Histoires d'oreilles [fr]

[en] Sharing my hearing and hearing aid story -- and opening a francophone facebook group for people who don't hear that well, whether with or without hearing aids.

L’autre soir, comme souvent dans des situations acoustiquement difficiles, je parle de mes oreilles et de mes appareils. En face de moi, le hasard veut qu’il y ait deux personnes à l’ouïe “pas top”. On a donc parlé longtemps, et j’ai raconté toute mon histoire.

J’ai toujours été un peu sourde. C’est familial. Mon frère aussi. Mon père aussi, probablement. Bref, dans la famille on est durs de la feuille.

Première tentative d’appareillage quand j’avais 14 ans. Fin des années huitante, gros appareils “intra” couleur chair qui se voyaient bien, inconfortables, réglage pour mon gain “idéal” très probablement, filles de la classe qui se fichent de moi: j’essaie deux jours puis ils vont finir leur vie dans leur boîte.

Je m’en sors très bien sans. Je sais que j’entends “pas très bien” et je le dis — mais je me rends compte aujourd’hui que je n’avais aucune idée à quel point j’étais sourde. Il a fallu que mon frère fasse le pas d’un appareillage, qu’il me parle un peu du processus et de la différence que ça faisait pour lui, de “bien entendre”, pour que j’y pense à nouveau. Aussi, je commence à me rendre compte dans mes activités professionnelles que mon ouïe m’handicape. Je n’entends souvent pas les questions des étudiants ou du public quand je donne une conférence. Je dois faire répéter. Ça devient un peu lassant.

Il me faudra encore quelques années pour passer à l’action. Je trouve le côté geek des appareils auditifs et accessoires fascinant. Je pose des questions à mon audioprothésiste dont il doit chercher la réponse. Ça lui change du quotidien…

Mes appareils sont roses. Ils sont derrière l’oreille, assez petits pour ne pas être très visibles (enfin quasi invisible sauf quand je relève mes cheveux, ce que je ne fais pas normalement car ils sont courts). Le micro est dans l’oreille, avec un embout “ouvert” plus confortable que le moulage fermé que j’ai quand même testé. Un “compromis”, dit mon audioprothésiste (parce que la qualité audio est censée être meilleure avec le moulage), mais je peux vivre avec ça.

Ils ont deux micros chacun et ils communiquent entre eux. Ça leur permet de savoir d’où vient le son et d’introduire cette variable dans la façon dont ils le traitent, de répercuter dans mes oreilles les décalages qu’on entendrait normalement et qui nous permettent de localiser un son.

J’ai choisi la taille “pas mini-mini” pour avoir un bouton “programme”. J’ai quatre programmes différents: un normal, un pour environnements bruyants, un pour les situations calmes avec légère suramplification, et un “silence” pour quand je suis dans le train avec les gosses qui crient à côté 😉

Il y a des tas de choses à raconter sur mon aventure auditive: comment ça a changé ma vie, comment se passe l’adaptation, comment on minimise toujours l’importance de sa surdité (“j’entends pas bien mais c’est pas si grave, je m’en sors sans appareils”), le look des appareils en 2013 (et leur taille!), les situations “impossibles” comme les restaurants, l’absence de communauté de hackers dans ce domaine (on a besoin de nos appareils, et à 6500 balles la paire on va pas s’amuser à les démonter “pour voir”), les anti-larsens, l’habituation, les acouphènes…

Bref, de quoi écrire une bonne demi-douzaines d’articles de blog, ou d’ouvrir un groupe facebook — ce que j’ai fait.

Pour le moment c’est un groupe secret, mais je pense que ce sera pour finir un groupe fermé: contenu inaccessible aux non-membres, mais listing des membres et descriptif du groupe visibles. Si ça vous intéresse de rejoindre le groupe pour partager vos histoires d’oreilles (avec ou sans appareils) ou écouter celles des autres, faites-moi signe et je vous y invite!

3e #back2blog challenge (1/10), avec: Brigitte Djajasasmita (@bibiweb), Baudouin Van Humbeeck (@somebaudy), Mlle Cassis (@mlle_cassis), Luca Palli (@lpalli), Yann Kerveno (@justaboutvelo), Annemarie Fuschetto (@libellula_free), Ewan Spence (@ewan), Kantu (@kantutita), Jean-François Genoud (@jfgpro), Michelle Carrupt (@cmic), Sally O’Brien (@swissingaround), Adam Tinworth (@adders), Mathieu Laferrière (@mlaferriere), Graham Holliday (@noodlepie), Denis Dogvopoliy (@dennydov), Christine Cavalier (@purplecar), Emmanuel Clément (@emmanuelc), Xavier Bertschy (@xavier83). Follow #back2blog.

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Random Notes About My 2012-2013 India Trip [en]

A few random notes about my Indian trip, which I was sure I had published, but just found sitting in my MarsEdit drafts.

Health-wise, it was “interesting”. It started off with itchy knees that I carelessly brought from Switzerland. A nice dermatologist near Pune University helped me get rid of it (cream, antihistaminics, and even anti-scabies stuff — it was my big fear). In Kerala, I awoke after a first night of sleep to tons of little itchy bites on my forearm. Bed bugs? Fear, yes, but it seems not: thorough examination and repeat nights with no incident thankfully ruled that out. The bites disappeared, but I’m still curious what caused them.

In Mysore, I carelessly dropped a hearing aid — which promptly died. With three weeks of holiday left to go, it was worth thinking up a solution to get it fixed before my return to Switzerland. I ended up testing Fedex in India for you. There is an office in Mysore, and I’m happy to say it was quite painless: 2800 INR, an announced shipping time of 4 days which they managed to keep. My audiologist was able to change the 70 CHF piece that needed it and send the hearing aid right back again. 140 CHF of shipping! I’m not sure how many days they promised him, but the package took longer to reach me in Kolkata than on the way out. Looking at the tracking data for both packages shows that some parts of the shipping process in India are still big black holes. 48 hours at Delhi airport? Heck. Probably lying in a pile somewhere while people had tea (yeah, I’m probably unfair).

Anyway, the package did reach me and I was very happy to have both ears again for the end of my stay. So, success.

Around the time of my arrival in Kolkata, one of my teeth started reacting really painfully to cold and hot. I’ve always had sensitive teeth (to cold), but this was beyond anything. It got worse and worse, to the extent that I just didn’t want to drink anymore. I needed a dentist. Knowing I have a bunch of 15-to-20-years-old fillings that will at some point need replacing, I figured that if I found a good dentist, I might as well do the work in India. Which I did. A two-session root canal treatment on a molar cost me about a tenth of the price it would have in Switzerland. The dentist in question did part of his training in the UK and worked with Somak and Aleika’s dentist in Birmingham, who recommended him and sent their files there. So, there we go. My first root canal, in Kolkata. The result is magical, I can tell you: no more pain. I think that tooth had been hurting me for a very long time, actually, but I didn’t really notice it until it got really bad.

Aside from the medical stuff, I experimented properly with radio-rickshaws in Pune — Autowale.in. After a couple of successful trips, I booked an auto to bring my parents back after New Year’s Eve party. That was a disaster. Whereas for my previous bookings I had received a call from the driver about an hour before to check the pick-up point, this time around we hadn’t heard anything 30 minutes before. We called. The driver said it would take him at least 90 minutes to get there as his auto had broken down. We called the booking centre to ask them to find a replacement, and we were told that there were no available cars and that we had to “find an alternative”. Try finding an alternative in the university campus around 1am on January first. Well, the Shindes made a bunch of calls, and the son of a neighbor left his party to drive my parents back to their hotel. In the meantime, I left a pretty upset note on Autowale’s Facebook wall. We were really pissed off. The happy ending to this story is that the incident did finally get internal attention at Autowale — they asked me for details and I got an e-mail apology from the CEO, saying this was indeed completely unacceptable and that they needed to find a solution so this kind of situation didn’t happen again. Well, I’m willing to give them another chance next time I’m in Pune. But they better not mess up again: when you book a radio auto it’s usually specifically because you know it will be very difficult to find a ride. Leaving you stranded is just disastrous!

In the “new things” department we also did quite a lot of “day trip with car” outings. Most of them good experiences, some of them a tiny bit sour when it came to payment. No huge disasters, though. Two memorable rides were those to and from Mysore. We took a car from Kannur to Mysore, through the mountains and the national park. Crap road but beautiful scenery. And then, from Mysore to Bangalore, that was more memorable in the “dreadful” category. One of my family members was sick (first part of the trip went OK, but by the time we reached Bangalore we were stopping the car every 10-15 minutes). We got stuck half an hour (thankfully not more) on Mysore road because a car had hit a school girl and killed her, we were told. (I saw an ambulance go by after, though, so I like to think that maybe she did make it after all.)

Indian roads are deadly. Those close shaves we sometimes admire are sometimes too close and end up shaving off a life. I think I had looked up number last year: something like 100’000 deaths per year on Indian roads. 4000 in Pune alone. (Check those numbers somewhere if you’re going to use them.) To compare, Switzerland (roughly the population of Pune): 350-400 a year. In Kolkata I saw quite a few ambulances go by (Akirno’s school is near a hospital). People don’t even make way for them — or worse, they cut them off. Last year when I was stuck in Bangalore traffic to go and take my bus to Kerala, there was an ambulance stuck with us. If you need an ambulance to get you fast to the hospital to stay alive, you’re probably dead. You’d better not need one.

In Kolkata we had a car with a driver at our disposal. I have to say it makes a world of difference when it comes to going out and getting stuff done. Having to find taxis and rickshaws is stressful, even when you’ve become used to it. Don’t get any grand visions about the car and driver though. Boot bashed in, screaming belt, and over the last days we had to push it to start it quite a few times. This did result in a change of cars, however.

In addition to Loki the annoying puppy, I got to meet Coco, the baby African Grey parrot. My first bird contact, really! Let me just say that bird feet are warm (was sure they were cold, silly me), and that I had a great time interacting with Coco and getting to know him. Birds are not boring at all and need a lot of attention! I was there for his first flight across the room — took us all by surprise, him too, probably.

To wrap up I’ll leave you with this article that appeared in Metro during my stay, about Presidency University and some of the infrastructure problems there. Sadly Somak forgot to tell the journalist about the giant rat that fell from the ceiling onto the instrument the students had spent a good long time calibrating so they could run their experiment, or the guy who was sitting hunched up on his chair in his office the first day he met him, because there was 10cm of water on the floor.

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On s'habitue [fr]

[en] A few words on habituation and hearing aids.

billet rédigé à Trigance, le 2 août 2012

On a une capacité incroyable à s’habituer. J’y pense maintenant, alors qu’après une journée sans appareils auditifs (je faisais de la randonnée en montagne, toute seule), je range mes cheveux derrière mon oreille après les avoir remis. “Scritchhhh scrtichhh!” — le bruit maintenant familier de mes cheveux qui frottent sur le micro. Ça ne me choque plus. C’est normal. Je suis habituée.

En avril, lorsque je me suis retrouvée pour la première fois avec des appareils sur les oreilles (la tentative avortée de mon adolescence était “intra” ;-)), j’ai été immédiatement horrifiée par le bruit ambiant. Le bruit de mes vêtements, mes cheveux quand je tournais la tête, ma respiration, et surtout, quand j’essayais de ranger une mèche derrière l’oreille.

Heureusement, mon audioprothésiste ne m’a pas laissée longtemps avec ce réglage “optimal selon le fabricant” et a réduit de 8 décibels (!) mon amplification. Assez pour que j’entende mieux que sans appareils, et assez peu pour ne pas être trop gênée par le bruit de fond du monde (et le bruit de fonctionnement de l’appareil).

Si vous m’aviez demandé ce jour-là si j’imaginais un jour pouvoir tolérer ce bruit, je vous aurais probablement répondu “non”. (Bon, j’admets que sachant ce que je sais sur l’habituation, j’aurais probablement concédé que ça faisait partie du possible, même si je peinais à l’imaginer.)

Aujourd’hui, 5 décibels de plus qu’en avril (et un changement de modèle, la gamme d’au-dessus — bobo le porte-monnaie), ces bruits de frottement ne m’incommodent pas. Ni même le bruit de fonctionnement de l’appareil, auquel vraiment j’imaginais ne jamais pouvoir m’habituer, et qui à ma stupéfaction m’est même agréable — quand je l’entends: lorsque je mets mes appareils le matin, et lorsque je suis dans un environnement très silencieux.

Je m’habitue aussi à entendre mieux. Marrant, ça. Il y a des gens dans mon entourage avec qui j’avais une communication très limitée, et je me rends compte maintenant que c’est parce que je les comprenais très mal. J’ai maintenant pris l’habitude de pouvoir interagir confortablement avec elles.

Une catégorie de personnes avec qui c’est flagrant, ce sont les enfants. Je soupçonne que les adultes s’adaptent (peut-être sans s’en rendre compte) au fait que j’entends mal, mais que les enfants ne sont pas vraiment (encore) équipés pour le faire. Ils ne réalisent pas que j’entends mal. Ils parlent doucement, sans me regarder, sans avoir mon attention. Ce sont des enfants. Eh bien depuis que j’ai des appareils, j’ai réalisé que j’interagissais beaucoup plus avec des enfants (connus ou inconnus). La seule explication que je vois, c’est que je suis maintenant en mesure de les comprendre suffisamment pour avoir des échanges significatifs.

Si j’oublie de mettre mes appareils, je me retrouve soudainement dans des interactions où les paroles de l’autre atteignent mon cerveau sous forme de choucroute inintelligible. Il me faut quelques secondes pour comprendre ce qui “ne va pas”: j’ai oublié de mettre mes oreilles! C’est presque inimaginable pour moi de penser que je me suis débrouillée toutes ces années en entendant si peu. Bref, j’ai complètement perdu l’habitude d’entendre mal (enfin, plus mal que maintenant) et de devoir faire les efforts nécessaires pour compenser. Ça se sent d’ailleurs: si je suis sans appareils, mon cerveau fait la grève — je suis probablement moins performante (moins entraînée!) pour compenser.

On s’habitue donc à la présence de quelque chose: des appareils dans mes oreilles auxquels je ne pense plus, d’avoir un univers sonore élargi, comprenant le bruit du frottement de mes cheveux sur mes micros. Mais on s’habitue aussi à l’absence: absence d’efforts à faire, absence de difficulté. On s’habitue aux choses agréables, et aussi à celles qui le sont moins.

J’ai déjà parlé du rôle de l’habituation dans notre recherche du bonheur: c’est cette formidable capacité de s’adapter qui fait que nos circonstances de vie comptent pour si peu (un misérable 10% dit la recherche!) dans notre bonheur. Nos circonstances de vie? Le travail qu’on a, si l’on vit ou non avec le Prince Charmant, pouvoir s’offrir de super vacances ou la dernière TV écran plat, une jolie voiture, vivre dans la maison de ses rêves… Tout ceci est bien joli, mais on s’y habitue.

Quelques mois ou peut-être un an ou deux après avoir fait l’acquisition du dernier objet de nos convoitises, on l’a intégré à notre vie et on n’y prête plus attention. On s’y est habitué. On se marie, on est sur le petit nuage rose, puis ça devient “normal” et si on n’y prête garde, notre bonheur ne s’en nourrit plus. Dans le cadre du couple, on connaît bien le problème de la “routine”: ce n’est que ça, la fameuse habituation. Pour éviter de s’habituer aux bonnes choses, il y a un effort conscient à faire.

On s’habitue aux bonnes choses, et on peut trouver ça dommage, mais le revers de la médaille, c’est qu’on s’habitue aussi merveilleusement bien aux mauvaises choses. Pourquoi faudrait-il s’habituer aux mauvaises choses? Pour pouvoir continuer à aller de l’avant quand le malheur frappe. Pour ne pas être terrassé par l’adversité. Pour survivre. Des exemples? Il y en a partout. Ce sont les cas où l’on dit que le temps fait son oeuvre. Après la mort de son conjoint ou d’un être cher, la vie reprend un jour le dessus. Lorsque notre corps fonctionne moins bien qu’avant (par accident ou maladie), on finit par s’y habituer. Heureusement! Imaginez si chaque jour était comme le lendemain de celui où le malheur débarque! La vie serait insoutenable!

Tout comme la résistance au changement est une réaction naturelle, celle de s’y habituer l’est aussi. Il faut se donner le temps, et souvent le temps suffit. (J’en conviens que ce n’est pas toujours le cas, mais ce sera le sujet d’un autre article.)

Etre conscient de sa capacité naturelle à s’habituer et lui faire confiance permet d’aborder le changement avec plus de sérénité, lorsque l’on sait que l’on devra l’accepter — ou qu’on le désire. Ce n’est pas très compliqué, et on s’économise beaucoup d’agitation inutile.

A quoi vous êtes-vous habitué?

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More About the M-DEX, and a Cool Blog: Hack and Hear [en]

[fr] J'ai trouvé comment faire marcher le M-DEX correctement! C'est pas si mal!

I have just listened to the really interesting talk on audiology, hearing aids, and hacking them embedded below. Helga (@helgarhelgar), the speaker, is a friend-of-a-friend, fellow geek (probably geekier than me!) with hearing aids. And she has a few years’ headstart on me exploring the tech. I’ve just started going through her blog, hack and hear.

Midway through her talk, I was inspired to give the disappointing M-DEX another chance (I wrote about it in my previous article about hearing aids).

Lo and behold, I figured it out, and it doesn’t work too badly!


Here’s the trick:

  • first of all, it increases the general volume of the hearing aids, so the horrible crackling sound I heard when I tried to use it with the phone is actually (mainly, as far as I can tell) outside sound: muting the “room” (with the mute button) takes care of that
  • second, music sounds like crap, even on the music programme (the M-DEX music programe — as far as I’m aware my aids don’t have one yet); this is maybe because of my hearing aid settings or programme, and understanding better how compression works and feedback loops are countered, I’m also understanding why my hearing aids behave badly during my singing rehearsals => so I’m sticking to voice for the moment
  • third, the M-DEX user interface is pretty crap, it’s hard to figure out which button to press when to obtain a desired result: what I do now is first mute, then press the middle button to get to the bluetooth menu, then enter that; however, if bluetooth is on and the device is selected (on my computer for example), it “switches on” when I start playing sound. Pressing the red button when listening to sound from the phone/computer and when on mute goes back to the main programme and un-mutes (if you’re just on normal mute it doesn’t do that). Very confusing. It’s probably going to take me some time to learn when not to press on which button.
  • fourth, it’s possible to pair the M-DEX with more than one device (I mistakenly thought it wasn’t) — to prevent the M-DEX from kicking into gear unexpectedly, I turn off bluetooth on the devices if I’m not using them, or turn off the M-DEX
  • fifth, the M-DEX needs to be pretty close to the hearing aids (which is why they provide a lovely strap so you can hang it around your neck like a necklace), or at least somewhere that is at a stable distance — if you move it around it crackles really annoyingly, and if an ear gets out of range the sound in it dies.

So, I might end up keeping the expensive toy after all if I settle on the Widex hearing aids! Still need to test it with a real phone call though, which I’m not going to do while in Spain.

Update: looks like I’m not alone in thinking the M-DEX is suboptimally designed!

After the glowing review of my hearing aids and my audiologist, it is unfortunate that I have to be so negative about the other component in question. The M-DEX is a piece of shit — I am a software engineer and architect, and I have never seen such poor interface quality or assumptions about the listener.

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More About Hearing Aids (And Geeking Out a Bit) [en]

[fr] Des nouvelles de mes aventures au pays des appareils auditifs: réflexions pour geeks et moins geeks, tant l'expérience humaine que la technologique sont passionnantes!

I got my hearing aids a month and a half ago, and I thought I’d write a bit more about some of the techy aspects as well as what it means to (a) be wearing hearing aids and (b) be hearing better.

Past the initial shock of “OMG do people really hear sounds this loud?!”, I’m really appreciating how relaxing it is to understand pretty much every word people say to me. Even in “good/easy” situations, I realize how much of my hearing is actually “deducing” — specially on the rare occasions nowadays when I talk to people without ma aids in.

As my brother aptly put it when we compared notes as I was coming out of the audiologist’s, it’s “as if sound were coming to me, rather than having to go and fetch the sound”.

Physically, my hearing aids are really comfy now, and I am generally not aware that I’m wearing them. Like a pair of glasses (or a bra!) — you know they’re there if you think of it, but they’re not drawing your attention to them all the time.

The model I’m trying now (I’ll be moving on to my second trial when I get back from holiday, more about that below) is the Widex Clear220 C2-PA (here’s the Widex product page, but it’s not nicely linkable, you’ll have to click around to see the once I have). It’s a mini-BTE (“behind the ear”) with the receiver in the canal (RIC). I’m still learning the terminology, and I have to say “receiver” sounds like a very illogical word for what is in fact the “loundspeaker”.

There are two microphones on the top of the piece that lies behind the ear. My audiologist told me that in noisy environments, the second one kicks in and the aid then reduces the sound coming from the sides and back to focus mainly on what comes in from the front microphone (theoretically: the person I’m speaking with).

The two hearing aids also communicate wirelessly with each other, and do fancy stuff to help with sound spatialisation (ears do fancy stuff too, but with RIC the hearing aid is sticking sound directly in your ear canal, so it needs to mimic what your ear does to sound before that).

The aids also clip loud sounds so that they don’t go above (a) potentially damaging volume (b) the volume above which sound becomes uncomfortable for me (I think).


If you look at the line around 80-100dB, that’s where my discomfort to sound is. It’s quite common that people with hearing loss also have a low tolerance to noise. That means there is less “bandwidth” for the audiologist to work with.

Oh, and you know one of the things associated with hearing aids? The Larsen effect? You don’t really get that with digital hearing aids, because they’re programmed to detect that kind of sound and remove it.

So, what about the less exciting stuff? Well, I was lucky enough to have a car on loan during the first weeks I had my aids. That gave me a chance to test their reaction to loud singing (!) at different frequencies ;-).

Here’s where it gets interesting: my left hearing aid (in theory the one with slightly less amplification) would clip or chirp at certain frequencies (understand: me singing at the top of my voice as high as I can go — only in the car, people). It’s annoying enough to hear sound that seems to be coming out of a saturated loudspeaker, but when it’s only in one ear, it’s quite maddening.

Other than that, during my first few weeks of test, I had one or two occurrences of chirping. Chirp! You’re walking around in town, and suddenly one of your ears chirp. It happens so fast it leaves you wondering if you dreamed or if it really happened. I’ve actually managed to produce some frequencies (in the car, not reproducible elsewhere ;-)) that reasonably reliably make it chirp, but other than that I’ve had trouble reproducing the problem.

Early on, another problem I had was that I had the impression my left hearing aid wasn’t amplifying some frequencies. The symptom was I felt as if I had a blocked ear, or cotton in my ear — but it was very mild. It felt as if the receiver was maybe not in the right place (but it was, my audiologist checked). So we did a few tests, and during one of those, one of the frequencies we tried sent the aid into a long continuous beep that didn’t stop until we opened the battery casing to turn it off. I had to pull it out of my ear, and my audiologist was able to witness the sound himself (he has a stethoscope with a special attachment that allows him to listen to what is coming out of a hearing aid). Bug, he said! That hearing aid will be going back to the manufacturer at some point…

We never did completely pinpoint what it was that caused this “muffled” sound, but spatial orientation tests showed that I was slightly disoriented towards the left. So we boosted the right ear by 1dB (counterintuitive… but oh well, audiology is an experimental science). I suspect that the “muffled” feeling could in fact be due to the pressure of the tip in my ear (my left canal is smaller than the right) or something like that. Later on, I discovered that the top of the BTE casing was a tiny bit loose, and we changed it. Right now I have to say I feel this “muffled” problem has completely gone away. Either I got used to it, or something we did made it go… Don’t know.

A couple of weeks back I got an extra 2dB (I started at -8dB, and my audiologist usually starts people at -4dB). It was loud, but bearable. However, the clipping got worse, and worse than that, I found myself having trouble understanding people in situations where it seemed to me I should not be having so much trouble. Restaurants, hallways, noisy places. Back in the office, we actually tested this: word recognition in noisy environments. And the verdict seems to confirm my experience: I understand more words with less amplification. One more reason to try another hearing aid before making any final decision.

I walked out of the office with an extra toy: the M-DEX. The M-DEX does a bunch of things:

  • it connects to your phone by bluetooth and allows your hearing aids to function like a bluetooth headset, streaming sound directly into your aids
  • it’s a remote for the hearing aids (sound up, down, left, right, zoom, mute, music/voice programmes).


As far as I’m concerned, the phone bit (what makes it so expensive) is a complete fail. Pairing with the phone is not a problem, and I manage to get sound into my hearing aids, but the sound quality is much much worse than if I simply put the phone to my ear or stick in my earbuds. This reminds me to mention that I can actually fit my earbuds in my earn “over” the hearing aids. They’re a bit loose and fall out easier, and the sound doesn’t really get amplified by the hearing aid, but it works. For the moment my preferred option is still “earbuds and no hearing-aid” for the phone.

I tried with music rather than phone, and I have the same problem: a huge amount of static background noise, and volume so low that even at maximum setting I have trouble recognizing the song that is playing.

The M-DEX comes with a jack cable, so I tried connecting my phone to it with the cable rather than bluetooth. There is much less static, the sound is much better, but it’s still not really loud enough or clear enough to be an interesting alternative to simply wearing the earbuds, even over the hearing aids.

I have to say I’m pretty disappointed about this bit: I use the phone quite regularly, and listen to a lot of music and podcasts. I can’t believe there isn’t a simple “equalizer” software or application for my phone which I could feed my audiogram to and which would then amplify the frequencies I need. Clearly it wouldn’t be as good as a proper hearing aid, but I’m sure it would help a bit. If you know more about why this isn’t done, I’m all ears (!).

One thing I’m really happy with, though, is the remote function of the M-DEX. Given the problems described above in noisy places, it really helps to be able to bring amplification down a notch (both for troubleshooting and better hearing). I’ve toyed about with the zoom function a bit (selectively amplify sound from behind, left, right, in front) but for the moment I haven’t found a real use for it. Same for selectively amplifying left/right ear.

I absolutely love the “mute” button. Even though I’m trying to wear my aids as much as possible to train my brain to adapt to my new sound environment, it’s quite a relief to be able to just switch them off when it gets too noisy, or when I want to concentrate on something (reading on the train, working in the office), without having to physically remove the hearing aids.

One other annoying thing about the M-DEX (this is a comment I saw somewhere, can’t remember where) is this idea that the M-DEX is going to be the device you interact with rather than your phone. You can dial from it, pick up calls, hang up. Well, OK, maybe this makes sense for technology-confused people, but as far as I’m concerned I’d rather have, as the author of that same comment suggested, an app on my iPhone to control my M-DEX. Leave it to phone manufacturers (or Apple) to make phones.

Leaving aside the tech, one of the effects of wearing hearing aids is that I hear my tinnitus more. Luckily, it’s not bothersome: “white noise” type, not too loud, and not an annoying sound to me. It’s a normal phenomenon: while wearing hearing aids, I’m training my brain to tune out other ambient sounds which are louder than I’m used to, and as everything is louder, my brain doesn’t spend the whole day tuning out my tinnitus so I can hear stuff. It’s relaxing, but it means I’m “out of practice” tuning out the tinnitus, so I hear it more when I remove the hearing aids. No biggie, but I thought I’d mention it, because it’s an interesting phenomenon.

And as far as sharing online goes, I stumbled upon the Hearing Aid Forums — a lively online community of hearing aid users and professionals.

So, where am I, overall? I’m now pretty much “habituated” to hearing better (still -6dB from my “ideal” settings), and if you give me the choice between giving back my hearing aids and keeping them, with the glitches, I am definitely keeping them. But maybe the next trial will give me something even better!

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A Week With My Superpower [en]

[fr] Une semaine avec mes super-pouvoirs qui me permettent d'entendre aussi bien qu'un chat 🙂

Last Friday, I stepped into a small shop in the mall near the motorway exit. I walked out with two magic amulets. The moment I started wearing them, I started hearing sounds like I had never heard them before.

I have a superpower: I can listen in on conversations I am not taking part in; I can hear the noise the cat litter makes as it trickles back into the box when I scoop things out; I hear my cat lapping water in the next room, and people moving in the other flats; birds sing so loud and clear they seem to be perched on my shoulder; the rustle of a paper bag or my clothes fills the whole room; I have the ears of a dog.

Best of all, instead of having to reach out to grasp the sounds of speech when I’m talking with somebody, the sound comes to me, crystal clear — right into my ears. I am no longer trying to catch others’ words. They find me, even when I’m not expecting to be talked to, even when I’m not looking at the one producing the words.

OK, I lied a bit — the amulets are not magical, they’re technological. They look like this:

Hearing aid.

(I am thinking of swapping metal grey for pink, though — that part isn’t visible, of course, but I like the idea.)

Those of you who know me well enough know that I do not hear well. I never had. My hearing is particularly deficient in the frequencies used by speech. (I’ll post my audiogram here later, it’s at eclau and I don’t want to walk down the whole two floors to get it ;-)) After a disastrous attempt at getting me hearing aids when I was fourteen (I wore them all of two days) I’ve finally decided to give it another go — and so far, I’m delighted.

I’m actually starting to realize how deaf I am. Or how badly I hear. (Pick your expression of choice.) The audiologist initially programmed the hearing aids to their optimal setting, based on my audiogram. I was shocked. When he spoke to me just after the setting process, I instinctively looked for the microphone he was speaking into. He wasn’t speaking into a microphone.

Imagine you arrive early at the stage, and the band playing the gig is rehearsing with being plugged in. And suddenly somebody plugs in the mikes and the amps. That’s what it felt like. “You have got to be kidding,” I told him. “It’s way too loud.” He told me he was going to run another test to confirm, and as he turned back to the keyboard his pen escaped his hands. You know the sound a pan makes when you drop it on the kitchen floor? Well, that’s pretty much how much noise his pen made.

After running the second test, he confirmed that the settings were right. I was hearing sounds the way somebody with normal hearing hears them. So loud! Way too loud! This is of course a common reaction, and the audiologist always decreases the settings to something more tolerable so the new wearer of hearing aids can get used to them. Usually, he decreases them by 4dB — in my case, by 8dB. And he also reduced amplification of weak sounds to cut out as much background noise as possible.

Given my strong initial reaction to the “optimal” setting and the traumatic teenage failure behind me, we weren’t taking any chances.

One thing I was really worried about was the physical discomfort of having something in my ear. My memory of my first attempt at wearing hearing aids is that they were hugely uncomfortable (of course technology has evolved in 25 years, but still!). I also know I cannot stand the completely occlusive inside-the-ear earbuds — I bought a pair once, listened to music 30 minutes with it, and had to bring it back. It hurt too much.

My audiologist recommended dabbing the part that goes inside the ear with sweet almond oil. It works wonders. The first day I had to remove my hearing aids a couple of times because my ears were tickling. After 2-3 days, no more, though I was happy to remove them at the end of the day. Now, I almost forget about them. I’m actually almost worried that at some point I’ll stop noticing them so much I’ll hop into the bath or the shower without removing them… oopsie.

Even with a setting 8dB below what I should have, it makes a stunning difference to me when I’m talking with people. I actually understand every word. I don’t need to guess anymore. I might even stop watching movies with subtitles, who knows! I keep hearing sounds that I don’t know how to identify yet, so I’ll often end up looking all around me in the bus or street to try to figure out what it is I’m hearing. A friend commented that what I’m going through is probably a bit similar to what happens to babies when they realize that sound is stuff they’re hearing. It’s not all pleasant, of course (loud drunk teenagers in public transport are even louder), but overall I am already at a point where I do not want to not wear them. I’m hooked.

What amazes me, though, is to think that this is still way below how you (well, most of you reading this) hear. I’d love to be able to edit a recording based on my audiogram to make it sound to “normal hearing people” the way it would sound to me. And I’m looking forward to getting sufficiently used to my current settings that we can turn the volume up even a bit more!

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