Richard’s Cochlear Implant: The Journey Has Only Just Begun

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I was feeling really anxious the night before my husband Richard’s cochlear implant surgery a few days ago. We had spent many months waiting for the operation date and many more talking and thinking about it. I really hoped more than anything that the operation would be a success and that Richard would soon be on the path to better hearing.

Yet I couldn’t shake off my constant nagging worries. “What if the operation goes wrong?” I thought. “What if there are complications?” “What if after going through all this it doesn’t work when they finally switch it on and he’s left permanently profoundly deaf? How will we cope?”

I know there are risks with any operation, and I have also met a few people who have had CIs where it hasn’t worked and they are left profoundly deaf permanently. But I have also met many more people, who have had very successful implants, and their lives have been transformed. I was trying hard to focus on the positives. How wonderful it would be if Richard could use the phone again, not struggle to communicate with people on a daily basis and not feel uncomfortable in any crowded or noisy environment with big groups of people.

Richard, on the other hand, seemed unnaturally calm. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t feeling more anxious. Maybe he was trying hard to hide it or maybe he had spent so long thinking about it that by the time it had arrived, he had accepted it was the right choice and felt calm about it. Either way I was impressed by his calmness, which reassured me too.

I didn’t sleep very well that night at all. When my alarm clock went off at 5am the next day, I had been awake for a while. As we travelled in the cab to the hospital, it was already light outside but there was hardly any traffic on the roads or people on the streets. We were both really tired but Richard looked incredibly calm and relaxed.

At the hospital we saw the anaesthetist in the ward. She looked at Richard’s medical file with the doctor’s letters explaining his complex medical history and details of his drug treatment. She then looked really concerned. She said that he might not be able to have his surgery at the hospital that day because of the additional risk of potential complications due to his underlying medical condition. She was concerned about how he would cope under general anaesthetic. They didn’t have the back-up equipment at that hospital to deal with any emergency, so she said that they might have to postpone the operation to another date in another hospital, which did have the back-up equipment.

Richard couldn’t really follow what she was saying but he understood from her negative body language that the operation wasn’t going to happen that day. He looked absolutely gutted and suddenly seemed really stressed. He told her that he’d be devastated if it didn’t happen that day. Richard’s consultants at other hospitals had been discussing the possibility of Richard having the CI surgery at another hospital because of this for months, but they told us that it had all been resolved, his medical condition was stable and that he would be fine under the general anaesthetic. The problem was that the letter to explain all of this was not in his medical file due to a clerical error and miscommunication between different hospitals.

Thankfully the situation was resolved fairly quickly when Mr Shiada appeared on the scene and saved the day. He calmly reassured us all that he had a copy of the letter in question. After the anaesthetist had made a few phone calls to Richard’s consultants at St Mary’s and Whipps Cross Hospitals to double-check, he was given the go-ahead for the operation. He was then assigned his own room in the ward and a dedicated nurse to look after him. I was actually really pleased that the anaesthetist had been so thorough in checking all this and doing her job so thoroughly, as I knew there was a lot at stake if anything went wrong.

Eventually, at about midday, Richard was brought into the operating theatre for his surgery, which would last about three hours. After about half an hour waiting in Richard’s room I felt really on edge and couldn’t concentrate, now more worried than ever about the risk of complications during surgery. Three hours seemed like such a long time to have to wait on my own.

I decided to go for a walk to try and take my mind off it, so I ended up walking into nearby King’s Cross Station, where I wandered into some of the small shops there to try a bit of retail therapy. I ended up buying Richard a small box of chocolates as a present. I smiled as I thought about how many times I had told him off for eating chocolate, and how much he loved eating it. Now it didn’t seem to matter at all.

After a while I wandered back to the hospital. Shortly after that Ian, Richard’s step-brother, arrived in the ward to pay him a lovely surprise visit and we waited in his room together. Suddenly, the young student nurse came to tell Ian and I that she had been in Richard’s operation and that it had gone really well. It was the first operation she had been involved in and she was really excited to tell us. She explained how impressed she’d been with Mr Shaida’s calm, confident manner as he was operating. She was really happy to have been a part of it. I was so touched that she’d come to tell us this personally.

The matron then came in and told us that Richard had just come round and we could go and see him in the recovery room. Ian and I went down into the room and saw Richard lying there, all wired up and attached to a monitor. He looked really tired but he had a massive smile on his face. He had a big bandage wrapped round his head. Immediately, he wanted us to take photos of him, so we took photos of ourselves with Richard, all three of us with massive smiles on our faces now.

I felt immense relief that it was all over, like a huge weight had just been lifted from my shoulders. Seeing Richard’s smiling face made me feel really happy and so proud of him. The anaesthetist came over to say hello to us, and she ended up being included in the photos. She recognised Ian as he is an ENT surgeon and they used to work together eight years ago. She looked very relieved too. I thought that she, Mr Shaida, the theatre team and the nurses at that NHS hospital had all done an incredible job looking after Richard. I find it amazing that they do that for all their patients on a daily basis.

That evening I sat by Richard’s bed while he slept, as he was still tired and dizzy from the anaesthetic. He was missing the England versus Uruguay World Cup match showing on the TV in his room, but that was probably for the best, given their disastrous performance.

I felt physically and emotionally drained after such a long day, but incredibly relieved. As I left Richard in the hospital overnight I went home and felt shattered. I know that Richard’s cochlear implant journey has only just begun as he has only just started his recovery. But I am now hopeful that it will all be worth it in the end. I will keep you posted.

By Joanna Turner

 

 

Silence is Golden in Dennis Severs’ House

I had wanted to visit Dennis Severs’ House for a long time now, ever since I first came across it some years ago. I was working nearby in Spitalfields, and I happened to notice the imposing Georgian house with its sleek black door lit up by a gaslight as I walked by it on 18 Folgate Street. I was intrigued about what lay inside as I thought it was a museum, but I never actually went in there until now. Dennis Severs header I was recently having a chat with my deaf and hard of hearing friends about what museums and exhibitions we wanted to go and see as a group when I suddenly remembered this place. I had a look on their website and saw that they did evening candlelit tours in silence. Perfect! For once none of us need worry about whether it would be accessible to us or what sort of communication support, if any, would be provided. We could all do the tour in silence, and it would be a level playing-field for all. So our small group arranged to meet up last Monday to do the silent candlelit tour. We met up beforehand and arrived in front of the house at our allocated time of 7.30 pm. My wife Joanna knocked on the door, which was opened by a rather creepy, formal-looking bloke, who stood outside and explained the house rules to us in a rather stern manner. I couldn’t follow what he was saying, but Joanna said that he was explaining what to expect inside and what the “rules of the game” were. He was telling us to be careful of the lit candles and to observe the house rules of not speaking once we were inside the house. Dennis Severs dining room The candlelit tour of Dennis Severs’s House is a silent tour of the ten rooms, which make up the house. Dennis Severs was an eccentric Californian artist who bought the dilapidated Georgian house in 1979 and then spent the next twenty years doing it up and buying paintings, furniture, old crockery and artefacts to furnish the house and create the atmosphere and moods that he wanted to show the public to demonstrate his art. Unlike other museums, it feels like you are stepping into a domestic family scene full of living, breathing people and he wanted us to use our senses to imagine the domestic scene of the time, which was unfolding before our eyes. Dennis Severs pic in house We were asked to imagine a fictional Huguenot family of silk weavers called the Jervises, who apparently lived in Georgian times, but it feels like you are time-travelling, because although most of the scenes you come across are from the18th Century, there are actually some objects and artefacts which date from as recently as 1914. We started our tour in the basement and moved from room to room, before climbing the creaky stairs to discover the rest of the house floor by floor. Immediately we walked into the kitchen, it felt like we had just disturbed the Jervis family, who had left only moments before. There was half-prepared food on the kitchen table. I could smell the oranges and fruit left there, and see a pillar of natural sea salt, which they used to season their meals. We were being asked to use our imagination to picture the scene of food being prepared and cooked there. As we walked around the kitchen, we observed and took in the sights and smells before us in silence, whilst signing to one another to point things out and ask questions of each other. It was good that my limited sign language was proving handy to communicate with the others and we were all enjoying the moment. Dennis Severs kitchen As we moved up the floors from room to room a story of domestic family life was unfolding before our eyes. In several rooms there were paintings on the walls by Hogarth and other Old Masters showing the faces of some of the household members, which were lit by candlelight and the smoky light of the open fires in the hearths. It felt like I was stepping into a 3-D painting, which was full of life. There were various signs scattered amongst the rooms providing a brief explanation of what each room was showing, and throughout the house there were signs asking us “Have you got it yet?”, as if the owner was playing a game with us. Dennis Severs Hogarth In one of the sitting rooms there was a clock ticking and even though I couldn’t hear it, I could imagine it ticking. I could also feel the very old uneven floorboards creaking as I moved across them and smell the food, which had been left there half-eaten. Half a glass of port had been left there, along with a pair of glasses, as if whoever had been there had been disturbed halfway through their meal. Joanna signed to me that there were sound effects of birds tweeting in a cage and church bells ringing from the church outside. I couldn’t hear these sounds but I could feel and imagine them. It felt like an attack on my senses, and it was very atmospheric in the smoky, candlelit rooms. Smoking Room detail As I walked into one of the bedrooms, I saw a four-poster bed, which was still unmade. There was a black cat lying on the bed, which I assumed was stuffed. Even though we were not supposed to touch anything, I couldn’t resist the temptation to see if it was real or not, so imagine my surprise when I reached out to touch it and I saw its tail twitch! It was a real-life cat, which apparently lives in the house, so I stroked it and I could feel it purring. When we left the house, we went over the road to a lovely pub, where we chatted about the house and what we thought of the experience. We had all really enjoyed it, as it was different to anything we had seen before and we hadn’t had to worry about access and communication barriers. We were a group of hearing and deaf people, so we chatted in a very relaxed way, using a mixture of talking, lipreading and signing. We all had a great time at Dennis Severs’s House, which was an amazing visual sensory experience. The artist David Hockney once rated it as “standing amongst those of the greatest opera experiences”. I’d love to go back there again one day as I’m sure that I’ll see and experience things that I’ve missed this time. It’s definitely one to go back to and revisit.