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My life as a cochlear implant wearer in the time of COVID-19

Monday, May 11, 2020

As an ER nurse and a mum of three young, energetic boys, I know how important it is to maintain social distancing to support our medical systems during this pandemic. Everyday activities are being adapted, especially for me as a cochlear implant wearer. It’s been pretty crazy at our house, but that doesn’t mean the fun has stopped.

Keeping The Kids Active While Social Distancing

The children of a mother with a cochlear implant pose for a picture

With the kids home 24/7 and only partial access to our village while we distance, it has been nothing short of chaotic. My kids are always wanting to be outdoors and, although they generally only have a small radius of freedom on the grass around the house, this has changed for now. We’ve let them take over the backyard with intricate tents and forts built with beach umbrellas, boxes, and blankets. They’ve been ecstatic to have picnics in their outdoor creations, which makes the wild bunnies in the area happy too! 

They’ve also started using walkie talkies to communicate with me when I’m inside, just for fun.  This can prove challenging for speech understanding with hearing loss, but I have been able to connect my Roger Select™ to the radio to stream to my CIs, which has made their little voices much more understandable.

We have also started walking more frequently within the neighborhood and on our local beach path, which has helped everyone burn off pent-up angst from this sudden alteration in everyday life. This is something I do find challenging with my hearing, but I am able to hear my youngest’s voice very well when I attach the tiny Roger™ Clip-On Mic to his jacket.

Continuing With Aural Rehabilitation While Staying At Home

I am a recent CI recipient. My left CI was activated a year ago, and my right CI about six months ago, so I’m really in the thick of aural rehabilitation. Understandably, my recent cochlear implant mapping appointment was postponed, so improvements in my hearing related to mapping will have to wait. However, I have been using AB’s SoundSuccess, a free online aural rehab tool. I have been doing pretty well with the “up and running” levels, but accents are definitely a work in progress. On Thursdays, when my kids aren’t too bonkers, I try to pop onto the Hearing Journey chat to connect with others who already have or are exploring getting a cochlear implant.

With my kids home 24/7, we have signed up for more TV subscriptions. I’m able to stream the sound from the TV to my CIs with the CI Connects. My kids love cartoons, and this actually creates a great situation for improving speech recognition, because you can’t lipread cartoons! My kids are also into watching YouTube rocket launches and nature documentaries, which add to hearing rehab. One thing I do need to remember is to turn off the Bluetooth to my CI when the kids are playing video games or I find myself hearing very strange sounds and wondering where they are all coming from. 

My kids love cartoons, and this actually creates a great situation for improving speech recognition, because you can’t lipread cartoons! 

– Natalie Cole, CI recipient

In my downtime, I have been watching a TV series, and I have even been so bold as to turn off the captioning at times! Using TV shows as an aural rehab method may seem odd, but with so much sound going on in the background of the show, such as environmental sounds and the music soundtrack, it is a great way to test my ears.

I am also listening to music more often. Hearing and enjoying music with CIs is a common challenge and takes a lot of practice. I’ve found that each time I listen to a piece of music again, there is a notable improvement in its tone and quality. In fact, my hearing ability for musical notes has improved so much I am going to brave teaching my oldest child the trumpet over the summer to prepare him to join his school band.

Unique Challenges For People Like Me

Another challenge that those with hearing loss are experiencing so often now is the widespread use of face masks. While it is a critical means of curbing the spread of COVID-19, it has made speech understanding for people like me very difficult, if not impossible. Hearing speech from people wearing a mask can be difficult even for people with normal hearing. 

So I try to remember that and calmly explain my hearing loss if I’m having a significant issue understanding someone. This is what I have done in the hospital and at stores, and I have always been able to get people to kindly repeat themselves. I usually sort out what they are saying, but if need be, I use a captioning app on my phone. 

The children of a mother with a cochlear implant pose for a picture

Hearing speech from people wearing a mask can be difficult even for people with normal hearing. 

– Natalie Cole, CI recipient

Lastly, hearing loss increases listening fatigue, and this definitely holds true right now. I try to keep my kids and myself on a sleep routine and put my kids to bed with enough time to have a quiet moment for myself – and still get enough sleep. It hasn’t been easy, but it has definitely been important for my family to keep going with a routine.

These are just a few ways my family and I are being socially responsible while keeping things fun and managing stress during the pandemic. It has definitely been a time to let go of all the things we cannot control right now, to adapt to new challenges, and to appreciate the smaller, simpler things we often forget. One day, this will all be a memory. And I want to make sure that these are memories of having fun as well as having risen to the challenge.

Natalie Cole
Written by Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

Natalie is an ER registered nurse who lives in Vancouver, BC with her family. Natalie is a recent cochlear implant recipient and used an Advanced Bionics Naida CI CROS solution prior to receiving her second cochlear implant. She is often busy on adventures with her three young boys, and she is taking courses towards her graduate degree.

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