My Health Experience: ‘Cochlear implant has brought me back into the world’

It is very frustrating, and lonely, to be excluded from conversations when you are unable to hear

Tue, Apr 29, 2014, 01:00

When you don’t have hearing, you become invisible. People don’t talk to you or they talk to the person beside you. They say things such as, “What would she like to do?” My reaction is, “Hello, I am here.” The cochlear implant has brought me back into the world.

From about 1997 I had bad hearing. It got steadily worse until I had to use two hearing aids. I don’t know whether it was from wearing music headphones or working in a noisy room once, but it became increasingly isolating.

I eventually went to my GP and he referred me to Beaumont Hospital for audiology tests and monitoring. For two years they noted how my hearing was dropping and, in particular, how I couldn’t hear high-pitched sounds such as children’s voices, or birds.

On one visit, a young doctor broached the topic of a cochlear implant. He explained how they wipe out the existing hearing in the ear where the implant goes and that it’s like rebooting a computer. It was an idea I could relate to as I am a bit of a techie.

On a routine visit one day before Christmas 2011, they said they had done all the tests and that I was a suitable candidate. The thought terrified me in the beginning as I didn’t think I was that bad.

In February Dr Laura Vianni said they were ready to book me in for the implant operation. My first thought was that I would be on one of those long waiting lists.

When she casually suggested booking me in for a few weeks later, I took a sharp intake of breath. This was for real now and I was in unknown territory. It was good that I didn’t have too long to think about it, and I had nothing to lose.

The operation and recovery were straightforward. Ten days later I went to the audiology clinic for the switch-on with Dr Jaclyn Smyth and that was amazing.

The first sound I heard was so funny. It was my own voice, and it was like Mickey Mouse or Darth Vader. I burst out laughing, as I love cartoons.

I was in shock when I left her office and sat down with my sister, Frances, on a seat in the hall. Fran asked me what I could hear and I said a woman in high heels and later someone dragging something heavy, which was a cleaner pulling a Hoover.

On the way home I could hear the indicator in the car. They had said to me that if I heard anything unfamiliar or a sound that I didn’t recognise, I was to ask. When I got home I could hear a strange pitter patter, a fast ticking noise. Fran told me it was the rain on the window.

The following week I could hear birds singing and motorbikes coming from behind. My head was spinning, wondering what everything was; it was an amazing experience and it still is. Even now, two years on, it is still improving.

When the kettle boiled I used to jump as I did not recognise the click when it was switching off. The toaster popping , the microwave pinging, I even notice the beep when I sign in at the gym: things I had not heard for years.

Using the “T-switch” on the implant has changed my life as it screens out background noise. Best of all I can use the iPod to listen to music and I can talk to people on the mobile phone using special Musiclink ear hooks. Before, I could only text.

The implant is only the start of the journey of recovering my hearing. I have to do listening exercises every day to rebuild patterns and links in my brain. Listening to music again takes time.

I know not everyone has the same success as I’ve had. Everyone’s story is unique. If your hearing is gone, you have everything to gain by having the operation.

There are people in DeafHear and in Beaumont Hospital who are there to help, and they are terrific. DeafHear carry out workshops all over the country to help patients and families adjust to their new listening devices.

When you are deaf, it is very frustrating not to be part of a conversation. I hated having to keep asking what the conversation was about, or asking others to give me the gist of what people were saying because, by then, the talk had moved on.

People don’t mean to be rude, but they are. If you have a broken arm or are blind, they can see there is something wrong, but when you cannot hear, they don’t talk to you and you feel lonely.

You feel inferior and guilty, and it’s embarrassing to have to keep asking people to repeat themselves or to look at you when they are talking.

I am now more confident and more outgoing, and I am saying yes to everything. My cousin tells me my whole persona has changed and that I am back to my old self. And that’s a nice place to be.

In conversation with , Maria’s sister