2009 was not the best year that I'd ever had. I knew that the hearing in my right ear was failing rapidly, just as it had happened in my left ear twelve years earlier. Phone conversations became a thing of the past. I could hear nothing at meetings. Dining out, reunions, in fact all social occasions I avoided if possible. I could no longer hear in a small group. Children's voices were too high pitched for me to hear. My own children, who had been well trained in how to speak to someone with a hearing disability, were finding it increasingly harder to communicate with me. I'd tried a lip reading course with limited success. All systems installed to help with hearing, telephone bells, electronic door bell, FM system, teletext on the TV. amplified phones and a NZ Relay phone (which I hated) were in place. I sat with the light behind me and the person I was talking to, directly in front of me, almost invading their space, BUT............I still couldn't hear easily.
Testing for my eligibility for an implant began in September. The DVD sent in the introductory kit, of people's success stories, I couldn't bear to listen to as I would have been so disappointed had I not been a suitable candidate. As I learnt more about the implant and observed how well the two recipients that I met could hear, I knew that I would somehow find the necessary funding. I so badly wanted to stay engaged with life. A seven year wait was not an option so I sold a portion of my freehold house to one of my sons to cover the cost.
Surgery took place on January 22nd and Switch On was on February 11th. I was not apprehensive about the actual surgery, but I did worry that my hearing might not improve sufficiently. Switch On was magical. I could hear clearly right from the start. Sure it was all very electronic, but I understood what people were saying. On that hot sultry summer's day, as I left the building to go home, I stood on the steps of the University and listened to the cicadas singing in the distance. What Bliss!
On Day 2, I visited a City Mall The explosion of sound that greeted me when I opened the car door panicked me and I almost got back into the car and drove off . I forced myself to walk into the Mall and buy what I wanted. Gradually the panic subsided and I was able to identify voices but couldn't work out what was said. The sound was horrific. In those very early days after switch on I recall getting used to so many sounds in the kitchen, sorting out which was the kettle, the fridge, the microwave, the dishwasher. The beeps of all the electrical appliances, the door chimes and the telephone, all sounded so different and so loud. Running water was probably the loudest of all.
There is no doubt that I was driven. I wanted to experience as many sounds as I could, so I spent a lot of time walking around our area. Gradually I was able to use the remote to control the level of sound so that I was always able to hear voices and quieten the background noise. I was amazed at how noisy our community had become, the traffic, fire sirens, police cars, music and advertisements blaring from speakers in shopping centres, people talking as they went by. I enjoyed the bird songs and the cicadas and even the crickets.
Six months later I can now enjoy; conversations with small groups of people,going out to dinner, listening to children, hearing at meetings, telephone conversations, listening to TV as well as watching it. hearing shop assistants, having casual conversations with people in busy streets and hearing in the car. I am not the only one to benefit either, my family and friends don't always have to be facing me, they can talk normally and don't have to constantly repeat themselves. There is not a day goes by without something happening that makes me so thankful for this wonderful invention.
With hindsight I believe that I could have been better prepared for the eventuality of receiving a cochlear implant. Although I am very happy now, much of the anguish I experienced prior to the implant could have been averted had I known more.
The likelihood of becoming profoundly deaf in my old age must have always been apparent. Yet it was never pointed out to me. I could have been better prepared emotionally and financially for the eventuality of a cochlear implant.
No one ever discussed a cochlear implant until I asked questions. I was unaware of any advertisements or information available in any hearing centres that I visited. I know that they are there to sell hearing aides but it would have helped develop an awareness of what may be needed in the future and make discussion easier.
I knew that a cochlear implant was not for everyone but I didn't know what that criteria was. (I'm still unsure.)
I would like to see more general publicity given to the benefits of a cochlear implant. The beautifully presented information booklet and DVDs sent to me after I had made application for CI assessment arrived after I had done all the research. Surely this information together with a rough assessment of costs, should be readily available from audiologists in hearing centres or any other centres specialising with helping deaf people.
There must be people out there who have already withdrawn from society who are unaware of the existence of a CI, particularly older people.
Are people familiar with ways to make payment for the implant possible? A seven year waiting time for anyone of my age is not worth considering. Is there a trust fund available?
Is the criteria for an implant made known to the candidate before testing begins?
I would be very interested to read the thesis of the student who is currently writing about Maori and the cochlear implant. I believe that the lack of readily available information and funds would prevent many from benefiting from a CI.