Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Into The Void Part 6 : Escape

I can still remember the day of the Switch-On quite clearly and also the days that followed. Getting used to sounds again was a curious process. At first I was amazed by the sound of birds singing but then I became overwhelmed by the noise they made. Alexander discovered me sat in the garden a couple of days after Switch-On throwing pebbles at the apple tree in my attempt to scare the local bird population away. A few days later I had learned to partially "tune-out" the bird songs which was both a blessed relief for my sanity and, I am sure, an equally blessed relief for the birds. I became a regular visitor to my local car repair garage, taking my car back on at least two occasions during the first few weeks after Switch-On, convinced there was something seriously wrong with it. "What's the matter this time?" the car mechanic would ask in exasperation. "It's making the most awful noise", I would reply before been told patiently that that was the kind of noise all cars made.
Within a remarkably short period of time the "Minnie Mouse" effect began to fade and I no longer heard artificial mechanical voices but natural ones full of a host of different tones and rhythms. I became fascinated by accents : particularly the accents of people who I had met only after the deafness set in. When you are deaf you do give people "voices" but these tend to be devoid of the richness and variety of natural speech patterns and it was a delight to re-discover the many regional accents of Britain.
The most glorious re-discovery was undoubtedly music. When I had questioned people before the operation they had suggested that, if I were lucky, I might be able to follow music I had previously known. In such cases memory might fill in the gaps between the level of information the implant could handle : music was, after all, a very complex code of information. Within days I had started to experiment. With tremendous joy I discovered that I could follow - indeed I could enjoy - music, even music that was new to me. I went through a strange, accelerated learning process where - for the first time since my early teens - I became hooked on the latest pop songs that were doing the rounds. The simpler forms of such tunes were ideal to learn to cope with the more complicated structures of, what had always been my great love, jazz. Within a few weeks I felt able to test out my abilities by going to a live jazz gig at a local pub. I had not listened to live jazz since the Gerry Mulligan concert some fifteen years earlier. It was just a local band, nothing special. They played on the patio outside the pub. There were not that many people listening. Most people were talking or eating or reading the Sunday papers. But if you had looked carefully that day you would have seen a chap sat near the front crying his eyes out. Crying with joy at being reunited with music after so long an absence.
It is eleven years since Switch-On and several things have changed. Cochlear implants are no longer categorised as experimental and the funding problems I mentioned in my e-mails of the time have largely gone. The external parts of the implant system have improved in their design and size and the batteries, speech processor and transmitter are now so small they are hardly noticeable. But some things don't change. Every morning when I wake up I attach the implant and switch it on. I cough. And it is not until I hear that cough that I know things are alright. I know that for another day I will be able to hear.


  1. Fascinating, Alan. I've thoroughly enjoyed hearing about your journey back into the world of sound.

  2. I'm so glad you shared your story. It has been completely enjoyable!

  3. Thanks for the trip. -Jayne

  4. Alan, I felt like crying with you when you were reunited with music. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us.

  5. "A blessed relief for the birds..."
    I like it. Birds can make an awful(ly nice) racket!
    I've enjoyed every word of your story - thank you for sharing.

  6. You Sleep unhearing! No Snoring or Noise next door!
    It must have seemed like a miracle. The Picture of you crying at the Jazz Gig!Wonderful Image.
    Thank You Alan.

  7. I agree with Tony that the image of you at the local band's gig at your pub is very moving. The whole series has been first rate. Thanks!


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...