Hearing silence is often taken for granted – unless you have tinnitus. But for audiologist Helen Court her cochlear implant gave her the gift of silence.
After treating thousands with hearing loss over the last 20 years, I am now finally able to completely understand the emotions that come with receiving a life-changing device.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is switching on a client’s new cochlear implant. It allows them to experience the world of sound.
Some of these people are hearing sounds for the very first time, from young children to the elderly. The look of surprise and pure joy on their faces fills me with happiness every time.
On October 27 2014, I switched on my own cochlear implant on a typically busy day between appointments with clients.
I could suddenly hear the scratching of my pen against the paper as I wrote. The clicks of the equipment in my office seemed very loud during the next few appointments.
These little sounds may not seem like much. But they represent a whole host of sounds that I had been missing out on for almost 20 years.
My hearing loss
In my 20s, I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease. I’d noticed a severe decrease in my left hearing levels while completing my Masters degree in Audiology.
Ironically, I would spend my entire career looking after others and restoring many peoples’ hearing; all the while brushing off the impact my own hearing loss was having on me.
After the initial deterioration of my hearing in my twenties, and into my early forties, it worsened. Leaving me with Single-Sided Deafness (SSD) and tinnitus.
My journey to hearing silence for the first time
After seeing the amazing impact cochlear implants have on my patients’ quality of life, I was delighted when these devices were approved for use with SSD.
Over the years, having a lot of access meant I had tried almost every hearing aid available on the market thanks to my resources at the clinic.
However, I found that none of these was very effective. Five days after Ear Nose and Throat surgeon Dr Chris Que Hee implanted a cochlear implant into my left ear, I not only switched on hearing in my left ear but switched myself on to the world around me.
It’s the little day-to-day improvements that are making the most difference – I can now talk to my two children, aged eight and 10, while they are sitting in the back seat of the car.
Such a basic example, but the implant really does make parenting a lot easier when I can hear my children and communicate with them in all situations, especially in environments that are a bit noisy.
It also makes a huge difference in social situations and at my workplace.
Before, it was obviously very difficult to hear sounds coming from my left side. People would walk up and talk to me and think I was ignoring them when really I just couldn’t hear them.
Another challenge was trying to figure out what direction sounds were coming from. SSD makes it very hard to localise noise.
It was a huge struggle to understand speech in noisy situations, and I had to resort to lip-reading to remain in the loop at dinner parties and other social gatherings.
Signing up for a cochlear implant
As soon as the cochlear implant became available for SSD, I signed myself up to start the process. The whole process was quite easy because I have guided many patients through it before. So, I knew what to expect from the operation, the recovery and the switch-on.
I believe receiving this implant has made me a better audiologist. Because now I can put to rest any concerns my patients have about cochlear implants. I can share my experience and confirm how effective they are.
About 3000 Australians suffer from SSD, a condition that is often overlooked and frequently misunderstood.
Besides helping to restore hearing in my left ear, the most amazing gift the cochlear implant has given me is that of hearing silence.
Now that may sound very strange coming from someone who has been deaf on one side for 20 years. During this time, my tinnitus got worse and worse; to the point where I would constantly hear a loud ringing in my left ear.
When I switched on my implant, I actually noticed hearing silence for the first time. Being busy taking care of other people’s hearing I didn’t notice how bad my own hearing had become. Especially my tinnitus.
I love having a sensation of sound in my left ear. It somehow makes me feel more balanced and without it everything sounds dull and empty.
I hate taking my cochlear implant off, and I don’t have to. There are some very helpful accessories available that allow you to wear your processor while participating in watersports.
I have been enjoying more freedom while out sailing on weekends. Getting my cochlear implant really was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Hearing silence for the first time originally appeared in Hearing HQ Magazine