It’s two years since I started this blog, so it’s two years since I was a gibbering wreck waiting for my operation.
At the time I was focusing on the ‘input’ side: what I might get out of the CI in terms of ability to hear, without giving much thought to the ‘output’ – what might happen to my speech. If I thought about speech at all, my main concern was that I’d hate the sound of my own voice. Not because of ‘sounding deaf’ or anything like that, but just that I was worried that I wouldn’t like it.
After over 30 years of no sound input at all, I knew my speech wasn’t as good as it had been. I’d kept my aural memory for a long time but it eventually went and I was conscious of not articulating words quite so well and that people were asking me to repeat things more, though generally my speech has always been understood by strangers. Some people had more difficulty than others, and I noticed that sometimes it was because they had slightly less than perfect hearing or processing abilities themselves. My voice threw foreign bus drivers for example, whereas native English-speakers didn’t ask me to re-state my destination. It’s a similar, but somewhat opposite, experience to that of W G Sebald: I think from the Rings of Saturn, that as a German-speaker having lived in England for a number of years, native English speakers found him difficult to understand.
The effect of activation was immediate. Within two or three days, I attended a family party where everyone remarked on the improvement in my speech, from my parents, whom I see regularly, to other family members I might only see every few years, as they live abroad. Colleagues noticed immediately too, and I’ve had many comments. My father, not someone much given to talking about such things, told me recently that though I’d always had good speech for a deaf person, it was noticeably better. A colleague said: “You sound just like a hearing person now”.
It’s all been unconscious: no effort or working at it on my part at all, no thinking about it. I think it’s been a case of now having a more “up and down” intonation rather than a flatter monotone – I didn’t have difficulty with word endings, such as the “s” that some people tend to miss off plurals. But when I ask people how it’s changed exactly, they find it difficult to articulate, other than the intonation and the general hitting the appropriate volume for my surroundings, which understandably was difficult: sometimes I got it right, sometimes I was the embarrassing person speaking loudly in a sudden lull, sometimes it would be too soft against a loud background noise of which I was unaware.
The process is still ongoing though, two years down the line. I met my opposite number today from another organisation, and over lunch was told: “Your speech is noticeably better than when I last saw you six months ago. I noticed that straight away.”
This being bionic lark is fascinating. But it’s also a bit weird.