Support & help to cope with sudden hearing loss
Andrew Dunlop says ‘As a doctor, to be quite honest, I never really thought about how hearing loss would affect a person’s life, and certainly never thought of the impact of suddenly becoming severely deafened. I tended to think of hearing loss as a condition which rarely but tragically manifests in childhood or more commonly in the elderly.
My experience has been profound and of a relatively short duration. I had a moderate to severe sensorineural loss in my right ear for approximately 13 years following a bout of influenza. The hearing in my left ear was perfect and therefore I didn’t feel any great need to wear hearing aids.
In April 2009 I developed a profound hearing loss over the course of four hours with accompanying tinnitus and vertigo. After several days I saw a Consultant ENT surgeon with particular knowledge and expertise in the field of acquired sensorineural loss. I also obtained a hearing aid for my right ear which provided at least some sensation of sound albeit limited. I waited to find out if there would be any natural recovery whilst preparing myself for the possible consequences of no improvement.
Before these events I had been fortunate in enjoying excellent health. As a GP I had been used to being the health care provider and advocate for my patients. I was confident, positive, self assured and a very social being. All this changed.
I began slowly but perceptibly to see many of these attributes eroded. The first and most obvious was a tendency to social disengagement - relying on my wife to be my ears and relay information to me. It was impossible to enjoy the previous pleasure of interacting in large groups with friends - struggling to pick up the gist of a discussion, falling silent, afraid to intervene for fear of showing one’s possible ignorance or lack of comprehension, or failing to understand the subtleties of a conversation. Even with a hearing aid the task of actively listening was extremely difficult and tiring. It is hard to describe the shear fatigue associated with trying to concentrate on every word that a person is saying. Being a GP where effective communication is at the core of the work, I was therefore unable to work.
The term ‘I can’t hear myself speak’ acquired a dramatic and altogether more significant and sinister meaning. For me I was unable to register just how loud I was speaking or shouting just to hear my own voice. I missed the simple verbal chit chat, humour and spontaneous discussion which defines us as social beings.
Another immediate effect of my profound hearing loss was the inability to use the telephone. Initially I tried a variety of technologies including the T loop setting in my hearing aid and Bluetooth neck loops. But they didn’t help me. Trials of amplified phones were equally ineffective. I did find the local charity Deaf Action helpful in providing a resource and opportunity to try assorted devices, but unfortunately in my case at least, no amount of amplification would assist me.
I found that I had to resort to other technologies that I had previously disliked. And I was grateful that these were now available. Like my teenage daughter, I started to rely on text messaging, emails and on the internet; these were invaluable tools in maintaining contact with my friends and family.
Four months following my hearing loss I came to the realisation that my hearing would never improve spontaneously and that my life had changed forever. It was at this stage that I had made two significant decisions. The first was to explore cochlear implantation. The second was to contact Hearing Link on the recommendation of my Hearing Therapist. Through Hearing Link my wife and I were able to benefit from meeting a volunteer and his partner who understood what we were going through. The volunteer was able to discuss his own experience of deafness, and his partner who was hearing, was able to recall the experience of a spouse in these very trying circumstances.
The volunteer also had personal experience of a cochlear implant which had provided a new lease of life after many years of hearing loss, restoring an ability to hear reasonably well and to use the telephone. I felt encouraged that there was an organisation focused on supporting adults with post-lingual acquired hearing loss.
We also attended a Hearing Link self management course. Here we had opportunities to meet others who were similarly affected. Many had suffered significant increasing hearing loss over many years and their tales paralleled mine. They described problems with employment, socialising, self confidence, relationships, and there were frequent tales of depression and suicidal thoughts. However, the overall ambience of the programme was one of support, empowerment and positivity.
By October, five months after my hearing loss, I had been assessed and considered fit for a cochlear implant. I had the operation in December and in January 2010 the implant was ‘switched on’. After several tuning sessions I had a significant improvement in my hearing, was gradually able to use both the mobile phone and the telephone, and after suitable Occupational Health assessment, was able to return to work.
Restoration of my true self
I fully appreciate that my experiences may not be typical, and that many people struggle over a more lengthy time period sometimes with less hope of a clearer resolution than in my case. What helped me most through those dark months were the help and support of Hearing Link and Crosshouse Hospital in Ayrshire.
I feel that so much of my previous life and true self has been restored, regaining my pride and ability to contribute actively in society on an equal basis. It is my sincere hope that many others can also enjoy these benefits.’