I turned the key in the car ignition at 7:15am precisely, aiming to reach Addenbrooke’s in time for cup of tea before my 9.30am appointment. It was an early start, and made alone this time, but the morning sunshine spurred me on.
I’d barely sat down in the waiting room when my name was called, coinciding with the arrival of my BSL interpreter. The welcome was friendly and made me feel that the long drive was worth it.
My last visit to the Emmeline centre, confirming my suitability, was only a week ago. Today, I was here for two sessions, entitled "Device Information" and "Expectations and Outcomes".
As the name suggests, the first session was to explain how to use and operate the implant processor – the outside bit that I’ll eventually have magnetically stuck to the side of my head.
Unlike standard hearing aids (or at least all the ones I’ve had), the implant processor can use a rechargeable battery pack as well as conventional batteries. The rechargeable unit lasts for up to 12 hours. The conventional batteries last for between 3-4 days, which is similar to what you get with a standard hearing aid.
Fortunately, the centre supplies both (including a year’s supply of batteries) so I won’t have to choose between them, although the thought of finding space for yet another charger alongside the mobile phones, tooth brushes, ipods and laptops fills me with dread.
I hadn’t prepared for the next question. Perhaps the most important one of all. What colour processor would I like? Remembering my well-used colour chart from an earlier birthday present, my heart said Sparkly Glitter but my head said Purple. I opted for Bordeaux Red.
As we continued the session, I expressed some concern about losing the processor or damaging it. Will I need additional insurance to cover it? Apparently not. I was told that the NHS will deal with this for me. Reassuring, and yet another reminder of the fantastic service they provide.
We moved on next to recommended safety guidelines, and read through a leaflet which outlined a disturbingly long list of dos and don’ts. Most of them are common sense, some not quite so. For instance, I shall no longer be able to go on “extreme” rides, rub a balloon on my hair, walk through an airport metal detector, touch an electric fence, use a Van-der-Graaf generator, or touch the screen on an old CRT TV.
As I’d already found out, MRI and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) scanners pose a huge risk. If I ever do need a scan, a clinician from the centre will need to supervise it. In some cases, I might need surgery in advance to remove the implant altogether. All rather daunting, I’ll move on quickly.
After the operation, I’ll be provided with an ID card confirming my membership to the Cochlear Implant group – or rather to provide guidance for airport security, and those that may need to treat me in an emergency. They also strongly recommend I wear a Medic Alert bracelet with the message “Cochlear Implant User – Do Not Use MRI Scan”. Moving on again.
The second session was an opportunity to discuss my expectations of having a Cochlear Implant fitted. Being profoundly deaf from birth, the level of hearing improvement for me is likely to be far lower than someone who was recently deafened. This is carefully and gently conveyed to me again, as it has been throughout all my visits here.
I appreciate this, but I’m willing to go through the process, even if it improves my hearing by the slightest amount. It’s not going to make me hearing, but it might make me hear more. And any improvement won’t occur immediately, but rather over a year or more. So I think I’m prepared for the worst, but desperately hoping for the best.
This last session eventually ended, and so I made my way home again, keen to relay all the information to my family. And perhaps, to check that Bordeaux Red will match my summer wardrobe.