RUSH: Hi ya, folks, greetings to you music lovers, thrill-seekers, conversationalists all across the fruited plain. It is time once again for compelling broadcast excellence. It’s great to be back with you. El Rushbo here at 800-282-2882. If you want to be on the program, it’s 800-282-2882. And the e-mail address, ElRushbo@eibnet.com.
You people on the other side of the glass have gotta help me out. What was said about my absence? I don’t even remember what I said, does anybody know? Does the audience know where I was and what happened? (Interruption) Right. Okay, weeks ago I did. But did the guest hosts specify where I was? (interruption) Okay. All right. Okay. Sorry for the confusion here, folks, but it’s been a week, hasn’t it, since I’ve been here. It has been a week.
Anyway, what I did, and I alluded to this, but of course I’m so famous now I can’t tell anybody in advance what I’m gonna do or there will be a mob where I am going, to either try to sabotage it or to report on it or to misreport on it or what have you. But, after exhaustive research, which included even witnessing a live surgery, I decided to get a cochlear implant on the right side.
When I got my original cochlear implant 13 years ago — I still can’t believe it’s been that long — 13 years ago I was told to leave my right ear alone, ’cause what happens in a cochlear implant surgery, well, I was told back then that they take, in essence, the guts of the ear out. So, if there were to be a cure, I need my right side untouched so that the cure could be applied to it. I was told the cure might be happening in 10 years. Ten years came and went and I was assured there’s not gonna be a cure for what caused my deafness any time soon.
The cure, incidentally, for what caused my deafness, would also be the cure for baldness. The human ear has 35,000 hair cells. That’s a lot. They’re microscopic, you can’t see ’em except under microscope, telescope, and they’re different sizes, widths, lengths, as I understand it. That many hair cells are what create frequency response of the human ear, enabling us to hear whatever we are able to hear. Dogs, of course, animals have better hearing than we do. Their frequency range is higher. Ours is what it is. There are 35,000 of them in both ears, 35,000 each, and mine are laying down dead.
My autoimmune system thought that my ears were a disease and flooded my ears with white blood cells fending off what it thought was an illness. What they tried to do to stop it was to give me chemotherapy drugs and all kinds of stuff to just stop my immune system, and it didn’t work. I’ve never been on as many drugs with as many side effects in my life during the process of losing hearing in my left ear. I left the right ear vacant in case they came up with a cure for baldness. Well, they’re obviously not gonna come up with a cure for baldness.
Also, 13 years ago the best thinking in the science of cochlear implants was you only need one, because the frequency response — replacing those 35,000 hair cells, depending the implant you get, are 18 to 21 bionic or man-made electrodes, and there’s simply no way that those electrodes can come anywhere near replicating the natural human ear and the 35,000 hair cells. It’s impossible for me to describe, or anybody that has a cochlear implant, it’s impossible to describe what things sound like. It’s totally artificial because in my memory of hearing there isn’t anything I ever remember hearing that sounds like the way I hear things now. The closest that I could come to it — and this doesn’t get there, but, I mean, this is the closest in trying to help people understand how I hear things is scratchy, static AM radio. That’s not it, but that’s as close as I can get.
Music. I don’t have the frequency response to identify melodies, even music that I’ve heard. My memory supplies the melody. I can turn on one of my favorite songs from the seventies, if I didn’t know what the song is, if I don’t have a piece of text or if I don’t have somebody tell me, I will not recognize it. I need to know what it is. When I do, then my memory supplies the melody and the lyric and I can hear it. But, if I don’t know what it is, it’s just noise of the same note. Music in a movie, the soundtrack to a movie sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. That’s what violins sound like.
I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to explain it. You adapt to it. It’s miraculous. The way I look at this is, you look at the timeline of humanity, whatever length of time, billion years, 10,000, whatever number of years human beings have been on the earth, make that a 50-foot string, in your mind. And on that 50-foot string is the time we’re alive. That’s a speck of sand on that 50-foot string, maybe not even that big. And isn’t it amazing that the time I happen to be alive on that 50-foot string also coincides with when humanity’s brilliance and intelligence, technological achievement has advanced to the point of inventing the cochlear implant.
If this had happened to me 10 years before it did, it would have meant the end of my career and there wouldn’t be any of this today. To think of 10 years in the whole timeline, it’s miraculous. So I’m describing this, not complaining at all. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not the point anyway. I’m just trying to help everybody understand what happens here, ’cause it’s totally artificial.
Now, I saw a story yesterday, fascinating story out of I think it was New Zealand, Australia, where some teams are testing electronic impulses in cochlear implants that are actually re-growing audio nerves in hamsters. It’s a long way. It’s never gonna happen in my lifetime. They’re never gonna get that done for human beings in my lifetime, but there’s progress being made all along. Anyway, so since they said that there would not be a cure in my lifetime, I decided to go get the implant done on the right side becauseeverything changes.
The best science 13 years ago has been replaced by “we now think bilateral,” meaning both ears, “is the way to go. If it doesn’t improve your speech comprehension, it will at least improve your awareness of where sounds are coming from.” Right now I can’t tell you where sound is coming from. I mean, I can be in a room with one person with no other noise, and if I don’t see that person and they start talking to me, I don’t know where they are. I’m not able to tell. I’m not able to identify where a sound is coming from.
If I’m in the studio alone and an alarm goes off, I have no idea what it is. I have to have somebody come in and identify what’s alarming, what’s going on. I have no idea where sounds come from. Maybe that’ll be helped by this. But anyway, the surgery, folks, is an hour and a half, and 80% of it — I don’t want gross any of you out here, but I watched one of these things. I actually watched one of these before I did it a week in advance. I watched Dr. John Lee at the surgical center, the Laser Surgical Center at Palm Beach Gardens, and the patient gave her permission to come in, let me watch. I had to sign an autographed photo to her while I was in surgical gowns standing over her in order for her to grant permission. Lillian was her name. She was from Winter Haven, I think.
So it’s sculpture of the skull. Eighty percent of this is a high speed drill, the surgeon using a high speed drill like a dentist, and just carves out, sculpts a place in the skull for the implant to go. You cannot drill straight down because you don’t want to go to the brain. You gotta stay just short of that, so you drill down at an angle and the implant is about, oh, I’m thinking of trying to give the shape, a bell shape that’s about two inches long and maybe an inch and a half at its widest and a half-inch at it’s narrowest. They have to sculpt a trench for it, and then they have to sculpt a canal from that to the cochlea in the ear. They connect it and they take tissue from another part of your body to connect it, and then they sew you up.
So the opening and closing of the incision is 10%. Another 10% is putting the implant in and connecting it, and 80% is sculpture of the skull. It was amazing. So I still have all the giant bandages on. That’s why there’s no Dittocam today, by the way. There will be audio on the Dittocam, but there’s no video simply because I look like Claude Rains with the invisible stuff not working is the best I could describe it. It’s unsightly. But, anyway, there hasn’t been any discomfort. The last time there was a lot of discomfort, but this time there hasn’t been much at all. The bandages come off today.
As soon as I finish today’s excursion into broadcast excellence I’m gonna head outta here, I’m gonna have the bandages removed. That is going to be the most painful part of all of this because it’s gonna be ripping hair out. That’s gonna be the most painful part of all. Then I will return. Once the swelling of the surgery recedes — goes down, for you in Rio Linda — then I shall return to the medical center where the implant will be activated, turned on. (interruption) Do I have a headache now? (interruption) You know, when you rip tape off a hairy portion of your body, that’s the kind of pain it is. No, it’s not gonna be headache pain. It’s just gonna be shh, shh, shh, psh, psh! I mean, you ought to see this. I’m not gonna publish a picture of it because I’m just not, but it’s gonna be major.
Anyway, I come back here on May the 9th to get it turned on, and the mapping process begins, and that’s the great unknown. I don’t want to get too technical with all this ’cause I some of this bores you, but there are two different ways that you can program a cochlear implant. One, the old-fashioned analog, and the other digital. And of course the digital is considered the high res or high-definition best audio quality. That for me does not work on my left side. I am stuck with the analog. There are 19 or 20 electrodes in my implant on the left side. I’ve had to turn off or deactivate over half of them because they caused facial tics around my eye at normal volume. So I’m stuck.
When I originally got this implant I was at 80% speech comprehension, and now I’m at 55%. It’s gotten worse because I’ve had to turn off over half the electrodes, frequency response being what it is. (interruption) Nope. They don’t do it. I’ve just been asked if you can replace that. You can’t replace that. I asked them, “Do you ever go in and put new implants in?” “No, we generally don’t do that,” especially now with the other side to play with. So I’m now lab rat for all these audiologists and doctors ’cause now I got a fresh ear, I got a brand-new implant, and they’re not even going to turn on the analog side — believe me, when they do a map — a map is just programming.
The way it works, you sit for four hours, folks, this is the most stressful thing. They pump sounds, various tones at frequencies and volumes, and you are supposed let them know the instant you hear. And it’s precise. This mapping process determines the best way to program. You have to be honest with ’em and you have to be as precise as you can about when you hear each of these tones. The volume is so low on purpose that sometimes you think you hear it when you don’t, and sometimes you hear it two or three seconds after you’ve actually heard it. That’s why you have to do it three or four times. Get an average.
The first session is four hours. The high res or the digital state-of-the-art on my left side, if they activate, I’ve got it in a position here, I can turn it on, everybody sounds like chipmunks to me. There’s no explaining it. Other people, it’s a life saver, it’s like normal hearing. For me it’s like chipmunks. And everybody’s different. There are no predictors. They cannot predict how any person’s gonna do because everybody’s different with these things. So they’re not even gonna do the analog side. They gonna start with the high res map on this side with all the electrodes, see what happens, and that all starts on May the 9th.
Anything can happen. It can be better than what I’m used to, it can be worse. I mean, the right side of my brain’s been dormant. It hasn’t been used for hearing. It may have forgotten how. You never know. The whole process is amazing. So there are a lot of factors that go into it. Anyway, that’s what I did, that’s why I did it, and now I gotta take a brief time-out here. There’s a lot of news that I want to get to that I’ve been paying attention to while I’ve been gone, just the most amazing things happening out there.
RUSH: And we are back. And, by the way, ladies and gentlemen, I have been asked to inform you that I have a cold, and the reason is that my voice apparently sounds different. Does it sound different? (interruption) A little deeper, a little groggy, did you say? The fear is here that some of you might think that the implant surgery has permanently, negatively altered forever my voice, and it has nothing to do with it. I have a cold. I caught a cold. Actually, I got a cold a month ago, and I don’t think I’ve actually gotten over the damn thing. I think what’s happening is the congestion is just finally starting to break up and so that’s the reason for the voice sounding the way it does. It has nothing to do with the surgery, oral cavity, unaffected vocal chords, all of that.
Anyway, so just to wrap this all up, some of the questions I get from people, “Well, do people sound like they used to?” Yeah. If I’ve heard somebody’s voice before I lost my hearing it sounds pretty close to what they used to sound like. But it’s like music; if I’m hearing somebody for the first time, their voice is distinctive to me but I don’t know if it’s the way their voice really sounds to other people. I do not recognize a car alarm because of the frequency. I recognize a car alarm when I hear one because I know the changing sound of it, the “do wa, ooh, wa, ooh, wa,” whatever it is. But I don’t hear the tone that it is.
High notes on a piano, I don’t hear ’em. I hear it but I don’t hear the note. All music sounds flat to me, is the best way I can describe it. A car horn sounds like a buzzer to me. But you adapt. You learn what things are and you relearn how to hear and everything is actually quite normal.
RUSH: Dixie in Ashburn, Virginia. Welcome to the EIB Network. I’m glad you called. Hello.
CALLER: Good afternoon. And thank you so much for taking my call.
RUSH: You bet.
CALLER: I am so excited to get to talk to you. I’ve listened to you for a long time and usually I’m listening to you for political reasons, but today you really hit something even more special for our family. You’re talking about your cochlear implant. And I just wanted to say, thank you so much for articulating so clearly the cochlear implant process. We have a daughter that was adopted from China as an infant and was not diagnosed with hearing loss until she was three. It turned out it was progressive so a couple years ago at age five we had to make the decision to go ahead and do a cochlear implant. I had done a lot of research on the process, but as you were describing earlier, even the surgeons aren’t exactly sure how the entire thing works, and so when we were asking for information the best they could give us were guesses, and so to hear from you as an adult who’s been through the process explain it, it’s been fascinating. The other thing I really appreciate, since our daughter was so young at the time of an implant and really had no hearing prior to having the implant, she hasn’t been able to communicate to us what she’s experiencing. We know that it’s working. So I just want to thank you so much for sharing your journey.
RUSH: Let me give you a couple more tips, okay, since you have a daughter that has one of these things. It’s really hard for people to imagine deafness. They can’t self-create it. You can imagine being blind by closing your eyes. You can imagine being paralyzed by not being able to walk. But you can’t turn off your ears. People who can hear cannot imagine deafness. And the one thing that anybody that deals with anybody with a cochlear implant or anybody that has a hearing aid, understand one thing. There is no amount of practice that improves how someone hears. There’s no amount of concentration that improves how much someone hears.
I have friends who know that I can’t hear who still whisper to me in the wrong ear on the golf course, because that’s habit. You be quiet on the golf course. Even when I turn my left ear to them, they’ve known for 13 years that I can’t hear, and they still, some of them, maybe there are three people who know how to talk to me who get right into my left ear and speak to me. I can’t hear people from across a room. And your daughter won’t be able to either. If somebody’s wearing a cochlear implant or a hearing aid, you’ve got to get right up, especially if there’s ambient crowd noise, you have to get close or it’s hopeless. You can’t tell a blind person “try harder” and have them see. Somebody that can’t hear, it is what it is. So don’t ever forget those things because they’re crucial in having harmonious relationships.