John Christianson // Story

John was born with normal hearing but at just 3 years of age he had a severe case of German Measles which left him with a severe hearing loss. This is his story of the pathway that led him to cochlear implant.

Read also John's interview on this website.

I was born with good hearing but at the age of three became profoundly deaf from German Measles. This was in the early1940's during the days of World War II when research and technology just didn't exist to help the deaf.

A hearing test in those days was a far cry from what it is today. The hearing specialist had various sizes of metal (called sound bars or tuning forks), which he banged on his desk. This banging caused them to vibrate and if I couldn't hear the sound when he held it to my ear, he judged whether I had, and to what degree, a hearing loss.

From these tests came bad news for my parents when he advised them I would need to learn sign language, would probably only ever have a simple manual job such as digging drains, never marry and depend on them for the rest of their days. But my mother, in particular, refused to believe him. Before marriage she had been a primary school teacher and rejected the idea of sending me to a special school and decided instead that I should go to a normal main stream school. She believed this would improve my communication skills.

Hearing Aids were big boxes which had to be worn in a pocket and had a cord to the ear. They were fragile, with easy to break valves and definitely without any of the special features of aids today. The only source of supply was from our local Hospital Board who had to ration them to people with a real need. Only those over the age of 12 could have one because of their fragility, so for my early years I heard very little.

My school sent me to town once a week (during school time) to learn lip-reading and with many hours practising in front of a mirror I became very good at it – to the point where people I met had no idea I was in fact profoundly deaf.

Also during my early years my mother sent me to one of New Zealand's most famous Dramatic Art teachers, Mr. Bailey, who had me roaring out some of the exciting words of Shakespeare such as " All the world's a stage, and all the men and woman merely players." This proved very important because I learned to speak in a clear, normal way without the speech characteristics associated with many profoundly deaf people.

When I was 13, while in the third form at Takapuna Grammar School, I was judged old enough to look after a hearing aid. The Auckland Hospital finally granted me my first Aid and with it, hopefully a better chance to participate fully in the world around me. But I quickly learned its limitations – especially in noisy situations, so my skills at lip-reading were a blessing.

By the time I reached my late twenties I was married with two small children, owned and managed my own business, held the position of chairman of a Service Club and was on the committee of several other organisations. These things would probably have been out of my reach and far more difficult had my mother not put so much time and effort into making sure I could understand and speak clearly.

As I grew older and into my mid 50's it became apparent that the little hearing I had left was beginning to fade rapidly so I was now looking down the barrel of living in a world of total silence.

It was at this stage that my hearing specialist and the Auckland Cochlear Clinic came to my rescue and suggested I have a Cochlear Implant. I was successfully implanted in November 1998. Gone are those dark days when I couldn't use the telephone, listen to my favourite programs on television or communicate normally in the world around me.

Indeed, the small electronic device tucked away behind my right ear has given me "born again hearing" and my life back to enjoy.


Text and pictures courtesy of the Cochlear Awareness Network.


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