I’m Still Hear: My Cochlear Implant Journey, Part 3

By Ruth Bernstein

Ruth Bernstein advocate for people with hearing lossIn August, 2020, I celebrated my first year living with the MED-EL cochlear implant I received at Columbia Medical Center in 2019. I’ve written about my implant and activation adventures in I’m Still Hear – Part 1 and Part 2.

My life changed a lot after I became bionic. Before my CI, my hearing aids did not go on until I was ready to leave the house and came off, along with my shoes, when I walked in the door. I was physically exhausted at the end of every day because my brain was burning so much extra energy trying to understand what it was hearing. Now, I put my CI and hearing aid on when I wake up and take them off when I’m ready to go to sleep. At bedtime, I sometimes forget I have the Rondo2 on! That means a walk from my bedroom to the kitchen where the charger is plugged in.

I’m aware of environmental noises I had not heard for forty-plus years like the sound of trucks, buses and taxis that need to have their brakes oiled. Before Covid-19 and masks arrived, I heard more easily when I spent time with family and friends, volunteered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, went to painting, exercise and hearing therapy sessions, attended meetings about hearing accessibility issues and did my usual household errands. I use FaceTime with my iPhone, or use the streamer that comes with my Rondo2. Otter, an AI app that transcribes words almost instantaneously, allows me to understand conversations. I hear the pinging sounds my Apple Watch, iPhone and iMac make to alert me and the whooshing sound my computer makes when it is emptying the trash. Boiling or running water, toast popping up, switches turning on, the swish of my slippers and shoes on wooden floors have all become part of my sound vocabulary. Best of all, birdsong has become a welcome part of every day.

Arrival of the Pandemic

Auditory training teletherapy session with Rebecca Piper of CHC

Auditory training teletherapy session

In March, 2020, like everyone else in New York, my regular activities came to a sudden, complete, screeching halt with the arrival of the pandemic. It was a huge shock to find myself considered a vulnerable senior, required to stay home. I took time to absorb the news, switch gears and establish my new Covid-19 lifestyle with my CI and hearing aid. Audio therapy sessions at CHC, classes, meetings and friend/family conversations migrated to Zoom, Google Meet and FaceTime, a fairly easy transition for me because I had used these platforms before and was somewhat familiar with them. For events that are not captioned, I use the Otter app.

Assistive listening system for the Rondo2 cochlear implant

Rondo2 CI assistive listening system

Adapting to hearing with everyone wearing masks was hard. The Rondo2 has an assistive listening system which I use a lot in combination with Otter.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art closed temporarily. That was very difficult for me because I’d been volunteering there for over twenty years on a biweekly basis. I felt cut off from my home away from home. Although the Met reopened to a limited number of visitors at the end of August, volunteers are not expected back at work before the beginning of July, 2021, if then. The Met offers online tours and events every week, which makes the loss a bit more tolerable.

Accessing Activities Without Leaving My Desk

Ruth Bernstein, cochlear implant recipient

Ruth in August, 2020, one year after receiving a cochlear implant

I attend art classes online, courtesy of the National Council of Jewish Women. The Manhattan Jewish Community Center connects me to Fall Stop exercise classes and other events of interest. I’m on the Steering Committee of the Museum Arts Culture Access Consortium. MAC created a treasure trove of web sites that provide access to all kinds of cultural activities. Without leaving my desk chair and computer, I enjoy virtual visits to a lighthouse, carousels, maritime museums and lots of other interesting places around the city, when I sign up for captioned Turnstile Tours.

In April, 2020, when staff at the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) were working from home, Dr. Ellen Lafargue programmed a new Oticon hearing aid for me remotely, a first for me, and a comfort, because I knew I could get hearing help if I needed it, even though in-office services weren’t available at that time. Click here to learn more about CHC’s remote audiology services.

Hearing is Good for Your Brain

Face Masks and Hearing Loss Video by CHC

CHC Webinar on Face Masks and Hearing Loss

I’ve learned a lot about how people with hearing loss can cope at this very stressful time from blog posts and webinars hosted by CHC, the Hearing Loss Association of America, NYC Chapter (HLAA-NYC) and HLAA National.

With the CI, my brain responds easily to the sounds it is hearing. I’m not physically exhausted at the end of every day because my brain no longer works in high gear all the time, something this 87-year-old great grandmother really appreciates. Dr. Justin Golub of Columbia Doctors was quoted in The New York Times (2/20/20) stating, “Better hearing is better for you and better for your mind. Hearing is good for your brain, the more hearing you have, the better.“

My brain and I agree 100%!