Wearing a stethoscope rigged to a hearing aid, music on the radio disappears and the sounds of voices are deep and muffled.
This was Jodi Guilbault’s hearing for most of her 42 years, a Metchosin resident who went deaf not once, but twice over her lifetime.
But a cochlear implant, an electronic device implanted in her inner ear, has changed her life.
In July 2010 she travelled to Vancouver for the surgery. A few weeks later, she heard the birds singing and her cat Harley meow for the first time.
“With with cochlear implant I heard high pitched noises my brain hadn’t heard before. My own voice sounded strange.”
Guilbault was born with hearing, but at two and half years old, she burned up with a fever of 105 F for three days after coming down with measles and chicken pox simultaneously.
The high fever caused her to lose her hearing, but being so young it took her parents and other adults a while to realize she was mostly deaf.
“They didn’t realize I had hearing loss until I was three and half,” Guilbault said. “I adapted by reading lips so I was responding (to people) so they didn’t notice right away.
“I became uninterested in TV. If people read books to me I would fall asleep and when people were calling my name I wouldn’t respond.”
Guilbault was fitted with hearing aids at age 3, so she could listen to conversations and lower frequencies, but not most music or high pitched sounds.
Shortly after her 40th birthday Guilbault lost her hearing yet again. One day she woke up and the hearing aids didn’t amplify anything. She’s not sure why this happened, but assumes her hearing had deteriorated gradually to a point where hearing aids stopped working. “I was devastated,” Guilbault said.
Fortunately, technology had caught up. She was able to get the cochlear implant and experience a whole new auditory world. After her surgery, she would often stop and ask her family, “What is that sound?” In the past year, she enjoyed music for the first time and listened to the radio.
At home, a ticking clock had Guilbault scouring her kitchen trying to figure out what the noise was, a similar experience to the turn signal in her car.
“My life has been so much better and I am so much happier,” Guilbault said. “Now I can hear foot steps and people don’t startle me.”
Before receiving the implant, Guilbault suffered eight months in utter silence. During that time she carried on as a wife, mother and a technical web analyst for the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“It was very hard for the kids when I went deaf for those eight months,” Guilbault said.
Work was also difficult. Only reading lips, she had trouble following who was talking in meetings. Guilbault was exhausted at the end of each day. “My eyes were so tired of lip reading,” Guilbault said.
The first summer Guilbault with her implant, she was happy to sit around a bonfire with her family and hear conversations without having to shine a light on faces to read their lips.
Some tasks remain tough. Talking on the telephone is difficult for Guilbault, and she can pick up interference from microwave ovens, computers and fluorescent lights. As runner and motorcycle racer, she’s trying to figure out how to secure the external cochlear device to her head.
Guilbault has lived with hearing loss for most of her life, but her parents always pushed her to succeed. She paved the way for other kids, entering Savory elementary as the first child in the Sooke School District to attend public school with a disability.
“As a kid, one of the challenges was hearing at movies, dances, plays and at night time when it was dark,” she said. “(Now I can) even watch the stars while hearing a conversation, so cool. It would have been nice to do this when I was a kid.”