“I heard you” I said. “Yes, but what did I say?” asked my mother. “But mum I heard you!” I did not know what she said. My mother had closed the kitchen door and I was on the other side. She knew better than to let me see her face as she was aware that I might be lip reading. That is my first memory of being deaf. I was about five years old. The teachers at school had told my mother that they did not think I was hearing properly. She did not need to be told as my older sister was already wearing a hearing aid and both my grandparents were classed as deaf and dumb, as they did in those days. My mother had perfect hearing and was fluent in sign language due to her deaf parents.
So an appointment was made for me to go to The Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in Kings Cross. I was duly issued with a hearing aid. It seemed a rather big thing at that time, it consisted of a small leather satchel with two batteries which were wired up to a body worn hearing aid, then from there to the ear piece. I wore this for a short period of time, then my parents bought me a private body worn hearing aid with batteries incorporated.
I stayed in that school, my sister and I were the only deaf children there. Being the 1950s, you might say we were the guinea pig generation of deaf children going to mainstream schools. I do remember having school radio programmes and not understanding a word.
After leaving school I went back to the RNTNE to try out a behind the ear hearing aid, but I found at that time the National Health aids were not powerful enough. My friend had an uncle who was a hearing aid specialist and he found me one that was powerful enough for me to use. I used these and later National Health behind the ear hearing aids, which had been made more powerful.
From around 1995 my small amount of hearing was going downhill. Music was no longer clear. Then one day at work in 2001 it seemed my hearing just snapped, there was nothing at all.
My doctor arranged an appointment at the local hospital and they suggested a bone anchor hearing aid. I did not know what one was. So I looked it up on the Internet and looking at the after-care, I saw in some cases it can have infection around the stud on your head. As I work in the construction industry and it horrified me and put me off as some of the jobs I do are rather dirty. I had the MRI scan and unfortunately the hospital lost the scan, so that gave me a good excuse to opt out. The whole process had been going on for over 14 months and I would have to go through it all again.
We move on 14 years later and one of my friends and his partner had both had their implants done and were happy with the results. They had them done at the RNTNE and recommended me to go there.
So it was back to the hospital in Kings Cross where I first went nearly sixty years ago.
I went through the usual induction and tests. Then I met the man who was going to be my surgeon, Professor Saeed. He examined me and went through the usual routine for the operation. Just as I was about to leave he asked me if I would mind if the BBC filmed the operation. Thinking it was for some medical programme I replied “That’s fine”. Little did I know it would eventually mean me appearing on The One Show.
The operation went ahead and I did not feel nervous beforehand because of my friend’s experience in having the operation. I had already had the BBC film crew at my house for the show, now they were in the hospital room when the surgeon came to meet me. They then followed me down to the operating room and the last I remember of them filming me was when I was ‘going under’. Before I knew it I was waking up and not sure where I was, until my wife told me “It’s all over now’. The film crew had long gone.
Although my head was swaddled in bandages I did not feel bad in any way. Soon I was eating a hearty meal. I was lucky that I did not suffer from any of the complaints that can be related to this kind of operation, such as dizziness, loss of taste or bad tinnitus. I was quite happy to go home by Underground, but as the BBC was willing to provide a lift home I caught a black cab. I did ask the cab driver to avoid road humps if possible, but it fell on ‘deaf ears’, resulting in a very bumpy ride home. It has put me off black cabs for life!
The next part of the procedure was the switch-on a month later. Once again our old friends the BBC were there to film it. In the small room was the cameraman, soundman, director, surgeon, audiologist and my wife. The audiologist connected me up by cable to the computer and asked me to tell her when I heard anything. At first there was nothing, which got me a bit worried, then a sound came through which made me jump. I was trying to make out the sound and my wife was asking me if I could hear her, but it was not clear. All the eyes in the room were on me which made it a bit hard to concentrate. Eventually when we finished we went out into the corridor and I could clearly hear the footsteps of people walking along. The next day I went to work and was working outside and heard a sound, then thought that was a helicopter. I looked up and there it was, I cannot tell you how pleased I was to hear that.
Over the next six sessions with the audiologist, Eilene, she increased the level of sound to a comfortable volume. Bit by bit I was picking up more things. At the time of writing it is just two weeks after the last session and my brain now seems to be opening up more all the time to receive more sounds. I have a remote control in which I can vary the level of sound. At first I used it at full volume, number 10, now I have reduced it to number 1 and it is still too loud. So at the three month session, due next month, I will have to ask Eilene to reduce the volume. So in my case the more I use it the louder and clearer the sound. I have been told by my friend that it takes about a year to get the full benefits of the implant.
In the week (February 2015) before the final session with the audiologist there was the broadcast of the operation on The One Show. So this was my ‘Fifteen Minutes of Fame’ at last. The filming was presented in two parts and I was invited with my wife to appear on the show to talk about it. To say we were given star treatment might be a bit over the top, but they did send a car to pick us up and deliver us home again. At least the cars were not black cabs this time. So there were only around five million people watching us on live television, it made us more nervous than the operation. People told us we looked quite relaxed, if only they knew. The next day at work when I entered the main office there was a big “Whoa”, I had not told them about the programme, but some of them saw it and the word quickly spread around the office and in the factory.
Was it all worth it? To me very much and I would recommend the implant to anyone who has lost all their hearing.
A big thank you to all those involved at the RNTNE.