Taking the plunge! Steps to better ears

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January 2017

I am a candidate for a cochlear implant!

A friend recently asked me “What would it be like, having a Cochlear Implant?”

I hesitated because although by now I had researched the subject thoroughly, it can be tiring answering questions about the CI. Questions can come from all angles of the process. Not always do I know how to respond and so that sends me off researching again! It can at times feel like I’m on a constant episode of Questions and Answers.

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For years, I have being saying to myself, having a CI is for when I become even more deaf as my hearing-aids appeared to be working just fine for now.  Looking back, I would say I knew very little about the whole process at the time. These factors probably dominated my curiosity of even wanting to find out more about the implant and how it could benefit my quality of life now rather than later. So a new lesson I learnt throughout this journey so far is; never say no to anything that could benefit you until you have explored the idea, read around it, researched it and talked to others with experience. Had I known then what I know now, I would have gone for it earlier. But there’s no point of thinking what if. If we think that way all the time we would never move forward in life. I chose to go on the waiting list in February.

The cochlear implant is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. I have to remind myself it’s good that people are curious and it’s important to teach those close to me the wonders of the CI and how my life will change for the better. I think I have been given an opportunity to start again in life as a deaf person. I grew up quite shy and passive about my deafness to the point I would nod and pretend to hear things I missed out on constantly. I relied on others to repeat for me and I used to get quite frustrated with people for “leaving me out”. I understand now that they did not know how much I struggled. I suppose I appeared as though I was coping fine to most people that know me. I was quite a good actress!

When growing up, the last thing you want to do is stand out and be labelled as different to others. In your 30s it’s the opposite! Or at least in my case it is 🙂 Wisdom in hindsight my behaviours and coping mechanisms I chose back then were unhealthy in managing my deafness. Hence my recent journey on developing better coping mechanisms as mentioned earlier.

I couldn’t believe the change of mindset. A lot of it was based around the incredible amount of support around me; my colleagues, my friends and most importantly my family. I took this new opportunity as an adult to start again and keep them all informed and aware of my deafness while we’re all in this learning together. I can see now that their questions are out of great curiosity naturally but acts of kindness showing their support, friendship and care for me too which I have found very humbling.

So back to the question my friend asked above! I thought to myself afterwards, what would be the best comparison in answer to her question? As I sipped my usual flat white in local favourite, busying my mind with thoughts of the CI and research around it, I watched a older gentleman walking down the street opposite with a walking stick. Then my answer occurred as clear as daylight. Imagine this man had a walking stick all his life and suddenly it was replaced with a prosthetic leg no longer requiring the support of a walking stick. I’m sure many of you are thinking right now “ but being able to walk by yourself, with no stick, that would be great surely?!” Yes of course it is but what if, for most of his life, he never actually learnt to put one foot in front of the other without leaning on something for support? No doubt, it would take lots of time, patience, falls and a rollercoaster of emotions. But in time he will become stronger and confident with his new leg and a new found freedom in life. Based on my own homework and hearing personal accounts of the CI, this is the way I see the journey of having a cochlear implant, similar emotions and set backs, only that it is a different type of prosthetic for me.

The cochlear implant is so intelligent that I would undergo a program of intense fine tuning and speech therapy so eventually I don’t need to rely on lip-reading as much as I do now. I can’t remember not having to doing this.

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This diagram shows the cochlea (size of a pea!) which is lined with nerve hairs that picks up a range of frequencies. In my ear the nerve hairs are damaged permanently so something else needs to go in pick up the frequencies. The hearing nerve still works so the CI stimulates this part of the ear using a number of electrodes. The electrodes line can now line the cochlea to stimulate the nerve hairs and pick up all these frequencies electronically.

Keep tuned in, there’s more to follow on my cochlear implant journey! The next part I will be writing about the operation and those early days of recovery.

 

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