So Christmas is over; my first since having a cochlear implant (CI). It’s time to take stock of how I functioned during the festivities and where my hearing rehabilitation has got to, 12 weeks after my implant was switched on.

Ding Dong Merrily or Silent Night?

Music is complex auditory input. I’ve been told it can take a long time to be able to make sense of music through a CI. Reading about other people’s experiences I know that, for some people, being able to enjoy music is a wonderful gain, but for others this remains disappointingly out of reach. I know not to expect too much, or too soon. 

Not long after having my CI switched on, I watched the first couple of episodes of ‘Strictly’ and could make no sense of the music at all. More recently, I tried listening to familiar and pretty simple music and fared better. During Advent, I listened to carols and feel I’m making progress. There was no opportunity to hear any live, but I did find plenty on YouTube, my implant connected via Bluetooth. This feature certainly helps the clarity of sound coming to my CI; it’s easier than listening to live voices. Knowing the tunes, and the words, helps enormously. I was pleased that familiar carols, sung simply with just the main melody, sounded right to me. Those sung with harmonies (such a lovely thing) were more mixed, as I’d expected, but I could enjoy them, even though I am sure I was only hearing part of the sound.

Watching Carols from Kings is one of my Christmas Eve pleasures and it proved to be good practice at listening to both speech (the readings all so beautifully, clearly, read) and music. I also watched a Christmas Day service on YouTube, streamed from a Sussex parish where my friend is the vicar. She has a crystal clear voice and I was able to follow, though I did augment my hearing with a bit of lip-reading too. I was also much less aware of the crying child than my daughter, who was watching it with me, and this has also proved to be the case in shops. The CI is very good at damping down background noise and prioritising speech.

Family festivities

What a treat to gather with extended family for a few hours on Boxing Day, but it made for a challenging hearing environment. I wondered how I would fare. I know that people with normal hearing can also struggle in a room with multiple conversations going on and of course this was tricky, though everyone in my family is very used to doing what they can to enable me to hear (and indeed we have other relatives with hearing loss, so we’re all very clued up).

Then there were the games. First, one where each person writes an answer to a simple question that they think others will give too. There had to be a fair bit of repetition for me: “An animal beginning with M”. “N?” “No, M. M for Mike.” Followed by a lot of “what was your answer?” from me. Mind you, more chaos was created by people not answering as expected. How was it that our daughter’s partner, recently returned from a stint in Estonia where it was as cold as minus 26 degrees gave ‘Russia’ as his suggestion for ‘a cold country’, or that our two visitors from Birmingham answered ‘a city beginning with B’ with Bristol and Bradford?!

Next, a quick-fire game to be the first to supply the name of an Olympic medallist, a TV chef and so on. Not much hope of me hearing the prompt and processing it before someone else answered. I was so excited when I heard, straightaway, ‘A politician’, only to blurt out Boris…Becker! The only person who did even worse than me was my lovely quiet niece, who would rather do a week’s hard labour than shout anything out.

In all honesty, I wasn’t any better off than I would have been with my hearing aids – but I am hopeful that I will be in time.

Make your gatherings deaf-friendly

The RNID has put together some Tips for a deaf aware Christmas suggested by deaf people and those with hearing loss and tinnitus for things family and friends can do to make communication easier at Christmas (and of course these apply at other times too). The first one is something that people with normal hearing might not think of but that I find really helps me: “If the conversation thread changes, flag it up or ask a question to make sure I’ve heard it’s changed.” The other tips include making sure the speaker’s face is well lit and their mouth visible; taking it in turns to speak; asking the deaf person what would help them hear, and keeping background noise to a minimum (no music please!). There are also tips on Making Christmas deaf-friendly from the National Deaf Children’s Society.

By next Christmas, I hope to be hearing better

To anyone waiting to have a CI, I say be prepared for people to ask you if it’s worked, or how you’re getting on with it, and for you to not hear the question… I feel I am disappointing people, or that they are disappointed for me, when it’s apparent that I’m still struggling to hear. But it’s important to tell other people, and oneself, that it really does take time to learn to hear well with a cochlear implant. There’s a reason why CI recipients have a rehabilitation schedule that extends over twelve months. We can expect to make progress over those months and indeed may find that progress continues over years. I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. 

To this end, I am putting in the work on auditory training, every day, as described in my last blog “Has it worked?” Expectations of cochlear implants and the journey from surgery to hearingI know from the speech tracking test I did earlier this month with Emma the speech and language therapist that I am a long way off being able to follow speech at normal speed, so I must be neither surprised nor disheartened that I am still struggling to follow conversation. The fact that I can hear some dialogue (either live or online) without lip-reading feels like real progress to me, so heavily dependent was I on lip-reading before having my implant. I will get there.

I have been listening to a reading of an old favourite book on YouTube, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As Bob Cratchit said of Christmas to his uncle Scrooge, so I will say of having my cochlear implant:

“I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”