Editor’s Note: This week, I’m pleased to welcome Gladys Nielsen, a longtime hearing loss friend, to share her story. Gladys was one of the first people I met when I reached out for support from other persons with hearing loss. She has devoted years of her life to helping people live more successfully with their hearing challenges.
By Gladys Nielsen
I was only in my 30s when my hearing loss began.
I was in a state of shock and disbelief when the ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) physician told me that I needed hearing aids. I had no idea of the cause, and I struggled to keep working with a progressive loss by continually upgrading my bilateral hearing aids. By 1993, the stress at work was too great to continue; I couldn’t hear across my desk in a quiet office or on the phone, in a meeting, or even at home with family.
I applied for and received a disability pension.
But I wanted to learn more hearing loss and began intensive research. I reached out to other people with hearing loss by attending conventions and joining support groups. Finally, my ENT referred me to his friend, a physician at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Ontario – a long way from my home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In January of 1995, I was assessed as an ideal candidate for a cochlear implant. After a short wait which included sending paperwork by mail back to Sunnybrook, I was admitted to hospital on May 23. My hospital stay was five days, much longer than the same-day discharge of today.
I was feeling great with the new Advanced Bionics technology implanted on the right side. Before flying back to Winnipeg, I visited Niagara Falls and to my relief, I had no problems withbalance around the rushing waters. Back at home, the hearing in my left air didn’t provide much hearing but I was an ace speechreader. A few weeks later, I flew back to Toronto for activation, on the same weekend that I turned 48 years old.
I flew home once again. At that time, over 20 years ago, very little was known about cochlear implants in Manitoba. My family and I were amazed at how well I could hear – and how quickly. With the use of the directional microphone I heard at my son’s wedding reception – just a little more than a week after activation, and in a crowd of 300 people! I had ‘lost’ the voices of my mother and brother and my mode of communication with them had become through a TTY phone. Yet, days after hookup, I was hearing them again.
On my first day post-activation, people told me that my own voice had changed. I spoke on the phone for the first time in years, and friends and family cried at the other end when we spoke. The tinnitus was gone within 6 months, just as my ENT had suggested it would
Over the next five years, I made many trips back to Toronto for mapping sessions and adjustments. Finally, in 2000, the Manitoba government approved the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic to provide CI services to both adults and children; I could now get mapping and help by driving 15 minutes rather than flying for three expensive hours to Ontario. My provincial health plan covered the surgery costs, hospitalization, and the flights to/from Ontario for myself and a companion. Bu the food, taxis, and accommodations were my own expenses. It was costly and stressful but it was worth it just to hear again.
Finally, in 2011, after intense lobbying by the hearing profession and people with hearing loss, the government approved cochlear implant surgery in one of Manitoba’s large teaching hospitals.
I was happy and proud to show off the big speech processor worn with a harness over my shoulder. I had been given back my life! I was able to enjoy music again and I heard my newborn grandson’s cry the year after I was implanted – and my mother’s voice for the last years of her life.
Serving on the provincial and national boards of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, I shared my story and CI experience at every opportunity. I was able to mentor other people about cochlear implants and I always asked CI candidates to lower their expectations, as their success might not be as quick as mine. The process depends on many factors such as the time of deafness, motivation, support, and sheer determination.
I have met so many wonderful people as a result of this small miracle of hearing again. In my retirement, I trained to be a teacher for the hard of hearing in the “Living with Hearing Loss” program and I still teach some classes to seniors. I am forever grateful and am looking to upgrade my speech processor again (but not its $10K price tag in Manitoba for which there is no coverage). I have volunteered with Advanced Bionics to tell my story to others.
I am not a candidate for an implant on the left side and hearing aids stopped helping long ago. But after 23 years, I still wake up every day knowing I can choose to hear with my CI and I do. I would do it again in a heartbeat.