Yes, of course I am. My medical ID card says it clearly. “The owner of this card is profoundly deaf, but can experience hearing sensations with the help of the implant system”.
I also signed up to “yes, I know I will still be deaf” as one of the expectation management aspects of the information programme at the Cochlear Implant Centre before the operation. Quite rightly, staff needed to be sure that we potential implantees understood that this was no miracle operation. There would be a long process of rehabilitation and brain training, and we wouldn’t ever hear like hearing people do.
But what does “being deaf” mean?
Nigel and I have been talking about it recently because, to him, I don’t seem deaf at all any more in most situations. He says things and I hear him, mainly. We go to shops and cafes and I sometimes do the ordering. We can chat easily when he is driving the car, without any assistive technology. He doesn’t need to worry whether the pub or café is noisy because I seem to cope very well anyway. He’s gone so far as to say that I’ve not heard so well “in living memory”, for which I pull his leg, because when we met I didn’t have any significant hearing problems at all.
But I AM still deaf. As the ID card says, without the speech processor I’m now profoundly deaf, for all frequencies, on my right side. I only ever take the processor off to sleep and when I’m in the shower but the degree of deafness I experience then is much greater than before the operation.
With the speech processor on I often just “hear” (like hearing people do, that is, without thinking about it) but sometimes I need to crank the brain into action and concentrate. I can mainly then still decipher speech quite adequately but it’s more of a conscious process. I’m still lip reading, although less than before. I still have problems with the telephone and music (more on this on another day). So, yes, things are wonderful but let’s not run away with ourselves here………
What Nigel has been doing though, is sometimes gently pointing out that my perception of what a “normal” sixty-odd-year-old hears is considerably wide of the mark, and he’s right.
Now that I am only occasionally asking him to repeat things (rather than asking him to repeat almost everything he says) I notice that sometimes he asks ME to repeat something, because HE hasn’t heard (and his hearing is very good).
My sister-in-law, Susee, was kind enough to point out to me when I was bemoaning my telephone skills that she sometimes can’t hear people on the phone either. When I was trying to deal with a call on the speakerphone setting of my mobile Nigel, who overheard, said “the line was terrible and the speaker was very indistinct, don’t worry about it”. I blamed myself and my lack of progress. He blamed the phone and the caller.
When I wrote the post about understanding the TV without subtitles, our very good friend Greg sent a one-liner email which just said “Vera, Christine and I ALWAYS have the subtitles on.” (Their hearing is OK. They just find that sometimes people speak so fast that watching is easier with subtitles).
Using different examples, Susee and Greg were underlining Nigel’s point and telling me not to beat myself up for something they sometimes can’t do either.
Nigel and I have also had conversations about the fact that he now ASSUMES that I will be able to cope in many situations and has stopped noticing when I do, in the way he would have noticed in the first weeks after switch-on. This can be a bit unsettling. I’ll be dancing about saying “hey, did you see what I just did there, isn’t it great?” and Nigel will be bemused, because he had just EXPECTED me to be able to do whatever it was that had pleased me so much.
I’ve been quizzing him about these expectations. The other week we went to Beamish Open Air Museum, in Co Durham, for my birthday (I grew up in Co Durham). At the cash desk I did the paying, but paying to get into museums is never straightforward these days, is it? I wanted two senior tickets and a programme but then there were questions about whether we’d be better off buying some other sort of membership. That safely negotiated there were questions about Gift Aid. Yes, we could do Gift Aid so there were questions about our names and our address. Then there was information about the duration of the tickets and what they did and didn’t cover. I successfully negotiated the lot and off we went (and had a great time). I reminded Nigel about this when we were having our discussion about his assumptions. “So”, I said, “when I was paying to get into Beamish did you just stand back and not listen, and leave me to get on with it?” He confessed that he’d still kept tabs on the conversation, so he could step in if anything went wrong. “Ah ha”, I teased, “so you don’t trust the new me that much…..”, and we both saw the joke.
A final story for now………. the other day I was telling Nigel I’d just booked to see War Horse at the Lowry, in Salford. I’d tried to persuade him to go too, but it’s not his cup of tea. I was explaining that the captioned performance had been fully booked already but I wasn’t worried because it was the visuals that mattered. “Why did you want the captioned performance?” he asked. “Err……because I’m deaf?” I grinned, knowing what was coming. “Just you wait and see”, he said, “I bet you can hear more than you think”. Well, I don’t know…. I doubt it. But it’s another interesting example of his current perception of me. Maybe he’s right or maybe he just can’t see the lip reading and concentration now that I’m functioning so much better. I don’t mind which it is really, all this discussion of whether or not “deaf” is the right word is the latest symptom of just how amazingly better things are.
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