Elizabeth van der Zee, Cochlear™ Osia® recipient
Hearing loss is highly complex. It can range from slight discomfort to disability in all spheres of one’s hearing function. Depending on the individual and the severity of the hearing loss, the situation always affects significant aspects of one's day-to-day life. People who experience this disability can hide the loss up to a certain point. Feelings can range from frustration, loss of confidence, and emotional issues like anxiety to serious psychiatric conditions like depression. It becomes frustrating to ask others to repeat what they just said constantly. Sometimes you have to ask a second or a third time. When you still can’t catch the sentence, you start apologising for asking so many times, as if it is your fault.
I started with a hearing loss, staying in a remote little settlement in a neighbouring country. Suffering from a cold with my baby girl, I realised after our recovery that my right ear had a kind of ‘full’ feeling, making it slightly difficult to hear.
The doctor at the missionary camp, an elderly physician with a strong German accent, rinsed my ear to attend to the possibility of wax. I knew I never had a wax problem, but he had to start with the first step for diagnosis and treatment. This began the road to total unilateral deafness in the right ear. Then, some noises flared up in the ear, sounding like a mix between a mirage of beetles, the sea, and here and there, a soft machine gun. This part was quite frustrating.
As we visited our mother city, we saw an ENT specialist. Treating me with antibiotics and quite strong anti-viral medication, it seemed too late, and there was no change, no turning back.
The ENT specialist did all tests and scans to exclude an acoustic neuroma, leaving me aware that deafness is now part of me and the future. I made a pact with myself, seeing that many things can go wrong with and in a body, that this right ear of mine, being almost useless, will not bring me down, although I’m struggling. By this time, as the hearing loss gradually deteriorated, my ‘behaviour’ and ‘body language’ had to adjust slowly and congruent to the level of deafness.
Some of the biggest challenges of my hearing loss was to be totally alert to the world around me. One example is when my partner and I, sitting on the veranda chatting, hear normal nighttime sounds. Be it a baby crying in the far, dogs barking, cars bumping over the speedhump in the street right in front of our house, or ambulance and police activities. My partner can always hear which side the sounds are, in which direction they are moving, and that is where I am stuck. As the dogs keep barking on my left, I know very well that the neighbours on my left do not have dogs. Asking my partner where the dogs are, he informs me that the dogs are barking on the right. Precisely opposite to where I heard them. This means that all sound passes the deaf ear and enters the good ear, and that is where I listen to it come from. To keep turning my head when people spoke to me was embarrassing until I also decided to chuck that feeling. The bottom line, I couldn’t hear, and my good ear had to do the work. May it then be to turn my head so that the right ear is closer to the source of the sound. It did look like some lizard, turning its head to the sun.
Managing my career was another ballgame. As a nurse in Psychiatry, the environments I have worked in were all very noisy. The days consist of people, people, and again, people. I did not realize I am a champion at reading lips, body language, and other subtle communication clues. Turning my head so often to the speaker became first nature, and things like planning where to sit in a lecture, in a restaurant, the good ear to be in the direction of the source of the sound. Quite often, on the premises at work, lovely big garden, and someone is calling me from a distance, I always react to the ‘good’ side- to notice nobody is calling me – then – on turning my head 180 degrees, I would see the person greeting me. On greeting the person, they often found it humorous and laughed. Not at me, more with me.
Then I would say: ‘Eish, sorry man, I have this deaf ear that does not cooperate!
Since I was so immensely blessed to be a Cochlear™ Osia® client/patient/customer/owner, I experienced such joy in celebrating life and, in this case, technology in our lives.
As my partner is in the sound business, he used to joke and say that if he passed on before me, his whole sound system/home theatre must go to his friend, Pieter. Because, he said, it would be a waste for me to inherit it. He needs someone who will enjoy the system for what it is. Tongue in the cheek, though, but serious as well. Because it is how it is.
Now, with the Cochlear™ Osia®, I can hear in surround sound for the first time in about 25 years. I can now inherit my partner’s home theatre and all the sound equipment, seeing that I can hear surround sound. At night time, with our coffee and veranda time, I can hear the dogs barking on the specific side their bark originates from. I can also hear where the police, ambulance, and fire brigade are moving.
I am proud that I can listen to people without turning my head like a cockatoo to their side. I am happy that I can hear both my footsteps on a wooden floor and not only my left foot on the floor. I was surprised that, when driving my car, I can now hear passing cars. After so many years of not hearing vehicles on that side of the road, it was slightly scary to become aware of these new sounds.
Every night, I experience that when I remove the Osia®, I am as deaf as always in the left ear. Exactly then is where I stand in awe that I can hear almost normal in the day, and what an extremely blessed person I am to have this implant. So many times had I wondered, why me?
The answer inside my heart says: ‘Because…’. We don’t always have to have a specific reason for things like this. Again, it is how it is. Thank God.
Woman’s Month brings us to a place where we must reconsider how we will cope, manage and function in the future, pursue our goals, and not allow hard days to stop our progress. Other women will see the attitude with which we tackle life as positive, encouraging, and resilient. We will struggle through our unique battles in life up to the point of victory. We will surround ourselves with positive and strong people and make decisions to maintain an attitude of being courageous and resilient and never letting our guard down. This will rub off on others, building a nation with more powerful women, one by one; we won’t say yes to fall; we will stand up and, with courage, tackle our daily challenges.
Some of these strong ladies, who were standing by me with perseverance, love, and empathy, pulling me through until this blessed day with my Osia®,
Dr Elnemari Burden, (cochlear implant surgeon), Retha Botha Audiologist, and Chirése - Osia (angel).
I can hear surround sound, and also, I can hear in colours. I have all my senses back.
I am present and comfortable in my body now.
I can hear!