4 – Jeff Wishart

 
 
Background
 
I was born in the North Eastern Murray Mallee area of South Australia. I had no known hearing problems for the first two decades of my life but suffered from severe short sightedness which was discovered in my early primary school days when I struggled to see what was written on the blackboard at school. This resulted in very strong spectacles which I could not be without and even wore, in later years, when playing football
My first contact with hearing impairment was through my maternal grandfather; from my memory as a small child, he had no hearing at all. His only hearing aid was a trumpet, probably around 18 inches long. Grandma used to put the small end in his ear and shout into the other end which was about the size of a small plate. I suspect by that time he was getting little benefit and it was not long before it was consigned to a rack in the hall and rarely used.
When I was 19 I moved to Adelaide and after a short time at another firm I gained employment as a delivery driver with the Onkaparinga Woollen Co. in the city. Within a few years I was promoted to a clerical position in the warehouse invoicing, serving customers and taking phone orders. Not long after this promotion I began to realize I may have a hearing problem – if I got too far down the back of the warehouse I had difficulty hearing the phones ring. So I went to an audiologist and was diagnosed with a moderate hearing loss, especially in the high frequencies. So, in the mid 1960's I began about 35 years of wearing hearing aids. Over that period I must have spent thousands of dollars on aids and their upkeep. From memory I started out with a hearing aid in one wing of my spectacles and subsequently tried many types including, at one time, a body worn aid.
For the next 10 or so years I coped reasonably well but by the late 1970's I had much greater deterioration of my high frequencies and was really struggling to communicate effectively. My loss had reached the profound stage. By the 1980's I had progressed at work, to being in charge of the computer systems for the Woollen Co. but had to rely on my co-workers to take phone calls and relay messages to me.
When the Woollen Co. was taken over in 1993 and operations moved interstate, I had been employed by the company for 33 years. I, along with all the other staff, was retrenched. Life immediately became more difficult. I was 52 and finding employment was almost impossible. I got to the interview stage many times but I could understand, at best, about 40% or less of oral interviews, so that first interview was as far as I got. Eventually I found employment via a friend but this period of unemployment convinced me I had to investigate ways to improve my hearing.
 
 
Path towards the cochlear implant
 
 
I had been dealing with the same hearing centre for many years and my audiologist told me the binaural Phonak aids I was using were the most powerful he could supply. (I had tried digital Hearing Aids, which were a new advance at that time, but did not get any benefit from them.) He said probably the only option left to me was to explore a cochlear implant.
So I got a referral to an ENT specialist but after examination and tests the specialist told me there was nothing he could do for me and virtually said I would have to live with what hearing I had. I asked him if a cochlear implant would help but he had no idea. However, he gave me a referral to Dr Dean Beaumont at the Flinders Medical Centre and that was the start of my journey back to the hearing world.
My first visit to Dr Beaumont was in early 1996 but for the next 2 years he kept telling me to come back in 6 months and I may qualify for an implant then. I later realized the reason for this was that at that time the qualification for having an implant was only just being relaxed so people who were profoundly deaf could be implanted rather than only those with absolutely zero hearing. Also since I was a Public patient there was a waiting list of about two years because there was only funding for 2 implants per year.
Finally, in May 1998 I had my left ear implanted with the Nucleus 24. The operation took about 4½ hours and the standard hospital stay at that time was 4-5 days. I needed this as I suffered severe dizziness as a result of the operation and, although it was not too bad when I left hospital, it took about 2 weeks for me to get back to normal. Looking through my diary after switch on with the Sprint N24 processor in June 1998 shows that I had good and bad days for several weeks but mostly I was getting far more sound than I had for many years with hearing aids.
 
 
Back to hearing world
 
 
Over the first 12 months, my hearing gradually improved. I was amazed at the environmental sounds I could hear in the first few months after switch on. Birds chattering, the telephone ringing from "miles" away; sounds which I did not even know existed like the microwave beeping, electric jug boiling and many, many more. While not perfect by any means the cochlear implant was enabling me to interact with society in a meaningful fashion again.
About 2006, eager to give something back for the benefits I had gained from the Cochlear Implant, I became Volunteer Coordinator for C.I.C.A.D.A. SA Inc. I have enjoyed talking to prospective Implantees and telling them of the benefits they can hope to obtain from a cochlear implant. I also visit these recipients in hospital after their implant operation to offer support. In 2007 I became Volunteer Coordinator of the newly formed Volunteer Rehabilitation program and now also enjoy spending an hour or so a few times a week giving hearing rehabilitation to implantees who need that bit of extra help to get the most out of the Cochlear Implant.
 
 
Bilateral implantation
 
 
After my implant in 1998, I did not wear a hearing aid in my right ear (the hearing I had in that ear was not very useful anyway) and with all the sound coming into my left ear via my cochlear implant I began feeling a bit "lopsided". I found I was constantly angling to have people talking to me on my left side. Having read many good reports of bilateral implants, which were starting to become more common, I had my right ear implanted with the Freedom processor in May 2007. This time I had Private Health Insurance so did not have to wait on the Public list which has now blown out to 5 years or more.
Compared to the first Implant this operation was completely trouble-free, and took only a little over 2 hours. I had absolutely no side effects and felt completely normal when I went home on the second day. Switch on was in June 2007 and although the new implant was much quieter than my first one the difference in sound quality was immediately noticeable; sounds were centralized instead of all on the left side and speech in particular seemed to be "fuller" or rounded out.
After nearly 8 months the new implant is still a work in progress (that ear had not been stimulated for 9 years) but continues to improve and I have no desire to go back to monaural hearing again. Stereo sound is much better!
Several years after having my first implant I discovered that my hearing impairment is hereditary. My maternal Grandfather had 11 brothers and sisters and hearing impairment is rife through the descendants of all those siblings. Currently I have 10 cousins or other family members with cochlear implants in Australia and another in New Zealand and there are many, many more with hearing impairment who would benefit from an implant.
I hope to spend many more retirement years assisting prospective implantees make their decision, providing rehabilitation where it is needed and generally promoting the miracle of cochlear implants.
 
 
 
Many thanks to him for sharing his experience with our readers !

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