TheBlaze’s Buck Sexton filled in for radio host Rush Limbaugh, and now we’re finding out why.
The conservative talk show host was getting a cochlear implant for his right ear to help him hear.
Though Limbaugh already had such a device implanted in his left ear 13 years ago, he had held out on the right.
Why? He was hoping for a cure.
“If there were to be a cure, I need my right side untouched so that the cure could be applied to it,” Limbaugh said, according to a transcript of Thursday’s show. “I was told the cure might be happening in 10 years. Ten years came and went, and I was assured there’s not gonna be a cure for what caused my deafness any time soon.”
A cure for his deafness “would also be the cure for baldness,” he joked.
He explained that the thousands of hair cells in his ears that pick up vibrations are “laying down dead.” This happened as a result of his immune system attacking his ears trying to fend off an illness that didn’t really exist. Doctors tried to stop this reaction in various ways, but it didn’t work.
A cochlear implant is an electronic device intended only for the profoundly deaf or those who have severe hearing loss as a result of damage. According to the National Institutes of Health, it consists of both an external and internal portion, which includes a microphone, a speech processor, a transmitter and receiver, and an electrode array. This array is what takes impulses received by the device and transmits them to different parts of the auditory nerve, which the brain then uses to interpret as different sounds.
Limbaugh’s own nitty-gritty explanation of the surgery that makes room for the internal portion of the implant is worth noting as well.
“The surgeon using a high speed drill like a dentist, and just carves out, sculpts a place in the skull for the implant to go. You cannot drill straight down because you don’t want to go to the brain. You gotta stay just short of that, so you drill down at an angle and the implant is about, oh, I’m thinking of trying to give the shape, a bell shape that’s about two inches long and maybe an inch and a half at its widest and a half-inch at it’s narrowest. They have to sculpt a trench for it, and then they have to sculpt a canal from that to the cochlea in the ear. They connect it and they take tissue from another part of your body to connect it, and then they sew you up,” he explained.
While this might sound painful, he seems most concerned with the hair ripping that happens when the bandages are removed.
Though the implant restores some hearing, Limbaugh said “it’s impossible to describe what things sound like.”
“It’s totally artificial because in my memory of hearing there isn’t anything I ever remember hearing that sounds like the way I hear things now. The closest that I could come to it — and this doesn’t get there, but, I mean, this is the closest in trying to help people understand how I hear things is scratchy, static AM radio. That’s not it, but that’s as close as I can get,” he continued.
Music is exceedingly difficult to hear correctly as well and, for the most part, Limbaugh said he relies on his memory to supply what the melody should sound like. If he hasn’t heard the song before, “it’s just noise of the same note.”
“Music in a movie, the soundtrack to a movie sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard,” he said.
Limbaugh also said that he’s unable to tell what direction a sound might be coming from.
He still has to wait until swelling goes down before returning to a medical center for the implant to be turned on and tuned, which is the most stressful part, he said.
“They pump sounds, various tones at frequencies and volumes, and you are supposed let them know the instant you hear. And it’s precise. This mapping process determines the best way to program,” he explained.
Despite its short comings, Limbaugh called the cochlear implant technology “miraculous.”
“If this had happened to me 10 years before it did, it would have meant the end of my career and there wouldn’t be any of this today. To think of 10 years in the whole timeline, it’s miraculous,” he said.
While Limbaugh didn’t get cure he was hoping for, research to improve cochlear implants and restore hearing in other ways is a prime focus for many scientists.
Australian researchers announced this week that they have used the technology to beam gene therapy into the ears of deaf animals, which when paired with a cochlear implant improved hearing.
Researchers at Australia’s University of New South Wales injected a growth factor-producing gene into the ears of deafened guinea pigs, animals commonly used as a model for human hearing. Then they adapted an electrode from a cochlear implant to beam in a few stronger-than-normal electrical pulses.
This made the membranes of nearby cells temporarily permeable, so the gene could slip inside. Those cells began producing the growth factor, which in turn stimulated regrowth of the nerve fibers — closing some of the space between the nerves and the cochlear implant, the team reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The animals still needed a cochlear implant to detect sound, but those given the gene therapy had twice the improvement, the researchers concluded.
Read the whole transcript of Limbaugh explaining his new cochlear implant on his website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.