One of the casualties of my increasing deafness, over many years, was my enjoyment of swimming. Admittedly, there were other factors in my waning enthusiasm. Sea swimming became much less attractive when holidays by the warm waters of the Adriatic, Mediterranean and Persian Gulf gave way to weeks on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, while the local pool was never a terribly inviting prospect. But having to leave my hearing aids out and swim deaf was no fun and I simply stopped doing it. Then, as a new cochlear implant (CI) recipient, I was given a choice between two accessories, and choosing the aqua kit, which enables the wearer to use their CI in water, meant I could get back to swimming.
Last week, I was back on Ireland’s beautiful west coast, armed with my aqua kit, with access to the sea, two hotel pools and one spa. Here’s how I got on.
Grappling with the kit
I admit to being defeated as to how to put the aqua kit together when it arrived, some weeks ago… Luckily, I had an audiology appointment and took it along with me for a demonstration. It involves a rather alarming dismantling of the CI, with everything but the sound processor being put aside. The sound processor clicks into a waterproof case containing a battery, which clips onto clothing or an armband. A long wire runs from this to a waterproof version of the headpiece, and here there is a microphone. Converting the CI to the aqua version is a bit fiddly and involves pushing out a very tiny pin that secures the normal microphone to the sound processor, so it’s not something I’d want to attempt on a beach or by the pool, but now I know what to do it’s quite quick and easy. As long as the battery has been charged… I had failed to think about this until I was ready to assemble the kit and head for the pool. Thankfully, it had 75% charge in it anyway – as I could tell from the app (which gives me control over various functions of the CI as well as information about it).
Swimming pool – the first
I felt a bit self-conscious about the wire running down from my head to the box clipped on my swimsuit – what if someone thought it was a camera?! But how lovely to be able to hear!
I had the pool to myself, apart from a group of elderly Americans doing exercises, diligently waggling foam sausages as instructed by the young man standing poolside.
Swimming up and down to Wham’s “Wake me up before you go go!” really did make it feel like I’d gone back in time, but so did the long-lost sound of the plash of the water as I moved through it, and the noisy bubbling of the jacuzzi, where I enjoyed a wallow between bits of Proper Swimming. Note to self: remember to unclip the case from your cossie before taking the latter off or the CI gets wrenched from your head and everything goes silent.
Swimming pool – take two
Another day, another hotel and another pool (I know, I’m fortunate). This time, I went with Tim. We shared it with just two women and their toddlers, enjoying a bit of lazy swimming with pauses to chat in between. I also struck up a conversation with one of the women. This was both an amazing thing to be able to do, now that I could hear, and so normal that I almost didn’t think about it. I’m sure this is a huge difference between someone like me, whose hearing has declined over a long time, and someone who has always been profoundly deaf. Now that I can hear so well with my CI (and this took some months, as you will know if you’ve been following these blogs), experiences like this are essentially as they would have been many, many years ago. I’m interested to observe myself and see where years of deafness have resulted in ‘deaf behaviour’ that isn’t so easily reversed and where, as in this instance, it’s almost as if those deaf years never happened.
A place that has tempted me into the water in recent years is the spa in Bath, as it’s such a treat to go. I’d wear my hearing aids for the dry bits and take them out for going in the pools. I can’t wait to go again, this time with the ability to chat in the water. It turns out (and I have been slow to realise this) that the pools are the bits I like. I didn’t even attempt the saunas in Bath, as the steam would have been hopeless with hearing aids (and glasses!) and, well, they’re a bit hot!
There was a choice of rooms in the hotel spa, which seemed to be hot, very hot and why-would-you-put-yourself-through-that hot. There were also some tiled beds – I love these in the spa at Bath, but these were hot. The only not-hot room was a ‘beach’, where you’re invited to lie on the sand and relax while you’re taken through some kind of light cycle. I managed about three minutes but decided that it was boring, so took myself off to the only other not-hot place, the Relaxation Room. This had tea and fruit (big ticks for that) and magazines. A flick through Hello! was even more boring than three minutes of fake beach but I did read an interesting article in some kind of ‘wellness’ magazine about an advocate of sea swimming. Which brings me onto…
The thing is, it’s really, really cold. I do remember how lovely it is, though, to be buffeted by the waves. It turns out that several of my Galway colleagues are really keen sea swimmers, going in every day. Briefly, it looked tempting. I didn’t go in, but now, thanks to my CI aqua kit, I could. Next time…