It’s the simple things that mean the most - Sue Clayton
After always being “that deaf woman” she can now fully participate in social activities, talk to her children on the phone and listen to her grandchildren chatter. She can talk to her husband in the dark and attend parties.
“This is a miracle,” she says, after having cochlear implant surgery in her left ear, in October 2017. “It’s changed my life.”
Sue‘s hearing began to deteriorate when she was in her late teens and she received hearing aids when she was in her early 20s.
But because the 64-year-old’s hearing loss is progressive the situation only got worse.
She worked as a marketing manager for cosmetic companies for more than 30 years, travelled overseas for work, raised two children and more recently spent two and a half years travelling the world with her husband David, who is also deaf and wears hearing aids.
Sue says while her hearing deteriorated she just “coped for 40 years”.
“It was very frustrating.”
She often only wore one hearing aid, but says even with two aids, she continued to struggle in both social situations and small group conversations.
“I was unable to find work that I could do with my disability. I refused many social invites, particularly community events because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fully participate. There was just too much noise and I couldn’t converse. Music was just a jarring noise to me and I came away exhausted and dejected.”
She also felt that some people thought she was “dumb” because she didn’t follow instructions or respond to someone when they were talking to her. But it was simply because she couldn’t hear them.
Sue says it was “particularly displeasing” that she was unable to hear her two grandchildren.
“I’d spend a lot of time at home on the computer……but that reclusive life is not fulfilling.”
The simple things – the things that hearing people take for granted – were difficult or impossible for Sue; hearing the announcements at train stations and airports, talking on the phone, attending parties and eating at restaurants.
“I was always worried about fire and not being able to hear the alarms.”
The Mangawhai Heads resident says it was tiring having to continually explain to people that she is deaf, and work and social functions were exhausting because she had to concentrate so much.
Sue started investigating the option of a cochlear implant for her left ear in 2006, however she was not eligible for public funding and was a borderline candidate for private funding.
In 2014 she was again recommended for a cochlear implant assessment and attended a consumer group meeting where she was able to talk to cochlear implant recipients.
In October 2014 further testing was done which showed she was eligible for a publicly funded implant.
She was placed in the middle of a waiting list that had 70 people on it.
Sue had been keeping a diary of events and conversations along her journey to get a CI and in March 2017 Sue was still waiting and the frustration was starting to take its toll.
“I have [just] about given up hope, having been on the waiting list for over two years,” she wrote. “Social situations continue to be a struggle for me and I’ve still not been able to get work that does not involve telephone use.
“I get frustrated when spending time with my pre-school grandchildren, when I should be enjoying them.
“I feel myself becoming more and more withdrawn, my husband and I spend long periods in silence because conversation is just too difficult, and I turn down a lot of social opportunities because I know it will be all too hard.”
Four months later Sue and David received the news they had been waiting for – funding had been allocated for her cochlear implant surgery.
Surgery was carried out by Bill Baber at Gillies Hospital on October 5, 2017 and her device – a state-of-the-art N7 – was switched on the very next day.
The first thing she did after switch-on was step outside and phone her son.
“Hearing people take phone calls for granted – but this was truly life-changing for me.
“I felt I was no longer having to work so hard to hear.”
Just over a month later, Sue wrote about her follow up appointment with Dr Baber and the difference the CI has made to her life, and David’s.
“I reported driving home from a dinner with friends – I was driving, in the dark, and having a conversation with David!,” she wrote. “This has NEVER happened to us before! David commented on how HE would have to adjust to this miracle also.
“I told Dr Baber how I made my first telephone call to my son, with the sound streaming straight to my head, and [my son] Gary remarked that he doesn’t remember the last time he was able to talk to me on the phone.
“I can complete ordinary tasks working alongside others, without having to stop what I’m doing with my hands as I no longer have to look at people’s lips when they speak to me.
“I can clearly hear my 5-year-old grandson and 4-year-old granddaughter’s conversations – something that was such a struggle for me in the past.”
Many people have also commented that Sue is “a different person” and that her speech has improved.
“I can fully participate in social situations instead of being a bystander missing most of the conversation.
“The sad part is, if I’d had the operation 10 years ago I’d still be working.”