Catherine Cooper: The switch-on is tomorrow

Posted on August 31, 2012

Four weeks after the operation, the day of my “switch on” is almost here. This week, I’ll travel once again to the Emmeline centre at Addenbroke’s in Cambridge, to receive a processor for my new implant, and then begin the process of getting it switched on and configured.

I’m desperately excited, but also nervous – in near equal parts. Over the past few months, I’ve tried to keep my expectations low. But it’s difficult not to imagine a life with more hearing than I have now. Will it work for me? Will I be disappointed? Will the sounds I hear just be loud muffles, rather than the quiet ones I hear now? Volume is nothing, clarity is everything. And what about everyone else? My friends and family have been so supportive, I don’t want to let them down.

It will be a shock at first. The auditory nerve on the right side of my head, which carries the electrical signals from the implant, won’t know what’s hit it. From carrying nothing more than a slowly decreasing, drought-laden trickle over the last 34 years, to a gushing deluge in an instant.

Of course, my brain won’t recognise most of the signals immediately after the switch on. I’ve been told I’ll hear robotic beeps and whistles to start with – whatever they really sound like. It will take time for my brain to piece together the new sensations with the sounds that are causing them. How quickly this happens, if at all, will depend upon how quickly my brain can adapt. They say it’s usually as good as it will ever be after a year.

Whatever happens over the coming days, weeks and months, I know that commitment and dedication from me, and patience and support from friends and family will play a huge role. And from that point of view, I know I’m in the best possible place to make the most of this opportunity.

[UPDATE: Since I wrote this, the switch-on happened, and went smoothly.  I’ll write a brief summary of the day shortly and upload some photos, but need to gather my thoughts first.  Before then, and over the coming days, I’m going to list all the sounds I’m hearing for the first time. And below is an X-ray of my head, following the operation to insert my implant.  You can see the implant fixed to my skull, and the 12 individual electrodes on the curled wire which sits inside my cochlea.]

This article was first published on Catherine’s own blog, which you can find here:

Catherine lives in Norfolk and has a young family. Born profoundly deaf in 1978, she leads a busy life using a combination of hearing aids, lip reading and sign language. Following a deterioration in hearing in recent years, she is now in the early stages of getting a Cochlear Implant, and currently awaits feedback on her suitability. This is her story, told as it happens.

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