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When I tell people I’m deaf many tell me they can’t hear out of one ear. In other words they have single sided deafness, but interestingly most have never sought treatment.
Many people live with just one ear working and don’t even think much about it. But others find they are disadvantaged by only having half their hearing. The two biggest disadvantages are finding the direction of sound and the difficulty it causes in noisy situations. With two ears our brains cross reference and tune out background noise, but with just one ear background noise intrudes.
Those of us who have gone deaf in later life often found that one ear deteriorated at a different pace than the other. I was 28 when I lost hearing in my left ear. At that time not only did I have single sided deafness but it was also discovered my right ear was working at only about 50%.
For a time a hearing aid in my right ear helped me boost the sound I received – but I was still living with single-sided deafness. My hearing aid dispenser tried to combat this with a cross aid. This meant I wore two devices, one on each ear with a cord running from my left side to my right hearing aid. The intention was to give me the advantage of two microphones and help boost the sound in my good ear as well as combat the issue of sound direction.
Even with just one ear working I lived well. Of course I did miss things because my hearing just couldn’t pick up sound at a distance. But I still talked on the phone and, provided I placed myself in the right position, I could participate in meetings and social functions.
As my hearing deteriorated I simply couldn’t pick up enough sound to make having a cross aid worth the effort. I missed more and more as I couldn’t always position myself to take advantage of what little hearing I had left. I would swap sides whenever I walked with people but withdrew from social groups. Eventually I became totally deaf and no longer had even single-sided hearing.
Then I had a Cochlear Implant in my left ear. Once again I was back to single sided hearing – and oh what a joy – but this time I was hearing on the opposite side to what I had for 20 years. I was so used to only hearing through my right ear that single-sided hearing on my left side felt alien. I had become used to judging distance and direction from my right side, but even so I was never conscious of sound coming from one side only. I had slowly adapted to one-sided hearing regardless of which side worked!
When I had my second Cochlear Implant, becoming bi-lateral for the first time in 40 years was quite interesting. I no longer had to favour one side over the other, even though through habit I find I still try to position myself on someone’s left side. It’s quite a surprise when, if I can’t choose a position, I find can still hear.
The other day my husband and I were on a bridge high above the Murray River. The wind was blowing hard and my second implanted ear was hurting. I removed my processor and popped it into my pocket for safe keeping. Temporarily, I once again had single sided hearing. My husband was standing on the opposite side to the processor I was still wearing and when he spoke I was acutely conscious of him being on my right side but distinctly hearing him in my left ear. This is something I had never experienced before and is obviously something I heard because my brain has adapted to bi-lateral hearing. When I became, for this short time, single sided hearing again, I was able to distinguish direction and recognise a distinct difference as to where the sound was coming from.
We have so many built in redundancies in our bodies that we can get by even if we only have one of something – one eye, one ear, one kidney. I found it extremely interesting, when I removed one of my processors, that I could recognise the sound was on my right but clearly heard it in my left ear. It was something I never experienced when I truly had single-sided deafness.
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