The most important thing I've learned about my hearing aids so far: I like listening to music much better without them. Listening to the radio or through my speakers, they add weird gritty static overtones to everything, like sand or glitter being sprinkled on your food. Streaming directly to the hearing aids is even worse; I lose the bass and only get the harsh high edges.
Playing music is a different matter. I only have a small electric keyboard here, but it's nice to roam audibly farther up on it; I used to like wearing my hearing aids part of the time when practising as a small child for the same reason. It's a tradeoff; you get more range, but everything sounds worse, so I'd practice both with and without. With to develop the technical accuracy; without to hear and feel the music.
I've acquired a guitar since my last attempt with hearing aids. On that instrument, wearing hearing aids is like putting glasses on; I can hear all the notes of a (solo) guitar (in a quiet room) already, but now I get more overtones, harmonics... and scratchy, squeaky sounds from my fingers sliding over the strings, plucking them, from sloppy technique I've never been able to detect. It sounds painful, but I'd rather hear it and be able to fix it than not; I'm guessing folks just never told me because they assumed I could hear (and fix) it and was simply a poor guitarist. Yes, I am a poor guitarist for other reasons, but this is something I didn't fix because I didn't know I was doing it. Seb (Gerndt), whose guitar I tried out Friday night, said everybody makes those noises, that they show up less with new strings, that it's part of what guitar sounds are -- so I know they won't vanish as I work on them, just become more pleasing and less obvious.
My hearing aids pick out voices rather well from background noise. I usually give up on car conversations, but riding to dinner with Jen and Seb on Friday night, I was able to understand both their voices in the car, over the low-frequency rumble that usually drowns out all speech sounds, even if Seb was in the back and I wasn't always lipreading him. They were "sound spotters" in the restaurant -- "can you hear the fish tank bubbling? (yes). the soda machine being used? (no.) the baby crying? (oh, that's what that terrible noise was?)" I overheard and understood snatches of conversations as we walked past tables. I never overhear snatches of conversation. I'm... I'm not supposed to have that sort of peripheral awareness.
It's like having superpowers. I know that even with hearing aids my loss is still profound -- I'm still missing out on maybe half of all speech sounds (and that is probably conservative), but I'm hearing twice as many speech sounds as I did before. Roughly.
Jen noticed a difference in my ability to repeat pronunciations (of the 's' sounds specifically) already, that first evening I had hearing aids at all. It doesn't magic my pronunciation into instant perfect; I still can't hear a lot of things, and my mouth still goes into old patterns and has no muscle memory for the new sounds, but I can give myself instant feedback on some fricatives ("sh" especially) now, which makes me far more accurate in pronouncing them because I know whether I've got them right and modify my vocal tract on the fly without needing to look to Jen to tell me.
Jen and Seb also took me to their backyard and interpreted the cacophony for me: traffic, birds, dog noises -- dogs hyperventilate constantly, click their toenails on the floor (I can't hear that), and drink noisily. And so do I. The sound of my own water-drinking is a symphony - liquid, melodic, chords! The water cooler bubbling into my glass: deliciously intertwined overtones, not the dull ffffffffffppppp-thub-thub-thub I've known. Turning on the kitchen sink Saturday morning made me startle at first. Doors closing, locks clicking, keys jangling; I expected these things. But also, unexpectedly: my bathroom door squeaks on its hinges! My microwave buttons beep when they're pressed!
The first half-dozen or so cars coming from behind freaked me out; I had a lot of PANIC INSTINCT! RUN AWAY! moments the first time I walked beside a street, because usually if I can hear a car behind me, it's right about to run me over. Now I can hear them from maybe 200 feet away, but they sound close because "loudness level X" corresponds to "distance Y" in my book. I'm recoding my notions of how "close" sounds are; dinner with Jen and Seb was unusually kind to my back and neck because I wasn't craning and straining forward constantly to understand them.
I have an idea for how I can use my equipment for recording interviews (yes, I am a qualitative researcher). The bluetooth gadget that lets me make phone calls has a (highly directional) microphone in it; if I find a way to hook that microphone audio into the computer, I might be able to stream it into Audacity and record interviewees off it, while getting my audio directly from my hearing aids. And that gadget (Phonak's iCom) isn't even the best microphone in my setup. Shame to have amazing mics and not be able to use them! (Also, wrestling with Linux audio setup for non-traditional Bluetooth devices when you've set GNOME to display entirely in German is best described as "masochistic" and I still haven't figured it out; I do have it connecting in Windows in English, though.)
On Saturday I went hiking with my classmate Julia and two of her friends who are PhD students in the Forestry department. This was to test out my shoes for the Coast to Coast (success), to determine whether I'd need sweat protection for my hearing aids (possibly) during the 15-day hike with Sumana, and to get the heck out of my apartment and out into nature. We got a mini crash course on birds and controlled burns and saw vultures and discussed why squirrels are susceptible to becoming roadkill (their zomg-a-predator reaction is to scramble rapidly back and forth, which works great for confusing hawks, but not so great for cars). And birdsong listening lessons. That's a dove, that's a... something else that doesn't sound like a dove whose name I forgot (I didn't say I remembered the birdsong listening lessons -- also, birds are hard to tell apart, all their frequencies blend!) And a cricket frog. And the sound of a river, and a stick being thrown into a river, and the flopping, water-shattering sounds of a wet dog (who's just fetched the stick from said river) shaking itself dry.
They brought me along to a BBQ at an anthropology professor's house afterwards. It was a night that reminded me why I love academia; you are surrounded by people who deeply, deeply love so many different fields, and love to teach others about it. Cecilia on the poop patterns of coyotes (and how to take and preserve DNA samples from them for population tracking) and Dr. Anderson pulling out the massive atlas of a northern region of the Philippines her advisor had compiled and spreading it out on the table so I could see it, and her house wallpapered with bookshelves, and debating with Julia over the methodologies of her dissertation proposal options... if I want a thriving life of the mind, it's a good place to be.
A life of the mind, of course, makes it easy to not think about or feel certain things, so I need to be careful to counterbalance that. The biggest surprise was Skyping with Sebastian on Saturday morning; I just couldn't do it with my hearing aids. I mean, I got the audio all hooked up and routing through the proper gadgetry (after several attempts), but I couldn't... wear my hearing aids and talk with him. Since the audio was all digital and filtered through my hearing aids, I only got the confusing high frequencies I'm not used to. And I expected, going into that call, to be confused, to need to get used to a strange new version of his voice. But I didn't expect it to hit me quite so hard; not only was it difficult to understand him (frustrating in its own right), his voice didn't sound like him.
My intellect is usually masochistic and enjoys plunging into strangeness to test my brain plasticity, and I could do that in a coffee shop with my advisor Robin on Friday, but I just couldn't do it here. And so I ended up taking off my hearing aids and going for my usual headset (a Christmas present from his parents, actually) and it was... so good to hear his voice again. And I laugh a little, because I was about to say "proper voice" or "normal voice," but know that what I get is this crazy distorted version of what the rest of the world hears -- but to me, that's what Sebastian sounds like. Add high frequencies and it's just wrong. But we spend a lot of time working together in situations (classrooms, conferences, etc) where I do want to use my hearing aids, so I'll need to find a way to adjust to having two version of his voice, somehow. And two versions of mine. And two versions of the world, amplified and unamplified.
I hope I don't give up too early. I cope so well without hearing aids (or other assistance), and it takes so much time to learn to work with them, that in many cases I've just never climbed that learning curve; it's always easier to give up... I'm hoping it's like vim or git or the command line (zsh for me); tough to grok, but once you get it, FOOM. You have The Power.
By the way I'm grateful for the opportunity to give all this a shot. It's... such a luxury, to be able to try things, to not be totally screwed if they fail, to be in the safest possible places and the best situations with the best help and support I could imagine getting. The audiology and speech departments here are amazing, my friends and teachers and classmates both at Purdue and flung all over the internet are all enthusiastically geeky and supportive (including friends who work in signal processing! and linguistics! and music! and embedded devices! and are writing their dissertations on the pronunciation of students of German as a foreign language!) and the State of Indiana paid for my hearing aids (the equipment alone costs about half of what I make in a year, even with the extra income from consulting -- add in what the audiology/speech visits would cost atop that, and you'll see why I've never been able to afford this on my own) and my boyfriend has been an incredibly patient and reassuring anchor, and... it's a good situation to be in. Even if it doesn't work out, we'll know we've done everything we can at this moment in time.
Looks good so far, though. I'll continue to grapple; I'm up to wearing my hearing aids for over an hour at a time now before my brain conks out from the exhaustion of rewiring itself, and it's only day 3. Thanks to everyone who's been coming down this crazy ride with me.