My hearing began to deteriorate over 30 years ago after the birth of my first child and slowly and steadily became worse. I suppose all of that time, I had never really perceived myself as deaf. I was coping; holding down a job as a teacher of children with learning difficulties without detriment to the children: I am lucky I am a good lipreader and, for the last ten years of my career I worked with children in small groups. Then I got to the point I couldn’t hear the children enough even with lip reading and retired.
The crunch point came in 2013 when I became unwell, after that, I just slipped over a boundary where I realised I had reached the end of the road of being able to cope. I could no longer hold a simple conversation without having to rely on lipreading for support. I could no longer use the phone. I really had to face the fact that I couldn’t hear anything any more.
My husband was concerned about safety as so much information is conveyed by bleeps on audio devices and I couldn’t phone for help if the car broke down and I was alone. He too felt very alone. I was no longer a proper companion as we couldn’t converse freely. I was very lucky in that I did not become isolated – I think you have to make the most out of life as it is and overcome difficulties: that’s why I was reluctant to consider a cochlear implant.
However, the last straw came when my daughter and son in law came over from Canada and I couldn’t join in a conversation round the table. The decisive factor was that I realised the family was missing out and I thought: I can’t take my place with them. I am not going to be disabled – that’s what made me decide to accept a referral for a cochlear implant.
In April 2014 I was referred for cochlear implantation. There were 10 assessment and information sessions followed by CT and MRI scans, and a session where one’s expectations of implantation are discussed, before the team decides whether an offer is to be made. My expectations were considered realistic: I expected that I would be able to join in family chat, hoped I would be able to use the phone again and aspired to sing nursery rhymes to my grandson.
I suppose what’s difficult when you are considering a cochlear implant is that it’s fear of the unknown – you don’t know what the outcomes are going to be.
I knew I would lose music – and I have – that is a great sadness for me, though not everybody with a cochlear implant does lose the ability to hear music as it is played. Nonetheless, the decision to have the cochlear implant was most definitely the right one. I thought: I don’t want to have this but I have no choice, I owe it to myself and everybody else to give it my best shot.
When the device was activated, I heard sounds like a badly tuned radio in the far distance. I had three tuning appointments in the week before Christmas. At each appointment. I saw an audiologist who spent one and a half hours adjusting the tuning and raising the volume and a rehabilitation specialist for listening exercises. It was very tiring and I needed lots of listening practice. When my sister and son arrived for Christmas, I couldn’t understand them at all but it was much better by the end of the week.
At my one-month appointment, I got 82.5% on sentences with lipreading and 95% with auditory-only recognition of speech, the visual-only recognition was off. At 6 months, I was able to get 98% with the visual off. At one year it was 100%.
My rapid progress was due both to an excellent audiologist and rehabilitation specialist and careful feedback of what I can and can’t do to aid tuning but also lots of practice: I aimed to do about two hours a week for the first nine months but it was half an hour a day at the start.
The best thing now is being able to have family conversations – but I have got far more than that, I can converse with everybody.
I can hear again. After a couple of months practice I could talk on the phone: my prize to myself was buying myself a smart phone. Going on walks is lovely: it is thrilling to be able to be linked to environmental sounds again and I can chat easily to anyone while enjoying the surroundings because I can hear speech without full visual contact. Gardening at the Guide hall and church is more fun. I can chat and work at the same time.
I have the great privilege of trying the new wireless accessories which can stream directly to my sound processor wirelessly, giving better sound clarity in noisy and challenging environments.
The Wireless Mini Microphone 2+ has been great – I plug into the computer and listen to Radio Four iPlayer though the microphone. I did so miss Radio Four; it’s lovely to have it back.
I also use the mini microphone when visiting stately homes with a guide and on holiday in Venice – the guide clips the device on to their jacket, and I can hear him or her without visual contact – even when they’re walking considerably further away than in a normal social situation.
The TV Streamer is a little box in front of the television – it streams sound direct to your sound processor so you can have the TV on mute and still listen to it.
I also enjoy the Aqua + waterproof accessory. I take part in an aquafit class twice a week and swim in the sea. I managed both of these activities before the cochlear implant although I only got the thump of the rhythm in the class and certainly couldn’t hear what the teacher or anyone else had to say.
I can now converse more and I hadn’t realised how much more enjoyable the class would be when I could hear more of the music. I can now chat with class members and, hopefully, appear less standoffish. It was a huge thrill to go swimming with my daughter and one-year-old grandson. The Aqua+ is very useful on the odd occasion when the processor catches his eye and is grabbed by a small wet hand.
All in all, as I taught children with learning difficulties, the rehabilitation process was much easier for me perhaps because I understand you need to go in small steps and you’re not going to achieve everything at once. I didn’t get frustrated and I think that’s really helped me. In addition I have been supported through the process by a wonderful family and friends both before, during and after the implant process. I have been very lucky and am most grateful.
My advice? realise the operation is the first step and that having an implant can be an adventure - to find out what you can do and the progress you can make
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