TBIthursday: Evolution of My Hearing

I have written before about how sound is affected by my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Yet I haven’t written in detail about it lately. (Check out my TBI & hearing page for a link to similar posts.) So for my weekly reflection on my TBI and memories associated with it (#TBIthursday), I thought I would review the evolution of sound and hearing with my TBI.

This in-depth look at how my hearing has evolved and changed over the years is as much for this blog and my memoir as it is for me. Honestly, I am struggling right now. I have more moments in the day that are consumed by the aural distortions and my confusion because of those distortions. Every waking moment is distorted. When I am struggling with a headache from my TBI or some other pain or discomfort, the distortions just get louder and more distracting. So, after talking to my psychologist, I thought I would write about exactly what I hear and how that’s changed since I was first injured in September 2016. So welcome to a psychological/therapy exercise and hopefully at the end of it, I will be a little better off.

September 2016 – December 2016: First Injured

I am calling this period my “first injured” period because the accident happened in September 2016 and I was in some form of hospital care until after Christmas 2016. During this period I was mostly non-hearing. Some higher-pitched voices were recognized by me as sound but I couldn’t tell you what a person was saying. I was reading lips (or speech reading) 100 percent of the time. For purposes of this blog, I am going to list some major categories of hearing and how I responded to them at each interval.

Hearing Comparison For September 2016 – December 2016:

  • Voices: 2% (this is really more a 0 because I couldn’t decipher any information from what I did “hear” and it was so distorted. However, I am putting this number for the few times a few (not so sensitive) people thought I was hearing them when I was really just responding to a generalized “sound”.
  • Music: 0%
  • Entertainment/TV/Movies/Radio: 0%
  • Phone: 0%
  • External Noises (sounds happening around me): 0%
January 2017 – May 2017

This was when I was first released from transitional care to home. My parents moved to live with me (they had been living 3-4 hours away at the time of the accident) and we lived in an apartment. We had moved from my smaller apartment to a larger one that allowed dogs and we would get our new little pup Selby in July 2017. During this time period, I first started to hear sounds. And my brain didn’t know how to process it so it produced something that I have called my “sound loop.” What this was, was my brain repeating roughly seven sounds that I heard on a repeated loop every second I was awake. I also heard white noise (similar to a noise machine) all time. I still hear the white noise. I was able to “hear” actual sounds as they happened but they were harder for my brain to understand and every sound was layered under the “sound loop” and white noise. In the Spring of 2017, I got a cold/flu with a very high fever and the “sound loop” stopped. Kind of scary now that I think about my hearing being changed by a high fever (although now I have met people that this has happened to). However, at the time I was THRILLED the “sound loop” had stopped.

Hearing Comparison For January 2017 – May 2017:

  • Voices: 10-15% (depending on pitch, but still speech reading 100% of the time).
  • Music: 0% (still metal on metal noise).
  • Entertainment/TV/Movies/Radio: 0% (still rely on closed captions 100% & can’t understand radio or podcasts enough to listen to them).
  • Phone: 0% (don’t talk on a regular phone but text and use a CapTel phone).
  • External Noises: 20% (I can tell if something is happening in the same room that I am in).
June 2017 – June 2019

This is a big chunk of time but I didn’t quite know how to sort this out once major changes like the “sound loop” dropping off stopped happening. After that, the changes to my hearing are more subtle. It’s during this time that I am working with an outpatient speech-language pathologist. She is working with me to help my brain recognize the sounds its hearing and be able to process them again. It is grueling work for me. We spend a lot of time with her playing a radio and then saying words that I have to repeat back. She covers her lips so I can’t speech read. Since my brain can’t process music as more than metal on metal noise, this is truly hard for me. This speech-language pathologist does this technique a lot with people who have just received cochlear implants. Since those who get cochlear implants (as I’ve been told) have to train their brains to the sounds they are hearing. I think this technique definitely helped me but I certainly wasn’t happy experiencing it!

Hearing Comparison For June 2017 – June 2019:

  • Voices: 30-40% (depending on the pitch and my surroundings but still speech read 100%).
  • Music: 0% (still metal on metal noise).
  • Entertainment/TV/Movies/Radio: 10% (still rely on closed captions 100% & can’t understand radio or podcasts enough to listen to them).
  • Phone: 10% (don’t talk on a regular phone but text and use a CapTel phone).
  • External Noises: 50% (I can tell if something is happening in the same room that I am in).
July 2019 – Present (August 2020)

This is another huge chunk of time. However, like I said, its hard to chunk out this time because the changes after the major change (in May 2017) of the “sound loop” dropping off are relatively subtle in comparison.

Hearing Comparison For June 2019 – Present (August 2020):

  • Voices: 60-70% (depending on the pitch and my surroundings but still speech read 100%).
  • Music: 10% (less metal on metal noise but still heavily distorted).
  • Entertainment/TV/Movies/Radio: 20% (still rely on closed captions 100% & can’t understand radio or podcasts enough to listen to them).
  • Phone: 20% (don’t talk on a regular phone but text and use a CapTel phone).
  • External Noises: 65% (I can tell if something is happening in the same room that I am in more but again it really depends on the pitch. I can still hear higher pitches better).
General Things That Are Consistent with My Hearing

I must say that the thing that I struggle with the most (and this has been consistent since I started hearing again circa January 2017) is distortion. I am not sure I can clearly communicate what this distortion is and how it controls all sound for me. I will try though. All voices (even my own and even a dog’s bark) are distorted. This voice distortion sounds like a bad guy in a movie that uses a machine to disguise and distort their voice when they’re calling for ransom. It’s quite a mind trip when that creepy voice is coming out of someone you love and know doesn’t sound like that.

Note: I accidentally posted this blog before I added a conclusion. So go here for the conclusion to this blog post!


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