Revenge of the Battery Snatchers

I think I speak for all people, not just hearing impaired people, when I say batteries are the bane of my existence.

But wait, hold on Shayna. Aren’t batteries a blessing? Aren’t they the reason you can use your phone, your laptop, your hearing aids?

Fine, yes, that is true.

But they are the reason I can use my phone, my laptop, and my hearing aids.

Imagine this: it is the first week of July and you are in Maui with your family on vacation. You are totally unplugged. Kind of. You have your personal audio cable hooked up to  your cochlear to you can listen to music, and yeah, your Dry Store hearing aid cleaner and your cochlear charger are all plugged in, blinking lights galore. But other than all that, you are totally unplugged. Yes, listening to your strange, confused playlist in which Trevor Hall songs follow Kanye songs follow Taylor Swift songs.

Then.

Horror of all horrors. Your phone’s battery symbol turns red. “Less than 20% remaining.” You feel annoyed (first world problems, to be sure) but you decide to keep your Zen. You are in Maui. You don’t need Apple.

You unhook your audio cable and remove your coverup, grab your sister, and hightail it to the warm Pacific Ocean.

Enter tropical wind. It brings AWESOME waves. You are kind of nervous, because you decided to keep your implant and hearing aid in. They are both supposedly water resistant. But still. You flow along happily with the current, timing the waves perfectly as you gently float over each one. But uh oh, this one looks kind of big. You stay calm. You resume your pattern of timing. Ready, one two three UP and over.

Oof. You are placed exactly where the wave decided to break. Luckily, you did not get pounded in the tumbling white froth zone. But you took a bit of a licking from the tip of the wave. So did half of your hearing aid. It sounds a little echo-y all the sudden, and you realize that water has seeped through the filters. You will have to change them tonight.

Your hearing aid gives a meek warning beep, signaling the battery is about to die. What? You changed it this morning. It should at least last all day. You are annoyed again. Except this time it isn’t first world problems. It is every world problems. It is your hearing, for goodness sakes.

At least you didn’t wear your disposable cochlear implant battery. The case for the disposable implant battery is perforated with holes so that the removable batteries can breathe. The rechargeable ones that you are wearing today have no holes, because there are no removeable batteries. You simply charge them up each night.

Your hearing aid is slowly dimming. And then it goes dead. You trudge out of the ocean and find your beach bag, where you have packed extra hearing aid batteries and extra cochlear implant batteries. You remove your hearing aid and see that water has seeped through the filter into the battery compartment, effectively damaging the battery. You dry it out, replace the battery and resume your beach fun, with more caution this time.

It is later in the evening. You and your family are ready to go to dinner. Your hearing aid and implant have had some much needed R&R time in your Dry Store while you showered and got dressed. You are ready for a beautiful Maui evening. You get to the restaurant and order the Catch of the Day and sip on some Hawaiian fruit punch (non-alcoholic, calm down), but then your worst fear happens. The cochlear implant battery — your trusty rechargeable one — has started to die. The hearing aid dying is one thing. The hearing aid is more of a supporting actress. The implant, however, is the Clint Eastwood, the Leonardo DiCaprio, the Chris Pratt of the production that is your life — the lead actor. You dig into your purse and pull out the disposable cochlear implant batteries and accompanying battery case. Looks like second string batteries were going to save the day after all. You deftly perform the switch in your chair, because discreetly changing batteries in public is kind of your thing. Or you don’t really care, hard to tell. The implant comes back to life, and sounds more vibrant than ever before.

You love batteries. But you also hate them.

Aaaand end scene. Thanks for joining me on that ride folks. Allow me to explain some of these phenomenons I experienced on my vacation.

For the hearing aid, it is pretty simple. It is only water resistant around the case, not the filter. Water can seep through the filter and, if there is a filter on the battery door like there is on mine, it will enter the battery compartment and cause the hearing aid to die. No need to panic — you haven’t broken your hearing aid! You just need a small battery switch.

For the rechargeable battery dying, that is a matter of upkeep. You want to buy new rechargeable batteries at the very least every five years. I have heard the recommended life span is 1-2 years. Mine made it to around five. I don’t really know the science behind this mechanism but what I can do is give you this analogy: the rechargeable are kind of like a cell phone. When you first buy it, it really holds its charge. After a couple years, you have to recharge more frequently. That is the extent of my knowledge. I recommend checking out the cochlear website for more details.

The removable/disposable batteries are not really second string like I described here. The sound quality is actually the same. I refer to it as second string in my life because I use the rechargeable ones, mainly to lower costs of buying a thousand 675-sized batteries for the disposable ones. Those for me usually last a day, and the implant requires two 675s at any given time, so I could go through 14 of them in one week, which isn’t my idea of fun. There is also a delay time before I can put the implant in if I use the removable batteries. I tend to let the batteries sit out a little bit (before I put them in) to adjust to the air. Technically, you don’t have to do this because the battery case is perforated, but I always feel like it sounds a little better if I do. Also, because the disposable ones are perforated to let air in (these 675s need contact with air to perform maximally) this makes the battery less waterproof. Since I like to have the most simple, fuss free battery, I use the rechargeable ones. They usually last all day (up to 16 hours for me) and can handle water or any other situation. But that is just my opinion. What works for you is what you should do.

I want to reiterate that my life usually isn’t this inconvenient. As always, trips involving a lot of water are always tough on hearing devices, so this was actually an extenuating circumstance. For instance, now that I am back home in less drier situations with newer rechargeable batteries, life is fantastic.

I also want to say that not every moment of my Maui vacation was like this either. In fact, most of the time, it wasn’t. I made sure to put newer rechargeable batteries in and I got better at going with the flow of the ocean, so all my other aquatic experiences were much better.

It is all about staying positive, even if a situation is a little more difficult than what you are accustomed to. Anyone can have fun with and without hearing devices, so even when a battery dies, it is only a marginal setback.

And, you guys. It’s Maui. How upset can you really be?!

Baby Steps: Music Makes me Question Everything but That’s Okay, no Really, I’m Fine

As I write this post to all you lovely Earpluggers, I must warn you. I am sitting in my little computer nook in my dining room where I am currently overlooking the most temperamental sunset I have ever seen. The sky itself is a pale blue, but the clouds are a sort of ominous gray lined in a pinky golden fluff. The sun is peeking over the tops of the clouds and seems positively determined to pelt all of its remaining sunlight straight on my corneas. So, friends. You will excuse me if I have any typos today. I am writing this blindly.

Much has come to pass since I last checked in. I have two weeks of my internships under my belt. I visited some amazing friends up in UC Davis (check out my guest post on the Cochlear Wire blog about traveling http://thewire.cochlearamericas.com/shayna-shares-tips-and-stories-for-the-holidays/). I finished a season and a half of Once Upon a Time on Netflix. Most importantly, I ate a s’more in the spirit of summer.

In the midst of my crazy daily life, one thing has truly captivated me this month. That thing is music. All right, all right. It isn’t much of a surprise considering that one of my internships revolves around music and music therapy. Yet, because of my internship I have been reflecting on my musical experience and how my exact perception of music comes to fruition in my implant.

Here’s the thing: there are two ways to stimulate pitch in a person’s ear. I want you to imagine a cochlea. Or don’t, there is a picture right here.

Now, let’s pretend to be a sound signal. Lift your finger and tap somewhere on the cochlea. Imagine that your finger is stimulating a hair follicle on the cochlea that sends information to the brain about how that signal should sound as a direct result of the location where you tapped the cochlea. That is called spatial processing. It is what happens when a signal is picked up at a specific location on the cochlea that results in a specific pitch.

Okay, so perhaps that wasn’t rocket science. Hold on, now, what I am about to say may seem less straightforward. Pitch perception does not soley rely on the spatial processing of sound signals. It can also rely on temporal processing, that is, the rate of stimulation at any given location on the cochlea can transmit sounds of different pitch. This can occur even at the same location! So, let’s go back to our little activity. If you tap slowly at any spot on the cochlea you will transmit one sound. If you tap faster on the same spot, the frequency of sound (i.e. pitch) will change!

“Regular” hearing seems to be taking advantage of both types of processing, however, cochlear implants do not. Cochlear implants are made solely for speech perception, and it does an excellent job of that. The cochlear implant’s abilities encompass the vast majority, if not all, of the speech frequencies and pitches. What the cochlear implant does not do, however, is restore perfect hearing. Speech isn’t the only thing worth restoring to the deaf. How about music, for instance? The frequencies and melodies that embody music can lie within the speech frequency range (the speech “banana”) but a lot of auditory information that does not fall in that specific region is lost. Thus, when orchestral music is played to a cochlear implant recipient, it is not as nuanced and beautiful as it may sound to you. There is definitely a lovely quality to orchestral music in my opinion, but it is more apt to sound like noise in my case or in other CI recipients’ cases.

Why does this happen? No one is quite sure, and multiple studies are being done to uncover this question. However, one solution researchers have put forth is that the cochlear implant seems to focus more heavily on spatial processing because that is all that is really needed to cover speech. Temporal processing, if integrated with spatial processing, may restore or permit CI recipients to hear music the way “normal” hearing people do. This is much more easily said than done. As anyone who owns any technological device knows, it ain’t easy getting a machine to do what you want it to. In this case, more knowledge of these concepts, a ton of coding, and gobs of money are needed to accomplish this goal.

As a pre lingually deaf cochlear implant recipient, I often wonder what this reduced frequency range of my cochlear implant does to interfere with my musical experience. I adore music: dancing to it, creating it, and simply listening to it. This was certainly not the case before my implant. I did love to dance and I did play several instruments, but I think my joy deepened as a result of the implant. Could my joy be expanded more? Am I being “robbed” of the “true” musical experience? Does not having full access to all the frequencies alter my ability to enjoy the music/does it change what I hear? Can I miss an experience I never had to begin with? Is music listening/loving a relative experience? What is the meaning of life?

I have spent many hours listening closely to songs on the radio, I have dusted off my out of tune piano, and I have strummed multiple guitars, straining my ears and struggling to wrap my mind (ears?) around this phenomenon.

I watched this awesome TED Talk on the topic: http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_limb_building_the_musical_muscle#t-57204

You know what guys? I have absolutely no idea how I feel about it. To be honest, I start getting too wrapped up in the music to even remember that I am supposed to analyzing my experience. If and when cochlear implants are designed to portray the entirety of the musical spectrum, I know I will be in line to get one is less than an eight count.

‘Til then, baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Two Months Later…

Earpluggers! YES, this blog is still a thing. It is entirely my bad. This past semester was very . . . eventful. I have never been one for intense involvement in extracurricular activities, but this semester that changed. I believe I made a post earlier this year about some of my extracurricular activities, but since that time, my involvement has grown (while my schoolwork did not relent) and so basically I ended up in the fetal position in a corner more often than not. It is hard to explain the phenomenon I was feeling. I was absolutely stressed out and constantly needed a break, but at the same time I was so invested and happy doing all the things I had taken on. So I plodded on in my fragile state, barely keeping my head above each wave after wave of obligations. Now, at long last, it is summer. I wrapped up this year successfully and I am quite satisfied with how everything turned out. I have reacquainted myself with my bed and the concept of enough sleep, I haven’t eaten a midnight pizza in almost a week, and I am just starting to grasp the concept that I do not have another organic chemistry midterm to study for ever again (how much of a nerd am I that I am somewhat sad about that?). Life is good, folks. My summer days are spent with my family, my teacup yorkie named Teddy and my lazy cat Nova, and endless dreams about the upcoming USC football season. Oh, and also working. That’s right. In the spirit of my recent decision to pursue a career in the health sciences (check out my post, “Denny From Grey’s Anatomy” to read that story), I have picked up some awesome internships for the summer. The first is at the USC Leonard Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, where I am exploring the economic side of the health profession. I am getting a crash course on Medicare, Medicaid, and how to count all the zeros on enormous healthcare costs (save time and count by threes). This experience is truly allowing me to have a full perspective on what it means to provide healthcare to the American population, and as a future physician (hopefully), an appreciation of these elements of healthcare will make me a more well-rounded and informed healthcare provider. The second internship I am doing is sort of a “full circle” kind of experience. I am developing research protocol at the same center for pediatric audiology and childhood communication that I have been going to since I was 11 months old. I am learning more and more every day about the physics behind sound and how to use these concepts to deliver the best quality of sound to people who have some element of hearing loss just like me. I have always somewhat understood these concepts, but this summer I get to roll my sleeves up and really delve into the nitty gritty (and positively mind-blowing) science behind hearing. So, this summer is not too shabby. Actually, it is off to a great start. Even though I am more or less rising with the sun every day, it is a pleasure to cruise the freeways with the radio up as I head to my internships, where I learn more and more each day about my future life path. Radio commercials, however, are NOT a pleasure. Someone hand me the aux cord, please. P. S. — Lucky for you guys, I am feeling quite guilty about leaving you all in the lurch for a lot of months, SO I have some awesome posts planned for this summer! There will be DANCING posts, there will be VACATION posts (T-minus way too many days until Maui), and there might even be a VIDEO Q&A! Go ahead and ask me questions (any questions at all) that you have been wanting to know about me, my hearing impairment, or my life and I promise to answer them all! You can leave a question in the comments below, Facebook message me, or use the contact button to email me through the blog.

I will be back, you guys, I promise.