The Secret Deafie: I tried my best, but I couldn’t make my cochlear implant work

Posted on April 4, 2014

The Secret Deafie is a regular column about deaf experiences submitted anonymously by different contributors. If you have a story you’d like to tell, just email

So we all saw the latest video that hit the media about the miracle that is cochlear implants. Emily Howlett explains it well.

But what about what happens on the flip side of the coin?

I am, supposedly, medically, the perfect candidate for a cochlear implant. I am profoundly deaf with a progressive loss. I come from a hearing family. I have always used my hearing aid well, I am a good lip reader. Tick! Tick! Tick!

Except it turned out I wasn’t.

A few years ago after all the tests and checks I was approved for a CI and went to the hospital to have my operation feeling a mixture of apprehension and excitement. I was switched on 6 weeks later.

There’s no video of me being switched on, if there was – I promise you it would be rather underwhelming. I was underwhelmed. There were some mechanical beeps and distorted sounding buzzing that seemed to sweep up and down when the audiologist spoke.

In short, it sounded awful.

Give it time, the audiologist said, give it a few days and you should start to make sense of the sounds. I knew this was how it was supposed to be at first.

However, the days turned into weeks. The weeks turned into months. Appointment after appointment I struggled to make sense of the mashed electronic noises in my head. Still preferring the hearing aid in my left ear over the CI. It just never got clearer. They couldn’t explain why.

Eventually, after 6 months it was a mutual decision between me and the clinic to stop persevering. I was slipping into depression, I had two very young children, I was severely struggling my job in the public service and generally things were rock bottom.

So after months of trying to make sense of the distortion, the CI came off. It officially hadn’t worked out for me. A very hard decision for me to make after so much promise.

Over the next year I was met with comments from other CI users or people who knew a bit about it, such as “you have to work hard at it you know” and “did you expect it to be an easy ride?” and “are you sure you wore it for long enough?”.

I can assure you my answers were Yes I know, no I didn’t and yes I did, respectively. I didn’t go through the operation and recovery for fun you know.

Fortunately, they implanted my already redundant ear, so I hadn’t “lost” anything I didn’t already have. Chances are that using the ear which had more recent “memory” of hearing, may have had a better chance but this just wasn’t and isn’t something I am willing to risk.

These days I hold my head up firm and have faith in myself that I gave it my best, I did give it a good go. I still hold tight of my deaf identity as I would have even if it had worked. However the outcome, it was a worth a try and there are no “what ifs” in place in my mind.

I still maintain that CIs, when they work, which is a lot of the time, are an amazing piece of technology but really, they are nothing more than just extremely powerful hearing aid technology. When they are switched off-hey presto, everything goes quiet again. Just like a behind the ear aid.

…and they aren’t for everyone.

…and they aren’t miracles.

So if I get tetchy when I see yet another amazing “hearing-for-the-first-time”-emotional-aren’t-CI’s-just-amazing-switch-on-video, I hope this explains why.

The media circus that stems from those videos, quite frankly just makes those who have had less than positive experiences feel like they just didn’t try hard enough.

The Secret Deafie is a regular column about deaf experiences submitted anonymously by different contributors. If you have a story you’d like to tell, just email

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