In March 2003 I had yet another ear infection. At first, I thought it was just a normal infection and subsequent perforation. However, I soon realised how wrong I was: for almost four days I was barely able to move in my bed, unable to even lift my head off the pillow - even touching my hair hurt. I sounded strange when I spoke and someone even asked me whether I was drunk but it wasn't because of that at all! I was unable to speak properly because it hurt too much to move my mouth to form the word pattern required. I was in great pain and yet there was so little my GP could do at the time - I was already on the strongest painkillers he could give me. I learned at a later consultation with my ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Consultant that it was possible that one of the little bones of hearing (the ossicles) had broken off (quite probably during this severe infection), resulting in what seemed to me to be a vast reduction in my ability to hear.
In May 2003, I saw the ENT specialist on one of my regular check-ups and it was on this occasion that I first learned I was being seriously considered for a bone-anchored hearing aid (a Baha)! WOW!! I was so very excited! I got to try out the headband version of the aid and wore it for around the hospital and grounds for about half an hour. I was amazed at what I could hear – especially when I heard things I had forgotten made a noise. It was wonderful and I was absolutely ecstatic when my specialist agreed I would be a suitable candidate for Baha and placed me on his list. I had my Baha surgery on 4 November 2003 and all went well with the operation itself, which I had carried out under local anaesthetic. The atmosphere in the operating theatre was so relaxed - fun, almost - as we were all laughing and joking.
About two weeks after the operation, I suffered a sudden and bad infection of the right ear and my eardrum perforated. This was unrelated to the actual surgery, but it was of course one of the reasons I had had the Baha surgery in the first place – I suffered constant perforations and so couldn't wear my air-conducting hearing aids comfortably or to any great benefit. On this occasion – as before – I went to my GP, who prescribed me the antibiotics and painkillers that have become my friends over the years. Unfortunately, the ear infection didn't respond to treatment as it had so many times before. I became very ill and suffered from repeated infection and perforated eardrums constantly for the next few weeks. I was in extreme pain and had problems with my eyes and balance as I couldn’t focus for the vertigo. The operation site itself also got badly infected resulting in two abscesses which burst, finally leaving the wound to heal slowly. For some time after this, there were times that I was unsteady on my feet, unable to walk freely up and down stairs, or in a straight line, or even to turn as quickly as I did before. (Things have improved now, of course, and though I still have a walking stick, I don't use it as often as I did back in those dark days when I thought I would never heal.) I went to see the specialist again in January 2004 to make sure that all was well with my ear (post perforations) and the operative site (post infection), and he confirmed that everything had healed well.
On 11 March 2004, after a wait of 19+ weeks post-surgery, I was issued with my sound processor. This was the second and final stage of the bone-anchored system and procedure, and since that date, I've been on cloud nine. Just after I was issued it, I rejoined other Baha users in the hospital room that we all met in, and I sat there, listening, playing with a serviette, totally astonished that I could hear the paper rustle. I could hear the sound of my hair, I could hear my coat, and I could hear the birds outside. I could hear the squeaking of the soles of shoes on the ground as people walked past me, and I could hear several conversations – and shock of shocks, I could understand them, too!
I went back to see the ENT specialists on 13 May 2004 and it was recommended that I have a longer abutment fitted, as my sound kept cutting out; it felt like someone kept turning the sound off. I was told that this was likely due to the fact that I have thick skin on my scalp close to where the sound processor sits, and I also have very thick hair around the abutment (though not immediately around it, due to the thinned area of skin grafted during the surgery.) I finally got the longer abutment fitted on 23 March 2006 - almost two years after it was first requested/prescribed - such are the resources of the NHS!
With regard to hearing with a Baha, one has to remember that no matter how wonderful it is, it's still technology helping me hear, and not my natural hearing that allows me to enjoy sounds. There are still times when I ask what a particular sound is, because it sounds different from what I remember it sounding like. Direction finding is a real problem at times, too, so I am extremely careful when I go out of the house.
In the early days of wearing my Baha, I found I would get headaches quite frequently. This was likely because of the constant exposure to noise that I couldn't hear before, and it was just that little bit too much. When this happened, I would just take the sound processor off and enjoy a little quietness in the deaf world again. Before too long, though, I would be plugged in again and enjoying the sound of the world around me.
Before I got my Baha, I was usually off work with an ear infection and perforation for a day or two (possibly even more) every 5-6 weeks. Since having my Baha, I have had fewer infections and less time off sick compared with previously; in this respect, Baha has proved its worth to me already.
Baha – it's the absolute best thing since sliced bread… and yes, despite everything I went through to get to where I am today, I would definitely do it all again.
Models of Baha worn:
Cochlear Compact: issued March 2003
Cochlear Divino: issued October 2007
Cochlear BP100: issued July 2011
Cochlear Baha 5: issued January 2016
If you would like to read further information about the Baha-style sound processor, have a look at the websites of Cochlear, Oticon Medical, Sophono - all manufacturers of bone-anchored hearing systems.
With the advent of technology, the Baha 5 is now available (I got mine in 2016) and it's got Bluetooth technology built-in! It's ‘Made for iPhone’ - pairs with the Apple phone (iPhone 5 onwards, I believe) and streams phone calls and music directly to the sound processor so that the user can hear clearly the phone sounds directly in their head. It's weird... it's WONDERFUL, though... I can finally use a phone again, with great success! :-) Of course, I still need to make sure it's fairly quiet around me so that I can hear, but heck, it's great being able to talk to people on the phone again! Furthermore, the sound processor also pairs with iPads and therefore, I can use my iPad as a phone and can Skype/Viber/FaceTime with friends in Australia, New Zealand or, of course, those who are just down the road! I have the iPad 2017 but I think the iPad Air onwards will pair with the Baha 5. Thanks to my 'MFI Baha', life is again wonderful! :-)
Baha Adapters and Accessories
As a user of the Baha implanted hearing aid system, I enjoy listening to music on occasion. In order to be able to use such equipment as mp3 players, or to listen to music on my computer’s hard drive, I used to use the Baha Audio Adapter. This neat piece of kit has two connectors; one end plugs into the Baha sound processor, and the other end – a jack plug – plugs into the circuit breaker (a vital bit of equipment), from where another cable leads which can be plugged into the mp3 player. The cable can, however, also be plugged into the soundcard of a computer, thereby allowing the Baha user to listen to music, or to use the computer as a phone. The cable connection between user and soundcard acts just like headphones would for a hearing person. In this way, the Baha user can keep in touch with family and friends, chatting on the computer using Skype, for instance. If you and your friends or relatives have this programme installed on your computer, and you pay for your broadband connection anyway, then you can chat for free – no need to worry about expensive phone calls to overseas destinations, or long calls just up the road. It’s a brilliant way of keeping in touch and it’s effectively free of charge once you’ve bought the equipment you need. (Note: you may also wish to buy an extension cable, which would allow you to move around from your pc; I have a 2m long extension cable. I don’t find this depletes sound quality to any great effect, and it enables me to leave my desk even whilst still listening to the conversation.) Now, with the arrival of the Baha 5, this method of plugging in has been superseded, provided one has the Baha 5 of course. I have kept my Divino and BP100 sound processors, so have also kept the cables and circuit breaker just as a back-up in case I need them.
Another useful bit of equipment that I had (and indeed still have) is the Baha telecoil adapter. This is like a little stick, which plugs into the Baha sound processor and acts like the T-switch of an air-conducting hearing aid, which allows sound pick-up from loop systems or microphones. When I was at Uni, I used this in lectures, where the tutor wears the microphone (purchased separately) around his/her neck, and I could then enjoy direct feed of his/her voice into my sound processor, allowing me to hear what was being discussed in class. This adapter was for use with the Divino sound processor, so has now been superseded.
The aforementioned Baha adapters can be purchased from the Connevans website if you wish to buy them.
More equipment is discussed on my ‘Assistive Devices’ page.