"It is as if I have never had a Cochlear implant operation – it feels as though it has always been there."
You’d be forgiven for thinking Valerie has always been able to hear. The petite, attractive strawberry-blonde talks enthusiastically about her passion for musicals and her love of ballroom dancing. She is fiercely independent, preferring to go to the theatre on her own as often as she can and to her ballroom classes three times a week. As well as a busy social life, the 74-year-old grandmother goes into London from her home in Wimbledon, hopping on and off buses and tubes to work part-time as an office manager for a Chelsea-based company. The only clue to her former deafness is she talks very quietly – a reaction, she says, from the days when she could tell people were shouting at her to make themselves heard. But apart from that: “It is as if I have never had a Cochlear implant operation – it feels as though it has always been there.”
It was in October 2014 that Valerie had her Cochlear implant operation at St George’s Hospital, Tooting. By then, her hearing loss was so severe she could only communicate properly with a notebook that she carried around in her handbag so the people could write down what they were trying to say. She first had a hearing aid some 25 years ago but, despite the technical advances of digital hearing aids, her hearing became progressively worse.
It didn’t stop her dancing or going to the theatre though.
“Although I couldn’t hear the music at the class, if I knew it was a foxtrot I knew how to dance to it from memory. I imagined the music in my head.
“I always felt I shouldn’t give into the hearing loss. I went to see the ‘Oliver’ musical six times even though I could barely hear it. I knew the music from memory so I didn’t let it spoil my enjoyment of a fabulous show, and I made sure I sat near the front so I could see all the actors’ makeup and costumes.”
The hearing loss also affected Valerie’s balance. She felt safer driving than walking because she was frightened of tripping, and made sure she chose a good ballroom partner to lead her on the dance floor.
But Valerie’s brave face on her hearing loss masked depression and growing isolation.
“I lost friends because of it as they couldn’t be bothered to speak to me. I knew I kept saying ‘pardon’ and ‘what’. People would ignore me and talk across my head to the person next to me.”
Luckily, she had a “fantastic” boss who valued her work.
“He used to joke with me that he was the only boss who employed a secretary but had to answer the phone himself.”
Valerie was first offered a Cochlear implant about 10 years ago but was reluctant to take the time off work and was also fearful of the operation.
“The person I saw at the time didn’t instil confidence in me and failed to explain what the operation involved. If I’m honest, another reason that stopped me was vanity – I had seen a small boy on the tube with an implant and it looked so huge on his head it put me off.” Today, you would be hard-pressed to spot Valerie’s Cochlear implant under her shoulder-length bob. At the start of 2013, Valerie was told there was nothing more that could be done for her with hearing aids and was advised by her consultant at Epsom & St Helier Hospital that a Cochlear implant was the only answer. The consultant arranged for Valerie to meet with another Cochlear implant user and this was undoubtedly the turning point. This meeting gave her confidence to go ahead with the operation in October 2014.
“I did have a lot of giddiness for the first 10 days after the operation which was quite scary. I also didn’t realise my whole head would be bandaged up – I’d even had my hair done the day before the op!”
Valerie’s biggest wish after her Cochlear implant operation was to be able to have one-to-one conversations without using her notebook. On the day her Cochlear implant was switched on – four weeks after the operation – it took Valerie 10 minutes to realise that her audiologist hadn’t had to write anything down as she could be heard.
“Having my Cochlear implant is more than a gift - it is life-changing even at my age.”
Regaining her hearing has enabled Valerie to enjoy ballroom dancing even more. Not only can she now hear the music, but her balance is better.
“I’m not sure if it has made me a better dancer, but now my balance is better I feel more confident about my own movements,” she says. And as for the notebook – it still sits in her handbag but is now used by Valerie for jotting down shopping lists or the details of her next theatre trip.
The information on this website is for educational purposes, and is not intended to replace medical advice. Please consult a hearing healthcare professional to diagnose or treat a hearing or health problem.