Long term blog followers will remember me feeling upbeat in February. I felt sure that my hearing was returning to normal after a bad bout of fluid behind the eardrums. Things had improved massively since an initial period of almost total silence. The doctors had all reassured me that the chances of my blocked ears resulting in further permanent hearing damage were slim. It was just a case of waiting for the fluid to drain. As the blockage gradually cleared I was full of optimism. I talked about “this happy ending”.
But then the improvement stopped. It’s a funny thing, but what seems like “almost back to normal” when you are confident of further improvement feels very different when you are looking at it getting no better. Saying “well, it’s a lot better than it was, although I still need to concentrate much harder to make sense of anything and speech sounds quiet and crackly” felt quite positive in February. When that situation continued into March, April, May and beyond (and tests showed that the blockage had fully gone) my spirits took a nosedive.
Worst of all by far was that Nigel’s speech was so much harder to follow. It was upsetting in the extreme, for both of us, and we are only now admitting to each other what a toll that took. Communication had been tricky before. Chatting casually to each other, for example, had been well-nigh impossible for a long time, but we’d coped. Suddenly, we didn’t cope. It felt like a massive barrier had been flung up between us. We felt helpless. We were traumatised.
On a lesser scale of catastrophe, but upsetting nonetheless, it was noticeably much harder to understand speech in any group of people. The meetings of the community archaeology committee that I’m a member of became a real struggle, despite it being the same people, talking in the same room (and despite the fact that they are a terrific bunch who try really hard to make things possible for me). A group walk turned into a depressing trudge, not wanting to talk to people (because it was so difficult) and wishing I was anywhere else but where I was.
Even having people visit was stressful. If mealtimes were hard with just us two, having other people round the kitchen table became something of a trial. I could decipher very little. I lost the thread of the conversation. I floundered and shut up, waiting for the subject to change so I could try again.
And I stopped wanting to write blog posts. In July I said that I was stopping the blog for a while because I was running out of things to say. That’s absolutely true, and would have been the case even had life continued quite normally, but what I omitted to say was that everything I drafted sounded so sad I couldn’t face posting it. Seeing the words written down in front of me made reality seem even more real.
Meanwhile, the hospital had referred me for another assessment for a cochlear implant. Having been turned down for an implant in 2015 I was determined not to be optimistic about the outcome. Nigel would say “but your hearing is so much worse than it was then” and I would say “yes, but I still might not qualify – I don’t want to get my hopes up”. After initial hearing tests at the Cochlear Implant Centre in June I convinced myself that nothing was going to change; it would be another rejection.
Then strange things started to happen. Nigel and I were invited to an information session about implants, at the hospital. I was advised to contact my GP to arrange a pneumonia injection. Why? What was going on? In July I asked the staff member conducting the second round of interviews and tests (assessment is a complex process) what was happening; I’d not been invited to an information session two years ago. She explained that I had “fallen at the first hurdle” in 2015. This time, I hadn’t. But there were more tests to come. No decision would be taken until the appointment with the consultant at the end of the process.
Eventually, in August, the day of the consultant appointment came round. It was scheduled for late afternoon. I took our dog Izzy for a long walk in the morning, showered, had lunch and then sat in the kitchen reading my book, feeling more and more nervous. Nigel raised a quizzical eyebrow. “I feel”, I said, “as if I’m sat in court waiting for the judge to arrive to pass sentence.”
Eventually I could set off for the appointment, a longish drive away. In the Implant Centre reception my book came out again. Appointments were running a little late. I kept turning the pages of my book (well, pressing buttons on the Kindle) but nothing was sinking in. I’m a big fan of historical fiction and was reading a book about Eleanor of Aquitaine. One day, I must reread the section about her divorce from King Louis of France. When I started reading she was married to him and by the end she was divorced, but quite how that happened completely passed me by. I saw the words but they never reached my brain.
At last I was in the room with the consultant. He introduced himself and started talking. He said something about the tests showing that my hearing was “under” (I heard the word and his hands moved in what I later looked up to be the BSL sign for “under”) “something” – but what was the “something”? Was my hearing “under” the threshold and therefore not bad enough for an implant (again) or was it “under” in the other sense, that is, worse than the qualifying level and an implant was on the cards? I asked him to say it again. “The results show that an implant would help you”, he said. There were more, medical, tests to come. In some cases an implant isn’t medically possible, so I would need a CT scan of my head to assess that, plus other tests to ensure I was fit enough for an operation (ECG, blood tests). But, assuming no medical problems, I would be in the implant programme. I was so shocked I couldn’t think of any questions to ask or indeed anything sensible to say. (I didn’t for one nanosecond think I was going to turn this opportunity down; the mixed feelings of many people about cochlear implants are a subject for another day, but I didn’t have any doubts).
In no time I was out of the building and back in the car park. I’d promised to send Nigel a quick text with the results, as soon as I knew. We didn’t need to say much.
Back home, we danced about, hugged and had a cup of tea. How British.
Next time: Hope, and expectation management