Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shh Up!

I'm posting far less than I was at the beginning, and that's because...well...there really isn't much to report. I have definitely peaked as far as volume is concerned. Most sounds are coming in loud and clear from an ear that never really heard all that well to begin with. That's all peachy, but some of these sounds are so different from the other ear. It makes localization very, very difficult (i.e. where was that coming from? Who said that?).

It's also disorienting to hear what is essentially two different takes of the same thing. I need to work on lowering or turning off the HA and leaning on the CI more, rather than having them both at equal levels. It's a constant daily assault in conflicting sounds. A duck may sound like a "quack" with my HA, but it'll sound like "quick" to my CI. Hearing both "quick" and "quack" at the same time at equal volume makes me want to strangle the damn thing. :-) Anyway, the reason I'm not turning off the HA in everyday situations is because voices are still very mushy to me. If I turned off my HA and functioned on my CI only, I cannot carry a conversation with someone unless I'm looking directly at them. So I kind of feel like I need to get the voices cleared up first. Once I can close my eyes and carry a conversation with someone with my CI alone, then I'll be much more comfortable at adapting to the environmental sounds and eventually getting my CI and HA working together.

Understanding voices is a huge hurdle. My speech therapist told me this week that my last mapping made my speech comprehension even worse than it was 2 weeks ago. See, during my last mapping, the audi lowered the high frequencies and raised the low frequencies for better balance of sound. I had complained that certain noises were too loud, drowning out more essential sounds, such as the TV or a person's voice. After he made this adjustment, I instantly noticed that sounds were coming in at a more equalized frequency. One sound didn't overpower another. I was confident that this was what I needed. Of course, little did I know that this messes up my ability to comprehend speech patterns. For instance, I can't detect the difference between shhh and ssss (like shed and said). This drop in high frequency is making me miss out on certain pronunciations and patterns. So not only do voices still sound mechanical and muffled to me, but some words just don't make sense whatsoever.

My next mapping on the 13th. I will be armed with knowledge about speech recognition for this visit, and have my audi adjust my settings so that I can find that elusive balance of speech recongition and comfortable sound levels.

So until then...there isn't much else to do but continue leaning on that CI as much as I comfortably can. Just, well, don't talk to me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Powering up

After a rather uneventful end to October and start of November, I had my one-month mapping session this week and received a much-needed kick in the pants. I had a lot of trouble dealing with volume in the past (the highs were too high, the lows too low), and couldn't quite find a happy middle. Well, all of the levels were re-adjusted yesterday and evened out. Then the overall volume level was kicked up a few notches, while the IDR was boosted to 70 db (as opposed to 60). The world of sound has increased dramatically, and I think it's an important step in my ongoing journey to better hearing.

In order for me to comprehend and understand sounds and speech, I need to hear it, don't I? Well, now I can hear it. Though they still sound mushy and computerized, I can definitely hear voices. Down the hall, in the TV, a few rows back on the bus, etc. I can also hear the hum of my computer at work, sneezes from coworkers down the hall (though sometimes I can't tell if it's a sneeze or a cough. In which case, I don't say "bless you" in fear that it was a cough. Is that rude? Discuss.), the keys jangling in my pocket, my wife tapping on the keyboard of the Mac 10 feet away from me as I watch TV, all that fun stuff. I'm picking up sounds I would never have heard in that ear on its own. That's power, that's how strong these CI's are. Much stronger than the hearing aid ever will be.

Now it's up my brain to pick up the slack. It's time to interpret these sounds, make sense of them, comprehend what the sounds are and what's being said. I'm feeling more comfortable lowering the volume of my hearing aid and letting my CI do some heavy lifting. I need to start leaning on that CI and not be so dependent on the hearing aid. That's a tough thing to do because I hate asking people to repeat things, I hate not knowing what certain sounds are around me.

It's almost like I'm doing those trust exercises where I fall backwards and hope someone catches me. Turning off the hearing aid is like closing my eyes. I'll be saying "What?" a lot, and I'll be doing a lot of double-takes and second-guessing (wait, was that a sneeze or cough? or neither? uh, what's that smell?), more than my daily quota. I need to trust the CI, and someday, sometime, the sounds coming to me will be as clear as daylight.

So do me a favor. If you fart, and I say "Bless you," just say "Thank you," and walk away. I'll figure it out in a few minutes anyway.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blast off!

Just learned a little something today about hearing loss. Those with CIs are not prone to (further) damage due to loudness! You know how advocates are saying that constant exposure to loud sounds - whether from blasting music, elevated street noise, and the like - is a very serious cause of hearing loss. Well, this excessive noise causes damage to the hair cells in your cochlea, which down the road may prevent sound from transmitting to your brain.

We bionic folks are immune to this because our hair cells aren't used to transmit sounds to our brain. We have electrodes! Fancy schmancy!

So it's nice to know we can blast away and not have to worry about destroying our ears in the process. Does this make us superhuman? Well, not quite. We are not immune to headaches.

So somebody please, for the love of all things holy, turn that $&@%#ing thing down?!!!

Laying down the tracks

Now this is where things get tricky.

You know it's time for a new mapping when you are kind of stuck in hearing limboland. This is neither a good thing nor bad, but it is frustrating when you are an impatient person. Though I do consider myself patient, I should note that I am also greedy.

I want more, dammit! But whenever, no rush. :-)

Here's the issue. I'm at a point where I can pick up a lot of sounds at a comfortable level, mostly environmental. You know, the door closing, keyboard clacking, car turn signal, brakes squealing on the bus. But some sounds are too soft to register or make out. Voices are the hardest, while music and tv are wildly mixed. If I turn up my volume so I can hear the voices better, the other sounds get too loud. I'm stuck in a position where I'm ready to hear more, but my current volume control is too sensitive. Too loud when I turn it up, too soft when I turn it down. The middle ground is just not working.

Think of a music editor in the sound room, laying down several tracks of a song one at a time. Each track consists of a single instrument or vocal. I got drums down right off the bat. After the next mapping and some time lapse, I was able to pick up the piano, maybe trumpet or sax, and some higher-pitched vocals. Then, after more time and mapping, I was able to hear the guitar strings and more of the softer vocals. I'm still missing some key instruments and vocals to pick up the full song. It doesn't sound complete. After the next mapping and additional time lapse, I'll be able to lay down more tracks.

I was supposed to go today for my one month mapping (one month! Yeesh!), but it was pushed back to next Wednesday. Meanwhile, I have auditiory rehab on Monday (and at my current settings, I don't imagine it will be fun!), and am working on nursing myself to better health. Since my surgery 2 months ago, I've been hit with a series of colds and stomach bouts, struggling to keep my energy up and just feeling good again. Gotta build up that immunity! Time to get back to the gym and start eating better.

First order of business....birthday cake, and lots of it!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


"Hello. My name is Dave and I am ... bionic."

The group shouts in unison. "Hi Dave!"

Ok, maybe that's not what really happened at "rehab," but dammit, it should have! I wanted the donuts and bad coffee and anonymous strangers congratulating me on my 3 weeks of new hearing. Unfortunately, if I want *that* kind of a rehab session, I'll have to start drinking or taking illegal substances.  Oh well...there's always next year.

So, I met with a speech therapist today for an initial auditory rehab meeting. She just basically assessed my speech hearing, more or less. She didn't care about music or sounds or noises -- she wanted to know how well I can comprehend speech with my new CI. And I knew from the get-go that speech was going to be a really big challenge.  Voices sound terrible to me -- an annoying garbled, underwater sound comes out of everyone's mouths when they speak. Volume is increasing, but clarity is still questionable. But I can pick up syllables, beats and pitches, and that's why the therapist thinks I'm on the right track. The clarity of voices will come naturally over time.

She said I scored about 50% on some unofficial assessment tests she gave me. Not bad at all after 3 weeks of activation. She was impressed, but noted that more work needs to be done. My brain is doing what it's supposed to do, it is still adjusting to the new sounds coming in. But I have to keep at it!

I will meet with her 4 times in the next two months for some rehabbing and further assessments. I'm doing my own rehabbing as well, from the AB's Listening Room exercises.

No wonder I've been skipping the gym lately. Though I'm hardly lifting a finger here, these auditory work outs are exhausting enough!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stepping it up!

I went for my 3rd mapping yesterday, and what a step up! I knew I was ready for another visit. I kept increasing the volume over the weekend. I was at the point on Sunday where I couldn't raise it any higher -- I had maxed out my current settings. My brain wanted MORE and I couldn't give it more.

But yesterday....I got more.

Prior to the tweak, my audi's voice (like all voices) was muffled, sounding like it was underwater and very computerized. He boosted my volume and gave me a higher IDR (from 50 to 60). Instantly, I was able to make out his voice. I was able to determine that it was male and make sense of some words. It's a bit clearer now. Don't get me wrong, I still have a lot of work to do, but it's definitely a step up. He covered his mouth and said 5 sentences. I got 4 of them right. He was impressed, and quite frankly, so was I!

So I am happy that my brain is soaking it all in and craving more. With my new settings, I will have more work to do in the next two weeks. I can make it louder, but right now, my brain is telling me to slow it down. The new sounds are still a lot to take in. Not only am I not used to such high volume and the amount of sounds coming in, but my brain is also dealing with competing ears! One ear is normal-sounding (the HA) and the other ear is completely alien and distorted. It can be very overwhelming sometimes, so I have to tread slowly before I continue to raise the volume.

My current programs are:

Pgm 1 = HiRes-S with Fidelity 120, IDR 60, 50/50 External Mic and T-Mic. This is for my everyday, quieter situations.

Pgm 2 = HiRes-S with Fidelity 120, IDR 50, 50/50 External Mic and T-Mic. The lower IDR is for noisy settings. It decreases the window of sound.

Pgm 3 = HiRes-S with Fidelity 120, IDR 50, 30/70 External Mic and telecoil. This is for my looped system, for listening to the iPod, DVD player, computer, etc, while also hearing the outside world.

My audi wasn't keen on trying 100% t-mic yet, and he also thought it was too soon to try IDR 70. I'm going again on 11/12 for my one-month mapping, and maybe we'll try those settings out then. In the meantime, I'm soaking it all in one day at a time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bits and Pieces

--One day at a time, I've been alternating HiRes-S and HiRes-P (singular electrodes vs paired electrodes). There is a resounding difference between the two. S is softer and gentler to my ear. The sounds aren't as shocking and abrasive as P. So on the days that I leave it on P, I find myself reacting strongly to certain sounds -- doors closing, toilets flushing, babies crying. It's not because they are loud, per se. Just very coarse, with a little bit of an echo trailing behind it. It's hard to describe the unpleasantness of it. The S setting is so discreet, sometimes I don't even know I'm wearing the CI.

If I had to make a decision today which program I like best, I would choose HiRes-S. But I have until Tuesday to continue experimenting. On Tuesday, the audiologist will build onto the program with the setting I'm most comfortable with.  As we get more advanced and add more power, things will get louder and clearer.

Hopefully. :-)

--I want a wider IDR! IDR (Input Dynamic Range) measures the amount of sound coming into the processor. A wide IDR would be 80 or 90, while a lower IDR would be 30 or 40. A fellow CI recipient explains it best this way: To best illustrate this think of a window - a window opened 60 inches shows you some of the beautiful sights outside the window - a window opened 80 inches can provide even more insight to the things outside that window too (maybe adding the flowers at the bottom of the window that you could not see at 60 inches).

With that scenario in mind, I feel like I'm missing the bigger picture. I'm hearing sounds around me (even if I may not know what it is I'm hearing), but anything beyond 20 feet from me are too soft to register. A wider IDR, I think, would pick it up. The sound of my voice is at a comfortable volume, but everything else is drastically reduced as it inches further away from me.

--I'm playing my own version of "Name That Tune" with my iPod playlist on shuffle. I try to recognize the song that is playing, and most often, I get it right. I can hear the bass and drums really well (which gives the song away, for the most part), but I can't pick up the strings at all. It's like hearing music with only half of the instruments playing. I can also follow the lyrics of the songs I know best. None of the lyrics or music sound "good," really. It's all so very muffled and tinny-sounding. But the fact that I can recognize them and follow along are very positive signs.

It may not seem like it, but I'm making headway, slowly but surely. The changes in my hearing since I last posted are so subtle, but definitely existent. It's only been 9 days!

Monday, October 18, 2010

5 Days Since Activation

It's been 5 days since I've gotten the hook up, and I have only just scratched the surface. Here's what went down since activation day.


More or less the same as Wednesday, the day of activation. Replay after replay of Road Runner cartoons. Beep-Beep, Beep-Beep! And what's really a series of beep-beeps without a million whistles? Good times!


Friday began the next step. I met with my audiologist and did some more "mapping." He did a few volume adjustments, in addition to adding three new program settings. The first program is Hi-Res S (which means the electrodes are fired sequentially), while the second program is Hi-Res P (the electrodes are fired in pairs). From what I have gathered, neither is more superior than the other. Since Hi-Res P has electrodes firing in pairs, the sound input is stronger and more immediate. But strong and fast does not necessarily mean high in quality. What is best is merely personal preference. By next week, I'll need to determine which of the two I'm most comfortable with, and then he will build on that particular setting. The third program is strictly telecoil in the Hi-Res S setting. Telecoil means I can hear sound via a special signal and use my ear hooks (specially designed headphones that can pick up this signal) so I can use my ipod, DVD player, or any other media player. Telecoil is also used for telephone, but I'm not there yet with my CI. Not even close. I believe all of these programs are 50/50 T-mic and microphone, but I am unsure. I requested my audiologist to send me program reports, and I'll be getting them shortly.

After my visit, I experimented with all 3 programs interchangably, especially number 3, with listening exercises on the computer and an episode of Glee. Glee sounded junky - like everyone in the cast had a cold. Voices sounded extremely nasal, and the music was muffled. Sound effects were louder overall - the rustling of paper, the keyboard clacking, etc. The beeps and whistles were decreasing as muffled voices and music were beginning to take form. Since the overall sound was louder, it was starting to compete with my hearing aid. I had difficulty functioning with both the HA and the CI at medium-high levels. I knew I needed to work on favoring one or the other until both units are able to work together.

Needless to say, I was exhausted after assaulting my ear with all of these sounds. There were so many differences with all three programs and I was overwhelming myself by trying all 3 too quickly. I have decided I will alternate program 1 and 2 every other day. This will leave me with a full day of experimenting with a single program, before trying a different one. I will do this for the next week and a half, alternating days, until my next mapping session (on the 26th). Program 3 can be used only via telecoil, so I will use this while on the bus or during breaks at work - listening to books on tape or watching DVDs or doing listening exercises. I will attempt to use program 3 a little bit each day.


Program 1 only, which is Hi-res S. The only thing I adjusted on my processor was volume. I had experience at the mall, at a restaurant, and in my home when it was both quiet and chatty. In all situations, I tried turning off my HA for several minutes, picking up sounds through my CI only. Though I am still unable to make them out, I was able to pick up voices and music. Ryan's voice was the closest to "normal." Most impressive to me was the sounds of ice clinking in the glass in the loud restaurant. Very crisp and clear. I never would have picked that up with just my HA in that ear.

This was a comfortable setting. While I am still struggling with dual competing sounds - one from my HA, the other from the CI - I was beginning to feel at ease with having the CI on me. I had it on all day long, and didn't experience headaches or overwhelming whistles and beeps. I kept everything on a softer volume level so I can get used to the sounds coming in. Of all of the days I've had my CI, it was the least "mechanical."


Program 2 - Hi-Res P - and boy is it stronger! It's very disorienting, and I must say that I don't love it right now. I kept it on all day but found myself lowering the volume a lot. The sound of doors closing, babies crying, me chewing on food were all followed by echos and the occasional whistle, even at a lower volume. The sound of my voice was extremely powerful, but the sound of other voices were very very soft. It was tough finding the right balance.

One unique moment was when I was sitting in the relatively quiet living room and Mara was clipping Ryan's nails 10 feet away from me. The nail-clipping sounded like it was happening right next to me. That was cool. However, it didn't sound like snip-snip-snip, as it sounds through the HA. It sounds more like clink-clink-clink. It didn't quite sound normal to me, but the fact that the sound existed is a good sign!

The Week Ahead

The week ahead will more or less bring me the same results, I'm sure, as I alternate between the two programs. I have a quiet work week ahead of me, so I'm not sure how much environmental practice I'll have. Today, I'm back to Program 1, and it's definitely softer and more comfortable than Program 2. But let's see what the week brings us.

To Be Continued....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 1: Activation!

Let's just get the obvious joke out of the way first.

I was turned on yesterday, and I was so happy to have my wife there with me. Ba-dum-bang!

Ok, moving forward.

So yes, I received my Advanced Bionics processor (aka the CI), had it programmed and activated for use. When the audiologist first turned it on, I really didn't hear anything. I just felt it. There was a pulsating, throbbing feeling in my head - not like a headache, but like the feeling of being at a rock concert without actually hearing the music. I was feeling the sound, but not quite hearing it.

After a few tweaks, I was beginning to pick up beeps and whistles. Every time there was a high pitch, there would be a slight whistle. I knew the device was working - I was hearing all sorts of beeps and whistles when sounds were made. Every beep reflected the pitch and frequency of the sound being made. My audiologist did not adjust any further -- he wanted me to get used to the different levels of sound before increasing the frequency level. So I cannot hear words or music or even distinguish what sounds I'm hearing with the CI just yet.

This is all completely normal. Some people skip the beep and whistle phase and start hearing human voices, words, and clear sounds right away. Of course, I'm not some people. This is me, and this is where I'm at. I have a long journey ahead of me, but who's to tell how long it will take? Think of it as a recovery period -- some people take days to recover from an illness, some take weeks or months. This is my baseline and I will need to work my way upwards. My brain will need to get used to picking up all of these sounds. I will need to focus on what I'm hearing, to understand why things sound in certain ways, as incomprehensible as most of it may be. For instance, if I had my CI on by itself (without using my hearing aid in the other ear), walking in Times Square will sound no different to me than sitting in my office with the fan on. All I'd hear is a constant hum or buzz, a steady stream of noise.

Same thing in a conversation. I can't tell the difference from one word to another, but I can pick up the fact that some words have higher pitches than others. That is the key. The CI is so sophisticated that it picks up even the slightest pitch. My hearing aid never did that.

My bus ride home last night was a great experiment. I turned off the hearing aid and used my CI only. It was a steady hum for a while until I was hearing beeps and whistles. I can tell someone was talking because I would get beeps when a voice would reach a higher pitch. It sounded like the voice was right next to me, but when I turned my hearing aid on, I was able to determine that two people were carrying a conversation in the row behind me. I was impressed that I was able to pick up those sounds, despite not picking up any of the dialogue. Not to worry, words come later.

Also, I was hearing a strange tick-tick-tick sound. Not a beep, not a whistle, but three successive ticks. Then again, 3 more ticks. It sounded so familiar to me. I turned on my hearing aid, and there it was. The sound was coming from the bus driver. He uses a hole puncher to punch three holes on the bus tickets. Tick-tick-tick. He does this every night, so I am familiar with that sound. Last night, I was sitting three rows behind the driver. I would have heard it with my hearing aid, but to hear it with my CI was pleasing to me. I knew it was doing what it was supposed to. It had a crisp, clear sound to it, and that really impressed me.  It sounds exactly like it was supposed to -- tick-tick-tick -- and this tells me that all other sounds will soon sound normal as well.

The crinkling of the magazine pages, the clacking of the keyboard -- all of these sounds are crisp and clear and distinct. Not a bad start. I had the CI for 24 hours, and I am making progress. I'm going back to the audiologist tomorrow to make additional adjustments and we'll see where it takes me. I cannot even predict what kind of "new" sounds I'll be picking up. Part of the fun lies in not knowing what's ahead!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Kids, this is the story of How I Met Your Mother...

This one is for my kids to read in the year 2025.

Ok, kids. I promise I won't take several television seasons and throw many curve balls and cliffhangers to tell this story. This is a one-episode deal here. Beginning, middle and end, and we're out. Ryan, please do not read while hover-boarding.

I like to think I met your mother while riding on the wave of the future. The year was 1995. We were 17 years old. The place was a little known spot called ... the internet. This was before AOL took off, before Facebook, Twitter and MySpace (oh that's right, you don't know what MySpace is. Well, never mind, it was before your time.) We met on an online portal called The Sierra Network, a nifty little place where chatting with complete strangers was not scary, but actually cool and innovative. I don't remember who initiated the chat, but I do remember being a little smitten. Your mom was a red-haired avatar from Howell! We chatted for months, exchanged snail mail letters (yes, actual letters! Written on paper!), as well as emails and photos and the occasional phone call. After a few months of friendly courtship and building anticipation, it was finally time to meet in person.

Mom only lived in the next town over, so it was convenient to meet at the Golden Bell diner on Route 9. I pulled in and drove right past her. Your mother stood there, waving at me, and I was completely oblivious. I just kept driving around in the parking lot.

Way to be cool, dude, way to be cool.

I finally snapped out of it, recognized her and parked the car. We exchanged hugs and little gifts. Nerves were abundant. Short, hesitant sentences. After we went inside and sat in a booth, we looked over the menu. Then we just started talking. About everything. Life, school, the future. In fact, we talked so much that we never ordered any food. Thinking she probably wasn't getting a tip, the waitress was not happy and eventually kicked us out. For once in our lives, food took a back seat, so we knew this had to be something special.

So then we stood outside the diner, our stomachs surprisingly at ease. Relief. A connection was made. A friendship was born.

Now, this is where some of you may be wondering, "A friendship? That's it, a friendship?" Yes, and let me explain. Remember, I'm the guy that kept driving around the parking lot looking for Mom while she was in plain sight. Literally and figuratively, I was blind. I was feeling things, but I didn't understand them. I loved your mother from the moment we met, but I didn't know what to make of it.

So there we were, elevating our online courtship into actual friendship. And to your mother's undying patience, nothing more. I was so comfortable with her. I wanted to see her every day. We had a mutual best friend, Pete, and the three of us were inseparable. It was like Sophie's Choice, but, you know, without the Holocaust. We played games, enjoyed long walks, watched TV, went to the movies, the mall, browsed endlessly in bookstores, ate nonstop (yes, Mom and I went to the next level and actually ate food together...it was bliss!).

She more than hinted at me that she wanted elevate the friendship into something deeper. But I wasn't having it. At this point, I didn't want anything to change. Everything was so perfect. Why mess with it?

The patience of a saint, your mother.

Soon, it was time for senior prom. She asked me to go with her, and you know what I said? I said, "No."

Blind, I'm telling you. I was blind.

This was also a time of uncertainty for me. I was withdrawn from social situations (I did not like parties, and especially dances). I did not want to attend a prom, even though it meant more to her than just a social function. It was the capper to high school, the end of an era. It was a significant time in her life, in all of our lives. "Well, sorry honey, you're on your own. I ain't goin'."

<slaps forehead> D'oh!

I even got pressure from Pete during a break from our video class. "What the hell are you thinking? Just go!"

"I don't want to. I hate these things. What's the big deal? You guys go and have fun without me."

Soon, the entire class was looking at me like I was nuts. They were swarming around me. I realized I was sitting under the studio lights and I started sweating. This was peer pressure at its worst.

Everyone in the class, even Mr. Langana, the video teacher, was chiming in. "Don't be silly, Dave, just go, be with your best friend. Why the trouble??"

My reaction. "I don't want her to get the wrong impression."



"If I go, she might think I'm doing it because I like-like her, and I don't think I like-like her and I don't want to give her the wrong impression."


<slaps forehead> D'oh!

So I never went. Mom went with Pete and another friend and had the time of their lives. I stayed home, rented movies and sulked in my pajamas all night. It was a strange, strange time for me.

I know she was disappointed. I know she so desperately wanted me there. The girl just wanted to dance with the boy she loved. And this boy turned her down. But Mom forgave me, eventually.

On the day I married her.

But wait, I'm going too fast.

That summer, we all remained close, and eventually got ready for college. I was going to Boston, Mom was heading to William Paterson in north Jersey. Pete moved on to Ithaca.

Then one day, during Christmas break of freshman year, it happened. It was like a curtain that opened before my eyes. A fog lifted. The lights turned on. It became so clear. We were hanging out at my house, like old times. Romancing the Stone was on the TV. And this time, things were different. There was electricity in the air. I looked at your mother at one point, and an overwhelming feeling came over me. I wanted so badly to kiss her. Of course, I didn't right away, I had to process this. What's going on with me?

It was the distance that snapped me out of my foolishness. I couldn't stand being apart from her. My life was empty without her in it. I fully realized what I was missing. I came crashing to reality that night, and I fell for your mother, hard. And you know what she said?

"It's about bleeping* time."

*And no, she didn't say "bleeping."

The rest, as they say, is history. We had a long-distance relationship during the rest of our college years. We dated for a year after graduation, until we moved in together. I asked her to marry me with a surprise proposal in Atlantic City. As our careers were taking off, we married a few years later.

I finally gave her that dance at our wedding. And I've been dancing with her since.

After we bought a condo near a lake, we had Parker, our first "kid." We created so many memories in that place. You've heard the stories. After seeing how well we did with Parker, we decided it was time for a house and actual two-legged kids.

And that, my children, is where you came in. What did we learn from this story?

Well, I was deeply in love with your mother well before you were born, and when you came along, that love got stronger. And when you are gone, out of the house, with your own families, I will continue to love her til the very sweet end.

I got lucky. I married my best friend, and I hope some day you get to marry yours.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two weeks post-surgery, one week pre-activation

I can't believe it's been two weeks since my surgery. The recovery process is winding to a close! The incision is looking great. No more stitches, no more scabs. It's a clean cut, getting lighter each day. I imagine the scar will be completely gone in a month or two. No rush, really, since you can hardly tell it is there.

The swelling is down by 90%, I'd say. There are some residual "bumps" in the area where the magnet will be latched on. But the swelling around the ear are all but gone. I'll be sleeping on that side with greater comfort in the days to come!

The dizziness has decreased dramatically, but still lingers. Any sudden movements can be disorienting. It's completely manageable, but I still need to take things slow. Not ready for the gym yet, and that's ok. I'm not crying a river about that.

That's pretty much it; as of today,  I have no other symptoms from the one-two punch of the surgery and the ill-timed cold that immediately followed it. Normal may be boring, but it feels terrific not being out of sorts!

A week from today, we will see where all of this takes us. I'll be going back to the Cochlear Center of NYU on 10/13 and receiving my Advanced Bionics processor. After some time of being hooked up to a computer, I will be activated! Mara plans to join me on this momentous day, the official beginning of my new hearing journey. The first voice I get to hear out of my new ear will be hers, and that just feels right.

Everyone's activation experience is different. Squeaky voices are common at the very beginning; some claim it sounds like cartoon characters are invading the world. So who will invade my world? Roger Rabbit? Donald Duck?

With my luck, everyone will sound like Elmer Fudd. All those W's will be impossible to lip-read.

Wead my wips!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Half off

I'm just feeling like I've been going halfsies lately.

* I have half the energy I'm used to having. Some days I actually feel pretty good, but I can't muster up the energy to get through the day.

* I have one out of two ears functioning right now. This is disorienting when I'm in loud places, like a street fair or a restaurant. This whole weekend, I'm lost in my own head. I'm just halfway out of the loop.

* My body cannot decide if I want a cold or be dizzy. Sometimes I have a little bit of both. You know, 50/50.

* I'm halfway through part one of the Red Riding trilogy, from Netflix. Started it last week. I can't seem to finish it.

* I'm halfway through this week's Entertainment Weekly magazine, but it gets moved around a lot and I can't ever find it!

But you know what? These people below? They make me feel whole.

So who cares about everything else, right?

Movie time with Emma

It's the end of an era. Middle-of-the-night feedings are just about over. I'm not naive - I'm sure there will be other times when I get to wake up with Emma and feed her, but it seems that our regular nightly feedings are all but done. I'm actually going to miss these feedings; there's something special about watching movies while semi-conscious with your baby girl. Oh, good times were had!

Some of the wonderful and odd films we watched together during those nights: The Girl with the Dragoo Tattoo impressed us quite a bit with its tight murder mystery and a well-cast Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. Haneke's Cache was an odd one, about a couple who is stalked by a stranger who sends them bizarre videotapes. The Man in the Moon is an oldie but goodie with Reese Witherspoon in her first role. She's wonderful as a girl at the cusp of womanhood and falls for an older boy, played by Jeremy (or is it Jason?) London. Sweet stuff. There are more, but some are best forgotten.

We didn't watch a whole movie in a single sitting, of course. Some movies took 2-3 feedings to finish all the way through (Sophie's Choice, clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, took 4 feedings! Oy!)

But the most memorable viewing(s) was Dressed To Kill. I was not expecting to see something so ... lurid. Especially with my baby girl.

I had never seen it before, but kept meaning to. For those of you not in the know, Dressed to Kill is a 1980 thriller from Brian DePalma, starring Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson. You'd know if you saw it. Trust me.

First scene? Angie Dickinson. Nude. In the shower. The camera isn't shy, and the editor isn't exactly eager to move on to the next scene. I shift uncomfortably to shield Emma from the TV. I don't want to have the conversation 15 years from now with her asking me, "Hey Dad, remember that night when I was two months old, and you were feeding me while watching this movie where Angie Dickinson touched herself in front of the camera for a good 5 minutes? Well, that was sooo embarrassing." I just know it's going to come back to bite me.

A few scenes later, followed by a virtuoso wordless montage in a museum, Dickinson is misbehaving very, very badly in the back of a moving taxi cab. Almost immediately, I had an image of social services busting down my door at 11 o'clock at night. It just felt so wrong to be watching this movie with Emma in my arms.

Mara happened to be in the room during that scene and she asked, "What the hell are you watching?" My answer: "This is Dressed to Kill, a camp classic from Brian DePalma. He lovingly rips off Hitchcock in almost every one of his films."

No response.

"That shower scene we just saw? More than just a nod to Psycho."

No response.

"Ok, not your cup of tea."

But Dressed To Kill is totally my cup of tea. I love DePalma's cinematic flourishes -- the split screens, the aforementioned Hitchcock references, the endless tracking shots. Sure, he doesn't know the meaning of the word subtle, but I don't hold that against him at all. He more than makes up for his lurid excess by crafting fantastic set pieces in his films. You've seen them before. The baby carriage down the steps of City Hall in The Untouchables. The "pig's blood" sequence in Carrie. There are at least three memorable set pieces in the first Mission: Impossible (a hugely underrated film, by the way; go back and watch it again). I do wish this man would make more films.

Back to Dressed to Kill. It's not among his best films, but there is a lot to like here. Emma disagrees, though. She fell asleep before the killer was revealed.

Then again, she fell asleep during all of the films we watched together so far. Ah, but that will all change soon enough. Someday she'll be just like her daddy and never have enough of the wonderful and odd movies out there in this world, and we'll actually get to talk about them!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bald is good.

I was sitting in the barber's chair a few days before my surgery, and the young man was giving me a buzz cut. When he finished, I noticed my frock and the floor around the chair, and I asked myself, "Where are the remnants of my hair?" Then it hit me. There is no hair left.

Hello, my name is Dave, and I am bald. Not balding. Not baldish. Just bald. Underlined, bolded, italicized. It's time to accept this. My new CI processor will not be hiding discreetly behind a thick head of hair. It will be visible for the entire world to see, to mock, to stare. Pre-CI, I was convinced that I got the stares from curious bystanders because I was so damned good-looking. I mean, I'm always mistaken for a celebrity or a model. But now with my baldness and my CI device, the stares will be out in full force.

It's. Time. To. Accept. This.

The other day, an exchange between me and my wife:

<looking in the mirror>
Oh yeah, time for a haircut.

Really?  <looks at my head, then pauses>  ... How can you tell?

Look at this lovely family photo of my son, Mom and myself. The first words that came out of my mouth upon viewing:   Daaaaaaamn, I'm bald.

Who is that creepy bald man kneeling in front of my child!? Oh wait, yes, it's me!

Exhibit number two. Another lovely photograph. This one has Ryan being introduced to his little sister. Priceless, right? One of life's special moments.

Who is that creepy bald man kneeling in front of my child!? Oh wait, yes, it's me!

So, it's time to embrace it. Bald is good. Bald is sexy. Bald is in. But the problem is, you can't just be bald. You need to have another attribute that launches you into the stratosphere of coolness. Otherwise, you're just a regular bald guy. Some cool cats:

Kojak. P.I., lollipop sucker and bald = cool.

John Locke. Knife-wielder, eternal island inhabitant and bald = cool.

Mr. Clean. Good hygeine and bald = cool.

Howie Mandel. Game show host..... never mind.

Brando in Apocalypse Now. Scary, chilling and bald = cool.

Vic Mackey in The Shield. Cop killer, liar, morally corrupt and bald = cool when you're being played so well by Michael Chiklis.

These are my current heroes. They are teaching me how to be bald and cool. My proverbial hat's off to them.

Even though most of them are dead now. Or cancelled.

Cool or creepy? The jury's still out.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Three good ones

We lost three really talented artists in the entertainment industry this week. Yes, the urban legend still rings true -- Hollywood deaths come in threes! But strangely enough, these three couldn't be any different from one another and yet they each left equally strong impressions.

The words actor and movie stars don't always go hand in hand. Most performers are either one or the other. But Tony Curtis was definitely both. His IMDB page credits him in 130 titles, both in TV and film. That's not counting his work on stage. I've only seen a small fraction of his work, but that little taste of Tony Curtis will be hard to forget. Everyone loves him as Joe/Josephine in Some Like It Hot (1959) (he and Jack Lemmon had such great chemistry that you would laugh whenever they were on screen, even if they had no dialogue), but my favorite Curtis role is that of Joker Jackson in Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones (1958), in which he starred alongside Sidney Poitier as escaped prisoners who are chained together. One is white, one is black. It was ground-breaking during its time, but when I viewed it some 40 years after its release, it felt as fresh and timeless as anything I ever saw. A great film, a great role, and Tony Curtis will be greatly missed.

Arthur Penn is a film director who never made a lot of movies. But when he did a movie, man, did he do it well. His most popular is Bonnie & Clyde (1967), which turned Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman into bona-fide movie stars. The Miracle Worker (1962) had great performances from Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. But my favorite Penn film is one I caught just recently: Night Moves (1975). He re-teamed with Gene Hackman to make this gritty, cerebral detective noir that starts off as a missing person's story and veers into a murder mystery. The ending was much-discussed and debated upon the film's release, and it was a ballsy, intelligent finale that left me thinking about the entire movie well past the viewing.

Finally, but not least, Sally Menke died suddenly at the young age of 56. She may not be a household name, but she is essentially Quentin Tarantino's right-hand woman. She edited all of his films, and if you are fan of Tarantino's work (or even a non-fan who has seen his stuff), you would know that the editing of a Tarantino film has a unique style. Never mind the fragmented, out-of-order nature of his storylines, but think about the pacing. All of Tarantino's movies run well over 2 hours, but none of them have a boring moment. His films are tight, bristling with manic energy and genuine surprise. Only a great editor can keep an animated filmmaker from going overboard, and Sally Menke did just that. Quentin Tarantino's future films will never be the same.

One Week Update

Looking less like Sloth each day
Short and sweet, for now. It was one week ago yesterday when I got the surgery, and as you can see, the incision is healing nicely.

I feel pretty good, except for one problem: I live in a funhouse where the walls are constantly moving! Today is better than yesterday, though. I am functional and am able to walk around without hitting the furniture.

More soon. Thanks for the great support.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Open Letter to the Common Cold

Dear Common Cold,

I haven't seen you in a year. You look well; traveling looks good on you. But we need to talk.

Please don't think that I'm ungrateful for what you've done for us in the past year. You've left the kids alone, and never bothered Mara during her pregnancy. I haven't experienced any of your symptoms during '10. You've been good to all of us.

You have a lot of strong traits that I admire (rarely overstaying your 3-5 day window of attack, predictability, persistence, etc), but timing was never your strong suit. I understand; the change of seasons in the north east is like Christmas morning to you. So many weak immune systems to attack. I can't really say I blame you. It's a sickness. You do what you need to do to survive.

But come on. Really? You needed to come now? Not a week later? Or earlier? I don't know if you've been reading my new blog (you were on Facebook recently, so I know you've seen my post), but I'm kind of going through a sensitive recovery period right now. When I cough, my head really hurts. I know you tried to give me the non-coughing cold, but they were out-of-stock. Still, I'm sure you could have let me switch with someone. Kind of selfish on your part, no? Looks ugly on you, pal.

And the dizziness. I know that's not entirely your fault; I did have surgery in the ear after all. But why the extra fluid up there? Was that really necessary? It's overkill. You're not usually that mean-spirited. Is something bothering you at home?

I'll have you know that I don't appreciate you attacking my wife at the same time. You've given her an unusual symptom of extreme dizziness, which is cold-hearted, even for you. Leaving Ryan and Emma with not one but two parents who can't seem to walk around without bumping into the walls? That's downright villainy, sir. Hannibal Lecter wouldn't even go that far. 

I'll tell you what. All will be completely forgiven if you go away....very soon. Like, now. We'll let bygones be bygones. You can come back and attack me any other time. It'll be fun; we'll get snot all over the pillow; we'll scare everyone in the house with my ridiculously loud sneezes; we'll drink tea, eat soup, and act like big babies and get pampered. Just like old times. 

But not now. Go away, ok? And leave my wife alone too. She doesn't deserve this. 

See you soon (but not too soon).


P.S. I'm still mad about the cough. You better take that with you, too.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sound Advice

Do your best not to sneeze while recovering from head surgery.


Goonies never say die!


It was a beautiful day to drill a hole in my skull! Mara and I got into the city at 9:30 and took our time getting to the NYU Medical Center. Check in time was at 11am, so we went to McDonald's for breakfast. She had her big breakfast platter while I salivated over the buttered biscuit and shiny-looking eggs on her plate. Was I hungry? Maybe a little. :-)

Ready for a mid-day nap!
We got to NYU a little bit before 11, but they took us into the pre-op room almost immediately. I changed into my gown. A long succession of nurses came into the room one after the other asking me the same questions again and again.

Are you allergic to medication?
Have you ever had surgery before?
Which ear will we be doing?
Your name? Date of birth?
Are you really that hairy?

The doc marking his territory
Dr. Roland, the surgeon, came in at 12:30 to say hello and to mark my ear. 20 minutes later, a nurse escorted me into the operating room. She was hot. I even noticed the male doctors and nurses staring at her as we were walking by. Made me think of Grey's Anatomy, wondering which of them she actually slept with. The room was freezing cold, but they kept me warm with heating blankets. They hooked up my IV and leg warmers. I was ridiculously cozy. I remember thinking, "I don't need anasthesia. I am so freakin' comfortable, I could fall asleep ri--"... then I was out.

That was the easy part.


The first image coming out of consciousness was of my wife and father talking with the nurse. I couldn't move, I couldn't hear. I was so groggy. I passed out again, and when I woke up, they were all standing/sitting around my bed, looking so sullen. Did someone die?, I thought.

Out cold
The bandage was wrapped really tight around my head. It definitely decreased the blood flow up there! It took me 3 hours to finally muster enough energy to get out of the bed and into the chair. I threw up immediately, of course. There was talk about possibly staying the night, but I refused. I was so uncomfortable, I just wanted my bed. Just give me my meds and my pillow, and I'll be fine.

I was wheeled out of the hospital to the street. The picture below is an apt description of how I felt at that time. I'm such a baby. Who knew it would take so long to get out of this groggy state?
 The 90 min car ride was fine, despite the terrible rain storm we drove through. The walk from the car to the house made me dizzy and I threw up again. Parker, our excitable puggle, was so damned thrilled to see me, he almost knocked me right down into the toilet. Despite my general discomfort, I slept through the night, surprisingly enough.

Waiting for the car
The following 4 full days of recovery were on-again off-again. Sometimes I felt pretty good, and other times I just felt crummy. The incision was the least of my problems. The meds were working and it was healing fine. The swelling was uncomfortable, but got better each day. What plagued me most was the dull generalized heachaches near my temples. I also had slight vertigo/dizziness, as well as a very irregular digestive system. (Prune juice = gross). All were considered to be normal. Some symptoms will come and go for a good 7 to 10 days. So even if I'm feeling a little better one day, the next day may not necessarily be the same.

My wife has been awesome throughout the entire experience. She made sure I got all of the rest I needed. She may have muttered at some point about men never surviving the childbirth process, but I probably tuned her out. Remember, I only have one functioning ear. I can only hear certain things now.

The deepest cut
Today - Day 5 of Recovery - the general headache still persists, along with some light-headedness. On top of that, I think I might be getting a cold as I'm feeling a bit hazy, got a little sore throat. It didn't help that it was windy and rainy during the walk to my office this morning. Yuck!

So what have we learned from this so far?
In a nutshell, I'm a big baby. That's all there is to it.

Oh, and what's the meaning of my post title, you ask? Well, Mara and I noticed after the bandage came off on Thursday morning that I resembled a popular character from the great 80's film The Goonies.

Yup, you guessed it.

The swelling has since gone down, though.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Surgery

Tomorrow, I will be undergoing a procedure that, miracle of all miracles, will make me hear better. Is that even possible? Well, that's what the brochure said.... 

Here is the nitty-gritty, in the simplest terms possible. Behind my ear, the surgeon will make an incision and implant an internal device to be wired to my cochlear. The device rests against the skull and will be unseen. The scar will heal and vanish completely. After three weeks of recovery, the audiologist will be able to "activate" the device using an external processor that will rest on my ear (looks kinda like a hearing aid). Initial results vary by individual. Some begin "hearing" right away, some only pick up certain sounds. For several weeks/months of auditory sessions (called mapping), the external processor, the internal device and my brain all work together to understand and process sound. It's an exhaustive rehabilitation process on the individual, but the success rate is extremely high. It's just a question of how long will it take to achieve maximum sound quality. Each individual has their own time frame.

How is a cochlear implant better than a hearing aid? A friend of mine put it best. "The hearing aid is like owning a Model T Ford, and the cochlear implant is like owning a Lamborghini." Power and technology are key. The difference in performance is simply astounding.

I have no doubt I will benefit from this. People who have been completely deaf for most or all of their lives are able to legitimately hear, thanks to the cochlear implant. As I mentioned in the last post, my hearing is uneven. So the goal is to have a "very good" ear (the implanted one) and a "pretty good" ear both working together. Bottom line: better hearing.

Will it change my life? No idea, too soon to tell.

Will it make life a little easier? Probably, yes.

Will it be worth it? Well, my children are growing up and will soon be speaking in complete, coherent sentences. If this means I can hear every precious word coming out of their mouths, then ... well ... that's kind of a no-brainer, isn't it?

My hearing journey

I never thought I'd be writing a blog. Life is full of surprises, isn't it?

I am beginning a new chapter in my life tomorrow. I'm getting a cochlear implant! A lot of implant recipients I've spoken with felt it was cathartic and therapeutic to write about the experience. It's a very drawn out process; it takes several months (if not longer) to get the full benefits of the implant.  So I'm giving this whole blogging thing a shot. It's a work in progress. Bear with me.

So, before I start posting my musings and random thoughts in the coming weeks, I thought I'd start with a little background on my hearing. Appropriate, right?

On a fateful November day in 1977, I was born with a severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. It was not detected until 6 weeks later when my observant mother realized that something was not right. One day I was in the kitchen with my mother, minding my own business. As she reached for a dish at the top of a pantry, she slipped and several pots and pans came crashing down on the counter and floor. She attempted to soothe my fears, but realized that I didn't notice the loud and sudden incident. I didn't even flinch. She was shocked. As fate would have it, Mom had just read an article about infants and hearing loss just a few days earlier. She referred back to the article and looked for a number or address. Then she made the phone call that would change our lives forever.

<cue dramatic score>

When I was diagnosed with the hearing loss at the League for the Hard of Hearing in Manhattan, my parents knew there was some tough challenges that lie ahead. I was fitted for my first pair of hearing aids before I turned one. Regular trips to the League became common; I remember taking a lot of rides to the city from Jersey. Testings, hearing aid and FM unit fittings, speech therapy -- it became my childhood. When it was time to start school, it was my mother's insistence that I attend public school and be mainstreamed. She had no ill will towards deaf culture; she felt that my hearing was strong enough to survive a classroom with other hearing children. She also wanted me to have the same opportunities and benefits as any hearing kid my age. After some resistance from local social workers, she won out...and I started Kindergarten in the Freehold Township public school system.

Still with me here? Good. We're making headway!

Every student has their own set of challenges. Some struggled with math, or spelling, or language. My challenge was associated with hearing loss. With the help of professionals, I got through it. I have nothing but fond memories of my elementary years. I blended in with my hearing peers in and out of school. I remember slumber parties, field days, classroom activities. I had warm, loving teachers. I even had my first girlfriend in the 6th grade, and she held my hand every Friday night during the roller skating events at the gym. I also remember the in-school speech therapy sessions, and I actually looked forward to them every day. Some kids would be in health or gym, and I'd be the lucky one playing with puzzles and speech games.

I used the FM unit all through elementary school. I didn't mind it. Some kids even thought it was cool. My grades were proof that it helped. But as I grew older, I began to resist it. Part of it was cosmetic since I was becoming self-conscious of my image. It just didn't look cool. Another part was my insistance that I no longer needed the help. "I can do this on my own." I phased it out slowly throughout junior high, but was completely rid of it during my freshman year of high school. I was finally independent.

As with every kid, you begin to establish your own identity when you go into junior high. I found my niche: drama. Mr. Barlaam wasn't your normal drama teacher. He had a big bushy beard and an even bigger personality. They always say you never forget the teachers that touched you the most. He was definitely one of them. My hearing loss never restricted me from enjoying the pleasures of being on stage. Barlaam was sure to give me my "notes" while close to the stage so I can read his lips. Lip-reading, body language and hearing aids got me through junior high and, well, the rest of my life. Losing the FM unit made me adapt to more natural ways of "listening."

The acting bug carried over into my high school years. Another great drama coach -- and all around great guy -- Mr. Forman guided me through these years as a high school "actor." Without my FM unit, I admit that I did struggle. I had more challenges than ever before. However, my grades kept up and I'm proud of my academic achievements. I have great memories of high school, but it was also a time of awkwardness as I was lacking a sense of self and belonging. Graduation was near and I didn't know where to go, or what to do. I was distancing myself from old friends and retreating from social situations. I was becoming more and more reclusive.

In hindsight, I think I was scared of life outside of school. I remember thinking, "What if I can't hear as well as I do in a classroom?" "What if my hearing loss prevents me from getting a job?"  Everyone I know had their own fears of starting college or moving on, but I still felt alone.

Luckily I found a great pair of friends during my last two years of high school. We were inseparable. In their own indirect ways, they guided me through the transition from high school into college. Even though we went to separate schools hours apart from one another, we still remained close. They made me feel a lot less alone, despite not being physically there with me in Boston. I ended up marrying one of them years later, but that's a story for another post.

My years at Emerson College shaped me to be the person I am today. I adapted to the real world as a hearing-impaired individual. I saw the opportunities available to me. I buried myself in film at the same time, deepening my passion for the medium and learning to view the world as seen through the eyes of a film lens. After college, I landed some odd jobs in television and film, eventually landing at Fox Cable Networks in NYC, where I am now. I'm happily married with two great kids and in a really good place in my life.

My hearing loss has been consistent for 30 years. I always remembered having a good ear and a not-so-good ear. In the past two years, my not-so-good ear gradually became worse. I started noticing an imbalance of sound, that I was depending on my good ear more than ever. I was struggling a little bit.  A series of audiological exams confirmed that my hearing in my bad ear was in fact very gradually worsening. My wonderful audiologist of many years said to me matter-of-factly: "I'm not going to beat around the bush here, but...it might be time to consider a CI."

The notion of a cochlear implant was in the back of my mind for many years, but I never seriously considered it. Last year, I started doing some active research and eventually learned that it will become inevitable. I was hopeful, though; the technology astounded me and I was impressed by what it can do.

When it came time to make a decision, I thought, "Well, what do I have to lose?" I thought about how lucky I am to be surrounded by great friends and family and a good job and to be in excellent health, and I wondered, "What if I can enjoy all of this a little more? What if better hearing can make me more confident in my job and in social gatherings? What if I can hear my kids without missing a beat?"

And that's when "What If" became "Let's Do It."

And I haven't looked back!