Gunner Muth

“It’s a beautiful noise, made of joy and of strife, like a symphony played by the passing parade, it’s the music of life, what a beautiful noise, coming’ into my room, and it’s beggin’ for me, just to give it a tune.”

The lyricist who wrote Beautiful Noise, sung by Neil Diamond, does in my mind, wonderfully express the beauty of sound and how being able to hear well again has returned and generated joy and happiness in my life and the people in it.

Three and a half years ago my life was very different. Due to bilateral profound hearing impairment, caused by prolonged noise exposure in my occupation as a marine engineer combined with a genetic susceptibility to noise induced hearing loss, I was a stressed and anxious person.

The loss of my hearing was a slow process which at the early stage was relative easy to cope with but over time became more difficult. Eventually I was dependent on lip-reading which did assist me when communicating with people face to face, but in darkness lip-reading is of no use. I felt very frustrated and insecure. Not being able to communicate at work was the deciding factor which made me give up a successful sea-going career at the young age of 32.

After coming ashore seventeen years ago I worked as ship surveyor and later in the ship repair industry too. Often I did not feel comfortable when I was surrounded by colleagues or clients because I knew that my hearing impairment prevented me from performing at top level and always put me a few steps behind everybody else.

At home, I found it very difficult to enjoy the company of friends, I was afraid to reach out to others. I kept my distance from others which put extra pressure on my family.

Before my cochlear implant (CI) I tried various hearing aids, but I experienced little success and consequently gave up using them.

Last week at my workplace (I am a marine surveyor) a woman asked: “Are you completely deaf?” I fully understood the way she put the question. She wanted to know how well I can hear after the CI. I wanted to tell her, “I am not deaf and I can hear like you. I can hear very well”.

My thought, “I am not deaf”, proves how successful the CI in my case was and how well I can hear now. I no longer regard myself as being hearing impaired.

I can communicate very well with any person and am quite comfortably in a large group of people. I feel a lot better about myself and more confident. I appreciate the beauty of sound and in particular the sound of music. It’s a privilege to be able to hear, something which should never be taken for granted.

As a result of the CI, I can hear birds singing, a door bell, a telephone ringing; rain drops on the windscreen, the sound of a cricket, the sound of striking a match. I can understand the announcements at an airport. I can hear a police car siren, the alarm signal of a security or control systems, the sound of a computer keyboard. I can use my cellphone to a certain extent while in normal mode but very successfully when selecting the “speaker mode”. Communicating in the dark and while driving in a car is no longer a problem. At work, my performance is no longer limited as a result of my hearing impairment.

The programming process, which started when the sound processor was fitted about a month after the implant, was enjoyable. Learning to interpret and understand the many different sounds which surround us was very exciting. Sounds which I had long forgotten slowly returned and I recognised them. My quite world was left behind and I returned into a realistic and lively one.

Comparing my life before and after the implant is like a colouring in book. Before the implant, only the black lines which outline the picture, and after the implant the picture is shown in beautiful colours. It’s complete, neat and looking alive.

Hearing is not just about being able to communicate with others but also about receiving and understanding all the different kind of sounds which form part of our daily life. It is said “seeing is believing”, I say “hearing is knowing”’.

Sound has an effect on you emotionally and physically. How sad that not many more of us with profound hearing loss and who are suitable candidates cannot benefit from CI due to financial reasons.

If it had not been for the first implant in South Africa in 1986 and all the other implants which followed I would still be battling. If it was not for the research, hard work and dedication of a team of specialists, many of us would still be living in a silent world.

To all of you who have helped to change my life and the life of many others; I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The difference you have made is infinite.

l Muth, is a marine engineer and cochlear implant user.