Annette Gilmore

Annette’s Story

I was diagnosed with a severe sensori-neural loss at 18 months old that was suspected to be congenital. Following a consultation with a genetic counsellor it was not felt to be familial.

I have always worn binaural hearing aids, although my right hearing aid primarily provides a sensation of surround sound and some assistance with lateralisation. At present I continually adjust the volume of the hearing aid to try to reach the best compromise between sufficient volume and best sound quality. I was heavily reliant on visual cues. I was not able to communicate effectively in groups or with a lot of background noise.

As child, I went to a Catholic Deaf Education Centre to learn how to speak. Then I learnt to lip read. My mother was very patient with me and is the main reason I am able to speak so clearly today. Every time I mispronounced a word she took the time to teach me how to say it right, I owe her a great deal.

As I was growing up, I went to a normal school without any special assistance and I struggled with school words. My parents had decided for me to attend a special unit which had special education facilities for the Deaf/Hearing Impaired. One facility had the use of interpreters. The help I received from the interpreter improved my education and I began to feel confident and good about myself and my ability to communicate.

About two years ago, my family knew my hearing loss had gotten worse and I knew that I was having more trouble communicating with my family, close friends and work colleagues. My mother made me see an Audiologist, so I went and had my hearing tested. I was devastated to find out that my hearing had decreased. The Audiologist advised me to have Cochlear Implant but I refused because at that time I felt very negative towards the idea of them. Instead I tested four different types of powerful hearing aids and I eventually chose the newest release hearing aid from Europe.

For the two years I used my hearing aid I realised it wasn’t helping much. I was still having trouble communicating and my speech was starting to slow down a bit. A good friend of mine had a cochlear implant about two years ago and he loved it! I watched him communicating with other people and a lot of his friends were telling me that he has been improving a lot and his speech was a lot better than before. After seeing what a positive impact it had on his life it made me realise that a cochlear implant might not be such a bad way for me to go after all!

A good friend of mine took me to CICADA (Cochlear Implant Club & Advisory Association) Christmas break up dinner party. I met a few people who had their cochlear implants and I spoke to them about their personal stories and experiences. I felt very inspired after hearing about how much of a difference it had made in their lives. Mostly they were telling me that they have a lot more confidence and that after a while they got used to all the crazy noises.

Last year before Christmas, I told my mother that I was ready to have Cochlear Implant. My mother seemed surprised and please. We went and saw an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. My doctor was very excited and enthusiastic for me to have the operation because he knew it will be an easier transition for me as I am already able to speak well, good at lip reading and have worn hearing aids all my life. He referred me to see my Audiologist where I had a four hour assessment. I was very worn out from concentrating because there were a lot of tests. I had electrodes stuck to me, a brain, speech, lip reading and listening tests. When my Audiologist gave me the thumbs up to have a Cochlear Implant on the right ear I was petrified and elated at the same time but also very proud that I had finally decided to do it!

On the day of the operation I was so nervous but I knew I was in good hands because I had a very good doctor and I was feeling very positive about it. The operation was a success and I only had to stay overnight in the hospital.

Two weeks later I was switched on. I can’t describe how excited and nervous I was. My parents and my sister-in-law were there as well. When my Audiologist first turned on the implant on I heard a tiny soft pinch sound “Bing” and I smiled and burst into tears. I found it amazing that if I listened very hard I could hear all the soft sounds and pitches that I couldn’t hear in any of my previous tests. I listened to my family’s voices for the first time, although all I could hear were gobble noises and I couldn’t understand what they were saying it was beautiful because I could hear them. My Audiologist advised me that she didn’t want to give me too much sound right away as it would take some time for me to adjust to the noise.

The next day I went for a drive and I could hear lots of noises cars, trucks and motorbikes – my whole body started shaking, it was such a shock! I was very frustrated and I felt a bit crazy and frightened with all the awful noises because I wasn’t used to all the new sounds and most of them I didn’t know what was making them. I had terrible headaches but after a few days I got used to it and the headaches went away.

It’s amazing all the things I could hear for the first time, plastic bags rustling, key rings rattling, birds singing, footsteps, water running, kettle boiling, the phone ringing next door – there were so many noises and I found that I picked them up very quickly. I found that when I went for a walk, I could hear my pants making noises and I feel a bit funny about it. I walked very slowly because I felt so embarrassed because I didn’t realise that I was so noisy! If I closed a door it sounded like I slammed it and closing a desk draw, or typing on a keyboard seemed very loud to me and I would just freeze and try to keep the noise down. I just couldn’t believe how many sounds there were to hear.

My Audiologist suggested that I start trying to listen to find out what was going on around me rather than looking. I have been learning by listening to music and trying to understand the lyrics, watching television without caption, and having conversations with people and trying not to lip read. This is probably the most challenging because everyone speaks differently, different accents, pronunciations, tone, volume, I have to keep practising! I have started using the telephone to practice as well, my parents make great guinea pigs!

I am not the type of woman who gives up or believes people when they said that I couldn’t do something because I know I could do it! Even now, I’m still learning and it’s still time to adjustment to being able to hear. After being Switched On and Fabulous I feel confident, positive and motivated. I am successfully on my way to achieving my goals in life and I couldn’t be happier.

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