My name is Lesley. I’m 55 and had become progressively deafer since the age of 3. I’d only ever been able to wear an aid in one ear, and relied heavily on lip-reading to make sense of the little that I could hear. Having had hearing problems for so long, I hadn’t fully realised quite how deaf I had become. This was despite having no memory of ever having heard birdsong, and being unable to use a phone or listen to the radio-what a terrible noise that was, most music an unbearable mind scrambling jangle, and voices an incomprehensible babble
In fact, when Mr.Shaida at the RNTHE hospital first mentioned the possibility of a cochlear implant, I actually said “But I thought they were like, science fiction stuff and only for people who were REALLY deaf? “-“Madam”, he replied, with great restraint “You ARE really deaf”. Eventually I agreed to be assessed for an implant, although I still wasn’t entirely convinced that this was for me. After all- I managed OK hadn’t I? Other people made my phone calls for me, the telly had subtitles, and I didn’t have a problem with eating out or going to the cinema and stuff because I just didn’t do it! So what if I couldn’t hear birds or music- I could and did do many other things instead.
One of the standard assessments is a touch-screen questionnaire on how your hearing loss has affected your life. Easy enough, I thought, but quite unexpectedly, halfway through doing it, and brought face to face with all the things I’d avoided thinking about for years, and the harsh reality of how deeply my hearing loss had in fact affected every area of my life, I burst into tears. Repressed emotions, memories, frustrations overwhelmed me completely and I know that Jane and Francesca, my audiologist and speech therapist were quite concerned. I hurriedly reassured them that this was, in fact, a very helpful, if painful process. I NEEDED to face just how much my hearing loss had affected every part of every day of my life. Now I could see that deep down, I really, desperately wanted to do something about it- but had been unable to dare to believe that it was possible.
I also met members of the HCCIG at this point. Being unable to make it to any of the London meetings, I arranged with Jenny Burdge for them to have the use of the coffee bar at no.36, Brigadier Hill in Enfield where I live. What a revelation that was, all these people, all ages and backgrounds but all with faces aglow as they related the difference that a CI had made to their lives. Whether 14years ago or 4 weeks ago, they were all lit up with a common theme–Cl’s change lives. That really made my mind up. So many people just like me but with lives utterly transformed by their implants, in ways I’d never dreamed possible. Finally, on Feb 23rd this year I received my cochlear implant.
I didn’t sleep a wink the night before the op. However much anyone may seek to explain every detail, and however much reassurance they may offer, I don’t think many people would find it easy to face the thought of having a hole drilled in their head! It all went well, and I experienced very little pain. My balance was affected quite badly at first- I was seasick for a few days! The tinnitus, which I had always had, swelled to a roar of jet-engine proportions. Then I lost my sense of taste and my sense of smell at one point about 4 weeks after the op. I was out late at night in the dark, couldn’t see, hear, taste, or smell, but fortunately was able to FEEL my way back to the car. I can look back at now and laugh, but was quite a stressful time. I hasten to add that the tinnitus subsided, I regained my balance, and the other senses returned before too long.
I was duly plugged in, programmed and switched on, two months after the op, on March 19th. There was a small sonic boom inside my head, followed by a cacophony of high-pitched
chittering and whistling noises. “Whaaaa??!!” I said, nearly falling off my chair. “Oh good “, said the audiologist. Soon I was able to detect voices under this cloud of noise, and was sent home to get used to it a bit. Then my brain had to work overtime to try and make sense of all these weird and wonderful noises. Within a week, I could detect birdsong as a pattern in the chitttering, and gradually that has become clearer, to the point where I can now tell a sparrow from a robin- although I was very confused, to say the least, by a starling which flew over imitating a mobile phone ringtone. The clock ticks ‘brooms’ now go ‘shrrrp! Shrrrp’. Bacon goes “flup!” then “frizzle!”. My front gate shrieks “wreeeek!” and I sat listening to the zip on my jacket for a while when I realised where THAT noise was coming from, which raised a few eyebrows-but who cares? I’m a Christian, and it occurred to me that it must have been very like this for the blind man in the Bible, in Luke 8: 32, at first he saw people “like trees walking” before his sight returned completely. I’m sure he stood and gazed in wonder at everything around him, everything would be so new and fresh to him.
Anyway, the other morning I was just starting the flup and frizzle, when I vaguely realised that I was hearing something “new”. I wandered into the dining room, where. the radio was playing and was told “trumpets!”. I decided I’d better have a listen, as this was something I’d never been able to hear before-too high pitched. I closed my eyes, and within minutes I was surprised to find myself standing there with tears pouring down my face, the sound was so beautiful and totally outside anything I’d ever experienced in my life before. It was like entering a fourth dimension, one that I’d never imagined existed. (It was actually a version of Handel’s Water Music). A CD player is now top of the list for my birthday next month-I’ve got 50 years of music to catch up on-where do I start? Answers on a postcard! Since then, there has been something new every week. Someone said something funny- and I laughed! Unremarkable perhaps- but they were behind me, speaking to someone else at the time. Wow! And last night I had my first ever phone conversation with my eldest son-he was the one in tears this time! All of this, in less than 6 weeks since I was switched on- I still can’t quite believe it.