Living with hearing loss: ‘How a cochlear implant changed my life’

alex brown

On September 15, 2020, my cochlear implant had been switched on for 36 years. That is, working and in use for 15 to 18 hours every day. So, I estimate it has put in about 196,695 ‘hearing’ or ‘listening’ hours at a minimum. I’m really happy about that. I think […]

On September 15, 2020, my cochlear implant had been switched on for 36 years. That is, working and in use for 15 to 18 hours every day. So, I estimate it has put in about 196,695 ‘hearing’ or ‘listening’ hours at a minimum. I’m really happy about that. I think it’s probably a world record.

My device was the first cochlear implant operation in Sydney, performed in 1984 by surgeon Professor William Gibson, under an experimental program funded partly by Sydney University. I was just 22 years old and had lost my hearing completely and suddenly from meningococcal meningitis in April of that year. So I was thrown suddenly into a different world in which I couldn’t understand any conversation or hear any music or anything around me at all.

As a ‘hearing’ person, that’s quite daunting. I was used to conversing freely and easily with my friends, family and workmates and had a very active social life. I was working and studying and getting out and about a lot and then my life as I knew it sort of stopped. I couldn’t hear anything at all except head noise, tinnitus.

The implant changed my life from one of silence (well, not quite complete silence, when you have tinnitus ringing in your ears…) to one of hearing. I was able to participate in conversations again. It opened up my life again to all sorts of opportunities that hearing people take for granted every day. I hear my own voice — which enables me to monitor the clarity and volume. If I don’t have my ‘sound’ on, I can’t even hear my own voice.

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