Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Wisdom of Michael Jackson

The headaches have come back a bit. Hopefully they’ll fade, but they are doing a number this week. I’m going to blame my cold, fatigue, and George Bush and see what a few ambien can do. I’m also taking the I’m not going to think about it approach which works great for when get my student loan statements. The headcold was brought on by trying to attend classes, keep up my duties at my social work agency, rehabilitate my knee and religiously follow the Yankees all while learning a new way to hear. The cheap beer I drank in the rain at an outdoor bar in Brooklyn on Friday night may not have helped.

I was amazed at how well I could hear at the bar. The rain made my hair slick so the magnet kept slipping off whenever I turned my head, and I got caught faking like I heard more than once (old habits die hard) yet noisy as the bar was, with lipreading and the implant, I could follow a lot of what was being said.

Then last night I went to a fundraiser for the League for the Hard of Hearing. The food was spectacular. There were some famous people there, but only moderately famous, the kind of people you know you’ve seen them somewhere but you’re not sure if it was on the television or in the elevator. I also met a recent graduate of law school who was implanted in August and turned on September 2nd, a day after I was. She’s doing great with it, though we both had a similar auditory impression of the fundraiser: this is a lot of noise. We went to the same college, ten years apart, so we talked about that.

“Did you have captioning for your classes?” she asked. “Did you have interpreters? Notetakers?”
“No, they didn’t offer those things back then. Or I didn’t know about them.”
”So what’d you do?”
“Slept in.”
‘But what about class? Didn’t you have class?”
“I’d like to think so.”
She rolled her eyes. “I have to find my parents,” she said.

At lunch today, I went in for a mapping session. Michael the mapper boosted my sound levels again, playing around with each electrode to see what sounded comfortable and clear. He set the program at 900 mhz.

”More megahertz, more,” I protested. “More megahertz is more clarity, Mike. I read the books.”
“More isn’t always better with implants,” he said.
“Try it.”
He shrugged and set the implant for 1800. “I’ll play both programs. Tell me which sounds clearer.” He played the two programs. The first one sounded echoey and gooey, the second was clear as a bell.
“The second one definitely," I said. "I told you more is better. The first one is all echoey and indistinct.”
Mike smirked. “The second one’s 900, I switched them.”

More isn’t always better I guess. I had been thinking for three weeks about what things would sound like at a higher megahertz setting (to recap, the number of mh is the number of times per second the implant conveys information to the auditory nerve). Now it turns out a lower setting is clearer. So much for expectations.

With the new program I could carry out a conversation with Michael while he hid his mouth so I couldn’t read his lips.

“What would you like to talk about?” he asked.
“I have a question for you.”
“What is it?”
“What’s it like being named Michael Jackson?” I asked.
“It’s ok. It’s fine.”
“It’s fine?”
He spoke quickly. “Look, of course you have your people who ask if my sister’s named Janet, or how’s my brother Tito and then there are people who think its sooo original to ask if I can moonwalk and if I like working with kids, and the ones who say ‘wow your last surgery looks much better, very natural,” and then there are the really really clever ones who say, ‘I knew you were innocent, I’m so glad you got off.’ But no, doesn’t bother me.”

It was quiet for a minute.

“K,” I nodded, not sure what to say. “Nine hundred seems pretty good.”

We finetuned the implant some more. Sound was causing a stinging sensation so we went back and tested each of the 22 electrodes individually and found that five of them (numbers 13-17 to be exact) stung when stimulated. Turns out that the electricity at those electrodes was stimulating a nearby pain nerve. We slowly turned the electricity down until that sensation stopped.

“That’s freaky,” I said.
“What’s freaky?”
“We’re pumping so much juice in there that were popping random nerves.”
Michael shrugged. “That’s nothing, some people's faces start to twitch. The electricity comes in contact with their facial nerve.” He demonstrated the twitch.
“You might be enjoying this too much,” I said.
“It’s my job,” he smiled. “I like my job.”

Walking down Second Avenue to the subway afterwards, I found that I was again in a new sound world. Things sounded so much more like themselves – cars, voices, construction workers yelling at each other. It made me tearful -- I hadn’t realized how much I missed them until I heard them.

But also, I really, really needed a nap. More later.


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