A year ago Stephanie Dixon went from feeling like a fraud to feeling like her life had just begun.
The 63-year-old’s hearing loss was a slow and progressive one that resulted from a condition she inherited from her mother.
She first got hearing aids when she was 22 years old, but her hearing loss only got worse.
As time went by her ability to comprehend speech “was definitely going downhill”.
“Life was becoming such a struggle. It was exhausting.
“I felt like a fraud. I was getting by on a lot of guess work. I was saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in what I hoped were the right places.”
“I retired early due to never being able to cope from a hearing perspective.”
Stephanie says the isolation and struggle was affecting her mental health.
“I was close to depression and my husband was worried.
“My husband felt that after I had the cochlear implant, the wife he married had come back.”
Stephanie had discussed the possibility of getting cochlear implants with audiologists for a few years, but in late 2017 her audiologist said it was time to think about an implant.
She went through the assessment process and “more than qualified”. She had surgery in May 2018 thanks to a cochlear implant funding injection from the government that saw 30 more people from the Northern Cochlear Implant Programme implanted.
“Life began on May 9, 2018.”
Stephanie says since her device was switched-on, life has been an upwards trajectory.
“I by no means hear every word, but it no longer stresses me. For the first time in my adult life I behave normally and I can interact normally.
“I walk into shops and I can have a conversation with the staff. I often walk out and think ‘you have no idea [I’m deaf] do you?’.
“I’ve almost forgotten what those faint fuzzy sounds were like.”
Stephanie is now the treasurer for her local branch of Forest and Bird.
“I can only do that because I can go to meetings and hear what is being said.”
During her first summer with a cochlear implant she also experienced seasonal sounds which she had been missing out on.
“Cicadas were a hissy buzz in the background, but now the sound is almost overwhelming.”
Stephanie is delighted with her progress post-surgery.
“I’m functioning at an optimal level. It’s been a remarkable story for me.”
She’s also been able to enjoy some everyday things like listening to the radio and using the phone.
“I hadn’t heard the radio since I was 30. All those auditory sources were useless to me. Now I’m able to listen to podcasts and TED talks.
“I no longer have to ask my husband to make all my phone calls.”
Stephanie’s also been able to talk on the phone to someone for whom English is a second language – “I could understand everything”.
The mother of two is even impressed that she can pick accents now.
“I used to dread social occasions but now it’s a source of great pleasure.”
Stephanie says life has opened up for her and “there are a raft of possibilities” ahead of her.
“I’m feeling relaxed and confident. I’m so amazed and thankful.”
News that she had been allocated funding to receive a cochlear implant was met with a mix of “trepidation” and “extreme excitement”.
But once the surgery was carried out the hard work began.
“It’s a weird sound, but it’s how I hear now. Voices sound like Donald Duck on speed.
“It was a matter of learning to adjust. You’ve got to do your homework. I was seriously motivated. I was determined to make it work.”
Stephanie completed the daily exercises assigned to her by The Hearing House rehabilitationist Ellen Giles and exposed herself to a variety of listening situations and environments.
“I’m so grateful there was another option for when the hearing aids didn’t work anymore.”
She just wishes she got a cochlear implant earlier – then her job as the bookkeeper for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra would have been much easier.
“If I was still there I could do the job so much better now.”
Stephanie has been a long-time member of a cycling club, but says the difference now is that she can hear cars coming up behind her.
One of her greatest pleasures is spending time with her two-year-old granddaughter.
“She’s starting to chatter, chatter, chatter and I can hear it all.”