RUSH: We are here on the Left Coast. We’ve been here since Tuesday, and today, a couple hours from now, three hours from now, somewhere around there, I will head over and get the brand-new cochlear implant — surgically implanted three weeks ago, a little over three weeks ago. The swelling has gone down enough now. I actually go in there and have the thing turned on. And the first time that this happened, of course, I had no idea what to expect, none.
There’s nothing anybody can tell you. I mean, the people that even have had cochlear implant surgery, there’s no way that anybody can adequately describe the way it sounds. I was deaf for three months, then it got turned on and the only way I could relate to it was my memory of having been able to hear, and it’s nothing like that. Nobody can prepare you for it. Even the people in the business, because they can all hear. They’ve not heard what sound sounds like via cochlear implant. They’ve tried. The engineers have tried to manufacture tapes of what they think it sounds like to people, but even those of us with implants cannot listen to a tape of what they produced and say, “Yeah, that’s exactly what it sounds like,” ’cause we don’t know if what we’re hearing is what they hear.
See, that actually is what makes this technology all the more amazing. People that can hear designed it. Now, they can map it and put it on meters and understand that it’s gonna produce sound of the audial nerve. They got a pretty good idea because they invented it, but still, it takes somebody deaf using one to actually know what it’s like. No two people are the same. No two people are identical. The first time it was turned on, the first thing I heard I thought it was an electrical hum, a low-pitched electrical hum. Nobody said anything for a while ’cause until I sent ’em a signal they had no idea whether I could hear anything.
So I sat there for awhile and I digested what I was hearing, and it was the room noise, white noise, but there was a low-pitched electrical hum. I remember that was the first thought that I had. And the audiologist: “You hear anything?” I said, “Yeah.” And I heard my voice for the first time. Now, back then the microphone was up on the headpiece, and that’s the worst place for the microphone. That’s behind you when it’s on the side of your head. It’s all I knew so I accepted it was great. I could hear people speak again and I could understand what they were saying. That electrical hum was always there, but after awhile I got used to it, kind of like you get used to room noise and then you don’t hear it after awhile.
Some days I have tinnitus. Some people have it; some people don’t. For the longest time I didn’t know I had it. I remember one morning about two months after I had my implant, the first one turned on, I was awakened from sleep at five in the morning with this gigantic — I was in a panic. I thought something had gone wrong with the implant in my ear, in my head, ’cause it was expanding in volume, something wrong electrically. I said, “Oh, my gosh.” So I sent a flash e-mail to my doctor, and he said, “It can’t be, because there is nothing inside your head that has power. It can’t have any power ’til you attach the headpiece. The battery and all that, the power’s outside your head. There’s no power in there.”
It turned out it was just a bad case of tinnitus. It hasn’t happened since. But the tinnitus that I experience more often than not is a low, very low-frequency hum. But I didn’t know that’s what it was. I thought it was something wrong with the implant or, not wrong, just a characteristic. But when that happens, it makes everybody I’m speaking to sound like this (covering mouth) behind some kind of a wall. So you hope, like if I had that happening today I would cancel the map session, because it would no way be accurate. But I don’t have any tinnitus today so I’m gonna go in and we’ll start the mapping process.
Now, I kind of know what to expect, but in a way I don’t. I don’t want to get too technical, but they are going to try a digital map on my new ear that does not work on my left side. I’m still stuck with the old original analog technology. It sounds fine, but it’s not the best, on paper. This particular company, the brand name is HighRes, for high resolution, but it’s digital.
But I have a digital map — you can put three different maps or programs, actually, five now, in the implant externally. And they’ve always put the HighRes in one and they’ve begged me, “Would you just use it? Maybe you’ll get used to it.” I said, “No, you don’t understand. A, there’s practically no volume. B, everybody literally sounds like chipmunks. There is no way I can use this even for a week and it’s gonna improve or get any better, trust me, don’t doubt me. I’m a sound expert.” But they keep trying.
So they’re gonna do the digital only today, no matter what. I’m getting digital only. And they told me, “Don’t use your left implant for awhile. You’ve got to get used to the one on your right ’cause we’re gonna use the technology. We’ve got a fresh ear. We’ve got every one of your electrodes active. We’ve got no facial tics that we know of.” So they’re kind of excited. They can’t wait. They’re hoping the HighRes works on the right side. I have no clue, no idea. There is no predictor, no way of knowing. But we will in a few hours. And I’ve had a lot of people wishing me — I played golf yesterday with Joel Surnow and some of his buddies. What a great group. Just a great, great group of guys.
We ran into Powers Boothe afterwards. He played Lamar on Nashville, and he was the vice president on “24.” Everybody was wishing me good luck and “keep me posted” and so forth. Everybody has been really great about it. But the audiologist told me, “You don’t use your old implant for awhile. You just stick with what’s on the right side.” They’re hell-bent on making this HighRes work, the digital work, and I’m saying to myself, “What if it doesn’t?” I’m gonna make ’em do an analog map, I don’t care what it takes. If analog is what works, that’s what works.
But the point is it can’t get worse. That’s the upside here. What I have is perfectly fine. Like in doing the program, I have a line in. I’m not using any kind of a microphone to hear. I’ve got a direct line in, the same thing as wearing headphones or a direct audio patch, so there’s no microphone involved here. Cell phones, I still need the call transcribed. I can’t hear what people are saying on a cell phone. Regular phone, I can, but who uses those anymore? I don’t. I don’t use the phone period. It’s a great excuse to not take a phone call. “Sorry, can’t hear you.” Being deaf has many upsides, folks, many, many upsides that you will never understand.
So they’re gonna insist on this digital working today and I hope it does, too. But like I’ve been telling everybody, it can’t get worse. And everybody that I’ve talked to that has had only one side implanted and has gone to the bilateral, they’ve all said it just incredibly improved their circumstances, certainly spatial and determining where sound is coming from, and in some cases it’s helped speech comprehension as well. Now, I mentioned the implant, the first one was a belt-worn unit which I still use to do the program because that’s the one you can attach a line directly to it.
For those of you watching on the Dittocam, the microphone is right here. Bad place for it to be. When I’m not doing the program I don’t use this. I take it off and I put the behind-the-ear, the BTE unit, and that microphone is right in the ear. The loop over the ear, the mic, right there. The sound is improved, the comprehension, 100%, just by locating the microphone a different place, including the way I hear myself. It replicates line-in audio. Actually two microphones in the behind-the-ear unit. You can use them together or separately. And the one built in that I use on the golf course, it cancels all the wind, which is horrible. You know, wind going through a microphone (making whoosh sound) trying to understand people with that going on is not possible. But a microphone built into the unit cancels that out, or it’s harder for the wind to get to it, so it all works out.
But it can’t get any worse. I mean, that’s the total upside here. Even if it doesn’t work, which it will, if it doesn’t, I’ve still got this, and I’m perfectly functional. Well, not perfectly, but miraculously functional even with just this one. So then what’ll happen, I’m going in for four hours this afternoon, maybe a little longer, and then go back tomorrow and do it all over again to make sure the results are the same. And if they vary widely, they’ll take an average of the two days, and then make those the programs. Then come back three weeks, a month, and do it all over again. Do it enough times to where they can establish a baseline of sameness or consistency. ‘Cause the programming is crucial.
They can, if they wanted to, they could program this thing where I couldn’t understand a word anybody said. That’s how crucial the mapping process is, and it requires the input and the honesty of the patient. No ego. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just how you happen to hear the various tones that they pump at you during the mapping session, and you have to be honest. “Yep, I hear it now.” You can’t wait until you really hear it. The very flash you think you hear it, you have to say so. What’s intense about it is the volume is so low that it’s just intense concentration for hundreds of different tones. And then do it again, and this time they keep the tones coming at increased volume until you’ve reached what you think is a comfortable volume level. It’s tones.
Can’t you give me a voice to tell you volume level? Nope. It has to be with the tones. But at least I know what to expect now when the thing goes on as opposed to the first time. So I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a big decision to have to make, ’cause everything was fine here. Doing surgery again, not a big fan of that, but it went fine, it was okay. So we’ll find out in mere hours.
Now, one thing people ask me, “Can you get better practicing?” No. It’s not like that. People think it would be. “Can’t you go to a crowded restaurant and just get used –” No. You either hear or you don’t. You can either understand what somebody’s saying or you don’t. That’s why the map is so crucial, the programming is so crucial, because there is a period of becoming accustomed to how things sound. But there’s no way to improve your speech comprehension by practicing and spending more time at it. It is what it is. It’s brilliant technology. It really is.