I know, I know, I’ve done it again. It’s two years, almost to the day, since I last wrote. Argh. I started this post a year ago… wow, what a lot has happened since then, but for now I’ll just get this post out of the way. :-)
General CI update
First of all, my cochlear implants have been going pretty well. I had a software upgrade early last year which, in general, made sounds clearer, and also improved my music experience. Yay! I shouldn’t have waited so long before going back to the audiologist. I do have issues with pain on some of the electrodes which tends to mean that, with each visit, these electrodes have the volume turned further down, which is psychologically unpleasant but isn’t noticeably detrimental to my hearing experience.
Me, the scuba diver
Ears aside, in my mind one of the really positive things that happened last year is that I learned to scuba dive. I did my Open Water Diver (OWD) course in May, 2011. Diving is something that has held an attraction for me since at least high school, however there has always been something else more important to spend my money on. Finally, however, at the ripe old age of cough, cough, I bit the bullet.
I started the process by dropping in at Perth Diving Academy in Balcatta, about a 3-minute drive from my place. I spent quite some time talking to the folks there, and they could not have been more helpful. I was so impressed with the service that I wasn’t even interested in looking at other dive shops.
The Dive Medical
As a pre-requisite to the OWD course, everyone must undertake a dive medical, to be carried out according to Australian standards. Even with cochlear implants, I didn’t expect this to be an issue. I’d contacted the Med-El representative in Australia, who told me that my particular implants have been tested to 50 metres depth, which is deeper than I anticipate I’ll ever want to go. So I turned up for my dive medical feeling quietly confident.
The first thing the nurse wanted to do was put me in a hearing booth for a hearing test. I laughed wryly. “Good luck with that,” I said. When all was explained to her, she said, “Oh. I haven’t come across this before. I’d better talk to the doctor.” She disappeared for a bit then said the doctor wanted to see me before she went any further, so I had to wait a while longer for the doctor to become free.
The doctor eventually told me that he hasn’t come across a wannabe diver with cochlear implants in his 30 years of doing dive medicals. It seems I was his guinea pig, but I was happy to be one in this instance. He’d contacted an audiologist who sometimes worked there about it, and was awaiting her call back. Lo and behold, it was my beloved Roberta, who had been with me since my CI (Cochlear Implant) assessment, through switch-on and beyond. She’d left the Lions Hearing Clinic to go into private practice a year earlier. She called within minutes and I got to talk to her (evil woman — she may have guessed how much the phone would stress me! ;-) ) and it was all very wonderful.
However, she didn’t throw any light on the doctor’s dilemma. He was happy that the implants themselves were safe to 50 metres but, thinking aloud, wondered if the wiring that ran from the implant (which is embedded in the skull) to the cochlea might somehow compromise the integrity of the structure of the inner ear. He said that even though my hearing couldn’t be damaged any further, the vestibular (balance) system was in that area and his concern was that it could be affected in some way. I did appreciate him thinking it through and considering every conceivable negative consequence, but it was a bit hairy for a while there, wondering if I was going to pass the medical.
Still, after putting me through all the usual testing (all good!) the doctor decided that he had no real reason not to give me the go-ahead, so I left feeling happy and warm and fuzzy, dive medical certificate in hand.
After a couple of course cancellations due to lack of numbers at the Balcatta dive shop (it was, after all, late autumn and getting chilly) I decided I’d travel the extra 20 minutes to Hillarys where a course was going ahead, just to get to do it.
So I dutifully turned up at the Hillarys dive shop on the designated date, and the course commenced. The first morning was in the classroom, going over the pre-course material. That was fine. I’d done my homework! But in the afternoon we did pool work and, oh my, that was stressful.
Although everyone is in the same boat underwater, and no one can talk to each other there, it was a little different for me. If I had any kind of issue, I could come to the surface and tell the instructor, Dohn, but I could not, of course, hear his advice on how to deal with it. At the best of times, I get stressed when I can’t hear and know (or worry) I’m missing something important. Here was I, engaging in a potentially life-endangering activity and being taught how to do it safely, yet not being able to hear… well, to say that “I didn’t find it easy” would be a gross understatement.
Day 2 was somewhat better, because Dohn brought a slate into the pool so he could write things down for me and was really understanding and encouraging, assuring me he’d get me up to speed and wouldn’t let me drown. And he is a man of his word!
That’s not north!
Probably the most humorous aspect of the dive course related to the navigation exercises. Before going into the ocean, we first took our compasses out to the carpark and were shown how to use them. I was a bit confused by mine. I knew where North was, but my compass seemed to be telling me something else. I showed Dohn who seemed a bit puzzled, but acknowledged there was something wrong so gave me his own compass to use. When this compass, too, failed to indicate the correct direction of North, I realised that the magnets of my cochlear implants were interfering with it. Ha! What we did learn, though, was that there would be no adverse effect underwater so it was evidently related to my speech processors rather than the implants themselves. That was a relief!
Having cochlear implants has not proved a barrier to diving itself, but I certainly have a different experience of it compared with hearing folks, especially on boats with other people around. Sure, no one can talk underwater, but hearing people can still hear bubbles, and fish. (Yes, they apparently make a noise.) Hearing people can hear if boats go overhead, or an emergency whistle, or their buddy, if experiencing some kind of difficulty, tapping his or her tank trying to get their attention. At the surface, if someone from the boat calls out to me, I have no idea what they’re saying. When I get onto the boat, I’m asked for depth and remaining cylinder pressure but at least I know what to expect there. But the divemaster and everyone concerned needs to know in advance that I won’t hear if spoken to.
Then, of course, I’m on the boat with wet hair and still can’t hear because as long as my hair is wet I can’t use my speech processors. (Water and electronic devices definitely don’t mix!) So I’ve taken to bringing a hair dryer with me so my speech processors can go back in. I have my normal, powerful one for boats that will accommodate it, and also a portable, rechargeable one for smaller boats and beach dives. I have had some strange looks, I can tell you! A hairdryer on a dive boat! I wouldn’t be surprised it was previously unheard of, but even if other folks think I’m a princess, then so be it. I don’t want to be hours without my “ears”.
A magical new world
A stingray at Rottnest Island near Perth, Western Australia
Diving literally opens up a whole, magical new world. The underwater landscape is surreal, and the inhabitants are too. I love this world and feel far more protective of marine life than I was before. As a result, not just over-fishing and ocean dredging the world over causes me concern, but eating seafood at all creates something of a quandary. I like to swim with those creatures, not eat them! I find the concept quite confronting.
As with most things, the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. The more I dive, the more respect I have for those who are Instructors and Dive Masters, because they are true masters of their crafts and I have such a long way to go! As a new diver, it has been fantastic to have an experienced dive buddy in Dohn, who was my instructor and then great friend, and now my beloved partner.
I’ve also been collecting specialties at a great rate. So far I have — in addition to OWD and Advanced — Nitrox, Night, Deep, Wreck and EFR/Rescue Diver. Now I just need to finish Dive Theory to attain Master Scuba Diver (MSD) level. I’m on my way! :-)