Context is everything in lipreading – and in making sense of what we are hearing.

I have a rule that in the mornings I don’t put my implant on till I’ve showered as one day I’m going to soak it under the shower if I do – especially as I’m rather absent-minded at the best of times and very much not a morning person. This does rather make for entertaining conversations at home sometimes. I feel that my lipreading skills aren’t quite what they were, though my tests at the hospital last week – at my 6 month appointment – showed that my lipreading without voice skills were at 58% compared to 43% pre-implant (which I felt at the time was not a true reflection of my abilities – I would have said 58% was nearer the mark pre-implant, but that’s a subjective view.)

Mind you, sometimes conversations do come somewhat out of left-field. At breakfast, when, admittedly, I was still somewhat groggy, I noticed the Bear had put a new slab of butter out for me so I thanked him. He said: “That’s the solidified cow juice for you,” except he didn’t actually say “cow juice” but “coo jooce”, in extreme Geordie, but I knew you wouldn’t understand it any better than I did the first time if I didn’t write it out in standard English first. I should really know by now that the Bear springs unexpected lipreading challenges on me, especially when I only have one eye open and one brain cell functioning. It keeps life interesting and I guess it’s a good way of retaining my lipreading skills!!!

Aah . . . anyway, I tested 100% on speech and lipreading and on speech alone, 68%, up from 17% at one month post-implant. At 17% I felt I was doing well, as that was a nearly 20% increase compared to pre-implant. To get 68% is pretty much a lifetime achievement, or feels like one. My hearing levels were tested and averaged out at about 30db, which, considering that I had no functional hearing at all, not even at 120db, before the implant, is brilliant. Inevitably I could FEEL sounds at that loudness but not actually hear them.

These scores are achieved in the relatively quiet, and therefore somewhat artificial, environment of the audiology room. In real life, they translate into being able to attend meetings with up to 7 people, some of whom I’ve never met before, and cope – magnificently is the cliché, and sounds immodest, but certainly everyone noticed how well I was coping and said they felt I was moving away from lipreading to hearing. My own perception was that during the meeting lipreading and listening were complementing one another, rather than fighting. The next achievement came at a family do when 8 of us got together and again I kept up with the conversation easily – I didn’t have to have jokes repeated to me because I’d missed the first line or the punchline!

The development of the complementary lipreading and listening skills is down to rehab, which is boring, but necessary, like pliés at the barre or scales on the piano. They’re not just warming-up exercises, they also develop the ability to use and exercise different parts of your body together – your hands moving independently of one another, for example. Something I do find very hard is talking to someone when there’s another, more dominant, speech noise going on, such as the radio or the train announcement. I could cartoonize my ear zooming in on the announcement coming off, spiralling all the way up the stairs, creeping into the announcement booth, picking it up and boinging its way back again, while my eyes revert to lipreading as the noise of the announcement and the train in together make it difficult to hear the person with me. So think of me with my eyeball hanging out on springs in the opposite direction and my face screwed up with effort. I’m effectively using the same part of my brain to do two different but complementary things, but hearing in noise is something I have to learn to do, or coping with both things simultaneously.

I’ve banged on before about the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast (click on the link within the page to listen to the latest forecast) – so infinitely variable but following a regular, soothing pattern – but I was very tickled by this advert based on the Shipping Forecast. There’s hearing in noise, and the text is there for you to follow. (I like the clothes too.)

To summarise: North Coo Jooce: Skills moderate to good, variable 4 or 5, moving quickly, occasionally rough, no showers (!) That was the listening forecast, the next broadcast will follow shortly  . . .