An Orchestra Player With a Cochlear Implant: Russell’s Story
Professional oboist and CI user Russell from the UK lost his hearing due to a rare disease affecting the inner ear. In this article, Russell tells us all about his decision to get a cochlear implant, how his RONDO 3 helps him in daily life, and how he manages to make music despite hearing loss.
My name is Russell. I am a British oboist who has been living in Portugal since March of 2001. I am the Principal Oboe with Orquestra do Norte in Portugal. It is my responsibility to give the tuning note to the entire orchestra. This note (A=441hz) is the reference point for all the musicians. My main hobby besides music is kayaking as well as going to the gym.
Cause of Hearing Loss: SCDS
My hearing journey started with very specific symptoms: dizziness, muffled hearing, and autophony—I could hear my own bodily functions amplified. I would hear my heart beating, my muscles contracting, and even my eyes moving from side to side. Because of these symptoms, I stopped canoe training and going to the gym. I was diagnosed with semicircular canal dehiscence syndrome (SCDS) and underwent surgery. I went home afterward and realized that I couldn’t hear in my left ear anymore. This is when I found out I would have to live with permanent deafness.
An Obstacle to Overcome
With the help of my doctor, I decided to get a cochlear implant. I saw my hearing loss as an obstacle that I needed to overcome to be able to play music and work in my orchestra again. Once my wound had healed, we were able to activate my audio processor. The first thing I heard was white noise. It was amazing. It sounded like a very badly tuned radio station. But I was SO happy.
I knew that was only the beginning and the hard work was yet to come.
Speech Therapy Right After Activation
Right after activation, I had speech therapy every week for about three months. I was told that—probably because I am a musician—in the space of six weeks, I was already at the level of a non-musician at six months. My speech therapist was incredibly nice—but also incredibly demanding. I think she knew what I was capable of and kept pushing me to do better. And I’m thankful she did.
A New Way of Hearing With Cochlear Implants
I also used music as part of my rehab. I would play my instrument, and although I was, for example, playing the note A, I was “hearing” something different. I knew what I was supposed to hear, and then I had to trick my brain into what I was actually hearing. I have had to learn a new way of hearing to be able to make music again. I also did music training with Meludia which turned out to be quite challenging and will probably keep me occupied for the next year or so.
RONDO 3: Simple Design and Handling
Currently, I am using both the RONDO 2 and the RONDO 3 audio processors. RONDO 3 is my favorite. Here are the reasons why:
- Firstly, my RONDO 3 offers a much fuller sound.
- I also like that it is so easy to recharge and that there is nothing hanging on my ear.
- And I also enjoy using WaterWear for my kayaking competitions.
- My RONDO 3 is a necessity during canoe marathons as it helps with directional hearing, and I can hear when to make way for other competitors.
The Importance of My Cochlear Implant
I’m very thankful for my cochlear implant. It has made me a tolerant person and more willing to help people less fortunate than myself. I saw my hearing loss in one ear as an obstacle or a challenge but never as a problem, since this negative term is not helpful to anybody.
Now that I have a cochlear implant, I can continue to share the beauty of the music I play in the orchestra, and that means everything to me.
Being Part of the MED-EL Family
I got to play at MED-EL’s Sound Sensation music festival, and I really enjoyed hearing and getting to know other musicians with CIs. I felt so humbled and inspired by them. I would like to thank MED-EL for their amazing support, their professionalism, their kindness, and how much they care about hearing implant users. The MED-EL family has changed my life. I cannot thank them enough!
Thank you, Russell!
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