it´s another $3,000, which I don´t have... [sigh].

Day 4 (gave up--increased the volume by 2 db in left ear)
Positive/Neutral new sounds
Giving oral exams is so much better! I can hear my voice clearly, I can hear my soft-spoken students. What a relief!

Day 5
Positive/Neutral new sounds
Wind on windows. Previously I had only heard this in movies.

Negative new sounds
My new ears prioritize low-frequency fan noises (even when they´re far away) over other noises to the point that sometimes it sounds as if the ears have stopped working because I can´t hear anything. (This might be related to what a reader has called "compression.")
I´m not sure, but I´m wondering if the left ear is not picking up high-frequency noises as well as the right ear.

Day 7

It´s Saturday. I´m staying at home to work and I need my peace and concentration. No ears today. My brain and ears are tired and need a break from hearing technology.

Day 8
Negative new sounds
I think these are three more pretty-frustrating "compression" or "directional" issues:
- I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth. The washing machine was running on my left. Suddenly the volume on my right ear notably increased (maybe by 3 or 4 decibels).
- I was talking face-to-face with my housemate. The washing machine was running, about 7 meters behind me and was stopping and starting intermittently while it went through the cycles. My ears were fluctuating in volume and focus making it quite difficult to follow the conversation with my housemate.
- I was at a birthday party this evening. There were about 10 people in front of me and to my left. I was chatting with three people who also were in front of me and to my left a little. Through out the whole 3 hours or so the volume in my left and right ears kept fluctuating asynchronously like every 5-10 minutes... I would be speaking to someone and half way through my sentence the volume would suddenly decrease or increase in one ear. I have no idea what was triggering this, but I think it might be related to the "directional" feature of the ears (although sometimes the volume would go up or down regardless if I had moved my head or not). This was very frustrating, and maybe and unfortunately the last straw/indication that I cannot deal with these ears. I need to get different ones, or these need major correction. Hopefully this won't require spending thousands of dollars more.

Day 9

disillusioned, losing patience

In quiet, non-conversational settings, the ears work very well.


- fan in one ear --> volume decreases in opposite ear. Doesn't make any sense.
- ears do not work with telephone use if there is background noise.
- on a busy street (background noise) i was speaking to someone and about 1 minute later both ears suddenly amplified my voice. ???

Day 10
After yesterday´s low, today was a better day.

- I had a Department meeting and my ears worked very well. I heard almost everyone, almost everything they said, including my boss who I used to always have trouble understanding.
- Then I taught for 3.5 hours and quality was so so. Overall, my ears fared well but they did change focus, volume level, and clarity quite a bit (from background music, to my voice, to students' individual comments and students' collective chatter). This shifting, as usual, was undepredictable, unnatural, confusing and made me lose my confiderence a couple times, but overall I could hear louder, more than before.
- I am getting used to some new sounds!! Small sounds such as those listed on days 1 and 2 seem natural to me now and don't bother me (my voice, other peoples' voices, noises seeping into my office...).
- I have to wear my hair pulled up, otherwise it makes to much noise over the microphones. I'm wondering, though, if I could wear the microphones pieces on the outside of my ears instead of behind my ears. Of course this would look strange, but it would avoid the hair problem.

- A couple times while teaching today I found myself in the "restaurant" type of scenario. The classroom was loud because students were engaging in a speaking activity in small groups, and then a student would ask me a question, but the amplified background noise blared out what the student was trying to ask me...

Day 11
- new difficult scenario: large enclosed spaces. Ears focus on far away medium-volume background noise and when someone speaks directly to me, 1 meter in front of me, I can barely make their voice out amongst the background noise; the ears mesh it all together.

Day 12
- While I still struggle with English, foreign languages, namely Spanish, are coming out of my mouth with great ease!!! How can this be? Maybe because the foreign languages I speak are phonetic and English isn´t... and maybe this phonetic-ness has something to do with the new sounds my ears are picking up... ? I think the audiologist mentioned something about consonants being sharper. (For those who don´t know-- the ability to hear is directly related to the ability able to speak.)


- part of this "compression" issue is that, in a situation with a variety of noises, my ears asynchronously
feel like they are plugged up (like airplane plugged up) and then unplugged [repeat]. While one side focuses or zooms in on 1 sounds, the other side plugs up. Occasionally I find myself moving my jaw around in order to try to get my ears "unplugged." This has been the case since day 1. I thought about it today while teaching. My students have absolutely no idea about the crap psychedelic sounds that are entering my ears, so incredibly different from what is entering their ears. Even if I try to explain it...

Day 13
- Taught an advanced-level two-student class today in Spanish in a quiet room and acoustics were very good. The words were coming into my ears and out of my mouth with more ease than ever before.

Day 15
Went to the audiologist today. He adjusted several of the features and I think my ears are working significantly better now!! If they fare bearable and audiable in a restaurant setting, then these will be a keeper!

Day 16
Yesss! Things are so much miraculously better!
Hair crunch problem is gone.
Directional/focus volume mumbo jumbo is gone!
And the most irritating-- the
compression/plug problem is pretty much gone!
For the first time since I can remember, hearing feels almost totally natural now!
I taught today for 3.5 noisy hours and everything (music, my voice, students singular and collective voices...) sounded great except for when I spoke loudly (see negative).
(I haven´t been in a restaurant/coffeeshop yet, we´ll see what happens...)

There are two small problems that perhaps the audiologist can fix.
- One is that cars are unbearably loud now, and trucks don´t sound like monsters anymore, they sound like angry dinosaurs. I don´t know why, but this can be resolved by getting out the remote control and decreasing the volume.
- The other problem is that if I´m in an enclosed area and am speaking loudly there tends to be a bit of a boggle-rattle noise with the highest frequencies, as if the ear technology can´t take the sharp loudness and is boggling on the verge of busting its acoustic threshold. It´s not terrible, but it didn´t happen before.


珍華 said...

Oh my GOD! I am really happy for you!!!

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the world of hearing everything! Are these some kind of new technology, or just more expensive than the ones you had? I never realized before that you were not able to hear all the various sounds I was hearing.

megan said...

Hello Anonymous, the technology is just much much better with these new ears (similar to the way the clarity of speakers or television improve each year). But there is still a microphone-fake-electronic sound to them, which might be beyond rememdy.

As for the price, it´s about the same as before. These are what they call "entry level" which are the cheapest in this technology range, but this time I had to pay out of my pocket; the university, a very wealthy entity at the top, was only about to cover about 3% of the costs (no comment). If I were a New Zealand resident, which I can be in 1.5 years, the gov´t would have paid 75%. Sad thing is that around the world health insurance/gov´ts usually don´t offer any financial assistance for hearing trouble and because the technology is so expensive most people (mostly older folks) just let it go or they buy a very cheap amplifier that works like a 1970s tape recorder...

Jennifer said...

Love your observations, so interesting. =) Love you!!

Anonymous said...

would you ever consider getting cochlear implants? surgery is really serious, I'm just curious.

Anonymous said...

that's awful no one pays for the technology because the need is mostly relegated to the elderly...

Anonymous said...

Hi Megan,
Another new hearing aid wearer here, a couple of months farther down the road than you here. I loved your Day 1 heightened sensitivity to sounds you'd forgotten. So true!

Your complaint in Day 3 about the adjustments of the aids to a loud fan and a loud low-frequency noise seems to me to be compression. When an aid encounters a sudden loud noise (as when you turned your head towards a loud fan), it compresses the dynamic range down. Loud sounds won't overwhelm you but soft sounds can disappear and overall volume may seem to be ramping up and down. Your audiologist may or may not be able to adjust compression for you with these aids. It can be more of an audible issue and annoyance with less expensive aids.

It's not time yet to decide whether these aids are or aren't for you. They may be fine for you. Your brain does need at least a week or two to begin to make sense of what the aids are feeding it.

Take abbreviated notes of what seems wrong to you back to your audiologist for an adjustment after a week or two and see if it doesn't get better. It very well may, especially after several adjustments by the audiologist and a little practice on your brain's part.

Good luck,

megan said...

Thanks, David! I really appreciate your response, especially for the word "compression"! This means I wasn´t imagining things AND that there is probably a solution!

Now I just need to figure out the restaurant scenario. I don´t think I can take another restaurant conversation with these hearing aids...

Many many thanks,

Anonymous said...

I do understand. I meant to comment on that, too. Most hearing aid wearers agree, I think (never seen poll data on this), but picking out conversation, particularly from low talkers, in a noisy restaurant or party is the hardest thing for hearing aids to get right. Report it to your audiologist and ask for an adjustment for it. Setting a different volume or program at your end can help, too.

But sometimes you just take the darn things off (if you can put them in a **very** safe place) because they're making it harder to hear! I had to do this at a wedding reception recently with a loud band playing shortly after I started demo-ing a pair. Unfortunately, I'd left the earplugs I carry in a small case for just such an occasion attached to my keyring... which I'd left with the valet car parker at the reception. D'oh! So I still had to go outside to escape the painful noise. I wasn't going to waste some of the hearing I had left on a so-so wedding band!

Anyway, it's hard to remember this, at least until you ask some good-hearing friends, but if they're being honest, many of them will admit having trouble hearing all the words in a noisy restaurant or party, too. It's just a tough situation, with or without aids. It's another thing more expensive hearing aids *may* perform better at, but many people struggle with it no matter what.

The other thing I can tell you, since you felt that you had to turn the volume up to hear, is that many times, audiologists start you on a lower volume setting than they think you'll need eventually. They don't want to blow you out of the water or overwhelm you with the kinds of sounds you reported on day one. After your brain adjusts, at that first adjustment, it's common to notch you up one level if you seem to want it. This doesn't mean your audiologist set it wrong. It may have been the tentative plan all along. (You can ask when you go back.)


Anonymous said...

Your brain does not seem to be adjusting, as you hypothesized and hoped it would. You're coming up on the two week mark. Do you have an aid adjustment appointment with the audiologist then? I think it's time for one for you. These aids are not meeting your needs, set as they are. An adjustment may well help a lot, or you may need a different model. I know you want these to work for cost reasons, but it's no bargain if they're causing as many issues as they solve. What would be worse would be spending this price to get these, and then a few months from now when it's too late to return them, putting them away in a drawer and going without any aids for awhile because the ones you have are inadequate and annoying. Unfortunately, some people do just that.

megan said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. I have two appointments coming up so there will be some adjustments soon. My major problem is in noisy situations like restaurants. In this type of situation my old HAs fared much better. It seems that higher technology is making the HAs functions very complex-- these new HAs are doing all sorts of advanced things...when I wish they´d just stop and be old-fashion! Hopefully there is something simple but that can also give me the sharpness of high frequencies and soft noises. In any case, social situations are very dear to me, so I´m willing to do what it takes to improve my hearing in them...