I was born hearing and grew up as a healthy child in a loving family, learning to talk and recognise the sounds around me. When I was 18, my hearing started to deteriorate and from this point on my life started to change.
“My house burnt down. Now I have a better view of the other side” – Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (1644 – 1694)
I did not recognise at first that I was not hearing sounds very well but it was my family and friends that first prompted me to do something about it. I was soon fitted with two hearing aids and learned to lip-read. This was no big deal, it just happened as I learned to focus on conversation. The sounds in my life were gradually lost to the point when I became profoundly deaf and forgot what it was like to hear the birds singing, the wind in the trees or the sounds of running water. I lived in a hearing world and there was no family history of deafness. It was easy to get off track in conversations though and I would often start talking about something that was totally irrelevant to the conversation – even though I thought it was. I had always been a good talker and found this was easier than listening! Looking back, the hardest thing was not being able to clearly understand speech. I became more aware of visual clues such as body language and the sounds of life just faded into the background.
Video and story by Leigh Tweedie, Producer Marc Eiden, ABC Open Ballarat
Over the next 30 years my life changed …as it does, but trying to hear people in a hearing world became increasingly difficult for me. Going out socially became an issue as so many of our restaurants are very noisy places with hard surfaces such as polished floorboards, hard furnishings and large glass windows to give ‘the look.’ For me this only made it more difficult to hear. I usually missed the punch line of jokes and didn’t really want to pretend that I got it! Even going shopping became an issue as I was usually digging in my bag for my purse when the shopkeeper was talking to me and asking if I wanted a bag.
I remember some embarrassing moments when I set off the security beeper without knowing and the assistant came up to ‘take these clothes for the fitting room.” My family and friends were wonderful through all of this and helped me to just get on with my life. I read books rather than watching TV and stopped listening to music or the radio. I remember it seemed a long trip in the car from Ballarat where I live to Melbourne when I couldn’t have a conversation or listen to a CD or the radio. I developed some speech impediments by this time that I was aware of but couldn’t correct as I didn’t hear my own voice very well. I remember someone asking if I had a new set teeth!
When I was 49 I had surgery for a cochlear implant. This has changed my life (and that of my family) in so many ways. The implant provides sounds through a speech processor that is worn behind my ear. When I take off the speech processor, such as overnight or when in the shower, I cannot hear anything. I was fitted with the speech processor after recovering from the surgery (about 3weeks later) and this was a very exciting and emotional time. It was during autumn and when I came out of the hospital I shuffled through the autumn leaves on the footpath just enjoying this sound. I heard the indicator switch in the car for the first time in many years and the beep of the e-tag on the freeway for the first time ever.
There were so many beeps in our lives that were not there 30 years ago – the beeps of mobile phones, the fridge door, the microwave, the washing machine, the smoke alarm with low battery warning and even trucks and vans that were reversing. At first I could not discriminate between the loudness and softness of these new sounds, just that there was a sound and I eventually worked out what it was. I was astonished how much noise I made in the toilet too! I remember at first finding it difficult to look people in the eye as I had been so used to looking at their mouths to lip-read. At first I could not enjoy music, although when I was younger I did love listening to music. Soon after I had the cochlear implant, music was just ‘white noise’ as if the radio was not on any station. Of course this was disappointing but I was very fortunate to be hearing so many sounds again as well as I was. I continued to play CDs over and over in the car and one day about six month after the surgery the music just came to me as I remembered it. The music I was playing was ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ …… that was just a wonderful moment, quite ‘goose bumpy.’
I am now 58 and realise how special it is to hear noises that I just took for granted when I was young. Something as simple as the ticking of the clock, gravel under your feet, the rustle of the newspaper or aluminium foil, the wind in the trees and the beautiful sounds of bird calls. I can now enjoy listening to our young grandchildren, many of the sounds that I didn’t hear from our own children. Being deaf does have advantages though and it’s also good sometimes just to come home, take off my ears and have a bit of peace.
“I went deaf. Now I have a better view of the sounds of life. “
STORY CREDIT: Leigh Tweedie
PHOTO CREDIT: Marc Eiden. ABC Open Ballarat