Speechless…

Oh My God!! This is amazing…TOTALLY AMAZING!!!” I shrieked, forgetting that I was the only one in the office invisibly listening to Radio 4 streaming live to their hearing aids. Even more amazingly, not only could I understand every word that was being said, the clarity of speech made listening almost effortless. Wow. So this was why other people liked listening to the radio! Whatever next, I pondered, perhaps I was going to finally discover how they can follow ‘Top of the Lake’ without subtitles! I let out a little sigh of amusement at the very thought, and eagerly returned to my voyage of wireless listening discovery.

The next discovery was slightly less edifying, however. With Multi Mic and Radio 4 on 100% of my hearing mix, and the real world on 0%, I was now a frightening embodiment of the famous Lombard effect, which causes human beings to raise their voices in loud surroundings in order to be heard. The only difference is that whilst it’s quite acceptable to shout conversationally at cocktail parties, it comes across as totally bonkers in a quiet office.

My talking to myself in a very loud voice was attracting glances from a colleague, and I noticed a question being formed underneath his twitching beard. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear a thing with muted hearing aids and Radio 4 beaming directly into my brain.

“HOLD ON A SECOND…” I entreated, as I tried to remember how to get myself back into airplane mode without aggravating the rapidly developing sore spots on the backs of my ears. All that button pressing combined with the vice-like grip of the new hearing aids was taking its toll, and I didn’t even have my reading glasses on yet. “Oh, stuff this”, I said, giving up on buttons and impatiently ripping the Multi Mic’s audio lead out of the computer in order to take a shortcut to my normal speaking volume.

With normal conversational volume restored on both sides, I began to wonder if I had indeed made a terrible mistake by opting for 100% Multi Mic on wireless. It was all very well hearing Radio 4 with crystal clarity, but not at the expense of everything else. Fearful of taking the edge off my new found enjoyment of faceless speech, I carefully tucked away the Multi MIc and returned to my admin activities on the computer in silence. I needed to preserve all my energies for the ‘Top of the Lake’ TV test later that evening…

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Testing, Testing…

“Hiss? Ah, I think I know what that could be”, said the extremely helpful audiologist, “there’s an air-con fan running, I’ll turn it off for a moment and see if that’s the noise you’re hearing.” It wasn’t, but after some vague sound descriptors from me and further experimentation with the expansion and compression settings on the aids, the hiss was banished. It took a little longer to actually do than to describe here, but ‘A La Recherche du Temps Perdu’ has already been written so I’ll spare you an epic account of check-box clicking.

Hearing aids sorted, it was now time to move on to the really exciting business of setting up the ReSound Multi Mic. Months of preparation had gone in to preparing for this groundbreaking moment, but it turned out that the aids were initially not as excited about talking to the Multi Mic as I was. They doggedly refused to leave airplane mode until I had practically snapped their battery doors off with my clumsy openings and closings to the prescribed instructions. Fortunately, the extra time afforded by this complication allowed me to come to terms with the fact that hearing aids could even have an airplane mode, and I made a mental note to remember not to send any aircraft into an accidental nosedive by listening to iTunes whilst airborne.

Now for the really, really exciting bit: hearing distant/ quiet speech wirelessly. The very helpful audiologist clipped the Multi-Mic to his lanyard and retreated to the farthest corner of the room, by chance mirroring the exact  behaviour of a student trying to escape from me during a hard of hearing tutorial. He uttered some words and waited for my reaction. It was impressive.

“OH MY GOD!!! That’s absolutely amazing!!! I can hear every word!!!” I shrieked, leaning right back in my seat to listen for further bon mots, just like other people do, instead of being bent double. Blimey, this was awesome. Amazingly, at almost the same time, someone shrieked “OH MY GOD!!! That’s absolutely amazing!!! I can hear every word!!!”, and this stopped further expressions of absolute amazement in their tracks, while a short circuited Cookie Bite Cortex tried to work out what the heck was going on. It turned out the other voice was actually mine being picked up from the far end of the room and wirelessly beamed back to me as an echo, so I’ll have to see how that one works out when I’m waxing lyrical during group tutorials. I don’t want to accuse anyone of talking complete rubbish only to discover that it’s actually me on a 40 millisecond time delay.

Demonstration over, I had to make a snap decision on whether to go for a 50% mix of multi-mic and hearing aids when in wireless mode, or 100% Multi Mic, so I opted for 100% Multi Mic to get my money’s worth (£372 inc.VAT to be precise). This is in the hope that with studio background noise levels muted slightly by silenced tulip domes, hearing through the Multi-Mic is going to be the way forward. Whether I have made a terrible decision there remains to be seen once live student trials commence in just under two weeks’ time, but whatever happens I’m stuck with it until my follow up appointment in 3 months’ time. Fortunately I have been allowed to hold on to the old Danalogics in the meantime, just in case any nasty surprises emerge in the real world.

With everything fully set up and tested, it was time to pack everything back into its box and release me to the wilds. I thanked the extremely helpful audiologist profusely for his interventions, and returned to work with high hopes…

Wireless at last!

A flat iPhone battery and a last minute decision to update its software nearly derailed planetary alignment prior to attending Clinic O, but fortunately disaster was averted and I arrived safely in the waiting area at my appointed time. When my name was called, I trotted to the soundproof room with an air of great expectancy, and marvelled that this could not be in greater contrast to some of my earlier experiences. Once inside, I whipped off the Danalogics and eagerly assumed the position for otoscopic inspection.

“There’s a bit of wax in there, but I think we’re okay”, said the extremely helpful audiologist, “but it’s worth pointing out that your right eardrum looks a bit…er,…wet?”

I briefly considered that the recent exertions of work might be causing my brain to liquefy and leak out through an undetected perforation in my eardrum, before recognising the actual cause.

“Oh, I know what that is”, I pronounced with great authority, “it’ll be the almond oil. I’ve been ladling it in for the last two weeks. It’s everywhere.”

I had now qualified to proceed to the programming stage, and it was a great relief to discover that the original settings from the Danalogics could simply be copied across to the new aids. Blood, sweat and umpteen sound-induced frights in Glasgow Central station had gone into those precisely tailored settings, and the thought of starting anew was a little daunting.

I now turned my attention to getting a glimpse of the aids. In previous encounters, the emotional response to the sight of new aids has always been an initial gulp of silent horror followed by polite beige resignation, but this time, I nearly jumped out of my chair like an internet cat presented with a surprise cucumber.

Oh. My. God.

I shrieked at the sight of two tiny scarlet beans with programming wires attached, and couldn’t believe that these lacquered little beauties were mine. I even had to touch them to make sure they were real. If the NHS Danalogics were chipolatas, these ReSound UP Smart babies were a zingy dash of sauce. Whatever next! I peered closer and thought I’d died and gone to hearing aid heaven…the monstrous volume wheel was gone!  The sight of a hearing aid back panel with no unsightly protrusions induced a surprise pang of regret as I suddenly realised that my NHS hearing aid pimping days were over. Like so many of my other talents these days, my prowess with adhesive film was now redundant. Still, there was always the possibility that I could resume my pimping career in future, since the surprise invitation, back in April, to choose a colour, had come with the caveat that if one aid got lost or broken then I’d get a beige replacement.

But that didn’t matter right now. The seamlessly red Up Smart beans were placed weightlessly on my ears and I was asked not to make a noise while the programming bit with the loud noises was carried out. I suppressed the usual urge to suddenly make an involuntary noise when asked not to, then sat back and gloated at my great fortune while graphs came and went on the computer screen.

Then, came the moment of wireless hearing truth. I was switched on and the silence of the soundproof room finally presented itself to my ears through the new aids.

“How’s that?” asked the extremely helpful audiologist.

Oh no. I could hardly bring myself to say the words.

“I can hear a hiss…”

 

to be continued…

Countdown

Two eardrums were sighted by the practice nurse early yesterday morning, which is just as well, because apparently they don’t do wax removal any more. The Multi Mic has exited its box for charging, and the iPhone is finally unlocked and waiting. Now all that remains is to strip the Danalogics of their illegal zebra stripes, before beginning the final countdown to wireless connectivity at Clinic O tomorrow.

T minus 15 hours and counting…

 

 

It’s all in the timing…

Never mind all this recent talk of solar eclipses, an even more spectacular planetary alignment is destined to take place at Clinic O on 30th Sep. After months of meticulous preparation, several expensive items of digital listening kit are due to finally come together in the one room to make me…wait for it…wireless enabled on the NHS.

If all goes to plan, I should emerge triumphantly from Clinic O with a brand new set of wireless hearing aids and beaming, literally, from ear to ear. The fetching red NHS aids will be paired to the nifty GN ReSound multi mic purchased privately by my employer, and my niece’s cast off iphone will be poised to act both as a remote control and wireless music streaming marvel. The main aim behind all this, however, is to enable me to understand speech better at work when interacting with individual students and small groups in high levels of reverberant background noise.

Synchronising administrative matters in relation to the purchase and commissioning of the various elements has pushed my organisational skills to the limit in a very busy work schedule, but the current 6 month NHS waiting time has actually provided the latitude required to fit everything in, including the dreaded occupational health appointment and unexpectedly prolonged battle with iphone unlocking.

Now, only one final thing stands between me and full planetary alignment on the 30th. One final, nerve racking thing: a pair of wax free lugholes on the day…

 

Orrery in image by Ken Condal with a couple of non-planetary additions

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The Shape of Things to Come?

 

I received a shock answerphone message from Clinic O the other day, and had to listen to it several times to make sure I’d heard correctly. Apparently there will be a delay on my hearing aid review appointment…of approximately 17 weeks. The original appointment to make some tweaks to the volume required a mere 12 week wait, so dabbling with your settings on the NHS is now a very long-drawn out affair. At this rate, the new user could find themselves eligible for their 3 yearly upgrade before initial adjustments to their new hearing aid have successfully concluded.

While I wait for my far-off appointment, I am amusing myself by dreaming of the day when I no longer need to interact with the infuriating volume wheel on the Danalogics. According to this New Scientist article, one day I might even be able to control the volume with my tensed knuckles instead. Apparently, some clever scientists at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany, have developed tattoos which can turn knuckles and freckles into smartphone controls.

Should the scientists at Saarland ever turn their attentions to the fiddly business of hearing aid controls instead of smartphones, my daily frustrations with the Danalogic iFIT 71 volume wheel could become a thing of the past.

For example, my right knuckle could be programmed to respond to tension from my clenched fist; as background noise suddenly intensifies while I’m having an important conversation, my whitening knuckles could send a command to my hearing aids to switch on the directional mics. Whenever someone starts hammering in the background while I’m doing a group tutorial, the digging of my fingernails into the tabletop could act as a signal to activate the mute setting. And when standing in front of a packed lecture theatre, I could discreetly swipe my knuckle tattoos to control the volume whilst my hearing aids are still on my ears. I currently have to take them off and peer at the volume dial through my reading glasses every time I accidentally brush the wheel with my hand when touching my hair.

Cool…

The original academic article from the Saarland team can be found here

See also DuoSkin tattoos from MIT Media Lab

I’m still waiting for someone to invent my hearing aid tattoos…

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LOST part 2: Needle in a haystack

 

lost-hearing-aid

The queue to the gallery slowly inched forward in the rain, and I passed the time by thinking about the tedious business of getting a replacement hearing aid. I had just visualised the stage where they discover your ears need syringed after waiting two months for an appointment, when the gallery door suddenly opened and we were quickly ushered inside by the security guard.

Hearing aid search conditions inside had deteriorated rapidly since our previous visit, and as the spouse and I fought our way through the heat and noise of the crowd, I abandoned hope. There was no way a fallen hearing aid could survive, let alone be found in there.

The spouse was now beginning to get rather irritable.

“I mean how could you not notice the bloody thing falling off, surely you’d have noticed you couldn’t hear properly?” he shouted helpfully above the racket. “I mean, you were talking to people in here, you must have had it on, surely?”

I wasn’t about to go into explaining the black art of bluffing by talking at people in crowded rooms, so opted to be petulant instead.

“I can’t hear properly with the bloody thing on or off”, I snapped. “Not in situations like this.”

I stomped off into the crowd and began retracing my steps but, within seconds, it was clear that it was going to be a waste of time. People were standing all over my invisible thread, and trying to weave amongst them felt like tackling a rugby scrum. Wearily, I admitted defeat and went to talk at some nearby colleagues instead. Someone helpfully suggested I put out an ‘all staff’ email about my predicament, but whilst I was tempted by the thought of becoming the author of the most bizarre ‘Lost and Found’ email at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour since someone found an accordion on the front steps, I opted to keep my institutional dignity intact just for the moment.

The spouse was now keener than ever to get home, but once back outside in the rain, I decreed that there was a final check to be made. I picked up the invisible thread for one last time, and began following it downhill towards where we’d unpacked the luggage from the coach earlier in the evening. The thread ran out rather poetically just beside the ‘Hidden Hearing’ shop on the high street, but there was no sign of the aid. I found an interesting piece of red plastic in a pothole, though. It was now time to go home, and I was very much looking forward to attending to the trench foot which I was sure must be developing inside my sodden shoes. I wearily heaved my two rucksacks on to my shoulders and consoled myself that even if we’d found the aid by the bus stop, it would have been ruined by the rain anyway. It would have stood a better chance with the lonely slug back in Crianlarich. I stopped dead in my tracks.

“THE PHONE!” I shouted, clamping the spouse’s arm in a vice-like grip with excitement, “I think I listened to my voicemail when we first arrived back!  I need to take the aid out to listen to the phone…maybe it’s on my desk!””

“Well you’ve got bugger all chance of finding it on there from what I saw earlier”, said the spouse, a little disparagingly, I thought. “I’ve had enough of this,” he declared, ” I’m going home.”

Without even stopping to berate him for his heartlessness, I shot back up the steep hill to the main building, my two rucksacks now seemingly weightless in the excitement. I burst breathlessly through the front door, and pursued my flight up the architecturally acclaimed central staircase. As I skidded round the corner and into the office, I almost heard the soles of my hiking boots give a little tyre screech on the naked concrete.

My remaining colleague looked bemused once more, as I began the frenzied excavation of my desk, in the manner of someone looking for a vital piece of evidence in a suspense film. Unfortunately, there was to be no cinematic denouement just yet. Once everything on the desk had been thrown to the floor, I slumped into my chair, defeated. The desktop was bare.

I stared, transfixed, at the illuminated red voicemail light, and wondered who had left a message. I now remembered that the spouse had dragged me off before I’d had a chance to listen to it earlier. I wearily reached to drag the phone by its cord to listen, when… I spotted a cheeky little flash of red underneath. Eureka! The denouement had finally arrived. The aid had been hiding under the phone the whole time!

To the imaginary accompaniment of the Hallelujah chorus, I popped my lost hearing instrument on to my overjoyed left ear, and finally set off for home.

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