After six weeks of anxiously waiting after my cochlear implant operation and hoping so much that it was going to work, I finally had my switch-on last week.
So much has happened in those last six weeks that I don’t really know where to begin to tell you. I thought it would be very difficult and very isolating trying to adjust to living in a world of total silence and tinnitus again. I’m not going to lie to you. It has not been easy and I have got through watching the first three subtitled series of ‘Game of Thrones’ on DVD followed by the complete series of ‘House of Cards’ while recovering at home. I can highly recommend both of them, by the way. But it wasn’t half as scary or as isolating as when I first lost my hearing four years ago.
The difference this time is that I have learned to live with it and adapt to my deafness. In fact, it has changed me a lot as a person and how I see the world. But even more importantly, in the last few years, I have gained a whole new network of friends, who have provided me with the emotional support, help and guidance I have needed to keep me going in some pretty tough times.
I am especially grateful for all also the support and kindness shown by my fellow volunteers and friends from Action on Hearing Loss and other deaf charities I’m involved in.
It is wonderful that even when I have not been able to hear anything and have struggled to communicate with my wife and other people on a daily basis I have been able to meet up with my fantastic friends and have been to some amazing events recently. I have not had to struggle to communicate with them and they have been very kind and patient with me. We all have shared experiences of living with hearing loss and they know how to adapt their communication tactics with me.
So how was the switch-on and how has it been over the last few days since then? Well the only word I can use to describe it is “Amazing!” When the audiology technician first switched my cochlear implant on and I could hear the beeps as she was testing what I could hear, I couldn’t believe it. I just thought “Wow!” Immediately I could hear the sounds around me really clearly.
At first the technician asked me if I could hear her voice and I replied that I could. It was very clear. Then I heard water running from the tap in her office and even the ticking of the clock on the wall. These were sounds that I hadn’t heard in years as I couldn’t hear that well even when I wore my hearing aid until fairly recently. It was crystal clear. The difference in the quality of the sound I can hear now and the sound I heard from my hearing aid is huge. I hadn’t expected it to sound this amazing. It is truly life-changing!
Over the last few days it has been wonderful just to have a normal conversation with my wife without struggling to lipread her and follow what she’s saying. On that first evening after my switch-on I sat in the garden with my wife and my dad chatting about what an amazing day it had been. The next day I rang my mother and had a chat with her on the phone. Even though I still struggled to hear her as I think it will take time to learn to re-adjust to it, she was over the moon just to hear my voice! It was the first time I’d been able to speak to her on the phone in over three years.
Every day since then I have just been enjoying being able to hear again and rediscovering sound I thought I’d lost a long time ago. It’s like meeting up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time and rediscovering the things you have in common and what you can remember about them. I am constantly surprised and amazed at the sounds I remember from before and can suddenly hear so clearly again.
Yesterday, for instance, I heard a sound I didn’t recognise. It was the sound of my dog Jake’s paws as he walked across the laminate floor in the lounge. I hadn’t heard that sound for a long time and I was surprised by it. Later I sat outside in the sunshine and for the first time I could hear the sound of my cat’s bell on his collar as he ran down the garden to chase the birds away.
It’s everyday sounds that I now find truly amazing. Words cannot describe how happy I feel just to be able to hear them again after such a long time. I put on a CD in my car this morning to find out what it would sound like. I have always loved music but I haven’t been able to listen to it for several years now. I listened to an Oasis song which I’ve always loved called ‘Live Forever’. It didn’t sound the same as I remembered it but because I knew the words of the song so well from memory, I could listen to it and appreciate it. I never thought I would ever be able to hear music again.
I feel like I have come a long way since I first started to lose my hearing. I have met some incredibly inspirational people on my journey and I am now starting to learn to adapt to being able to hear sounds again with my new cochlear implant. It will take a lot more time to get used to it and to rediscover sounds I thought I had lost a long time ago.
I have also had a few teething problems with it since yesterday, which has been frustrating, but I think like since it is completely new to me, it will take time for me to get used to using this technology. I posted a question today about why my new cochlear implant suddenly didn’t seem to be working on the AB Users Forum on Facebook and I got lots of helpful advice from fellow users, which reassured me a lot that the problem could be fixed. Thanks very much to those people on the forum. It helped me a lot.
At the end of the day, though, I am still a deaf person, caught between the hearing and the deaf worlds, being both amazed and frustrated at both worlds with equal measure. I think underneath it all we are all human beings with similar hopes, dreams, problems and anxieties. We are not all that different at the end of the day. All I know is that right now I am just enjoying rediscovering being able to hear again.