The Cochlear ear implant is a medical miracle and don’t I know it.
This is about hope, it’s about trying to inspire people not to listen to doom sayers. Sometimes life can treat you harshly, but many people have and continue to have almost unbearable obstacles. There is always light at the end of the tunnel but, you must balance this against reality. I reached a stage when I lost hope. The Cochlear implant gave it back to me.
Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said,“If at first the idea is not absurd, then it is not worth pursuing.?” This is my story about pursuing an absurd idea and eventually realising it. It never happened overnight, nothing ever really does.
My absurd idea was that as a profoundly deaf person, I would get my hearing back. It was a medical breakthrough which realised this.
I was the 13th. person to have this in the whole of Africa and I am not sure where I stand in world rankings, but I have to be one of the pioneering patients?
I am going to tell you about my own personal experiences. What it took to get it in the first place and what it is like to use. It always amazes me how little people know about this and by that I mean people, from all walks of life. I fervently hope that by penning these few words, that I might be able to shed some light on this remarkable medical achievement.
I’m also going to explain the differences it made to me , especially towards enhancing my life and my families life. It is the Cochlear Ear Implant, more commonly known as the ‘Bionic Ear‘.
Brief Summary from a Layman.
How the Cochlear Implant works.
Inside the speech processor, there is a computer chip where speech and environmental sounds are coded and they then transmit these signals to the electrodes on the implant, which electrically stimulate the nerve fibres, giving sensations that the brain perceives as hearing.
The beginning of my Cochlear journey.
Hearing about it in 1974.
Trying to find out more about the cochlear implant?
A visit to America to the Cochlear inventor.
Getting closer to finally having the cochlear implant?
I was still farming in Zimbabwe, but already things are deteriorating rapidly. Then in 1983 I got married and in May 1984 my first daughter was born and we named her Dagny. Very shortly after she was born I had finally had enough of Mugabe and his
regime and decided to move.I have no regrets in my life, but I have to say that at this time I made the biggest mistake in my life. My wife was mad keen to go to Australia, but I couldn’t handle the politics of the country at that time, saying to myself, that anywhere that could choose a union leader as Prime Minister was not for me. In retrospect it was a massively silly mistake, but whats done is done. The other option was Ireland but no-one was really keen on this. Anyway I went to look at South Africa and was offered a job there as a Farm Manager in Nelspruit and decided to take it up.I left Zimbabwe with $500 in my back pocket and a wife and 3 month old baby. Within the space of a year I went into partnership with a friend of mine and leased a farm. He carried on working where he was and I ran the new place. Three years later we dissolved the partnership and I bought the farm and thereafter went steadily downhill.
In 1989 on a routine visit to my Doctor he mentioned to me that he had just done a call-up (routine spell in the Army ) and one of the chaps with him was a Surgeon who had just been allowed to do the cochlear implant. The first ever in Africa. He arranged for me to visit him in Cape Town at Tygerberg Hospital.
Nearly there with the Cochlear implant.
Preliminary Cochlear implant tests.
Well I had a preliminary appointment with the
Cochlear Ear Implant division at Tygerberg Hospital in the Cape. Amongst great excitement my wife and I had to plan getting there which is a three day drive from where we lived and that’s pushing it. By this time I had another baby, this time a boy Michael. So we arranged for them to stay with neighbouring friends of ours and furthermore had to arrange someone to look after the farm etc. as the tests would take at least a week and then all the accommodation to arrange in Cape Town which has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth.At this stage of the Implant no-one was sure of the long term effects of having an electrical device so close to the brain. Consequently you had to undergo deep physiological and psychiatric assessment and this took a couple of days. Then onto the great man himself Professor Wagenfeld, who would do the surgery, for like a preliminary assessment of your worth. I hasten to add that at this time they would only implant people who were profoundly deaf and certainly not children for the reasons listed above.This is a very complex surgical procedure and requires people of extraordinary skill and in Prof. Wagenfeld we had a master and I think he was already a professor by the time he was 26 years old, so you can see the calibre of the man I had.
Leaving for the cochlear implant operation.
Back home and a mad dash trying to sort everything and talk the Bank Manager into extending my overdraft so I could pay for
everything. To my eternal gratitude he was all for this and gave me a lot of concessions and to this day is one of the finest men I have ever known.Then a big party was held for me at my neighbours Willie and Sherry. When I got there, I could not believe how many people were there and was slightly taken aback. Later Willie made a speech and presented me with a cheque. Unbeknown to me he had organised many farmers and had arranged for them to donate a tobacco bale each with the proceeds to go towards my Implant.It was a size-able amount of money and was just the cherry on top of the cake. I mentioned earlier that I don’t accept charity, but I was staggered by this and knew it would be extremely churlish to refuse, so gratefully accepted and made an impromptu speech.
Shortly afterwards my wife and I flew down to Cape town for the op. Everything went like clockwork and I spent about a week in hospital, then flew back home. It takes about 3 months to heal and then back again to the Cape for what we termed “Switch On” for when they finally hook you on to your Speech Processor to ascertain whether you can finally hear or not.
SWITCH ON: THE GREAT DAY:
I get my cochlear switched on and can hear again.
Before I forget, remember when I was in LA and had been told that in the foreseeable future there would be no improvements.
Well here I was 9 years later having been implanted with 22 channels not one. The technological advances in such a short time are mind blowing and they get better.The next process would take about 6 weeks so decided the family could do with a holiday. So we drove down to the Cape, hired a house on the beach front. The wife and kids had a ball while I trotted off to the hospital.What happens is they attach your speech processor to a computer and gradually bring you up from when you can first hear up to comfortable levels. I won’t go into details as it is quite complicated and already this piece is long enough and there’s still more to go.
Well YESIREEEEEEEEEEEEE I can hear again although it’s so different.
Then came a long process of rehabilitation, which basically entails teaching you how to hear again and recognising everyday sounds etc. It’s also complicated. It takes about six weeks and then you are done, fine tuning you along the way.
To the best of my knowledge what happens is that your brain has forgotten what sound is and has to be taught again. Also depending how severe your nerve loss was. In other words every patient is different and some do better than others.
My honest impressions of the cochlear implant.
In the beginning and four years later.
It’s a tough call, depends where you are coming from. In the beginning they asked me to write an article for their magazine, on
my impressions of the Implant. Truthfully, I knew a deaf joke which epitomised it for me and wrote that. Well everybody was furious with me and was barely on speaking terms and my wife said, “what do you expect Kevin, it was a stupid thing to do.”Years later I saw this joke posted all over the implant division and thought to myself, “well they finally learnt”. Of course they never published it.However eventually they published something. Actually I was no.13 but they thought that was unlucky, so here goes;Kevin Moor(No.14)was here in May and wrote the following. ( 17 years ago.)
HEARING AGAIN WITH THE COCHLEAR IMPLANT.
Taking time to get used to it.
Well it takes a bit of getting used to. Essentially, in my case anyway, you just hear sound. Simply, I will hear you talking but I
won’t understand what you are saying, so am still reliant on lip-reading. Subconsciously however, you are hearing more than you realise, so your lip-reading skills tend to take a dive.With somebody I know well and who knows how to talk to me;(the wife for example). I will get 60% of what she is saying to me without having to revert to lip-reading. That’s only if I have a clue what her subject matter is, without that, I would be lucky to get 10%. With people I don’t know so well, the percentages come down.It’s still a miracle, whichever way you look at it. Learning to understand music again was a big battle and was undoubtedly the thing I was most looking forward to. Initially I could not make heads or tails of it and was disenchanted.But by persistently practising listening to songs I could remember and reading the lyrics whilst I was listening, I finally began to hear the singing again. As it turned out my two favourite songs;
1. A Whiter Shade of Pale
2.Bridge Over Troubled Waters
I could never follow them. Lately however,with my latest upgrade I can follow both these songs and this gives me enormous pleasure.
Another Cochlear miracle.
From the time he was small, my son, never really saw eye to eye with me for some reason, totally beyond my
Technological advances with the cochlear implant in my time.
A child cries for the first time.
When I had my first Speech Processor, it was about the size of a small novel and I had to wear a holster over my shoulder to support it.
However, the technological advances since the beginning, have been staggering. Shortly after my first one. I got an improvement, known as the Spectre 22 and it was about the size of a packet of twenty cigarettes. My current one is the Esprit 3 G, snazzy hey! I hope that now gives everyone more of an idea of the amazing advances. So sorry but cannot seem to find a photo anywhere of my original. Comes from being obsolete. See my processors here
Now they are implanting children with 24 channels and there is even more improvement in the processor. Unfortunately I could only get that by being re-operated on, but the technology is superior.
My wife being a nurse was always scared of having a Down’s Syndrome child for some reason. When Dagny was born, she had a faulty hip and we had to tie her up in a splint for the first few months of her life. Then when Michael was born, he had something wrong with his head. At 3 months we had to have him operated on. Dagny represented Zimbabwe Schools at tennis and hockey and Michael has a degree with first class honours in Aeronautical Engineering. So all’s well that ends well.
However, after we had had them both, the wife said that we had two children and both had had something wrong, so no more and we had a boy and a girl.
However after the implant she said to me. That I had never heard my own child cry for the first time and that she thought it was special. Now that I could hear, maybe we should try for another.
As it turned out. Two days before she went into labour, I was playing squash and ran into the wall and broke my Speech Processor. After all that effort and I still couldn’t hear my child cry for the first time. It was a case of third time lucky as Siobhan was perfect with no medical problems.
Siobhan: So lucky to be alive.
We are so lucky we had you.
Thinking about the cochlear implant?
Pause for thought?
Postscript on the cochlear implant.
When people still ignore me and think I am a dummy and no matter how many times it happens it still hurts and makes me feel
small. I understand it’s part and parcel of human nature and to console myself I always think of this song and the words.I think John Lennon wrote it and he sure was a gifted man. Sorry but it’s just what I think.