Because I was fed up.
A number of events in the few years leading up to the implant lodged in my brain and nudged me towards the operation. Most of the time I was fine, able to self-advocate, be assertive, accept life on my own terms, mixing easily in the deaf and hearing worlds, secure in my own skin. I could speak, I could sign, I could lipread, I had all those tools at my disposal. SMS, e-mail, Skype: there’s never been so much deaf-friendly technology.
And yet . . . a colleague talking about how his sleep had been disturbed by police helicopters brought it back to me. On a lovely summer’s day, many years ago, I sat outside in the communal gardens of my block of flats, to await the Bear’s arrival on one of his weekend visits. (My flat was on the ground floor, which used to seriously worry my parents, but I won’t dwell on that.) Those suburban flats were on the periphery of the town at the time, having been developed in the previous 20 years on former farmland. The original farmhouse and the remains of its orchard were still present to the rear of the communal gardens, and thereby hangs a tale.
I sat outside, soaking up the sun and reading my book, watching for the Bear. When he arrived I was startled to receive not an affectionate greeting, but an urgent command in a tone that I could see brooked no argument: “Get yourself inside, NOW.” He bundled me in through my front door and locked it, and I thought he’d gone a bit mad. Only when the door was safely locked did he visibly relax and find time to explain. Apparently a police helicopter was hovering over the orchard to the rear and through a loudhailer some criminal was being urged to give himself up. As it was over the trees beyond, rather than the flats, I was completely unaware of any downdraught.
That occasion was the first time I realised I was living in some kind of bubble of not-so-blissful oblivion. I could compensate for an unseen approaching car zooming round the corner, by being extra careful in looking, observing other pedestrians’ behaviour, and crossing the road well away from any corners, so that if anyone did swing madly round they’d have a chance to see me first. But this was something else.
The second thing that happened was the opposite of a lovely summer’s day out in the open, though it was another hot day. I boarded a crowded Tube train and we got stuck in the tunnel for half an hour. Getting stuck in a Tube tunnel is a fairly frequent occurrence in London life, though half an hour was longer than usual, but it was hot and airless, and I fainted. Normally I’d have rolled my eyes internally, if not literally, but somehow it seemed too big an ask, in my debilitated state, to request a repeat of the announcement that was clearly happening from the way everyone suddenly cocked their heads. It was enough that these kind strangers were helping me up, fanning me vigorously, offering me a seat, but at the same time, I was aware it wasn’t enough missing out on this information. The claustrophobia of the tunnel suddenly seemed a symbol of the claustrophobia of being locked behind totally non-functioning ears.
I was now confronting another sensation new to me, an awareness that information was ‘out there’ for the picking up, and I was missing out on it, all around me, and ungraspable. Almost more disturbing than the feeling itself was the fact that it had happened at all. For someone who didn’t even normally give being deaf a second thought – because it was normal – having that vision of myself bobbing about in a bubble of unawareness was horrific.
(It’s not to say that I haven’t thought about, and continue to campaign against, social barriers too. I do think generally there’s a lot London Transport (and the railway companies at large) could do to make life easier for the deaf travelling public: the technology is already there in the dot-matrix carriage screens stating the next destination, why can’t they also run similar pre-prepared messages to say there is a signal failure on the line (for example) if necessary? Hearing people don’t always get the voice announcements, and it would certainly benefit non-English-speaking tourists.)
The CI wouldn’t have happened without my friend pushing me to go to get my ears checked out again at the hospital – nobody spots this stuff like another deafie – but these two events occurred while I was on the waiting list, and opened my eyes. On the one hand my personal safety, and on the other, just simply making my life easier. All those little clues I’d ignored were adding up to a picture I didn’t like very much: all the tiredness and strain from lipreading all the time; the sense it was getting increasingly hard to do so; the feeling that my voice wasn’t as good as it was – all that ate away at my identity.
It was time for a change.