Jan 2019 Speech-Language & Audiology Canada

For 28 years, Caroline Schwabe never heard her husband, Andreas, whisper “I love you.”

By the time the pair met in Thunder Bay, she had begun to lose her hearing. She got her first pair of hearing aids at 21. The sound of Andreas playing piano is what first captured her attention. “It filled out the whole room with sound. I was like, ‘Whoa, where is that even coming from?’ I just fell in love with this guy” Caroline and Andreas met when she was 20 and he was 22. The connection was instantaneous. “We met July 7. I asked her to marry me the next day and we got married 10 months later,” Andreas said.

However, the challenges that Caroline’s continuous hearing loss presented created unique obstacles for the couple. “If you want to have frustration — have a relationship with someone you love dearly, who never hears you say, ‘I love you,’” Andreas said. “It wears you down.”

Caroline said she needed stronger hearing aids about every five years. “How do you say to your wife, ‘Honey, I think you might need new hearing aids?’” Andreas said. “It sounds like an insult but it’s actually a plea.”

In 2017, Caroline was at the end of the line for hearing aids. Then, an audiologist suggested a cochlear implant. “That’s where my journey began,” Caroline said. She had her implant surgery in December and at the end of January 2018, they activated her cochlear implant.

Caroline Schwabe

After surgery, patients typically require between three to six months to decipher speech. But, that wasn’t the case for Caroline. “Nobody really knows why, but my recovery was pretty well instantaneous,” Caroline said. “My situation is exceptional. That’s something we should say. Anyone that receives a cochlear implant isn’t necessarily going to get their hearing back the next day.” Her husband said her electrode implant could be in perfect position. “The sound on activation day is nothing like regular hearing. It takes some time for your brain to figure that out,” Caroline said. “I was just super fortunate to be able to do that very quickly.” At activation, she couldn’t tell the difference between noise and voices But, after practicing, she was able to put the sounds together. “They told me [the sound] will get better, and it does. It gets better and better. I don’t see the ceiling yet. I don’t know how it can get better from where it is right now, but apparently it can,” Caroline said.

Now, the challenge is reflecting on years gone by. “One of the most difficult things about regaining my hearing is to reflect on the past and realise how challenging and difficult that really actually was,” said Caroline. “There was no talking between rooms, there was no whispering. Most of the time, I didn’t know what was going on.” Andreas said it can feel too good to be true, even now.

“You’re used to this erosion. When you finally have a positive outlook, I’m struggling with that. I have been working for 28 years with the idea that this only ever gets worse.”

The couple agreed it’s changed their lives in many ways. “This is an amazing moment because Caroline can hear it. It is incredibly emotional,” said Andreas. “You become accustomed to loss, erosion. It gets desperate and [now] it’s gone to some other thing. You can be overjoyed. It can actually paralyse you. It’s debilitating.”

Caroline remembers a particularly emotional moment on the way home from activation, as the pair embraced. “He whispered, ‘I love you’ and I heard him whisper that he loves me for the first time in so many years.”

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