“Picture a person in a darkened room. The light is off. The curtains drawn closed. The objects in the room are merely dark shapes. The person moves unsteadily, unsure where to put her feet. Every now and then she bumps into a chair, her chest of drawers, her cupboard. She curses softly as she backs into her washstand. Damn, where did she put her slippers? They were next to her cupboard, weren’t they? She gets to her knees and fumbles around, patting the ground searchingly. No slippers! Sitting back she thinks and then hesitantly gets to her feet. Perhaps she left them next to her bed? Slowly she retraces her steps until she is standing next to her bed once more. She is unable to see a thing so again gets onto her knees and pats the ground in a probing, searching manner. Suddenly the room is filled with light. She looks at the windows and the curtains are open, blowing softly in a gentle breeze. The room is luminescent, light and clear, indeed it seems to glow with a radiant brightness. And there, placed neatly under her washstand are her two slippers. They almost seem to be smiling at her.”
For just about 18 years I have been living in a “darkened room”. Only my “darkness” was caused by my deafness. I was never able to find my slippers because my deafness shrouded me in not understanding conversations so that I bumped hard into things.
I had my Cochlear Implant and for three weeks lived in a soundless world. Then on the 15th Mum, Dad and I travelled to Cape Town and on the 16th we set off to Tygerberg Hospital where I was going to be “switched on”!
“Lord, please let me accept whatever happens to me,” I prayed “but Lord, you’d better make it be good! Sorry, sorry, Father, that’s just typical of me to ‘lay out my terms’. Sorry, just…just help me to cope with whatever today brings. Thanks, Lord.”
We arrived at the hospital and headed straight for Jenny Perold, my audiologist’s room. She is a lovely person – straight, to the point, no flies about her.
After we had exchanged greetings she said to me:“Well now, let’s get you out of that non-hearing place, shall we? Sit down there.”
I sat and Jenny pulled a lap top computer towards her. She hooked an instrument above my ear which had a long cord attached to her computer. I lip read everything she was saying, holding her under the chin to pick up the vibrations of her voice.
“Now…I am going to press three keys and I would like you to tell me when you can hear them.”
I concentrated listening intently. And I heard zilch! I continued listening. Then far, far off in the distance I could hear the whisper of 3 notes.
“Well…yes…but it’s like the echo of a dream!”
She smiled but didn’t look up from her computer. “And yes, I heard those.”
“And those notes, Jenny, I heard them but it seemed as if they were…far, far off.”
More pressing of keys. “ Now?”
“Yep, a Clarinet is playing in the same room!”
And we continued. And continued. We continued for about two hours.
Finally Jenny looked up at me and gave me a radiant smile. “Okay, my friend, are you ready to hear?”
I smiled back. I couldn’t help myself. Inside my heart was beating loud. Please let this work. Please, please let this work.
Jenny pushed a knob. I waited. Silence. Then with a whoosh the whole world in all it’s glorious vigour surged forward and “drew those curtains aside”!
“SHIT!” I gasped.
(Could you please tell me, Mr and Ms Young, what was the first word your daughter said when she could “hear” once more?
I sat there my head in a blur. Then I became aware of Jenny saying: “Can you hear me?” I nodded my head. “Speak. Listen to what your voice sounds like.”
I hesitated, then… “Shall I compare thee to a Summers day? Thou art more lovely……….” Jen, I…I can hear my voice. I can hear!”
“And me? Can you hear me?” said Mum.
“Yes! And you, Dad? Speak to me!”
“Well…uh..what do you want me to say?” said my darling Father a little nervously. I laughed.
“I …I can hear you all!” I said breathlessly.
“Now, Gaynor, I’m just going to take you off line for a few moments. I need to adjust something on the computer.” Jenny pushed a button and I was in that “darkened room” once more. I couldn’t believe it. The world – all gone! My eyes filled up and I began to weep. “Jenny, don’t leave me here for long. I can’t stand it.”
She didn’t. She then fitted me with my own CI apparatus. A little hook that looks like the top of a question mark goes over my left ear. It’s called the Speech Processor. On it I can switch to 4 different programs. This is connected by a short wire to a Coil which attaches to the magnet inside my head. The Coil transmits the encoded information provided by my Speech Processor to my Cochlear Implant. All very involved and I must read up properly on it!
Three euphoric individuals left Jenny’s. Mum said to me: “In the car going home, I am not going to look at you as I normally do. I am going to speak to you without showing you my lips. Let’s just see how much you pick up?”
I picked up every word that was said by Mum WITHOUT ME LIP READING HER. None of us could believe it. Have you any idea what that means? I can understand people without lip reading them!
“When last did I speak to you in a car like this, Mum and Dad?”
“Eighteen years ago,” said Mum and began weeping once more.
“…….The room is luminescent, light and clear, indeed it seems to glow with a radiant brightness…….”
Mum phoned my sister, Liz and told her the news from the car.
“I don’t believe you!” And once more the floodgates opened. We arrived home and Liz just hugged me. For a long time. We sat and chatted with me picking up everything! Forget about those days of simply switching off in company! Oh no, this was much too interesting!
Liz has 3 children – Campbell (6), Megan(4) and Emma(3). Because I’m deaf I am unable to understand childrens voices. They are too high. I said to Campbell: “What sport do you play at school?”
Looking down at his shoes, not expecting me to hear, he said: “Rugby.”
“Rugby!” I said, “Fantastic!”
His face shot up filled with stunned delight. “And hockey too. But I like rugby best.”
Emma came into the study while I was working on the computer and looked at Perdita, my dog, who was crouched at my feet. “Your dog wants to get on your lap,” she said. I then duly placed Perdita on my lap.
Childrens voices have been given back to me.
Oh…I am blessed.
Later that evening I was standing with Perdita in the garden while Madame did a pee and on the patio I could make out Mum talking to someone on her cell phone. Her face was covered by night. I couldn’t see her. But I could hear her perfectly. Every word! This just blows my mind!
I telephoned my sister, Megan, in New Zealand.
“Megs, it’s me – Gaynor.”
There was a startled gasp, “Gaye, hi…..” And we then proceeded to have a conversation. Me, being spoken to on the phone. And understanding!
When I went to bed that night I was exhausted yet I couldn’t sleep. Something that had been taken from me years ago had just been given back. Joy is the wrong word for what I was feeling. Yes, there were elements of joy but I was feeling exultation. Exultation with a bit of bewildered excitement thrown in. I never in my wildest moments expected to get all this back. It…it was mindblowing!
The next afternoon Mum and I went and sat in the car where it was quiet. Mum had an Elaine Page CD and she chose the first number “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and began to play it.
Don’t expect to hear. You’re really pushing your luck. Don’t expect anything.
“It won’t be easy, You’ll think it strange when I try to explain how I feel, that I still need your love after all that I’ve done, You won’t believe me…..”
Elaine Page’s voice cut through my thoughts. I listened and then began to sob.
I had my music back!
The night of my “switch on” I watched the news. I had become used to not picking up a thing. But that night I came away jubilant having picked up about 20%. Three months later it is a different story completely. I now pick up about 75% of everything that the presenter says and about 60 percent of all the voice overs. Isn’t that something? And apparently it will continue to get better!
I cannot believe how many birds there are in George! Or rather I should say that I hear birds singing ALL THE TIME! I want to always be aware of the birds and their beautiful songs. I don’t ever want to go back to the “taking it for granted” stage again.
Since my accident my relationship with my brother, Patch, really deteriorated. I still loved him and he loved me. But! He speaks in a typically South African way – he barely moves his mouth. As a result, with me relying so heavily on lip-reading, he was impossible to understand.
He came down to Cape Town for the weekend. And…for the first time in 18 years, I was able to hear him. Oh, the sheer joy of having my brother back. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!
At the moment I am listening to Nat King Cole sing Unforgettable, that’s what you are, Unforgettable, both near and far….
I look out at my bird table and watch two sparrows pecking at the grain I’ve put out. Next to them is a rose bush with a single bud quivering in the cold air. In fact…I am sure I can…hear…the life throbbing in that exquisite Rose. Well, you never know. These Cochlear Implants have powers noone is truly aware of!!! They are a scientific miracle.
So that is the situation at the moment. It is all so blissfully, unexpectedly mindblowing.
“…..the girl put on her slippers and merrily skipped out of the room.”