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Cochlear Implants, hearing loss and more! I carry an interesting perspective: someone who had normal hearing growing up, lost it all slowly as an adult, then regained it with cochlear implants. So I'm deaf, but I can hear - a true miracle. If you'd like to know more about me and my bilateral cochlear implant experiences right away, my two books have a wealth of information - see the links below. Check out the list of upcoming events too - perhaps one day we'll get to meet!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cochlear Implant Miracles: Opera! Bravo! Encore!

I'm no novice with cochlear implants, having gotten my first CI in 1997, and being bilateral since 2008.  I always was able to enjoy music with my CIs - it took a while to adapt back in 1997, with some music genres taking longer than others to sound "normal."  I had never been an opera buff prior to losing my hearing, though, but being deaf and enjoying music has made me want to try it all.  I do listen to classical music, so opera wasn't exactly a huge leap.  I learned about the Metropolitan Opera HD simulcasts a few years ago - these are live performances that are beamed by satellite into local movie theaters. The ticket price is a fraction of a live Met performance, and in some respects, the simulcast experience has additional benefits unavailable in the live theater.  

With that as background, I looked forward to the first opera of the season - Verdi's Otello - which had Renee Fleming in the leading female role - a wonderful opportunity to see the best!  This opera would run 3 1/2 hours with one intermission.  The interesting part about going to the opera is that it is wonderful music practice.  Even though I do well listening to music, it still does get "better" after listening for 3 1/2 hours.  

There were several movie theaters in my area showing this performance - a few of them sold out.  Arriving a bit early  ensures getting the pick of seating location - no extra charge!  And so, waiting for the 1 PM curtain, I always pack a picnic lunch - the theaters don't mind, understanding that popcorn and Verdi aren't really made for each other.   The countdown to the opera begins about 5 minutes before, with this on-screen update: 

Waiting for Otello to begin 

Knowing that this is being broadcast live is exciting. There are rebroadcasts at other times, which I've attended.  But there's something special knowing that a mere 10 or so miles away in NYC, all this is happening "live from New York"!    And then, the focus is on that massive curtain and stage!

Metropolitan Opera awaiting the beginning of Otello

There are several benefits to attending these simulcasts:  
  • Subtitles are placed right on the screen, in perfect sync with the lyrics, in easy-to-read font size.
  • They always have some famous opera star doing interviews with the performers at the intermission (but not captioned). 
  • The cameras zoom in on the performers so you can see them up close - much closer than even front row orchestra seats!
  • The camera also zooms into the orchestra pit to highlight the instrumental passages.
  • The cameras are behind the curtain during scene changes, showing the incredible infrastructure that allows for these elaborate stage sets. And they interview the production personnel as well.
  • And, my absolute favorite part, which begins the excitement, is when the production manager speaks into the intercom, "Maestro to the pit!" - signaling that it is showtime, the production is ready to begin, and the conductor is needed to start the overture!
And now to the music!  This was the first time I was going to be listening with my new software program, ClearVoice, set on my processors.  I've listened to music with it, and actually prefer the sound with ClearVoice on, but this was my first opera, so I was curious about how everything would sound.

And  . . .   I liked it!  ClearVoice seemed to give greater clarity to the instruments and to the voices.  I switched back and forth to my non-CV program, but CV won every time.   The bass voices are the ones I have the most difficulty with, as each ear hears that register slightly differently. But as I expected, I was doing better with this during the last act than in the beginning. The tonality was still good, it was just hearing the baritone as low as it really was. The sopranos were angelic, as usual.

When I first started going to these performances, I thought I'd never be able to sit through hour upon hour of opera.  But the sound, the sets, the costumes, the subtitles, the camerawork, the interviews - all make it a most enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.  And with each opera, I sit there in utter awe, never forgetting that I am a deaf person, enjoying the enchantment of the Metropolitan Opera - and I still can't quite believe it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bilateral Cochlear Implants - happy feelings again

I had another "better hearing" experience today - and the happy feelings that seem to go along with that.  I'm still adapting to the new software on my processors, called ClearVoice.  It's geared to dimming droning background noise, but in doing so, it seems to have benefits on beyond obviously noisy environments. It seems to enhance all environments, and seems to keep getting "better" - especially with two ears.  And that's what happened today.

I was having a routine diagnostic x-ray procedure, done as an out-patient in the local hospital.  To navigate this appointment, I ended up speaking to a half-dozen people in a variety of environments, on all sides of me, and sometimes without looking - and I did it all!

First was the valet parking guy, then the information desk attendant, and then the receptionist.  These offices always have you sit in a waiting area and then call your name. Even if you tell them you might not hear your name being called (one never knows with acoustics, voices, distance, etc.), they don't always "get it."  Because of this situation, though, I found myself in a lively discussion with the receptionist, explaining my cochlear implants. It was a wonderful conversation, and we were really getting along!

Then to the waiting area - and I had no problem when they called my name.  YAY!  Then into the x-ray area - and these rooms always seem to have ever-present fans or electronic hums.  I was doing fine hearing the radiologist. But then she moved across the room, and kept giving me instructions. I hadn't really expected her to talk to me from that distance, but before I could tell her that I might not hear her, I realized that I had heard her clearly.  I mean CLEARLY.  Unexpected dialogue, without looking, across the room (okay - not a big room, but still not standing next to me) - and the words went straight to my brain!  That is definitely "better"!

So then I started having a chatty conversation with her - even asked her name (Carolyn.)  This was definitely not my "usual" behavior, but it felt good, and there was that happy feeling coming on again.  As I left the room, I had to pass the receptionist's desk - and then, for some reason, I backtracked a bit, and said good-bye to the receptionist I had chatted with when I first came in.  I had connected with her as a human being, and it was so interesting - the connection flowed both ways.

Socialization bumped up a notch - that's what I was experiencing.  The words coming in "better" were somehow allowing me to interact faster, easier, and in a more meaningful way.  And that definitely registered on my brain's "happy" scale.  Makes me think that on the four-year anniversary of my bilateral hearing, I'm up to what a normal 4-year-old would be mastering - socialization skills with strangers in new situations.   Just what I need to "work a room"!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bilateral Cochlear Implants - Easy Listening Niagara Falls

That title is a bit cryptic - EASY LISTENING NIAGARA FALLS - but that's the best way to describe a wonderful four-day vacation to that most scenic of locations, Niagara Falls.  I had been there are few times in my life, but this visit, for some reason, was especially wonderful.  And that "some reason" was simply better hearing.  Aside from being bilateral - which after four years has given me increased facility with casual conversations - I also had a new software upgrade put on my programs three months ago, called ClearVoice - which dims droning background noise.  Even though that software is geared to better hearing in noise, which it does, it also seems to result in better hearing in general.   And that means greater confidence in every situation, which means casual conversations in any environment.

Thinking back - I started a conversation with someone near the falls, which meant with the roar of the falls in the background.

And then we went on the Maid of the Mist, which is a boat ride that takes you right next to the falls. 

I made sure that I wouldn't get my cochlear implant processors wet - even though they're water resistant, I wanted to play it safe. Good thing, too - because I got drenched!  We were SO close to the waterfalls that I was being doused with spray. 

So I was experiencing sight, sound, and touch - incredible!

Everywhere we went, I found myself striking up casual conversations.  Like when we went on an aerial tram ride over the whirlpool down river from the falls.  It was hard not to strike up a conversation when you're on a cable car that looks like this (that's me looking up).


We visited the Botanical Gardens, which had a Butterfly Conservatory -

and I found myself talking with children, as we all marveled at this enchanted butterfly world.

We explored quaint Niagara-on-the-Lake.

It was all quite idyllic - and I came home with a wonderful feeling of joy - at the perfect weather, the majestic sights - but more than that.  I remembered the last time I had been to Niagara Falls years ago - and the impression I retained was the cloud of hearing loss - looking at the beautiful sights, but nothing more - no connection to the other tourists around me, or even to the nuances of sound.

This was different - sights and sounds - and easy listening.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cochlear Implants: Book talks and more

I've been busy talking!  Book talking, that is.  I had three interesting book talks scheduled in the past few weeks - presentations to groups with hearing loss and beyond!

Let's start with the National Court Reporters Assn convention, held in Philadelphia last month.  I was asked to present on "The Basics of Hearing Loss and the Need for CART and Captioning Services."  I was really looking forward to doing this one, as court reporters are the wonderful folks who do realtime captioning (CART), something I desperately needed to function prior to getting my cochlear implants - and that I still use depending on the event and environment.  I had intended to speak and answer questions for an hour and then do a booksigning with the remaining 30 minutes.  But the discussions got so intense and meaningful, we overflowed to 90 minutes - and then continued with the booksigning in the hallway!  A few days later, I was delighted to see an NCRA member review of my session posted on the NCRA website - calling my session "beyond inspiring."  Made my day!

And then a few days later, I learned that one of the court reporters, who had attended my session, lent a copy of my book Listening Closely to one of her neighbors, whose daughters have Usher's Syndrome (deaf/blind).  Again, I was delighted to learn that the mother had written a blog about my books entitled "A special book and author"!  I wrote those books to help others, so it was such an incredible feeling to know that goal was being met once again.

The second book talk was at my temple's Book Club.  They had chosen my book, Listening Closely , to discuss.  I was looking forward to this discussion too - new territory for me - as I wanted to delve into the spiritual aspects of my book, not just cochlear implants as miracles, but the interesting circumstances that surrounded the events and writing of this book. We began with the title - that it refers to more than just hearing. Two hours later, we were still going strong, with many opinions and perspectives - but had to stop then because they had to close the building.  I'm looking forward to addressing other groups on this topic. After all, a device that allows the deaf to hear is a miracle - with much to discuss if you listen closely.

And the third book talk occurred yesterday, when I addressed the Morris County (NJ) chapter of the Hearing Loss Assn of America.  Since this group included people with hearing aids, cochlear implants, as well as spouses, I made sure to cover the entire landscape. And that is what is so incredible about my 40 years' experience with hearing loss - it encompasses:
  • normal hearing
  • a slow degenerative hearing loss that provided experience with all degrees of hearing loss - mild, moderate, severe, profound
  • using a cochlear implant in one ear - vintage 1997
  • enduring a device failure after 10 years
  • understanding what sudden deafness is like - as a device failure plunged me from hearing into silence
  • being reimplanted, and comparing and contrasting new technology to old
  • using one CI was like having single-sided deafness
  • the benefits of bilateral hearing with two CIs - particularly from the user's point of view, not just booth testing
With that as background, I mentioned why my blog is called ASK ARLENE, and why my Walk4Hearing team is also called ASK ARLENE !  And ask they did!  And I also did a booksigning - and I know those books will help others understand hearing loss and cochlear implants.

That's what's been keeping me busy - speaking and connecting with others - on hearing loss, cochlear implants, and beyond.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bilateral Cochlear Implants: The Sounds of Sadness

Here's one topic I haven't seen discussed, yet I know it impacts virtually everyone with hearing loss: funerals and the related mourning rituals.  It's another one of those experiences that is particularly painful for those with hearing loss, yet is rarely talked about.  It's on my mind today because I attended two funerals in the past ten days.

In the years prior to getting my cochlear implants, funerals were particularly sad - as I would sit in respectful silence through prayers and eulogies, never understanding a word. It was as if I were engaged in an alternative service, one of quiet contemplation as I took in the visual aspects of the rituals.  I was having a totally different experience from everyone else.  It was sadness heaped upon sadness.

When I received my cochlear implants, that changed.  And now with bilateral cochlear implants, I felt truly connected to the people,  the proceedings, and the dignity of this human rite of passage.  I could hear the eulogies, I could greet people and provide comfort to them - the focus wasn't on me or my hearing loss.  I have to mention that there's one sound that still startles me when I hear it - the hollow thud of dirt hitting a coffin.  It's something I had never heard before getting my cochlear implants.

I know this subject may sound depressing, but there's a reason for these rituals and the grieving process - and as with other life events, they're deeply impacted by hearing loss.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Insider's Guide to Bilateral Cochlear Implants

I'm always delighted to share information about cochlear implants, particularly the benefits of bilateral cochlear implants.   Even though there's a lot of information in my books about the subject, an article or a blog can provide it in another format, and have the potential to reach even more people about this important topic.

I was delighted to write the following article for a cochlear implant help website www.cochlearimplantHELP.com

Here's the link to my guest blog entry "Bilateral Cochlear Implants - On Beyond the Testing Booth"
It's an insider's guide to the benefits of bilateral cochlear implants, that only someone who has experienced it can explain - which is why I call it "on beyond the testing booth"!

Please feel free to share, leave comments, and ask questions!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cochlear Implant Realities - even in elevators

This week I attended the New Jersey Governor's Conference for Women, held in the Atlantic City Convention Center.  It was my third time attending this event, and I looked forward to it. The focus of this conference is to empower, with a full schedule of networking receptions, workshops and inspirational speakers.  With my bilateral cochlear implants, I'm much better equipped to "work a room" at the networking receptions - something impossible to do if you can't flit from one person to the next seamlessly and confidently.  I could also function quite well at the workshops, but used an assistive listening device at the huge plenary sessions in the cavernous convention hall with 1000 other women.

One of the workshops really struck a chord with me - "Creating Your Personal Elevator Pitch" - a how-to of making a good first impression in 30 to 60 seconds.  As the panel presenters gave their helpful tips, it dawned on me that all of them were making a big assumption - being able to hear.  I'm not shy at these events, so I jumped at the chance to explain to the packed room that "elevator speeches" had particular relevance for me.  I wrote about talking to people in elevators in my first book, Hear Again.  When my hearing was at the profound level, whenever I entered an elevator, I would hope that people wouldn't talk to me, simply because I wouldn't be able to understand them and respond.  I would actually avert my eyes away from the people in the elevator, as I tried to avoid communication - and embarrassment.  My cochlear implants changed that - with my first one bringing me back to communicating with people, and then my bilateral CIs, allowing me to connect to the people around me.  No "better side" anymore, and that, too, is empowering.

I felt obligated to bring my personal perspectives to the attention of that roomful of hearing people.  I'm sure they all probably take their normal hearing for granted, but perhaps I opened their eyes a bit.  I also described my books and advocacy - and got a round of applause.  As usual, someone came over to me after the session, asking for help in coping with her own hearing loss - a perfect example of networking and empowering.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cochlear Implants Meet Motor Vehicles Bureaucracy

It would seem that a simple trip to the Motor Vehicles Bureau to renew a driver's license should be no big deal. With totally normal hearing, that would certainly be the case.  Just bring the proper forms, stand on this line and that line, take a photo, get the license and be on one's way.  With a hearing loss - no matter what the level or mode of communication - it is not quite that simple.  My recent experience - a trip to the Motor Vehicles Bureau to renew my driver's license - is a case in point.

Of course, now that I have bilateral cochlear implants, I'm much better equipped to handle a situation like this - certainly better than before. I could go there with some degree of confidence, but it was still a minefield of unknowns.

The adventure began with the renewal form.  In New Jersey, there's a box that asks if you have any physical condition, and a place to explain.  I had heard from other people that New Jersey was requiring some sort of letter from a hearing professional certifying that a person had a hearing loss, so that it could be indicated on the driver's license.  Hearing is not a requirement to drive, but I pondered whether I should check off "YES" to a physical condition. There was nothing about needing a letter - just that YES/NO question.  I checked off YES, and put "hearing loss" as the explanation.  I wanted to be totally honest, since the form required my signature attesting to its accuracy. And with that YES began the great unknown.  What would they do with that information?

My mind raced to previous experiences - like in New York many years ago, where they actually gave me a rudimentary hearing test right on the spot!  Or when I tried to get hearing loss indicated on my New Jersey license, but the woman looked at me and said I was hearing her fine. (I was lipreading most of what she said.)  So with that as background, and having that YES box checked, I was no longer like the hearing people standing on line with me.  I was not having the simple experience they were having.

I clutched my papers as I inched towards the reception desk.  When it was my turn, I watched the agent carefully as he went through my paperwork. This was the first challenge because these people look down at the papers, and talk to you at the same time - so no lipreading.  And I understood him - so there was no indication of hearing loss there.  He looked at my Passport, my Debit Card, my Driver's License. And then the Renewal License application card with that YES box checked - the longest moment of all.  No comment at all about it - just proceed to the next desk.  A sigh of relief, but on to the next trial.

At the next desk - again they checked all the papers - again they looked down as they spoke to me - again I understood what they were saying.  And again, they didn't do anything special about that YES box checked off.  Just follow the red line to the next station.  Another sigh of relief.

The next station was really a test of directionality - and I was hoping my bilateral cochlear implants were up to the task.  There were six agents with the line feeding from the middle - so three were to the left and three were to the right.  I would need to know which agent was calling out "NEXT".  I wasn't sure if I could do that - but sure enough, I heard something to my left, and saw a woman waving her hand to come over.  Again, they talked while looking down at the papers.  Did I want to keep the picture from my previous license - YES. How was I going to pay?  Swipe the credit card when I'm ready.  I followed all the instructions - and she handed me my new driver's license.   I did it!!

I looked at the back and it said "No Restrictions."  So, for all the doubt and worry, I came through fine.  I don't know what would have happened if I weren't able to hear well enough to get through this process without raising awareness about my hearing loss.  That's the unknown here.  But the reality still is that something as simple as renewing a driver's license is just not simple for anyone with a hearing loss - even if they can hear.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cochlear Implants and Auditory Memory

My cochlear implant odyssey continues, and today the subject is auditory memory.  I have written about this before - in my book, Listening Closely: A Journey to Bilateral Hearing.  

Auditory memory can be defined as "the ability to process information presented orally, analyze it mentally and store it to be recalled later."  In Listening Closely, I described the most amazing occurrence when I had just gotten my new upgraded CI processor, which had better capacity to represent pitch and music.  I was playing a Chopin Nocturne, a piano piece I had originally played as a teenager - and rather than branch out to master new music, I preferred to play this familiar work over and over, just altering the tempo and phrasing. The moment I played it in a very slow and mournful way, my brain immediately informed me that was the way I had played it on the day President Kennedy was shot, 45 years before!  (I don't bother writing about things unless they are truly newsworthy!)  My brain was absolutely right - that was exactly the way an impressionable teenager coped with the enormous emotions that day, by playing a mournful rendition of that romantic piece. So much for my auditory memory - and the power of cochlear implant technology to replicate that piano sound so accurately as to trigger that long-buried memory!  If you'd like to find that passage in the book, it's on page 82, in the section entitled, of course, "The Persistence of Memory."

Fast forward to yesterday - and some of my new "toys."  I had just purchased Bose high quality "Quiet Comfort 15" headphones that had been recommended by some of my techie CI friends.  They would fit over the "t-mic" microphones of my CI processors, while providing the best sound quality available.  I had just gotten a brand new iPhone, too, so I could plug these headphones right into that device.  I wanted to do more music  listening and practice, to develop my listening skills even further - and also to listen to speech as well, also as practice.  

Here comes the fun part.  I was discussing all this with my husband, and showing him how the headphones would fit right over my t-mics, when I suddenly shouted out "CAP-TAIN VID-EO," with a robust intonation that I hadn't thought about in decades.  Readers of a certain age will know that Captain Video was a TV show in the early 1950's - so early, in fact, that I don't even remember watching it.  But I evidently did remember how the announcer pronounced the name of the show -  "CAP-TAIN VID-EO!" - with a certain rhythm and tonality.  Now that is auditory memory!  And for those who don't remember, or aren't old enough to know, Captain Video - listen to the beginning of this YouTube recording of the beginning of the show - and pay attention to how the announcer says "CAPTAIN VIDEO!"   

The title at the beginning of the TV show

Now comes more fun stuff.  Here are two pictures of what Captain Video looked like, along with his Video Ranger:

Captain Video and his Video Ranger

And here's what I look like with my new Bose headphones, that triggered that auditory memory!

Bionic Arlene as Captain Video!

Now, you can really appreciate the impact of speech and hearing in children.  I was so young that I don't even remember watching this program, but the sound of that show evidently made an impression - and an auditory memory - over five decades ago.

And the interesting part is that Captain Video was all science fiction - but Bionic Arlene with her Bose headphones on her bilateral cochlear implant processors - allowing this deaf person to hear music in stereo - is most definitely science reality.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cochlear Implant Adventures: Receptive/Expressive Language and the Birds

I've been a cochlear implant user for 14 years, so the sound of birds is nothing new to me - or so I thought.  I could hear the birds with my original CI and was delighted to have birdsong back in my life.  With my newer cochlear implant, I discovered that I could hear the birds from an even greater distance. And when I went bilateral, hearing with two cochlear implants, it was then that I had my first experience hearing where the sounds were coming from - directionality.

In my book, Listening Closely: A Journey to Bilateral Hearing,  I described listening to all kinds of birds, and became familiar with the different species - my favorite being the roseate spoonbill.  I enjoyed saying its name - it involved so many mouth movements and sounds. R-O-S-E-A-T-E  S-P-O-O-N-B-I-L-L.  I felt like a baby babbling - and that's probably what I was doing, getting used to hearing with two ears again, and honing my speech articulation.

Roseate Spoonbill

We're back in Florida, and back to watching birds again - the very same place I discovered bilateral CI directionality three years ago - Wakodahatchee Wetlands.  There are plenty of native birds here in a natural habitat, fascinating to observe - and hear.  I've become good at telling where the bird sounds are coming from.  I've been doing that for three years now, so while it's not a new trick, I still take pleasure in having this capability now.

I was back at Wakodahatchee just yesterday (just being able to say that name is a triumph in itself!) - and it always seems to have something new going on.  Aside from the flurry of activity of baby birds in their nests, I got to have my picture taken with this double-crested cormorant.  He didn't seem to mind posing with me, no matter how close I got.  Maybe he thought I was just another bird - a red-headed white-capped chickadee!

Double-crested Cormorant with Red-headed White-Capped Chickadee

I was getting pretty comfortable being around the birds. One of the bird calls I find easy to identify is the  Red-winged Blackbird.  

Red-winged Blackbird

I knew exactly where this bird was calling from - and, oddly, I started to imitate it.  I never did that before.  It had two distinct calls that I could detect - one a screeching kind of sound, but another that sounded like "ba-JEEB-idda-JEEB-idda"!   It was sitting on the fence railing, listening to me - so I kept singing its song "Ba-JEEB-idda-JEEB-idda"!  And it sat there talking back - looking exactly like the above picture.

I was having fun with this - definitely having a good time conversing with this bird.  I didn't think too much of it - until later.  I usually sleep on things before writing about them - and this little "talk to the birds" episode had me thinking.  

It does seem that,  in general, I've become more gregarious, initiating conversation with people - in elevators, in stores, casually - to the extent that I've noticed a difference in my personality.  Comparing this behavior to just one year ago, I'm finding myself not just content to be able to join in a conversation, or respond appropriately when approached - I now seem to enjoy initiating social contact.  I had thought that came with the confidence of knowing that I'd be able to hear the response.   But that also got me thinking about the vocabulary that speech pathologists use - receptive language versus expressive language.

Receptive language means you understand what is being said - and expressive language is being able to speak to communicate.  I'm no expert in speech development in children, but babies do seem to understand language before they speak it. And part of that process includes babbling, which I've done - and listening to others speak and respond, which I've done.  But the next step would seem to be initiating conversation - which I started doing more proactively about a year or so ago - perhaps at two years bilateral.  

Interesting - I'm a precocious infant again, following some sort of infant/child language launch sequence that began when my second CI was activated.  If I were really 3 1/2 again, I'd be talking to my dolls.  But now, it seems, I'm practicing my expressive language skills on the birds!  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cochlear Implant Adventures Part VI: Smiling, Shining, Confident

Now to report on my last day in California - the end of an exciting week that had begun with a visit to Advanced Bionics and a spectacular sunrise.
The view from our downtown Los Angeles hotel on this last day of our trip wasn't quite the illuminating spectacle I was treated to a week ago, but it was still worth photographing - the big sky, the mountain backdrop, the glow from the east.  Here's the view from my hotel window - and if you look closely, you can see the LA Opera building on the right, alongside a partial view of silvery Disney Hall.

Sunrise in downtown Los Angeles

We only had a few hours left to sightsee before heading to the airport, so the pick for the day was Rodeo Drive, that fabled street of luxury stores.  I had always heard so much about it, and it seemed like the ideal place to spend our last few hours in Los Angeles - just park the car, walk up and down the boulevard until we ran out the clock on our week in California.

The experience was as "bling" as I had expected - no disappointments here!  We stopped at every store window, dropped into a few shops to browse, spoke with some salespeople.  No hearing revelations - just a perfect way to see this legendary location in person.  Shoes, jewelry, fashions:

Gucci shoes
Fashion displays

We meandered up the charming Rodeo North side street, with its Tiffany and Versace stores:

Tiffany and Versace shops on Rodeo Drive North

It was right there, as I was window shopping in front of Tiffany's, that my husband suddenly told me to STOP.  He had to take my picture at that moment - the sun was casting its illuminating glow on me!  After viewing the photo, I thought immediately of the excerpt from my book, Listening Closely, that I had read to the Advanced Bionics staff just one week ago, about creating a masterpiece with my cochlear implants.  Considering the hearing adventures of the past week that I've written about in these blog episodes - the music, the casual conversations, the greater ease of socializing - my masterpiece description was coming to life here on Rodeo Drive:

"In essence, the masterpiece I am creating this time is more like an impressionist painting - a Renoir portrait, perhaps?  The shades are subtle, they blend, you can't really see the image clearly unless you step back, and it takes a while to appreciate what you're looking at.  The image that is emerging is someone who can hear even better than before - smiling, shining, confident - and hearing impaired continues to recede farther into the background."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cochlear Implant Adventures Part V: LIVE - Jeopardy & Opera!

My whirlwind week in California continued to go according to plan (except for the Los Angeles traffic jams.)   What an amazing experience to see my expectations met and exceeded!  A quick recap - Advanced Bionics visit, Nethercutt Collection, Palm Desert weekend, Huntington Library and Gardens - plus brunches and dinners with friends in Rancho Mirage and Pasadena.  (I like saying the word "Pasadena" - makes my mouth happy.)  Now back to Los Angeles for Jeopardy in the morning, and the LA Opera in the evening - with the beach in between. 

Remember that I'm a deaf person with bilateral cochlear implants, with a long history of dealing with hearing loss.  I have always chosen carefully where I planned to visit and what I planned to do, never forgetting what my preferences are, and my limitations.  Although I watch Jeopardy on television, I always watch it with the captioning on, and I knew that going to a live taping of Jeopardy would have no captions and no assistive listening system available.  I had my eyes wide open on this.  I was confident enough now that I would be able to function reasonably well there.  And as for opera - I have been attending the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts in the movie theaters, so I knew I was ready to experience it live and that I would hear it well enough to enjoy it  - and  invest in the price of the tickets (our live opera tickets cost six times the price of the movie theater version).  It was ironic that both events ended up on the same day, especially considering that the opera and Jeopardy are not every-day occurrences. 

Here's a picture of me right outside the Jeopardy sound stage at the Sony Studios in Culver City, near downtown LA.  
Arlene outside of the Jeopardy studio

Those sound studios are BIG.  We had our tickets in hand, but had to wait and wait until we were allowed to enter the studio and take our seats.  As we were waiting, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was in LA visiting her son.  We chatted up a storm, and discovered we had so many things in common.  I guess it's not surprising to find like-minded people on a line for Jeopardy - but still, it was delightful to make a new friend, something I surely couldn't have done at all without my CIs, and certainly easier to do with my bilateral equipment.  

Here's what the Jeopardy set looked like. We were seated more to the right, so could see behind the contestants.  We learned that they are standing on little elevator platforms that could be raised or lowered, so that all their heads would be at the same height from the front.  

Jeopardy TV stage set

When the show started, I could watch the stage, or view the video screen off to the side. There were no captions, of course, as those are added post-production - and no assistive listening devices.  I was on my own.  I actually did quite well - and interestingly, I could understand the announcer, veteran Johnny Gilbert, best of all.  I could understand his voice without looking and without concentrating.  I couldn't really understand some of the contestants all the time, but if I knew the answers, then I did better than when I didn't.  Verdict on my decision to see Jeopardy?  WIN!  Yes, I would do it again.  Maybe next time as a contestant!  (NOT!)

Having a little fun at the Jeopardy studio

Interestingly, Wheel of Fortune is also taped in this sound studio, so we had our picture taken with this poster as well:

Arlene & Ira at Sony Studios

We spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the Pacific Ocean at Venice Beach, and then realized that getting back to our hotel would involve getting stuck in more LA traffic!  Oh no!  We left too little time to get back to the hotel to change our clothes, so I went to the opera wearing my jeans and sneakers!  (Oh, my!)

Arlene outside the LA Opera

When I researched the LA Opera, I couldn't believe that one of the few performances by Placido Domingo would fit exactly into our plans.  He was playing the title role in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, an opera I had already seen in the Met movie version, so this gave me an opportunity to compare. 

Placido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra

This opera house looked a bit like the Met in Lincoln Center in NYC - similar outside architecture. 

LA Opera
Inside, it had what most opera houses have now - supertitles over the stage to display the text line by line.  (By comparison, the Met has seatback captions - and the Met broadcasts in the movie theaters display the text as subtitles on the screen.)
LA Opera with supertitle screen over the stage
They also had display screens on the side of the orchestra, near my seats.  

Screen on the side to display the text

I always enjoy visiting theaters I've never been to before, and observing the audience.  Each location seems to have its own style and rhythm.   I could hear the music quite well - the orchestra sounded better to me in person than the Met movie version - a fuller sound.  The soloists, however, didn't have as robust a sound as the movie theater experience.  It seems as though they didn't have the balance right between the orchestra and the soloists. It could have been the sound mixing, the voices, the microphones, or just me.

At the intermission, we looked out from the terrace, and were able to see Disney Hall, the new Frank Gehry building with its avant garde architecture.
Disney Hall by Frank Gehry

That was on my "to see" list as well, so I'm glad we had a chance to see it up close!  

I was really thrilled to have had the chance to experience opera like this - live and in person is like nothing else.  I especially like the curtain calls - the standing ovations, the bravos - on and on and on.  I loved being part of it, live and in person!  And because I had the confidence to purchase these tickets, that I knew I would be able to hear it, I was able to experience the excitement of it all.  Priceless!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cochlear Implant Adventures Part IV: Headphones, T-mics and Dolls

My week in California continued - and I was loving every minute of it! The day I spent at Advanced Bionics had been so special, meeting and talking to the entire staff - the very people who created my miracle of hearing.  

I had researched the activities for the rest of the week very carefully - planning to visit friends and places - with practically every moment accounted for.  The Nethercutt Collection, with its vintage cars and amazing music machines, had exceeded my expectations - I loved everything I saw and heard.  From there we headed east to visit friends in Palm Desert.  It was then that we got an education in Los Angeles traffic jams!  What should have been a two-hour drive ended up taking four hours! 

But it was worth the drive - visiting with friends from college, and taking in the fabulous views from their house on the hills.  
Palm Desert Vistas

These friends knew me before I lost my hearing, and kept up all the years since.  The last time we visited them in Palm Desert was when I visited Advanced Bionics last time, in 2009, to do the Connect to Patient presentations (Click here to see that video.)  The weekend was very relaxed - and there's no doubt that improved function with my bilateral cochlear implants contributed to the increased ease of socialization that I felt.  I found myself catching casual comments right away - feeling more connected, not needing repeats. It changed the dynamics of the visit - at least for me, anyway.  

After a relaxing weekend, we headed back towards Los Angeles, stopping to tour the marvelous Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens just south of Pasadena.  This was another "diamond" attraction in the AAA book - and I brake for diamond attractions!  We had just two hours to spend here, so thankfully, we had no traffic problems this time!  We walked straight to the mansion that housed the main art collection.  

Main hallway at the Huntington mansion

When we entered, it was more impressive than I had imagined - seeing that grand staircase, and knowing what treasures those rooms held.   The very first stop was where they gave out the recorded tour guides and headphones.  I always love following recorded guided tours. I always heard them so well with my CIs, just like the recorded books I used for listening practice.  But what happened next was intriguing and unexpected. 

The woman behind the counter handed me the digital tour guide recorder, and then proceeded to put the headphones on me.  My husband looked at me - I looked at him - we both knew that my "ears" were really my Harmony processor t-mics - the ear-level microphones of my cochlear implant processors that allow me to use headphones just like someone with normal hearing.  I thought for an instant to tell the woman about my equipment, but then I thought WHY?  So I just let her put the headphones on me, just like a person with normal hearing.  This is what people looked like walking through the galleries, and I looked just like that, too!

Visitors using the recorded tour guides with headphones
This was actually the first time I had used headphones with two CIs for a guided tour, and I knew immediately it sounded better than I had expected. The sounds were merging as one, and made listening easier.

The Huntington mansion had some very famous paintings, namely Pinkie and Blue Boy:



I was expecting to see those paintings - I had read up on this museum, but it was this little treasure that caught me by surprise - Girl Holding a Doll by James Peale, done in 1804.  
Girl Holding a Doll - Peale

I collect dolls, and I also collect pictures of girls holding their dolls.  I had never seen this oil painting before, or even knew about it.  I was intrigued.  One of the most interesting pictures I had ever come across of a girl holding a doll was the one of Helen Keller, taken in 1888, when she was 8 years old.  It was the only one ever found of her with a doll, and it only came to light 120 years after it was taken - in 2008 - the week that my first cochlear implant stopped working.  I wrote about this in my book, Listening Closely (page 38).

Helen Keller with her doll in 1888

I knew I had to buy a postcard of that Girl Holding a Doll painting, and was so glad that the museum's gift shop had them available.  What was rather curious, though, was that when I went to purchase two of these postcards, the cashier asked me about them. I found myself discussing "girl with doll" pictures and my doll collection. What occurred to me later was that even in that noisy gift shop, I responded immediately to that cashier without asking for repeats. My behavior was just "normal" - thinking about what I was talking about rather than wondering if I would hear her.  And I only realized this afterwards, and am still marveling at this experience, because it was so odd to be asked those questions in that busy shop - and unexpected dialogue is the hardest speech to understand.  Score another little victory for my bilateral cochlear implants!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cochlear Implant Adventures Part III: Vintage Cars and Music Machines

My visit to Advanced Bionics was everything I had hoped for - so exciting to actually experience carefully laid plans unfold so beautifully well.  Since I had come such a distance, from Florida to California, I had plans for the rest of the week - to visit friends, take in some of the sights, and best of all - go to the LA Opera to hear Placido Domingo, and also see a taping of the TV show, Jeopardy!  

The next stop was the Nethercutt Collection, just down the road from Advanced Bionics, in Sylmar, California.  I had selected this museum because it is a "diamond" attraction in the AAA book, and those are always worth seeing.  I've always reviewed in my mind what sort of listening challenges any attraction would present.  If there are tour guides, videos - anything that would require hearing - I'd always review how I'm likely to do. This time, with my bilateral cochlear implants, I knew I could pretty much handle anything - maybe not 100%, but I had enough confidence that I wouldn't have to resort to any extraordinary measures.  And I was right - as the accounts of my week's touring will show.

The Nethercutt Collection was actually two museum buildings - the vintage automobiles housed in one building, and additional vintage automobiles and an impressive music-making collection in a second building across the street.  The automobile building had no tour guides - just meandering among row upon row of an impressive collection of dozens and dozens of fantastically restored vintage automobiles.  I can't say that vintage automobiles are my primary interest, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience knowing these machines existed, and were now on display for all to view.   Here are a few of the them:

And they even had a vast collection of hood ornaments, with a rare collection made by Lalique, the French glass maker:

The museum across the street required taking a tour to view, which meant that I would have to listen to a tour guide. I've been doing quite well with tour guides, but the reality was that I would still need to stand near her to understand her - and this time, I just didn't want to do that for the entire time. So I made the decision to just sit out her talk about the cars, and look at my surroundings. This was NOT like years past where I couldn't hear tour guides, or needed FM systems to understand the tour guide.  I opted out of this by choice - I wanted to sit and relax.  You'll understand why I didn't mind doing this when you see what I had to look at!   

This display space was supposed to replicate what a luxury car showroom looked like in the 1920's.  You could see why I would have had to get close to the tour guide to hear her - with the high ceilings and marble floors, the acoustics were very difficult. So I just opted out and sat on a couch, needing the time out anyway!  (I wasn't the only one doing this, so I still felt "normal.")

The rest of the museum was upstairs, and included vintage music makers - music boxes, band organs, calliopes, a player grand piano and a genuine vintage Wurlitzer movie organ.  This picture shows the various types of music makers.  

First they played one of the huge music boxes, which had violins, drums, organ pipes, and was run like a player piano with a paper roll.  These were used to provide music at dance halls in Europe, instead of hiring a band or orchestra.  Here's the inside of one of the larger ones on display - this one was made in Belgium (I was listening to the tour guide now!)  

This music experience was a big challenge for my bilateral cochlear implants - I wasn't sure what I would be hearing or what they would be playing, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear the big sound that these machines created!  

They also demonstrated this concert grand piano, that had a player piano mechanism, and 97 keys - instead of the usual 88.  Here I am listening to the music - and imagining what it would be like to play it. The keys were actually going up and down as I watched and listened!  Note that the last few keys on the left are all black - those are the extra nine keys.

Arlene sitting at the 97-key concert grand player piano

And then for the grand finale, they played the Wurlitzer movie organ, which was an elaborate pipe organ with an enormous array of pipes built into the room - all hooked up electronically.  Again, I had no idea what to expect - I really didn't know what they were going to play or what this should sound like in this room.  My bilateral CIs were again being put to the test, for sure.

And, once again, it was simply an amazing experience - to know that I could appreciate the incredible sounds produced by these machines.  And even more telling about how I've been adapting to my bilateral cochlear implants,  I now had the confidence that I could handle and appreciate what I was going to experience - and that is really the point of what these bilateral CIs are all about.  Being able to do what others are doing, and enjoy it.