On a muggy Wednesday evening, I print off Nick’s testimonial, old-school style, and read his hearing loss story en route to dinner with friends. There’s something about reading one’s personal account that feels better on paper rather than in an email. It's a refreshing break from my digital world and highlights the almost diary-like feel of his hearing loss story he often humbly calls his 'quiet life'.
As I settle into his candid and honest words, it soon becomes clear that Nick has hit a few hurdles along the way and perhaps sporadically had a love-hate relationship with hearing aids over the years. There have been compromises.
There are hints of humour to be found in this story, but there’s also a certain clarity of how far hearing aid technology has come and that, even in its infancy and frustrations, a hearing solution has always been better than not wearing anything at all. Improving quality of life, relationships and the type of confidence that makes one’s personality switch from introvert to extrovert. I quickly scheduled a Zoom meet to delve a little deeper.
Nick attended a Catholic Grammar School in Sheffield from the age of thirteen and quickly realised that he couldn’t hear any of his teachers. Following a hearing consultation, he was fitted with one of the first analog NHS BTE hearing aids on his left ear. In reality, Nick's first experience with an analog hearing aid must have had a few ups and downs. Often having to battle mother nature herself to hear speech in background noise and wind.
The main niggle with analog hearing aids was that they simply amplified all sounds exactly the same way. Voices were nice and loud, but the front door closing and the traffic on the commute to school were all loud too. There was no focus or personalisation. But, it was the seventies and hearing aids had a long way to go, as did hearing loss awareness and education. The result was limited support from school and a daily struggle to hear over distances. Then along came Lindsay Wagner, star of The Bionic Woman, who high-kicked her way into pop-culture icon recognition - exposing hearing loss to the masses at the same time with her bionic ear.
“My saving grace was Lindsay Wagner, as the Bionic Woman, who wore a bionic ear. This enabled her to hear over vast distances - a really useful tool. My peers thought the same ability would be happening to me. Unfortunately, it was not the case. I was made out to be a villain, telling my classmates behind me to shut up and because hearing aids had poor wind suppression back then - my head was often at funny angles trying to avoid wind noise in PE line-ups”
Luckily, the hearing struggles of school life were not mirrored at home. Here is where his hearing aid made the most difference. Everyday challenges like moving nearer to the TV and having to fight for volume and remote control ownership with siblings were avoided. Nick's confidence began to grow and he slowly realised that his hearing loss didn't have to define him or limit his life choices. There was now a simmer of hope.
The eighties arrived and Nick was offered a hearing aid for his right ear, but he refused and the following years saw no extra support. "I was offered the option of having a second aid in my right ear but I said no. I just felt that two hearing aids would look worse than one if that makes sense. I just remembered my grandparents hearing aids and how much I noticed them. I didn't want that for me. It was the eighties and there was still a stigma surrounding hearing aids. It was only later that I became more confident wearing them.
My hearing aid eventually turned me from an introvert to an extrovert. So, I guess, in terms of personal development - it was a good thing. However, very little else was offered in terms of support during 1981 and 1985. Probably because other assistive technology wasn't available at the time. The Walkman years weren't good for me either, as I had to store the one aid somewhere whilst putting on my headphones"
Despite the limitations of hearing aid technology at the time, Nick showed resilience and shunned the barriers that hearing loss can often bring and attended Trent Polytechnic (now Nottingham Trent University) to study for a chemistry degree. He then went on to further study with a teaching training course, which saw him move from Sheffield to Leicester, where subsequently he began life as a science teacher in 1988. This is also when he experienced the friendly free-house culture of the late eighties in full glory, with a 'quick pint and banter' whatever time of the day. In a period when gaming machines were the craze, your Space Invader fix was essential to your working week and village pubs were the hub and heart of the community.
Along with the rest of the hearing loss community at this time, Nick will forever remember BBC's Ceefax and page 888, which kick-started better accessibility for hearing impaired TV viewers and introduced the magic of subtitles. This Teletext information service made it easier to keep up to date with the news and sports coverage, weather updates, music reviews, travel information and maybe the odd stint on Bamboozle.
"My actual start date, as a science teacher, was the same day that all-day drinking began. Knowing what I know of education now, I should have gone to the pub and stayed there! It was also a time when Ceefax and Oracle brought out page 888. This was a useful addition and improved my quality of life, but wasn't recordable. However, this was fine at home but viewing sports matches at other people's homes meant having to ask to put subtitles on, or not bother and suffer"
Marriage, children, emails, the internet and RNID came - technology and support just got better. VHS made way for DVD and subtitles, that actually were in sync with the content, became a reality. Nick went from mono to digital stereo, which improved his listening experience and, along with the discovery of ear hooks, he began to enjoy the Walkman generation. It wasn't all plain sailing though, there were ups and downs with loop systems and sporadic ear infections and inner-ear issues that led to a referral and an MRI scan. "Putting foreign bodies into my ears made them prone to infection. At one point my ears were so bunged up they told me to go at least a fortnight without wearing hearing aids to try and clear the infection. Having to go to my GP, led to delays in having new earmoulds made or reprogramming my hearing aids.
Vented earmoulds were offered, but due to poor feedback suppression of NHS hearing aids at the time, I never got them. This led to further investigation and finally an MRI scan. This was after an operation where my eardrum was pierced under a local anesthetic in the hope of improving volume. In fact, ABBA was playing whilst the surgeon worked and, unfortunately, on incision, they never got any louder! The MRI scan eventually showed the ossicles in both ears were damaged. An operation could have been done but the risk of further damage was probably outweighed by the success I was getting using hearing aids"
In 2008, Nick had two NHS Siemens digital hearing aids, but with the stresses and strains of constantly trying to clear ear infections and tackling (and failing) with loop systems, he decided to give supply teaching a go. Eventually, his Siemen's hearing aids at the time were upgraded and he could now use a streamer - giving him more access to the joys of music and benefit from streaming sounds directly to his hearing aids.
On a chance visit to a highstreet optician with his three children for an eye test, Nick also discovered the options that private hearing healthcare had to offer him and his hearing loss. After researching online and reading reviews of other people's experiences with private audiologists - he set out to visit such independents. After a few store visits, he found he was blown away by the soundscape he experienced while trialing some private hearing aids and decided upon the Resound LiNX2.
"Leicester NHS were brilliant and upgraded my Siemens hearing aids, which was a game changer, as the Siemens streamer was available. This allowed wireless linkage to my mobile phone to play music or using with a plug-in to stream sound directly to my hearing aids. The streamer was paid by myself and was really good - plus it was about the size of a matchbox!
Research on the internet did help me by giving me insights into other people's experiences of buying private hearing aids. I decided to visit some private audiologists. After some trips, the audiologist I chose recommended me the Resound LiNX2. I went for a walk outside and was blown away by the sound of an approaching pony and trap"
His personal hearing loss journey aside, Nick has assisted in hearing projects for both Salford and Nottingham University. Helping the industry to improve the stumbling blocks that those with hearing loss often face. Nick has played a part in making the quality of life for this community a little better. He gets it, he's been there before and has seen many incarnations of hearing aids over the years.
Nick took part in focus groups for Phonak, as they developed the Roger Pen and advised the BBC on various improvements to their current subtitles format. He also has a very active role on social media, which has become a platform for him to spread awareness to the masses on hearing loss and hearing aids. This is how we met, on Twitter (@Twinaided), and as he started chatting about his own personal journey, I knew that I wanted to share it.
From the short time I've known Nick, I can't help but congratulate him on his influential nature and his dedication to fighting for change. He has willingly tapped into the social world and has, in his own way, become a mentor of sorts for the hearing loss community, as they navigate their own personal challenges. Nick is looking to upgrade sometime in the near future, but what does he think of his current Resound hearing aids?
"These are linked to my iPhone with an app, so have done away with a streamer. I have since bought a Resound TV streamer and Multi Mic. The app allows me to adjust pitch, volume and reduce wind (useful as I used to spend a lot of time on the side of a football pitch when my son and daughter played football for local teams).
My partner and I went to see Bruce Springsteen at the then Ricoh arena. We have seen the boss a few times and the sound was poor - even according to people who could hear well. I was able to adjust bass and treble using the Resound app. Out of me and my partner, I heard Bruce the best.
They also had good feedback suppression, so I could have vented earmoulds - these alone have changed my life. No more infections or 'wet ear' feeling that has plagued me for a lifetime. Unfortunately, this has led to wax build-up which ultimately leads to feedback, so then the wax needs removing. Luckily, my audiologist does this as and when I need it"
Even if hearing aids are something that you’ve never considered, Nick’s story confirms that even the smallest contraptions have the power and technology to make a major impact in your life. Luckily, the days of the brown banana you remember your grandparents wearing are gone. Today, there are more stylish, discreet and advanced hearing solutions on the market.
But the first – and most important step – is to embrace that you might have a hearing loss, tackle the root of the problem, and get your hearing checked. Untreated hearing loss could cause more damage to your future hearing health and over time, without amplification, your quality of life and perception of sound can change.
I want to personally thank Nick for sharing his story with me. These are the type of stories I will never tire of hearing. People who start with very little confidence - to then go and make a mark in the world by dedicating themselves to making a difference. Nick continues to be passionate about working alongside hearing aid manufacturers and universities to instigate better accessibility, inclusivity and a deeper understanding of hearing loss awareness. In simple terms, we need more Nicks!
"My hearing is not perfect. My kids still love my misheard lyrics when I burst into song. I am grateful to my family for their support and the boffins who work to help those of us without sound. My hearing loss journey has been long but improvements have been made along the way. But I'm not alone. That's why I am active on social media helping other people as they take this journey with the quiet life"
Nick has moderate to severe loss in the left ear and mild to moderate in the right ear, but it is important to know that even mild loss isn't harmless. Call us free on 0800 567 7621 to learn more about hearing loss, hearing healthcare or to find a local audiologist in your area.
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