RUSH: The new cochlear implant on my right side is activated. I’m not using it at the moment, but I did from the moment I left the ear clinic yesterday until one hour before the program started today. When I have the right-side implant on after activation, things and people sound entirely different — entirely, completely, not even close.
Now, you’ve heard me say over the years when talking about the various ways to program a cochlear implant that the accepted best technology they call “high resolution.” They actually refer to these things as “strategies,” and in medical parlance what this means is approaches. You see, each cochlear implant has a number of electrodes — in my case, 21.
The electrodes are stimulated by sound that they pick up, and then they tap into the auditory nerve and send a signal to the brain. And there are two strategies, two approaches to doing this: The old analog, and then the high res, which is just digital, and it’s the best. When I got my original implant in 2001, the FDA had not approved HighRes. It involves the brain.
There had to be a lot of testing so I had no choice but to go with the analog, and it was excellent right out of the box. It was superb and great. In fact, my speech comprehension has declined in the past 13 years because I’ve had to turn off some electrodes because of facial tics that were caused by volume just at normal control.
So I’ve had the right side of my head — the hearing process, the auditory nerve — essentially dormant for 13 years. In such a case, nobody knows whether it can still be used or active. You do the surgery, have the implant surgically implanted; then you put the earpiece on the outside (which is the battery and the software), turn it on, and see what happens. And that’s what I did yesterday.
I have told you before that the high-res program on my left side makes everybody sound like chipmunks, and it makes everybody sound speeded up. The volume level is very low. It’s unusable compared to my analog, which to me makes people sound normal. So I’m sitting there waiting with bated breath. It turns out it only took two hours yesterday, not four, because the time required to create the digital program is much less than the analog.
But after the first 20 minutes they turned it on, and, lo and behold, everybody sounded like chipmunks. It was horrible. It was unusable. It was simply a disaster. It was worse than the chipmunk sound on my left side. The volume was so low, and even turning the volume up did not make it louder. It just added distortion. I looked at the audiologist, and I told her point-blank.
You have to be honest with them, so I said, “This is horrible. This is worse than what I was.” She tried to calm me down. I was not ranting. I’m just sitting there being honest in my appraisal. She said, “Look, you’re gonna have to use this for six months. You have to train it. You’re gonna have to use it and re-teach the right side of your brain in your right ear to hear again.”
I said, “I thought that wasn’t possible.”
“No, no. It is.”
I’ve been wrong about something for 13 years. It’s an honest mistake, and I’ve been wrong in telling you. I told you that you can’t practice and get better, and it turns out you can in my case. Now, the reason that was true — the reason I couldn’t practice and get better on my left side — is because my left side never forgot how to hear. I was only deaf for two or three months before getting the implant.
So my brain, just in common parlance here, had not forgotten how to hear, but on the right side, there was 13 years of dormancy. So there is room for it to relearn. But I have to wear this horrible-sounding, unusable, cannot-comprehend-anybody-saying-anything implant regularly so that it gets better. So I said, “Well, look, this is unacceptable.”
She said, “It’s gonna get better.”
I said, “Could you do something? Could you put my old analog program on this new implant?”
She didn’t want to do it.
“It’s defeating the purpose,” she said. “You can’t have it on there permanently anyway because it’s incompatible. That software is incompatible with the new hardware. The hardware is 13 years newer than that ear. It won’t work.”
“Can you try it? Can I just see what the program really like sounds like on the right side?” because I had a trick in mind. I was gonna outsmart the doctors. If the old analog program on my left side worked on the right, I was running out of there and I wasn’t gonna give her a chance to take me back to high res.
So she did.
She put the old analog program, which I’m using right now to do this program, on the right side for the new implant, and it was horrible. It was bad. It wasn’t chipmunky, it was just bad. It was the same low volume. It was just… When I heard somebody say an S, it sounded (slurping) like slurping. That’s the only way I could describe this, this chipmunk thing. It’s not just chipmunks.
You can imagine if you’ve watched a sci-fi movie in outer space, satellite kind of weird electronic beeps and sounds. It’s hard to describe. I have yet to be able to explain to people what artificial sound created by a cochlear implant sounds like, and I’m probably not gonna be able to do it, ’cause I don’t remember ever hearing anything when I could hear normally that sounds like the way I hear now.
But I keep trying so that people can understand. So all this time my good implant on the left side is sitting there on the desktop unused. So after about an hour, the high res is a disaster, and the current program is a disaster. I’m thinking, “Well, no big deal. I still got the left side. It works perfectly, works perfectly fine. This was always a roll of the dice — and, like I said, ‘It can’t get any worse if it doesn’t work because I’ve always got this.'”
So then I said, “Well, what happens if I put the left side on right now?”
“What, your analog?”
“Yeah. What if I put my old program on the left side and this new high res on the right at the same time?”
“Let’s try it.”
So I did, and magic happened. The right side was improved by 200% with just the left side also turned on. It was the strangest feeling. If you can remember the first time you heard stereo music, then multiply that by a hundred. So then I said, “Okay, I’m gonna switch to my high res.” (I’ll call it “the chipmunk.”)
“I’m gonna switch to the chipmunk program on the left side so that it matches up with the new one you just put on the right side.” When I did that, another dose of magic happened. It’s hard to describe, but everything had an immediate, positive improvement to it. There was a new depth of substance/presence to everything — environmental sounds and voices.
The left side — this is the fascinating thing — the left side chipmunk effect vanished. It’s gone. The high res on the left side is now working as it was originally intended. There’s no chipmunk on it. The right side by itself is still unusable. The right side by itself is still horrible. I’ll put it to you this way. If all I had available to me was the implant that was activated yesterday, I would have to retire. I could not do this program. I would have to tearfully, ’cause that’s how you do it now, quit. It would simply not be possible to hear a phone call. I would not sound normal to you because I couldn’t hear.
In fact, when I got back to the car, Kathryn was with me, she’s as nervous as a cat about all of this, too, ’cause this is a deeply personal thing here. We got in the car and in the confines of the car, windows closed and all that upholstery, great acoustics, the driver and Kathryn said, “Do you know your voice is lower? Your voice has changed.” I said, “Really?” I started listening to myself, and they were right. By now two hours has gone by, and in just that short amount of time — the brain is an amazing thing, is the point here. It’s impossible to comprehend it. But in the hour and a half of using chipmunks on both sides, my hearing improved such that my voice changed for the better, so much that it was noticeable to people.
Now, I don’t know if my voice sounds different to you, ’cause I’m not using chipmunk right now. I couldn’t do the program right now using either of these chipmunk programs. But together, chipmunk gone left side, and the right side by itself, which is barely audible with all those out of this world sound effects and the chipmunk sound, to me with the left side turned on as well, the right side sounds as loud as the left, if not louder. By itself, it’s unusable. So I went from the floor in terms of being disappointed to on the roof of the building optimistic in just the two hours I spent there.
I have no doubt whatsoever that in six months these chipmunk programs are gonna end up being the best thing I’ve ever done or had, and I’m going to wish that I had had the last 13 years with it. It’s hard to explain, but the emotional roller coaster yesterday — I was prepared for bad news, but I really thought it was gonna be good. I thought they were going to hook that thing high res on the right side and it was gonna be twice as good as what I had on the left on the old analog side, and it was horrible.
Do you realize this, too. I don’t know if this is really applicable. I don’t remember why we chose the left side to do first, 13 years ago, but what if I had chosen the right side 13 years ago and it was just as bad then as it is now? I wouldn’t have been here. I’d have been doing something, but not this. There’s a little more here, but I’m long. I have to take a break. We’ll do that and be back right after this.
RUSH: Oh, there were other improvements to note, and they are in the area of environmental sounds. I’ve not spent a lot of time explaining this to you, but environmental sounds are among the most irritating — and they’re a very small thing — the most irritating aspect of having a cochlear implant. I can be sitting in my library at home with all the doors closed ’cause I got the cat in there and we haven’t let the cat have the run of the house yet. The doors are closed in whatever room we have the cat. If somebody opens the door to come in the library, it sounds like the loudest explosion.
It literally causes me to jump out of the couch if I don’t know it’s coming. If somebody is ripping paper nearby, I have to take my implant off. Not just the sound of it, the volume. Environmental sounds, playing golf, a guy throws a club back in the bag, the environmental sounds are three times louder than the voices I hear. So I have to keep the volume low so that the environmental sounds don’t drive me crazy.
Well, that makes it harder to hear people. You get to a crowded restaurant, it’s just amplified and it’s made all the worse. Well, that’s changed, too. With the chipmunk program on both ears I still hear the environmental sounds. I’m not better yet at identifying what they are, but they sound much more distant. They’re not nearly as shocking when they occur. I mean, even sitting here at the Golden EIB Microphone, when the printer turns on, if somebody prints to the printer, not me, and I don’t know it’s coming, when the thing first clicks, everything gives me a start. Even when somebody speaks to me and I don’t know, the not knowing where it’s coming from or what it is, it’s just one shock after another. That is much less now.
I don’t know how to describe this other than magic. By itself, the thing I had turned on yesterday would require me to retire, it is so bad, it is unusable. It’s indescribably bad, folks. But when I put the same chipmunk program on my left side and have them both, it doesn’t even matter if the volume’s the same, everything’s improved a hundred percent or more. And it’s inexplicable. Gotta take a break here. Still not through. There’s some more details here, but that’s the nub of it. Bottom line is it’s an overwhelming success, but the first 20 minutes I thought it was an abject waste-of-time failure.
RUSH: Okay, let me conclude the detailed explanation of yesterday’s activation of the right side cochlear implant because there are other things I want to get to, and I know you have questions about this. I sent a long e-mail out to people last night hoping to anticipate every question that they had. But still somebody said, “Well, I don’t understand. Why would you have to quit if all you had was the right side?
“Why would you have to quit if you’d have done the right side first instead of the left side?” Let me review. When I say that the top-of-the-line program for cochlear implants, the brand I have (which is called HighRes for high resolution), the digital version, makes everybody sounds like chipmunks, I am not exaggerating. I’m not trying to find a way to make you understand. It literally makes everybody and everything sound like little kids sped up.
It’s like playing a 33-1/3 rpm LP as 45. It’s always been unusable, and it literally made everybody sound like chipmunks. So it didn’t work for me. When I first was implanted in 2001, the high-res wasn’t even legal. It hadn’t been approved by the FDA. All I could use was the analog, and it worked perfectly. I had 80% speech comprehension. That’s more than some people who can hear normally.
Over the years, I had to turn off some electrodes, which reduced my speech comprehension. I’m now down to 55% with the left ear alone. Fewer electrodes, less sound quality, and I had to turn them off ’cause they were causing facial tics. The cochlear implant affects two nerves in the face, the auditory nerve and then the nerve in the jaw, and they were causing facial tics at normal volumes.
So they had to go in and fix it. It’s done with software, not surgery. They go in and connect the implant to their computer and they turn ’em off. So yesterday, we just do the right side, the new one first, and start with high res. The audiologist said, “We’re not gonna put analog on there. That’s 13-, 14-, 20-year-old technology. We’re not gonna do that.”
I said, “What if it’s better?”
“We’re not gonna do it.”
So I’m already dukes up with the audiologist. So we turn it on, and it’s horrible, folks. It’s literally indescribably bad. There’s no way I can make you understand it. There’s no way you can possibly know what it’s like ’cause I’ve yet to find a proper description for artificial sound. Just trust me. I would have had to quit if that’s all I had.
I could not do this program, nor would I be able to communicate very well without doing a lot of writing with people. But the magic happened when I put my old implant on at the same time as the new one and set it also to the chipmunk setting. Immediately the chipmunk aspect vanished on the left side. The old, the current, it vanished. Nobody sounded like chipmunks anymore.
The audiologist said she had never seen anything like this. On the right side, the volume, which by itself is a 10… (sigh) How can I describe this? The volume was so low that I could barely hear anybody or anything, and turning it up did not increase the volume; it just distorted what was there. But with the left side set on set to the chipmunk setting, the chipmunks went away.
Everybody sounded normal and the volume came up on the right side and matched that on the left. Now, it really didn’t. My brain made that happen. Who can explain it? There is no explanation for it. But it happened. It was miraculous. It was like magic. Now, I said earlier, I don’t know why… I don’t remember. It was 2001. It was December 19th when I had the surgery for the first implant.
I don’t remember why the late great Dr. Antonio De La Cruz chose the left side instead of the right. All I remember is, we didn’t do both because they thought they might have a cure before I died and had to leave one ear open and available if such a cure was developed. So we did the left side. And analog was all that was available, and it was perfect instantly, out of the box. No education, no learning, no training, no nothing.
It was just instant. It worked. And I thought… Well, I mean, it worked. It had its problems. Environmental sounds. I mean, it wasn’t perfect, but there was no chipmunk. People sounded pretty much normal. It was not perfect in your sense, but for what my expectations were, it was right on the money.
High res is supposed to be better. For me it’s a thousand times worse. So my point was, what if we had chosen…? And yesterday, after turning the high res on the right side it was a disaster. I asked the audiologist, “Can you give me the analog map that I’m using currently on my left side and put it on this new one?”
“Because you can’t leave it there. It’s incompatible. Besides, you are going to learn this high res.”
“But what if it works?”
I feel like I’m dealing with a radio engineer who’s ignoring everything I say and looking at a meter, saying, “It’s fine.” No offense, Brian. (sigh) So she did. She put the old software — the thing I’m using right now — on the right side, and it was a disaster. It was horrible, which was totally unexpected. I was expecting the same thing. I thought that would be a fallback if this vaunted high-resolution thing didn’t work, which it didn’t, by itself.
But it was just bad. So I thought, “Now, what if 13 years ago we’d done the right ear first, and if 13 years ago the results were like they were yesterday?” I would have had to retire 13 years ago. That’s what I meant. Now, there’s no way of knowing if 13 years ago the right ear would have performed as well as the left did, because the left ear was only deaf for two or three months.
It had not, quote, “forgotten how to hear.”
My brain did not remember. But on the right side, just in terms people to understand, my brain’s forgotten how to hear. The auditory nerve has been dead. It hasn’t been used. It’s forgotten how to hear, hasn’t been used, and it’s dormant. So that is theoretically the reason why it’s so bad, and I’m told that if I keep using this new thing, that it’s gonna get better. It’s like working out muscles. They get stronger, better, and it’ll improve.
She assured me of this. “Six months from now,” she said, “you won’t believe it. You’ll never want to go back to the analog thing at all,” which I think is true. I now believe that that’s right. I’ve been laboring under a misconception for 13 years that you couldn’t learn that whatever it was when they turned it on was it.
But the reason I was wrong, is my left ear was not deaf long enough to forget how to hear so it didn’t need any training. The right side does. It’s been dormant for 13 years. But the magic is inexplicable on the right side. What happened yesterday is so bad, if I use it alone, that it’s indescribably bad. In fact, having it on would be worse than being totally deaf in the ear.
It was so bad; it was a distraction. That’s the best I can describe it for you. But used together with the left… In fact, I’ll tell you this. One of the things I’m now worried about is if I continue to use the new, what’s gonna happen to this one I’m using right now? Is it gonna start sounding odd after I get used to the new one? Because the new one can’t be used on this thing I’m using.
It won’t work on one ear alone, and I can’t do both ears when doing the program. Technologically there’s not a way. There’s no way to do it yet. So at 11 o’clock today Eastern time, an hour before the program, I took off both implants set to the high-res setting and put on the radio show implant, which is the old one.
And in less than 24 hours, it’s amazing, folks, how empty everything sounded. I mentioned that with both implants set to the chipmunk setting and using both sides, there’s a new depth and a new presence and a whole new world is opened up with both of them of. I went back to the thing that I loved and thought was the best and couldn’t be improved on, and it just sounds half dead. Voice quality’s the same. I’ve already re-acclimated to it, but the first half hour from 11 to 11:30 Eastern time, just dead. The voice quality was there, sound quality and all that, but the volume was not as high, it didn’t seem, and the environmental sounds, just all different. But now it’s back to normal, the way I sound.
So when the program’s over and I go back and put these two new things on, they’re gonna sound totally weird. It’s gonna be a balancing act ’cause I have to use the new ones for them to work. It’s just gonna be an ongoing process. But the bottom line is that it was an overwhelming success, but the first 20 minutes were — well, just total depression, because my expectations were so high. And then eventually it ended up working like a champion. I mean, it’s not perfect. Everybody on my right side sounds chipmunk, but the left side overpowers it, overrides it, dominates it. The right side is still there, provides the high frequency, all my bass perceptions.
For me, you can understand where I’m coming from, total deafness without any of this. For me, it’s miraculous. I still am in awe of the coincidence, or the blessing that in my little speck of time to live on the earth, it’s at the same time human beings have advanced to the point of inventing this technology. If I were a radio man 30 years ago and this had happened, it would have been the end of me as a radio man. In the big timeline of humanity, however long that is, our time on it is infinitesimally small, and mine happens to coincide with that kind of technology being created? How could you not believe in God?
Okay. I hope I’ve answered questions, probably have created some at the same time, but the bottom line is that it ended up being a profound, really uplifting positive and inspirational experience yesterday, after starting off disastrously, which I guess in its two-hour microcosm is its own lesson.
RUSH: Here’s Andy in Fort Worth, Texas. You’re first on Open Line Friday. Thank you for holding on. Welcome.
CALLER: Thanks, Rush, for taking my call.
RUSH: You send.
CALLER: I’m a Rush Baby and a longtime listener. I’m a pediatric audiologist in Texas, and I just had to call and tell you how truly tickled I am to hear how well your activation went yesterday. I’m sitting here nodding my head to everything you’re saying. And, you’re right, it is miraculous. Hearing is such a miraculous thing that our bodies can do. And your story is very interesting to me by nature anyway, but I really wanted to thank you for openly using your platform to talk about your hearing loss and the impact it has on real life, because I think it’s an issue that gets downplayed for the most part. Almost like hearing is the lesser of the five senses, and it’s wonderful how you address what a quality-of-life issue it is to have hearing loss but then also to share your successes in pursuing treatment in technology. And, I didn’t know if you knew, but May is Better Hearing Month, so I think it’s the perfect time to be talking about this.
RUSH: No, I did not know that May is Better Hearing Month. But I’m glad that you called. To me, talking about it is — the only reason I do it, to be honest, is because of the bond I have with my audience. I know it’s been 25 years, they’re interested in it, and if it helps, that’s cool. I’ve not had a lot of inquiries about that. To me it makes all the sense in the world to do what you can to maximize your life. When you lose your hearing, people can’t relate to that, Andy, as I said, because nobody can create it. You can’t create artificial deafness like you can —
CALLER: Exactly. Exactly.
RUSH: — pretend to be blind or paralyzed. People just can’t relate to not being able to hear, and therefore they cannot relate to the absolute disaster it can be for personal relationships, particularly intimate ones. It can break ’em up. It can be an absolute disaster.
CALLER: Yeah. We see that with families all the time. You know, when we diagnose — since I work with mainly infants and children — when we diagnose a child with hearing loss, some parents take that very seriously. Then there’s others that do kind of, sadly, put it to the wayside and think, “Well, I can manage this,” or “It’s just hearing loss, it won’t be that bad, as long as they can hear something, it’s fine.” But those kids that don’t get services or even adults that don’t get services, like you said, those results on relationships are catastrophic, and it really does create a social barrier for children and adults. So I’m so happy to hear you talk about that.
RUSH: If you’re not careful, it can cause you to shut out a tremendous portion of living, refuse to go places, don’t experience this or that, use it as a crutch or an excuse not to do things. But it’s more than that. I’ve said this a number of times, but it’s true. It’s the only disability where the disabled gets blamed for it. Where people get mad at the victim. And so it just leads to people being distant from one another. The one thing that’s happened that I don’t understand is people have asked, “Do you think my son should get a cochlear implant?” Heck yes. There’s no reason, if you have the ability to restore hearing, there’s literally no reason not to do that. And yet there’s some people who are not convinced of it. But I’m a firm believer in that.