Sophie Woolley is a writer and an actor, and an active advocate for the deaf community, based in the United Kingdom. Here is her story sent to us for publication on the Hear2day site. Visit Sofhie’s website to see the remarkable achievements of this hearing ambassador. www.sophiewoolley.com
I feel euphoric and happy. I’m listening to some music I never heard before on the radio. It’s amazing, beautiful, and it sounds like music used to ‘back in the day’, when I was a hearing person.
Two months ago music was barely on my radar. I’d lost most of my hearing because of my family’s ‘deaf genes’. We start off hearing, and then go progressively deaf from our teens onwards. I started wearing hearing aids in 2004. I stopped actively listening to music around that time too. It became an irritation, not a pleasure. By 2008 I was profoundly to totally deaf. I couldn’t follow speech without support. I had to lipread or use an interpreter. Communication was often limited, frustrating and exhausting.
After lots of tests, aged 39, I decided to have surgery for a cochlear implant. The surgeon said, “We can help you.” It seemed too good to be true. I was frightened about surgery but the operation didn’t take long and I was home the same day. Thirty days later, the audiologist switched on my implant, and to my relief, lots of cartoonish and robotic bleeps and noise streamed in.
Two months after ‘switch on’, it still feels too good to be true. Almost everything I lost, I’m getting back. Tests show I have just below normal hearing. The initial robotic sound effects have worn off and now I can follow speech easily, even heavy accents. People’s voices sound like I remember. I can hear incidental speech without lipreading and catch important information and asides. I can hear people call me from behind. I can follow speech on radio. I can make phone calls to loved ones and strangers. My hearing rehabilitation has been swift; perhaps because I wore my hearing aids consistently after I became severely deaf, keeping my auditory nerve stimulated.
Since ‘switch on’ sound quality and recognition continues to improve. It’s still very early days though. There are some things I find hard to follow – like drama, comedy and TV. I can pick up phrases but not follow the whole story. So I still need subtitles for that. But I went to a talk recently and followed the whole thing. I was amazed!
Now I can even do things that people with normal hearing can’t do. Using a Phonak ComPilot device, I can stream music and phone calls directly into my brain! No headphones. I also have improved ability to hear speech in noise. I have an Advanced Bionics CI Q70 Naida implant, which is programmed with UltraZoom and ClearVoice software. These enable me to dampen background noise and zoom in on speech in busy restaurants and loud parties. This means that often I have an advantage over people with ordinary hearing.
Another good thing about the implant is that my hearing husband no longer has to ask me to speak up in noisy restaurants. I could never do it, even though I was mumbling, my hearing aids made me feel like I was shouting. It had become difficult to monitor my own speech. But now I’m confident about my own voice volume. Moreover, after ‘switch on’, friends told me the inflection of my speech has improved.
It’s quite a shock how different everyday life is now I can hear – but a welcome one. I’ve said goodbye to anxiety and lipreading fatigue. My relationships with hearing friends and family have improved and deepened and I feel more confident and positive about my future in this world.
Sophie attended a Hear2day general meeting at Constantiaberg earlier this year – here is a short video clip: https://www.dropbox.com/s/j0dfohbd9nv2092/MVI_1096.MOV