Georgia Dixon


I was deaf for most of my life

I was deaf for most of my life

Shirley Ackehurst, 74, became deaf as a young girl then returned to the world of sound after having a cochlear implant at the age of 44. She rejoices in being able to hear her family again and one of her favourite sounds, rain drumming on the roof.

As I walk in my garden I can hear the quiet clucking of the yellow-tailed black cockatoos as they feed on the hakea nuts. I remember a time when I couldn't hear them at all or any other sound. I had lived in a silent and isolated world after losing half of my hearing when I had the mumps at 11 years of age and the rest had slowly dwindled away until at the age of 36, I was profoundly deaf in both ears. Even with a hearing aid I could no longer hear the voices of my husband and children and our social life became very limited. This illness was to change my life forever.

I had once been a happy and confident child growing up on a wheat and sheep farm near Elmore, in central Victoria. I loved the sounds on our farm but most of all I loved to hear the rain drumming on our iron roof at night while feeling safe and cosy tucked up in bed. However, deafness sapped my confidence and I became a shy and lonely teenager, struggling to keep up with my friends in social situations and keeping up at school only by lip reading. For as long as I could remember I wanted to be a nurse when I left school and was devastated when told I was too deaf to cope with nursing and the wonderful Nursing Bursary I had won was cancelled. I felt I lived in my own isolated world apart from everyone else and this made me very miserable and depressed.

After Graham and I married we lived in Geelong where two of our daughters were born then later on we moved to Adelaide where our third daughter was born. As a very deaf mum my life was difficult and I was exhausted by evening from the energy required to lip read constantly and having to check on the children all the time because I couldn't hear them.

Then at the age of 44 a miracle happened, I had a cochlear implant in my right ear. It is almost impossible to describe my great joy in being able to hear my husband and children again and later on, my adorable grandchildren. And once again I could hear my favourite sound, the rain drumming on the roof.

My cochlear implant has given me back my life, it has given me self-confidence and self-worth, it has returned me to the hearing world and it has given me once again, the ease of communication, especially with my loved ones. I know I am very fortunate and I feel a deep sense of gratitude every day for this wonderful invention.

It saddens me that many older people do not realise they may be eligible for a cochlear implant, thinking that it is only available for small children. I have friends who were in their 80's when they received their implants and it has made such a difference to their lives. I have heard them say, “Oh! I wish I'd had this implant years ago!”

Sometimes hearing impairment can creep up on us so slowly we don't realise how many sounds we cannot hear any more. We struggle to understand when using the phone or in noisy situations and at family gatherings and frequently need to ask others to repeat themselves. We strain to hear in social situations and come home tired out and lacking in confidence and we feel isolated and sometimes embarrassed.  Often our loved ones plead with us to have our hearing checked because a hearing loss impacts on all the family too.

In recent years the cochlear implant and hearing aids have improved immensely so help is out there, we just need to take the first step and have a hearing check. Above all, we need to protect our hearing at all times by using hearing protection when operating noisy machinery and avoiding prolonged loud noise.

Cherish your hearing, it is so very precious.

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Related links:

Understanding long-term hearing damage

The different kinds of hearing aids explained

Study highlights importance of hearing tests