Does this sound like stating the obvious? It was my answer when I met up with a friend last week, for the first time with my CI, and she asked “how is it?”. It may be a simple statement, and your first thought may be ‘well of course’. But this is huge. Worth pausing over. Worth writing about.
It’s 18 months now since my CI was switched on. Rehabilitation, as far as frequent monitoring by the implant centre goes, lasts for a year. I’m now living with it rather than rehabilitating; hearing with it rather than learning to hear with it. Not that things stand still; but I’ll come to that in a bit.
A changed present
I am enjoying fantastically good results with my CI. How good? I have been telling people it’s as if my hearing has been returned to the way it was decades ago. But that isn’t right. I’m trying to remember how it was before my slide, in recent years, into severe hearing loss. Let’s dial back 20-odd years, to my 30s and being a mum to young children. It was often hard to hear them, and they have grown up learning to be skilled communicators with (and, sometimes, for) first one and then two parents with hearing loss. Go back another decade and, yes, I was struggling then. Weirdly, I can’t remember exactly when I got my first hearing aid, or my second, but I was noticeably losing hearing in my late teens and I think I was wearing two aids by the end of my twenties.
Hazy memories notwithstanding, I can say that my hearing now isn’t like it was at any of those times. On my implanted side, I am done with the old-fashioned business of hearing through air conduction; the traditional methods involving the smallest bone in the body – useful for a pub quiz answer but otherwise just sitting about in my middle ear! Where you have hair cells, I have electrodes! I have a lump of metal in my head and kit that I charge up every night. I use astonishing technology that, among many other amazing things, makes constant adjustments according to the sound environment I’m in and allows me to stream calls and audio from my laptop and phone. In my other ear, I have a hearing aid that ‘talks’ to my CI. It’s not normal hearing but it is a vast improvement on anything I’ve had for a long time.
Oh the things I can do!
I’ve written several blogs about the improvements I’m enjoying and the wider impact of those, perhaps best summed up in 10 things my cochlear implant has given me. Oh the things I can do! Say yes to invitations, knowing I have a good chance of hearing most people – mostly. Interact with people in all kinds of environments; enjoying casual exchanges or long conversations. Hear someone without looking at them. Share a joke, instead of wondering why people are laughing. Enjoy the cinema and the theatre, even though I don’t hear all of it. I generally do better in restaurants than my companions with normal hearing, so efficiently does my CI prioritise the voices of those near me to everything else. This and so much more.
I can listen to music and podcasts – I need to remember this and do it more often! I can take, and make, phone calls, but still feel wary of it – that this might be something that trips me up. Old habits die hard. I prefer the ease of watching tv with captions, and sometimes turn them on for zoom calls when I don’t really need to.
As I said in that earlier blog, my new hearing has given me freedom to be myself – how amazing!
I sometimes forget I’m still deaf, but of course I am utterly reliant on the technology I use, and when I take it all off I hear almost nothing. We recently replaced our smoke alarms and took the opportunity to get a linked device that sits by my bed and would alert me with a strobe light if the smoke alarms activated, as I certainly wouldn’t hear it.
I’m also still in the position of becoming much deafer when wax blocks the ear canal on my hearing aid side, as it does at least once a year, and many of you will know that getting this removed is problematic now that it is largely unavailable through GP practices. I am fortunate to be able to afford the cost of having this done privately, but so many people cannot, and the waiting times seem to be around eight weeks or longer – too long when you’re struggling to function. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) states that wax removal should be offered by the NHS and the RNID continues to campaign for restored provision.
A different future
Fear of a future in which I became increasingly deaf, with all that that would mean, was as much a part of my decision to have a cochlear implant as considerations of improvements in my life now, as I have talked about in a video I’ve shared on my page Deciding whether to have a cochlear implant: lessons in health decision-making. I would surely have become more and more isolated, and I worried about my increased risk of dementia. Work has recently started to identify the top priorities for research into dementia and hearing conditions, and members of the public will have several opportunities to contribute their views, so do find out more about that in my blog for Cochrane UK Dementia and hearing conditions: what do we most need to know?
Now, I feel so optimistic about the years ahead. I’m still in full time work, but enjoy so many other activities alongside that, and feel confident that I can – and will be able to – join groups or take up whatever activities I like, knowing that I can hope to hear pretty well.
Of course, I can’t know how my hearing will deteriorate – and presumably my hearing on my non-implanted side will continue to go down. But I stand to benefit from developments in implant technology, and my implant centre offers an upgrade to the latest CI processor every five years. On top of that, I’ve been told that the brains of CI recipients can continue to adapt to the extent that some people see improvements beyond that first year of rehabilitation. So, by way of a hearing work-out, I really must remember to use my hearing to the full, and remember to listen podcasts and more. Audio books will be something to try – I wonder if I can pay attention in that way, as well as hear. What possibilities have opened up! I’m so grateful.