At the end of June last year (2016) I was a recipient of a Cochlear Implant.

All my life I abhorred loud music (concerts), blaring radio whether in the car or at home and TV that could be heard outside or far away.   So I wondered why my hearing loss presented itself during my working days in 1998.   Subsequently and after discussions with various audiologists it was ascertained that my job as Personal Assistant to a CEO of an importing company and his constant use of a Dictaphone which often caused me to switch to full volume, was probably the cause.

So I proceeded on a long journey of being fitted with hearing aids.  Well known brands (Perseo, Phonak, Siemens, Oticon and finally Resound) and a costly exercise.

Family and friends commented that I was missing so much conversation; I discouraged people phoning me as I could not understand them; stopped going to the cinema; and my love of theatre also suffered.

Two separate audiologists suggested I consider Cochlear Implants as they could do no more.   I was 83 years old and after having had eight major surgeries in my lifetime I always said “I would never willingly go under the knife”.    However, my son Michael said he would accompany me to investigate whether I really was a candidate.

So Michael and I went to the War Memorial Hospital on Friday 6th May 2016 to decide my fate.  I am very negative, Colleen Psarros was informative, patient and most helpful with any queries we had.  Michael was able to understand the engineering/electronic side of the implant.    I surprised myself when I did a complete reversal from negative 95% when we arrived and left feeling positive at 95% and keen to go ahead with the project.

The first available appointment for Dr Jonathan Kong was made for 15th June 2016.   He had received my test results from Colleen Psarros so followed an intense 1.1/4 hours of discussion which Michael, fortunately, was again able to understand the technicalities.   I then and there decided to go ahead with the procedure and as I already had a 3-week holiday booked for the end of August, Dr Kong fitted into the schedule by advising he could do it on 30thJune at North Shore Private Hospital.   There is a six week timeframe after the operation – first week to ensure no infection; 2nd week for Switch-On then four consecutive weeks with Colleen for adjustments.  And one is unable to fly during that period.  

I have never experienced such pre-operation testing as this.  On 21st June the MRI was daunting as my experience having one 8 years ago for the Memory & Ageing Study was not pleasant however with a prescribed valium half an hour before and new equipment it was not as claustrophobic as previously.  There was a mirror whereby I could see the operator behind glass (the other time it was like I had my head in a bucket); it took 12 minutes (so I counted 720 elephants!!!) and all was well.    The ‘elephants’ came from an Occupational Therapist who said saying elephant between  counting converts quite accurately to seconds.

Then to RPA Hospital for Balance Test on 27th June.  This was on a freezing cold day and in an unfamiliar area for parking – but I made it.    I always thought balance testing was to do with not falling and as I am a wobbly with my lower limbs I did not expect a good result.  But, it was very different.  I wore goggles while my eyes remained looking ahead and they turned my head in all directions and they had very up-to-date computer equipment.   I mentioned how, for some time, I have experienced giddiness when looking up to reach for something on a top shelf so Luke suggested I mention this to the doctor who I saw a couple of hours later, Dr Miriam Welgampola (a very attractive Sri Lankan).    After perusing my Balance Test results and was happy with those, she said she may be able to fix the giddiness (mentioned the word vertigo) then and there.   She had me in a couple of positions holding my head for 30 seconds each time then told me to lie on my right side with two pillows for the next week.   As the operation was looming I knew I would have no alternative but to lie on my right side. 

Another new territory to find was on 29th June for more tests at Royal North Shore Hospital.  An ECG + Xray of the chest + Blood Test + talk to their GP about the next day’s events!!!.     A couple of hours overall.   Everyone and everything was so thorough.  As I was leaving the hospital late afternoon they were able to tell me my time for arrival the next day – it was 9.45am.

The day has come Thursday 30th June 2016.   Michael and Fiona collect me from home and at the hospital took me through to the “point of no return”.  Usual procedures of hospital gown, stockings + other leggings, and wheeled into theatre by a very smiling, bright man who “has a mother your age and her best friend is Beverley” – he lightened the trip.  Sarah Green the anaesthetist came, then Dr Kong to mark the correct ear and away I went for almost three hours. 

Michael and Fiona were waiting in my room when I returned which was most comforting for me.   They stayed until after 6 pm when I kept drifting off.  The rest of the night was half awake/half asleep with pain killers and being able to walk to the toilet (with assistance of course) but no dizziness – hooray.   Michael returned around 7 am and stayed until I was discharged at 10 am (24 hours after arrival, wow!!!).    Dr Kong called in to check on me around 6 pm then again in the morning to give me approval to leave hospital.   He is a charming and very nice young man.

The facilities and staff at North Shore Private are first class.  Could not fault them. 

Before leaving I had one final xray of the head which shows the implant and given antibiotics for ten days – Cephalexin 500mg capsules.

Now with my first anniversary coming up soon I have to say I am very happy that I had this done.   However, there are many people in the world who do not understand the problems with hearing loss.  Actually the younger generation are going to have major issues due to the headphones they constantly use now.  

One goes to the cinema and the young attendants have no idea where there may be a telecoil loop or where the best seats are to receive this signal.   Dining in restaurants is horrendous as most places have hard floors and ceilings, no table cloths or other means to soften the bedlam of everyone talking.   Attending meetings and seminars difficult as it is not easy, or practical, to ask the speaker to wear a Minimic – and then there is the chance of losing it by way of the speaker leaving not aware he still has the Minimic attached.    Ambient noise is a major problem and I consider more help, and education to the world at large, should be available.   It is not just we older people who need the help.  There are those deaf at birth, loss of hearing due to an influenza infection and many more such cases where the age group can be very young.   And a long life ahead of them to cope.

So for Cochlear recipients there are accessories to assist but I, personally, have not found them any help but put it down to my inadequacy in the learning curve.

Bev Toohey