Clare - implanted at age 67

Year implanted: 2008
Age when implanted: 67 years
Age when piece written: 71 years
Cause of hearing loss: Unknown, progressive

Clare’s story

A number of years ago I was kidnapped. It was no ordinary kidnap. It was something different. Something surreal. Something without reason. I was not rich or famous. There was no ransom demand. No masked man. No getaway car. My kidnapper was invisible. My kidnapper was a demon. The demon of deafness.

I was in a very nice place called Upper Hearing where the sun seemed to shine every day. I had a confident outgoing nature, a fulfilling social life and working life with a future, until deafness swooped and took me hostage.

Deafness took me to an alien place called Little Hearing and threw me into a dank, dismal and lonely abyss. A dark, unforgiving tunnel, that ran slap bang through the middle of my life.

I did not like it there and I wanted to escape but deafness does not let you. Not easily.

There were doors in this tunnel with people behind them but I could only half open them as I tried to communicate. The people seemed to speak a different language. They missed words out of

sentences. They would shout and become impatient with me, even dismiss me, as ignorance gave way to rudeness.

Other doors were firmly locked. Theatre, cinema, meetings all proved inaccessible to the deafened ear.

The family door, whilst always open, tended to a cul-de-sac rather than escape route. Any attempt to grasp an understanding of a family conversation, likened me to that of a drowning man clutching at straws. The torrent of words defied clarity, the undercurrent finally sucking me into the whirlpool of isolation. Lonely in a crowd. On the edge of conversation-one of the loneliest places on earth.

Meanwhile, back in the tunnel, a friendly audiologist pointed me in the direction of a door that was ajar. On the door it said Durham Deafened Support, a charity supporting the deafened. I pushed it open and was invited in by a lady called Jane Atkinson. There were windows in this room, letting some light into the darkness.

The Lipreading window, created the learning skills of lipreading. The Tactics window, showed me how to deal with difficult hearing situations. The Equipment window, introduced me to technology available for the deafened. The Social Services and Welfare Rights window, opened to reveal benefits available for my disability. The Courage window, yes there is a courage window. It is not the kind of courage shown by our soldiers serving in Afghanistan or our emergency services, who risk their lives taking courage to the extreme. This is a more simple courage.

We have all, at some time in our lives been apprehensive, uncertain or perhaps a little scared of doing something or being somewhere but we “plucked up the courage,” faced it and did it. For the deafened it is an everyday occurrence.

I was thankful for these windows, they let shafts of light into my gloomy tunnel, penetrating the darkness with hope and expectation but I remained a prisoner to deafness, desperate to escape back to Upper Hearing. I could see it, feel it, smell it, almost reach out and touch it but I could not get there.

A huge crevasse, a yawning gap of hopelessness stretched before me, I was on an emotional rollercoaster. Frustrated, angry, stressed and depressed, almost suicidal, I was at a fearful crossroad not knowing which way to turn.

The road was rocky but I had to find an escape route that would release me from my captor. Deliverance came unexpectedly when one day deafness left a door open.

The name on the door said Cochlear Implant, CI or Clever Invention as I like to name it.

Stepping over the threshold I discovered a different world, the world of the wonderful and dedicated CI Team at The James Cook University Hospital, an oasis in the desert of deafness.

I had almost believed that I would never escape, whatever I did would lead me to another barrier. My hearing had been so battered that I had forgotten what to expect at this moment of liberty.

I need not have worried. Regenerated by the Cochlear Implant and stimulated by the steep learning curve, my hearing arched magically over the void. Upper Hearing seemed less far away.

Slowly it dawned on me that my new world, for all its benefits and beauty was only the starter. CI was not a cure, an implant not a transplant, a remedy, a very effective shield from the claws of deafness. There was still much to learn and unexpected obstacles to overcome.

Deafness still lurked around every corner, ready to ambush and pounce when I least expected. Background noise, the ghost of deafness, haunted me at every opportunity. A conversation in a quiet street was interrupted by deafness disguised as a ten ton truck, a double decker bus or half a dozen cars. A cosy corner in the restaurant, suddenly invaded by deafness and his rent a crowd, while also recruiting the waiters and waitresses to clatter the plates and cutlery. Deafness sneaked into the back of the television to play mind games with the subtitles, often turning them off at the most crucial moment. Musical mayhem, a favourite occupation of deafness made mincemeat of my favourite CDs.

I needed to rise above these negatives. There were two options open to me, either I could allow them to sour the sweet sound of my new found hearing, or accept them as a mere irritation and embrace my CI with an energy and enthusiasm it so richly deserved.

It was painfully obvious that I would never reach Upper Hearing but it was of little consequence, solace came from many directions to shake me from the deluded dream. The real awakening came from an unlikely source.

My grandchildren, during their formative years, when I was groping helpless in the dark tunnel had been both puzzled and confused at my frustrated lack of hearing. They often turned to others when a breakdown of communication blighted conversation. My CI reversed that situation, forged a better understanding and many magical moments.

“I like your new ears Grandad,” she said, sitting on my knee and hugging me while she curiously fingered my cochlear implant processor. It was a simple comment, given with all the loving innocence of a four year old, my youngest grandchild.

It was a magical and emotional moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. The definitive moment when I realised that through my Cochlear Implant I could once again have a meaningful conversation with another human being.