Today marks six months since I had my cochlear implant (CI) surgery, five since switch-on. The last few weeks have been a time of delighted amazement, on my part, at recent progress in my hearing rehabilitation and what I can now do. I’m listening to podcasts and, if I do this indoors, many of the voices are crystal clear. I have started listening to them whilst walking, or travelling, which is such a novelty, but environmental noise makes this harder. More importantly, I am having conversations with greater ease and less (or sometimes no) reliance on lip-reading. It feels like a time of unfolding wonders!

Another visit to Audiology

Now, I’m due at Audiology. On the way, I test myself on some of the Hearoes auditory training exercises where I’ve had less than full marks. Yes, I’m doing better! Arriving in the department and checking in at the desk, I have the strange experience of being able to hear the receptionist, while she struggles to hear me. Might I even hear my name called? Yes – there it is! Despite the mask. Goodness! I have a brief vision of my future self, transformed from a meerkat-like person sitting bolt upright and alert in a waiting room, eyes glued to the door from which the person would appear to call me in, to someone sat back in a chair, reading a book, confident that I’ll hear my name when called.

No time to dwell on that though. Alice (the audiologist) needs to put me through my paces. First, a repeat audiogram, which confirms the progress observed early on after my implant was activated. I can hear pretty quiet beeps across the test frequencies. I don’t always trust that I’ve really heard them – am I just remembering what the sound was from the louder beep that’s just gone, and imagining it? I say “well, I’m not sure, maybe!” but Alice tells me that each time I say this that, yes, there was one.

Then, a single word speech test. I feel a bit nervous. Having bounded in, full of the progress I’ve made, I’m worried I won’t do very well. Single words, with no context, are pretty challenging, especially single short words. I’m aware I miss some sounds, especially at the beginning of words. The best I was able to score, before my implant and with both hearing aids, was 48%. Now, I score 78%. Alice assures me that this is really, really good progress. Rather greedily, I ask will it get even better? It might! But there will come a point where I’ve gone as far as I can go, a reminder that I’m a deaf person benefitting from amazing technology, not a formerly deaf person who has been ‘cured’!

As with my last appointment, Alice is working with Fiona from Advanced Bionics. The two of them are wearing masks, but I can hear what they say to me, and sometimes to each other! I barely glance at the iPad display showing a live transcript. When I do, it says something about bananas, which I’m confident are not being discussed.

It’s time to add a hearing aid

We agree it’s time to add in a hearing aid for my non-implanted ear. I find myself strangely reluctant to have a hearing aid again. It has been so nice to feel the wind in my ears! A hearing aid mould does the ear no favours and in recent years I’ve had increasing problems with eczema, wax build-up and the odd infection. I’ve read, too, that some people find they prefer just to use their CI. But I am fortunate to have some hearing in my left ear and adding an aid may give me even better hearing overall, so let’s try it and see. Alice explains it will boost the low frequencies for me, so maybe I’ll get some of the bits I’m missing, in both speech and music. I have no idea how it works, but the implant and hearing aid ‘talk’ to each other. Oh good.

At first, the aid makes everything VERY LOUD. Some adjustments make it more comfortable and off I go. I think I’m hearing more, but it’s been less than 48 hours and too soon to say. No doubt it will take a little time for my brain to adjust to this new development. At the moment, when I listen to speech, it seems loud on the hearing aid side and quieter and ‘tinny’ on the CI side, with the two not quite working together. I am guessing this will change. That said, I walked alongside my daughter today, and heard what she said to me without looking at her face. It’s like turning the clock back, to how my hearing was long ago. What amazing technology this is and how privileged I am to have access to it, and all the expertise that makes this possible. I’m so grateful.