Monday, January 9, 2012

Sounds: inside, outside, both sides

A friend sent a message around asking whether anyone with a sewing machine could help a friend of hers. Seems he has a hearing implant, the kind that attaches directly to the skull, and he wants some help modifying a winter hat so that he can wear the hat without cutting off hearing or pulling the attachment off.

My sewing experience consists of drapes, hems on second-hand corduroys and jeans, and some pot holders that look like items from a charity fundraiser for homeless Sudanese children who earn their living making whimsical crafts in hopes of raising enough money for the surgery required to restore their sight.

Sure, I said. Be happy to.

She put us in contact, and I stopped by his apartment tonight to pick up the hat. I was greeted by a forty-something tall, chubby man with arm and leg tattoos.  His hair was in a short buzz cut, so the implant was easily seen, a small oblong shape a little larger than a postage stamp, with the face of a monster painted on it. It sat a couple of inches down and behind his left ear.

He handed me a sharpie, put on the hat, and I traced around the implant. He told me he'd just gotten it this year.

"How does it work?" I asked. "Does it send sound waves directly into your brain?"

"It vibrates my skull."

"Really? That works?"

"Sure. In fact, if you were to put your head against mine, you could hear what I hear."

"No way!"

"Want to try?"


He went to a desk and took off the aid. He took an iPod and connected it to the bottom of the aid via a plug attachment. He fired up some music and then put the attachment in.


I nodded.

He leaned over, and I pressed my ear against his forehead. And I heard music. Music coming from his head. it was fantastic.

"That is mind-blowing!"

"You get only some of your sound through your ears," he explained. "A lot of the sound you 'hear' come through the vibrations on the front of your skull."

I stood, rapt. He smiled sheepishly and shrugged. "I had to learn all this."

"The don't make it for Bluetooth, though," he said. "I wish they did."

"Or WiFi," I suggested. "Imagine walking down the street and hearing all the chatter. Although I imagine that could become unnerving."

"I hear enough voices in my head already," he replied, smiling to make sure I knew he was kidding.

So I have a hat, and I will modify it. I feel like I'm sewing a costume for a superhero. A man who can fill my head with music by just touching me.



LucidLotus said...

That is easily the most interesting thing I've heard so far this year.
I'm glad Karen introduced us:)

karen said...

Very sweet, JC. The fact that tears sprung to my eyes when I read the last couple of lines may be because I am suffering from a flu bug and my husband is wrapping up dinner prep, but I'm pretty sure it's your writing.

A friend of mine, an occupational therapist, was once a consultant for an engineering group that created one-off solutions for persons with disabilities. I was often completely agog at needs + adaptive creativity = ability.

Can't wait to see what you create, no matter how ... erm ... interesting.