Chris - implanted at age 56

Year implanted: 2018
Age when implanted: 56 years
Age when piece written: 56 years
Cause of hearing loss: Partially related to otosclerosis, progressive

Chris’ story

I was a teacher in my mid 30s when I realised that I could not hear everything going on in my classroom or discussions in staff meetings and I realised that I needed to do something about it. Hearing tests confirmed a lack of hearing in both ears; otosclerosis was suggested as a possible cause and I began to wear hearing aids. Over the years my hearing continued to deteriorate and my hearing aids became stronger, until the audiologist said that there wasn’t a lot more amplification to get from the aids. I was 53 and thought ‘this can’t be normal’ and so I asked to be referred to Freeman Hospital.

I received an appointment with Mr Yates at Freeman Hospital and didn’t quite know what to expect. I had the usual tests and then went in to see him. One of the first things he said was that I must experience a lot of difficulty hearing in social situations and at work. This was the first time anyone had really understood how difficult it is to live with a hearing loss and I was quite emotional and relieved. A cochlear implant was vaguely mentioned as a possible outcome after other operations had been explored. Two and a half years after this first appointment and two unsuccessful operations later, I was referred for a cochlear implant assessment. By this time interacting with anyone was very difficult, I had given up work, stopped using the telephone, used TV subtitles, no longer went to the cinema or theatre and understood how easy it could be to become really insular.

I was assigned an audiologist and key worker for the assessment process – Jen and Sandra. They were both very supportive and professional; they answered any questions myself and my husband had and we never felt rushed. They understood that it was an anxious time, as it was possible that at the end of the assessment, I might not be accepted for the actual implant. Luckily for me, I was accepted for the implant and I was absolutely ecstatic – I had no doubts or reservations at all; I was 100% for this. The operation went smoothly and switch-on was three weeks after.

I was keen to keep expectations low for the switch on but I was also excited – it was such an important day. When the switch on happened, initially there were a number of beeps and Jen suggested that Justin, my husband should say something to me first, which he did. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed, because although I could make out some of his words, he sounded like a computer generated programme and I thought ‘this doesn’t sound like how I remember him’. However it was still a fantastic feeling to be able to hear and within hours I began to make sense of sounds such as the indicators on the car on the way home and the traffic, which was really noisy.

The next day we went for a walk and I could hear birds and the river for the first time in years and I began to have conversations which made sense.

It is now just over two months since my initial switch on and I have had two more tuning and hearing therapy appointments. After tunings, sound has initially seemed ‘tinny’ and it has taken a while to get used to but speech is easier to discern. It’s more difficult with background noise and I still benefit from looking at someone directly and I think that will always be the case. However it is a massive improvement and it’s fantastic – I feel independent again. I have used the loop system at the cinema and although I didn’t get everything in the film, I really enjoyed it again. I can listen to the radio and watch the TV and hear a lot of what is spoken and I can hear my husband call my name. I can hear environmental sounds, dogs barking, people’s footsteps.

The implant is allowing me to reconnect with the world and is giving me so much self confidence. I can chat to people, join in discussions, have a conversation in the car and tune in to sounds around me.

Things aren’t perfect, but having the implant is amazing; it is a great success for me and I would recommend it to anyone. It has literally brought me back to life!