Well, I’ve decided to take the big leap. I’m going to have the first of my “Borg Bits” installed this week. I’ll be having surgery to install a cochlear electrode and interface coil in my head. That will mean the loss of the remaining natural hearing in my left ear (the right ear will be unaffected), but it brings the hope of much improved hearing overall.
Most cochlear implant (CI) recipients experience a vast improvement over the use of hearing aids (HA). The full spectrum of audible frequencies will become available again. Granted, CI hearing is “different” from natural hearing, but with careful retraining of the auditory centers of the brain, the artificial stimulation of the auditory nerve is usually as effective for speech recognition as natural hearing.
Having the full audio spectrum available will also make it possible for me to hear birds once again. That is one thing that I have missed greatly since the onset of my hearing loss. One of my favorite events while camping was listening to the birds at daybreak. It always seemed to me that, in their own birdish way, they were celebrating each new day by screaming, “I’m alive! I’m ALIVE!”. Not hearing their daily celebration of life has been a great loss to me.
Another thing that I have missed greatly is the audio spectrum above G at the top of the treble staff. For me, that portion of the audio spectrum does not exist. The upper register of soprano clarinets, flutes and violins are simply gone from my hearing. The CI holds out the hope that I will be able to hear those instruments once again. However, my main concern has been that many CI recipients do not regain the ability to discern pitch with the accuracy required for functioning as a professional musician. There is substantial anecdotal evidence that adequate pitch recognition can be accomplished, but there has been little scientific study done in that area of CI hearing. This is not surprising, since the main goal of most CI patients is simply to improve communication with the hearing world.
Based upon reading and conversations with musicians having CI hearing, it appears that the people who are most likely to regain pitch sensitivity are those who have had extensive musical experience and training prior to implantation. I fall in that group, so I am hopeful that the CI will prove a useful tool for performance & teaching. If not, it should still be very helpful in better understanding audio based communication, and I still have my natural hearing in my right ear with which to perform.
So the worst case scenario is that I have a few more years of performing with my remaining natural hearing. The best case scenario is that I will use my new “Borg Bits” to perform for many years in the future.
Let the “assimilation” begin!