Catherine Cooper: 8 months after having my cochlear implant, how am I doing?

Posted on April 12, 2013

The answer?

Probably that I’ve spent far less time focusing on my August 2012-fitted cochlear implant than I was hoping.

The last eight months have been a hectic combination of moving home, decorating, gardening and navigating endless, gritless, ice and snow-laden roads in our new rural location.

I admit to initially feeling rather guilty that I wasn’t focusing entirely on my implant.

Only because I was given exercises to do, but just hadn’t the time to do them. These exercises involved listening to audio books while trying to follow the words in the book, practising using the telephone, lip-reading TV presenters without using subtitles, listening to the difference between sounds like “castle” and “parcel” with eyes shut and so on.

But incredibly, and seemingly just through using my implant during the challenges of everyday life, I’ve experienced a huge improvement. I guess my brain should really take the credit for this, rather than me personally.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that I no longer wear a hearing aid. I wore my hearing aid on the ear that wasn’t operated on for a good four weeks before and then for a few weeks after the switch on. I wore it mainly for school runs to help me cope with conversations in the playground.

One day, I thought I’d go without it, and have not worn it since. It was extremely difficult and enough to make me cry, thinking “this is never going to work”. I kept thinking “I can’t hear anything”. Everything was just noise. I could hear everything but understand nothing. I had numerous headaches and frustrations, but I was determined to stick with it – if only because it would be rather difficult to remove the surgically implanted device inside my head. I told myself I must not fall back and put my hearing aid back in. I must let my brain get used to the new experience.

We went to Center Parcs last week. Conscientiousness and organised as ever, I had told myself that if my processor breaks (the bit I wear outside my ear), I could rely on one of my hearing aids as a back-up. The last time I used my hearing aid was in September 2012, but I thought I’d better test it.

It was a job trying to squeeze the ear mould into my ear. I switched it on. I couldn’t hear anything. I tried a different hearing aid (I’ve collected a few over three decades) and the same thing happened. I listened harder and realised that all I could hear were beeps and squarks – not unlike what I first heard when I had my implant first switched on.  I’ve worn hearing aids for thirty years but have now lost my ability to hear with them – without re-learning at least.

I won’t talk at length, but in essence, having the Cochlear Implant has been an amazing experience. I’m not now “hearing” as some people may wonder, but I do seem to have got back the limited hearing that I used to have as a child, as well as gaining new sounds, resolution and interpretation that I hadn’t even considered or knew existed.

People are keen to know what sounds I can hear now. They also ask why I can hear certain sounds only just now, rather than as soon as the implant was switched on. As I’ve found out, it takes time for the brain to “learn” these new sounds. I imagine it’s a bit like muscle memory and learning to walk again after having an accident. It requires a lot of determination and patience.

I can definitely hear my husband’s voice and my boys better than ever before. Speech sounds a lot sharper and clearer. It’s far from “normal” but it is better.  It has improved considerably over the months, and was something that had been bothering me a lot from the beginning.

I did question myself as to whether I’m still “Deaf” for the first few months after the operation. It’s strange and difficult to explain, but I’m sure a lot of people will understand what I’m trying to say. I still tell people I’m “Deaf” because I am, even though I can hear clocks ticking and taps dripping.  I can understand how some people feel trapped in a no-man’s land between the Hearing and Deaf communities.

I still love signing and relish the opportunity to do so. It’s just that my hearing aids weren’t helping me as much as they once did. I personally felt I needed more hearing, and the confidence that comes with it, to help me cope bring up my two young boys. I didn’t want to hold them back in any way.

I must say that my friends and family have been very encouraging and supportive, and this has helped a lot. Once or twice, I’ve pulled out my processor, and cried out “it’s not working!” My close friends and family have spurred me on and for that I’m really grateful.

I’m due to have my eight month check-up in the middle of April. It has been four months since I was last at Addenbrookes in Cambridge. I’m wondering how my hearing test and audiogram will compare to my last, and my first. I’ll let you know.

This article was first published on Catherine’s blog, which you can find here:

Catherine lives in Norfolk and has a young family. Born profoundly deaf in 1978, she leads a busy life using a combination of hearing aids, lip reading and sign language. Following a deterioration in hearing in recent years, she is now in the early stages of getting a Cochlear Implant, and currently awaits feedback on her suitability. This is her story, told as it happens.

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