Retired teacher Pamela, 78, had her cochlear implant operation on January 18, 2016 at the John Radcliffe Hospital and was switched on two weeks later. She went deaf due to age-related hearing loss.
Hearing Improvement Type: Cochlear implant
Sound Processors: Cochlear™ Nucleus® 6
“That’s amazing!” Those were the first words spoken by Pamela the moment after her cochlear implant was switched on. “I expected to hear sound, but didn’t think I would hear actual words,” she added, seconds later.
Up until then, the 78-year-old had been totally deaf for nearly three years and had struggled with hearing aids for more than 20.
Although it’s early days since her operation at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford on January 18, and the switch on two weeks later, both Pamela and her husband Robin have noticed a huge difference to their lives.
“Even from day one, the moment I came home, I have not had to have people write a single word down for me. It has given me my confidence back and I can already talk to people now on a one to one basis,” she says.
Until now, Pamela has always carried a pen and paper in her handbag so her husband and friends can write down questions and communicate with her. At the family home in Chesham, her daughter taught her the signing alphabet, and her son used a voice recognition programme on his iPad to convert speech into text so that his mum could join in conversations.
“Tremendous – that’s the word for it,” says Robin, describing his wife’s cochlear implant. “We can talk normally - it is a different world now for both of us.” A lifelong bird watcher, Pamela realised she had a problem with her hearing when she saw a Skylark but realised she couldn’t hear it sing. That was when she was 40, but she carried on as a teacher of PE and biology, managing to do playground duty, leading inter-school matches and teaching in the classroom as normal.
It wasn’t until she reached her early 50s that she realised she couldn’t hear high notes.
“I suddenly noticed I couldn’t hear my watch ticking, so I went to the GP and was given hearing aids,” she says. “But in those days hearing aids were no use as they didn’t pick up the high notes, just exaggerated the noises I could already hear so when a cup was put onto the table it made me jump.”
Later, she moved onto digital hearing aids which worked better but her hearing still gradually declined.
Five years ago, she went back to her audiologist for help but was told that because she was coping there was nothing else that could be done. Naturally resilient, Pamela continued to do the things she loved, such as playing tennis at her local club and going to church, but made adjustments to adapt to her increasing deafness.
“I tried to stay positive and have had good support from my family, the tennis club, church and friends who were always ready to write things down for me. And I felt fortunate that I could continue to enjoy the countryside and playing tennis. “But I had to step down as a tennis club captain because I couldn’t do the last minute phone calls to find match partners. And although I still went regularly to church because I like all the people there, I could no longer hear them or the music or understand the sermon.”
Within 18 months of seeing the audiologist, Pamela was totally deaf. Characteristically, she didn’t give up and went back to her GP and says “that is when I finally made it to the John Radcliffe”.
Despite meeting the criteria for a cochlear implant, Pamela’s first operation, booked for August 2015, had to be postponed because of a blip during her heart monitor check. Further investigations showed nothing wrong and Pamela thinks it was “white coat syndrome” because she was so anxious about the operation.
“I have never had anything wrong with me before or been into hospital, so I was quite anxious but if I had to do the operation again I wouldn’t be so worried. All the staff at the John Radcliffe were very supportive throughout.”
A few weeks on from the switch on, Pamela is still amazed at the amount she can hear.
“I had said to myself before the operation, if I can just hear sound I would be lucky, but I didn’t think I would hear actual words straight away and certainly didn’t expect to hear as much sound so soon.”
The noises are not how she remembers them and says at the moment they sound quite synthetic. For example, the sound of water pouring into a cup sounds like a rattle, she says, and the crunching of a newspaper “sounds like nails going over a rasp”. In fact, there are times when Pamela gets quite tired from all the sounds and says she has to `ration’ the amount she hears. So, she still uses subtitles on the television to give her brain a rest. But when she is not feeling tired she tries to understand what is being said, using the subtitles to fill in the gaps – “I can usually hear people with good diction such as Michael Portello”.
And there was no stopping her having a two hour conversation with her son soon after the switch on.
“He didn’t have to dictate into his computer – it was wonderful as I haven’t been able to chat with him like that for nearly three years.”
A week after the switch on, Pamela went to church to see her friends.
“I could hear the organ and the prayers too, and hear people singing so I could join in. It was terrific.”
She is also looking forward to playing tennis again when the weather warms up. “I probably won’t wear the processor while playing as I like to play volleys near the net and would be frightened of knocking it off, but I will look forward to the post-match tea afterwards knowing that I can now join in conversations.”
Pamela says she feels like is finally “back in the world”. As her hearing progressively gets better, she is hoping that soon she will be able to listen to bird song once again.
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