Connect with Charles

  • Lives in: Scotland
  • Deafness cause: Chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM)
  • Baha® 5 Power

Charles 64, from Newton Mearns, Glasgow. Chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM) sufferer who was fitted with a Baha® bone conduction hearing implant on his left ear in 2012 under general anaesthetic and on his right ear in 2015 under local anaesthetic. He was upgraded to Baha® 5 Power on June 16, 2016.

Charles’s new hearing technology has proved to be a lifesaver within weeks of being fitted.

When his diabetic wife, Eileen, collapsed at their home in Newton Mearns recently, he was able to place a wireless mini microphone accessory around her neck and talk to the 999 responder so they could identify if she was having another stroke.

The mini microphone can stream directly to the Baha wirelessly giving better sound clarity in noisy and challenging environments.

“Her breathing was so faint, but because of the accessory, I was able to hear her voice through my Baha and answer the responder’s questions.”

It wasn’t a stroke, but a severe chest infection which has since caused a setback in Eileen’s health. A long term diabetic, she has also suffered a heart attack and stroke in recent years, and Charles is her main carer.

But thanks to the new technology – called a Cochlear Baha 5 Power launched in the UK in June – Charles can now hear his wife from any room in the house or the garden if she calls for help.

“I call it a lifesaver – it is a huge leap forward,” says the 64-year-old. Eileen agrees. “If anything happens and I need to raise the alarm, he can immediately hear me – I feel safer,” she says.

Since he was a boy, Charles struggled with his hearing and had recurrent ear infections. He remembers going to school with purple coloured ears as his mum frequently applied Gentian Violet, a topical antiseptic, in a vain attempt to cure the problem. Being dyslexic, his hearing loss was often confused with this learning difficulty as he was prone to mispronouncing words.

It wasn’t until he was in his late 40s that he was finally fitted with analogue hearing aids. Up until that point, he had got by at home and at work - as a health and safety officer for Scottish special needs charity Key Community Supports - by lip-reading. The hearing aids however didn’t help the ear infections and when these occurred he had to go without the aids while his ears dried up, relying once again on his lip-reading.

But the worst was yet to come. Within a few years of being upgraded to digital hearing aids with hypoallergenic ear pieces, Charles started to suffer continual runny ears that turned his world upside down.

“It would literally pour down the side of my face. I couldn’t sleep properly because as soon as I laid down my pillow was wet. It was like having a really bad cold with a runny nose, but it was my ears instead.”

His skin around his ears became sore from lying on damp patches and he had to throw away pillows regularly, despite laying on towels or wearing a neoprene head band with pads to prevent them becoming soiled. He spent many a night sleeping in his wife’s reclining chair rather than his bed because he couldn’t bear to have his head on damp pillows.

For nearly three years, he went to see ear care nurses once a fortnight to have what he calls “my ears serviced”. They were regularly syringed and cleaned. Swabs were taken to see which antibiotic would work – “I was rattling with pills”.

Despite having joined the health club across the road from his office, Charles was now banned from swimming, his favourite sport, and missed going snorkelling on holidays.

The infection affected his balance greatly. He could no longer do jobs around the house such as pruning trees or climbing a ladder to fix shelves – a constant frustration to a man usually capable at DIY. His hearing loss also changed the dynamics within the family as Charles was left out of conversations.

“I had to shout at him all the time,” said Eileen, “and Neil (their 34-year-old son) and I ended up just having conversations with each other.”

But the biggest challenge, both physically and mentally, came at work.

“I felt so insecure and embarrassed as I thought the first thing people looked at when they saw me was my runny ears. I had to have my phone labelled with big stickers to prevent other people using it.

“As my job required me to stay in hotels all over Scotland, I had to face reporting to reception that my ears had leaked overnight, badly marking the pillows - despite me having used pillow protectors (which I always carried) and sleeping with my head on a towel in attempt to avoid this happening.”

As well as embarrassment, the runny ears meant Charles could not wear his hearing aids and he was totally reliant on lip-reading. The combination of lip-reading and the runny ears meant he was permanently exhausted. He remembers going on holiday during those dark days and uncharacteristically slept until lunchtime each day because he was so exhausted.

“I could get by in small groups, but at large meetings, I often asked questions that had already been asked.”

A low point came when, following a large group presentation, Charles apologised to the organiser for asking so many questions. He was told not to worry as his manager had already apologised on his behalf.

“I felt so embarrassed at that as I had not known how big a problem this was – that really hit my confidence levels and I struggled to go to work.”

Charles admits he was lucky to have a good manager and to work for a special needs charity which was used to being flexible – “I don’t think other employers would have put up with it,” he says.

Help came when the results of an in-depth allergy test to investigate the cause of the runny ears were sent to an audiologist at The New Victoria Hospital in Glasgow. The audiologist realised there was nothing more that could be done to stop the discharge, and recommended Charles was fitted with a Baha – a hearing technology which transfers sound by bone vibration directly to the cochlea, bypassing the outer and the middle ear where the infection lay.

He had his first Baha fitted on his left ear under a general anaesthetic in 2012 and immediately noticed a difference in his confidence levels when he went back to work as he wasn’t so reliant on lip-reading and his runny ears began to dry up. Three years later, he had his right ear fitted with a Baha under local anaesthetic and Eileen says “he is now back to his jovial self”.

With the runny ears gone, Charles can finally get a decent night sleep and join in family conversations.

“It was like a light switch being flicked on. My sleeping patterns improved as my ears had dried up. I could focus on work because I could hear better and my confidence levels improved. And, importantly, my family could talk to me again - it was so good to hear their conversations.”

Having been upgraded to the latest Baha hearing technology in June, Charles can barely contain his excitement.

“My original Baha were fantastic, but I still struggled in big groups, but these new ones have a high quality of sound. I can hear questions from the back of a room and have conversations with background music on - it’s no problem. It is like having your analogue phone replaced with the iPhone.”

Sadly, Charles had to retire early this year due to a deterioration in his own health condition (he suffers with COPD - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and his wife’s poor health, so hasn’t been able to wow his work colleagues with his upgraded ears. But he still remembers the day after his Baha operations, when his ears had dried up and he was able to rip the warning stickers off his work phone - “That was a big saviour to my confidence boost at work,” he adds.

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