Column: Listening to a new perspective on hearing loss

Hearing Aid for Ellen Beardmore who is trialing one for a feature
Hearing Aid for Ellen Beardmore who is trialing one for a feature

I vividly remember the stomach-churning feeling of horror when I realised my right ear was effectively dead.

The neurosurgeon who removed my life-threatening brain tumour had told me he’d been unable to protect the hearing on that side - because the tumour was emeshed in the hearing nerve like ‘wet spaghetti’ - when I first woke up after the 13-hour operation at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

But groggy from the anaesthetic, swollen, shocked and dosed up on strong painkillers before a night in the intensive care unit, I had completely forgotten.

That week in hospital, my hearing had seemed somewhat off, especially when talking to visitors,but nobody else mentioned it and I figured the giant white bandage wrapped around my head wasn’t helping much.

It was when I finally got home, and tried to use headphones that it finally , slowly, dawned on me . I was fully deaf in one ear.

It was sad, but given the alternative it seemed better to crack on and make the best of it.

There were plenty of hurtful moments at first by way of rude comments, and then some hilarious ones, such as when an office colleague asked how to spell the word fiance.

“B, e, y, o, n, c, e”, I replied.

There were plenty of laughs with friends over mishearings and misunderstandings, and over time a mixture of lip reading, turning my left ear to sounds and guesswork made things manageable.

An NHS hearing aid was not much use, as it only funnelled sound from one side to the other with no sense of direction, but was unbearably loud in coffee shops or busy places like Meadowhall. It was visible to others, too, which didn’t help.

And so for the last five years I’ve grown used to having the one working ear and pig-headedly refused to try other solutions.

I’m sure it exasperates my husband and colleagues, but it has occasionally been useful too - there’s no disturbance from student parties when you sleep on the good side.

That was until Sheffield hearing expert Peter Byrom - who has spent over 20 years working in NHS audiology and has tinnitus - asked me to trial a new type of hearing aid before Deaf Awareness Week, which runs until May 20.

The most advanced aid he had available, called Lyric and used by athletes, is a wonder: completely invisible and individually hand built but also no use in a totally deaf ear.

After a consultation at Thornbury Hospital Peter fitted a new cross aid - only one that’s more high tech than some cars and can be adjusted via computer to help with directional sound and appropriate volumes.

It’s fair to say I was sceptical - at best - but straight away I could hear the differnce.

Sounds from outside the house, such as an ice cream van going past or children playing in the street, were suddenly there.

Hearing a ( at once very loud) bee buzzing in the garden and traffic on the right side was like having surround sound switched on. I could walk next to a friend and hear them talk, too.

And in the office, the extra tech meant I could accurately tell where a voice calling for help was coming from, rather than swivelling round . Not to mention being able to eavesdrop on quite a few more conversations than before...

It’s not perfect, of course. While most of the aid is hidden, I still know it’s there, and having something stuck in your ear canal all day takes some getting used to.

But after all this time I am listening to a new perspective on hearing loss.