Yesterday morning my mum drove us the 50 miles to Ropewalk House in Nottingham for my first appointment with a member of their Cochlear Implant Team. Here I met with senior audiologist Ellen Jeffs, who was to take me through a series of tests to determine whether or not I would be a suitable candidate for implantation. I have to admit I was still a little sceptical at this point, as I have always perceived cochlear implants to be for people who were born deaf and have never developed speech. Even though this viewpoint goes against all logical reasoning (I have recently met adults with acquired deafness who were implanted later in life) I still had this illogical voice in the back of my head... I think it was my cynical side telling me not to get my hopes up!
After going through the pre-assessment form I had filled in beforehand, the first test Ellen did was to look in my ears before 'plugging me in' to this machine that automatically checked the function of my ear drums. There was no problem here so we moved upstairs to a soundproofed room for the tests designed to measure my hearing.
We started off with the regular hearing test which I must have had a million times before, where a series of beeps with different tones and volumes are played to me through a set of headphones. This is always done without a hearing aid and I had to press a button to confirm when I had heard a sound. There was no change from the last time I took this test - which always shows a profound sensory neural loss with no measurable hearing in my left ear.
A smaller headphone-like device was then placed just behind my left ear and the same test was done again. I couldn't hear anything with this one so didn't press the button at all.
I was then allowed to put my hearing aid back in and was left alone in the room facing a speaker. Some environmental sounds such as a telephone ringing (I couldn't identify the others) were played to me and again, I had to press the button to confirm when I had heard. My mum had to leave the room as apparently some of these sounds are very loud to a normal human ear! I didn't think any of them were particularly loud and had to really concentrate to pick them out.
The next bit was quite amusing as I had to watch video clips of a man with no expression (which you'd think I'd be used to after years of education(!)) saying a number of different sentences. For the first set of these, the sound was muted and I had to try to work out what he was saying by lip-reading alone. This really made me appreciate the benefit of contextual clues and facial expressions as it dawned on me just how completely lost I would be without them!! Another set of clips were then played with their sound but I still missed more than half of what the human robot :-| was saying. Finally, the video clips were switched off and I just had to listen to his voice which made me laugh as it is clearly impossible that I would be able to pick out any of the words from the audio track. It was like having the radio on and being able to hear the sound but not make out the words. Or when my Granddad (bless his heart) took me and my cousins to see 'Black Beauty' at the age of eight and I sat there staring at moving pictures of horses for two hours completely oblivious that the sound over the top was actually supposed to be them talking! Lol! I honestly thought it was the most pointless film ever to be made!
ANYway... back to the assessment and my final test :) Ellen plugged me in (by the ears!) to one last machine that measured my brain's response to sounds. I didn't have to do anything here as the machine did all the work for me. We were then taken back downstairs to discuss the results.
Obviously these are not the kind of tests that a deaf person is supposed to "do well" in. As Ellen said, if I were to do well then I wouldn't need to be there in the first place! She said that the results showed I am definitely a candidate for a cochlear implant :) And as I already have a knowledge of sound, the rehabilitation process after implantation would be a lot quicker for me than for someone who has never heard a sound in their life. For this same reason she was 100% certain that I should be implanted in my right ear, as the hearing nerve has been kept stimulated through use of a hearing aid and would already be 'well trained' in receiving electrical signals and sending them to the brain.
On the one hand, this is a huge risk as I have got something to lose. If by any chance the implant didn't work for me, there would be no going back to a hearing aid. That would be it. I would spend the rest of my life in silence. This is a prospect that petrifies me, especially as I am not actively involved in the Deaf community and would be left with extremely limited human interaction. I have recently begun to learn British Sign Language, knowing there is a chance (albeit very small) that one day, this could be my only form of communication.
On the other hand, if I am going to go through this whole process of irreversible invasive surgery, I want to do it properly in a way that I stand to gain the highest quality of sound possible. If there is a much higher chance of benefitting from the technology in my right ear than in my left, then maybe it's a risk worth taking.
Here's the scary part... this could all be done by the 21st of January. :-O