I first noticed that I was not hearing properly when I was 19 years old, during my first year at University. I started finding it hard to join in conversation with my friends and was slow to get jokes. I worked in a pharmacy as a summer job and was finding it increasingly difficult to hear what customers were asking for in the noisy shop environment.
My hearing loss is thought to be due to nerve damage, resulting from brain surgery I’d had some years before. My hearing gradually deteriorated over the next 8 years, and I am now profoundly deaf in the high frequencies in both ears with a quite severe loss of the low frequencies too.
I carried on through my first year at university without seeing a doctor. It wasn’t until somebody (quite rudely) told me to ‘get my ears checked out’, that I went to my GP. I had to visit my GP a couple of times, however, and insist i needed a hearing test, before a referral was made. It was quite a lengthy process as it took a few months from referral to see an audiologist who discovered a mild loss of hearing.
At that time, the audiology department at the hospital near my university was not providing digital hearing aids – so I was given an analogue model which I struggled with intensely. I found the background noise and artificial nature of the sound very uncomfortable and distracting.
Later that year, however, I was referred to my local hospital where I was given two digital hearing aids. These were better, but still took a lot of getting used to after hearing natural sounds for the first 19 years of my life. I found I needed to start by wearing the hearing aids for only an hour at a time, then increasing the amount of time worn daily as each week went by. And this was all happening during a busy period of my course when listening skills were essential. In the end, I forced myself to adapt to the ‘artificial’ sounds by wearing them from the first thing in the morning until I came home in the evening. It took me months to get used to the hearing aids but now I really couldn’t imagine life without them.
I am now working in the Nutrition and Dietetics department of a major hospital in south west England, and learning sign language at evening class. I am able to work on projects, mainly in the office, around people who know me and who are aware of my hearing loss. Part of my job involves teaching a small number of patients on a one-to-one basis, in a quiet side room, which I enjoy.
I attended a lip-reading class for two years, which I found extremely helpful. It gave me the confidence to relax and watch a person’s lip movements. It also gave me an understanding of the best conditions in which to lip-read. The class provided an opportunity to meet other people who face similar difficulties, and I am now realising that I am not alone.
When I first discovered my hearing loss, I was embarrassed to tell anybody, but a hearing therapist helped me to adjust and become more confident.
Finger spelling and basic sign language helps me in some of the more difficult situations such as where there is a lot of background noise. They are also fun to learn!
I’ve found some products such as the ‘Screenphone’ and vibrating alarm clock very helpful – while others including ’hearing aid compatible’ telephones unfortunately do not seem to work for me. I guess each person has to discover the products that meet their own needs.
Be confident and don’t be afraid to tell people that you have a hearing loss, and let tem know how they can help you. Most people are willing to help if they know how! Don’t be afraid to look at someone’s face and study their lip movements. Join a class or support group to meet people in similar situations.