Artist Elisabeth Krenner became totally deaf following a coma at the age of 24. It wasn’t until 20 years later that she received her first cochlear implant, followed by a second for her other ear. Today she is the head of the CI self-help group ‘Hearing despite deafness’. Through the Austrian Cochlear Implant Society, a support group, she provides advice, aimed mainly at people who became deaf as adults, and their families.
Elisabeth, why did you wait so long before having a cochlear implant (CI)?
The truth is, I was scared by the idea of the operation, even though I found being deaf difficult and isolating. But about seven years ago I got over my fear.
It’s obviously worked. Today you hear and speak just as well as anyone who hears naturally.
Yes, I’m deaf and yet I can hear! I’m very proud of that. Now I look back and think that you waste so much time if you don’t have the courage to get an implant. Your mind also suffers from being deaf as it cuts off a source of information. Now I’m always learning new things.
How did you find the journey from silence to hearing?
During the initial adjustment, everything was really loud and sounded strange. Sometimes it was quite unpleasant. And when I heard my own voice for the first time again, I didn’t want to speak any more. It sounded distorted, like Mickey Mouse! Despite that, every noise I heard was like a gift. And then I began my hearing training. I could still remember certain sounds but with the CI, everything sounded completely different. Besides my formal auditory training, I practised all the time with relatives and friends, who had to tell me exactly what I was hearing. After five months, I also went on an intensive auditory training course for a few weeks at a specialist rehabilitation institution.
Today you have implants for both ears. Why is that?
With only one implant, it was difficult to tell what direction sound was coming from, so I got an implant for the other ear 15 months later. Just one week after the second implant, I was able to hear 96 per cent of sounds. I’m still noticing improvements in the quality of my hearing. Over the past two years, telephone conversations have become increasingly easy for me – even without using an induction loop.
What helped you to hear so well after such a long period of no hearing?
I did a lot of auditory training – and I still do. I keep discovering new sounds. Also, my experience on the special rehabilitation programme with other CI users helped me a lot. And, of course, a positive attitude is important. The first thing you need to do is accept that you have an implant – don’t hide it. And then you can work with it, and get everything from your CI.