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Come Join Me For a Hearing Experience!: New Sounds Using The Cochlear Implant

Editor's Note: Penny Leclair is AEBC's First Vice President.

Near the end of spring 2005, I had an unforgettable experience that I will cherish forever. I heard long since forgotten sounds and some with new-found clarity.

It was the 17th annual Lion's Club Bait Fishing Derby near West Meath, a small town two hours outside of Ottawa. Participants were blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted people from across Ontario, Quebec and the United States, at least 56 in total and each with a guide called a Shepherd.

My husband David, guide dog Kilo, and I arrived at our resort cabin at three PM one Friday in June. We had taken public transit, which was very noisy, making it difficult to distinguish voices so David used two-hand when necessary. Now, the gravel path to the cabin crunched under our feet and it was hard to distinguish singing birds. I knew the crunching was the gravel but was surprised at how loud it was!

My Shepherd for the weekend was Nancy Lawson, who has learned two-hand, and has who has a love of nature. Guiding me toward our cabin, she stopped to tell me that Canadian geese were coming--a flock of them. She turned me so I was facing them as they moved closer. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to hear. I knew people said they "honked" but would that be the sound?

I waited. At first I heard something far off, odd, different, but I wasn't sure, until I noticed it getting louder. The honking finally came to me, way overhead, and far off. Nancy said they would fly over us, and she started counting.

I was so totally amazed--the honking, the clarity, how it came closer, closer, and that upward feeling, and how they could be heard honking to each other.

As Nancy was counting, I was up there, with those geese, I could hear all the honking behind, in front, to the side, but all moving and calling to one another constantly. As they flew by, their honking became more distant. Nancy turned me so I was facing them as they left us. I felt joy but also a little sadness that it was so quickly over.

Oh, if I could just have flown with them! You get a feeling that they are calling and a protective type of way. It echoes around such an area--what a thrill to hear! I don't believe I can ever recall having heard that sound before. Nancy estimated there were a few hundred of them. It sure was a sight to hear!

That evening, we had a lovely Lion's dinner at a nearby hall, where there were about 150 people including all the participants, their Shepherds and the fishermen. I found that having so many people together makes it impossible for me to hear, and I was glad Nancy was nearby to let me know what was happening.

Voices sound more similar with the cochlear implant, but I can learn voices.

We opened the evening by singing both the Canadian and American national anthems and that was the first time I had heard the actual words to these songs. It was an unexpected surprise for me and I felt a part of the group in a way I haven't for years. As my hearing improves, my ability to hear some music is increasing.

Nancy and I enjoyed talking to Wincell, the fisherman and captain we would be with the next day. I could not hear his voice well, but I knew that the next day we would verbally communicate on the water!

I was excited, in suspense, to know what being out on the water was going to sound like. I felt just like it was Christmas because of all the unknowns when I do new things using the cochlear implant. I talked with the members of our cabin, sometimes moving closer to them. It is nice to communicate directly with people again. David could have time to himself to get to know people while I chatted! It is confidence building to be alone with someone, and I could hear and respond. I am getting better all the time.

The next morning, David wanted me to listen for a woodpecker that had been pecking at a telephone pole. I didn't think I would hear it. I knew it would be a knocking sound. I waited. Nothing.

Then David said, "Penny, I know you can hear it if you know what to listen for, so I will tap you when it starts, and stop tapping when it finishes."

My goodness, knock knock knock all in a neat rhythm. Each time I could hear this same rhythm, always so similar. I loved its rhythm, how it stops and waits, and then starts again. It was not really close to me, yet I heard it. I couldn't wait to share this news with Nancy.

After breakfast the boats began arriving, 28 in all to accommodate two people each. Nancy stayed on shore and I told her I would come back with a big fish. As she walked along the dock with her husband, I noticed the sound of feet on wood and a slight creaking noise. I wanted to stop and listen, but there was no time for listening!

Wincell's boat was a strawberry red colour and about 20 feet long. When I found out his boat was red, my favourite colour, I felt lucky and that I was going to catch a big fish.

I sat in the middle, David on one side, Wincell on the other. We backed up slowly and I heard the water. I couldn't hear much after we picked up speed because of the engine though. With 175 horsepower, we got up to about 56 miles per hour and I sure held on to my hat! The best part for me was when Wincell slowed down and I could hear the water hit the boat as we went over some waves. Oh, that sound!

Wincell spent a lot of time showing me how to cast off. I got the hang of it, but after about an hour he offered me another way to fish, as I wasn't getting lucky with this method. We moved to a new location, and I held a rod as the line floated in the water behind us--trolling--and I paid attention to the tension of the fishing line.

Trolling is less active than casting off and I used this time to listen. Each time David and Wincell cast off, I heard the distinct sound of the weight hitting the water and the line going out. Each time we moved to a new spot, it was as if new birds sang to me. Whenever we passed a rocky shoreline, I heard the unique and wonderful sound of water hitting rock and coming back down. I was thinking, "Remember, Penny, you are fishing." But I was listening as hard as I fished! I had such an "in the moment" feeling.

I caught a fairly big catfish, about five pounds, but it had to go back--wrong season! As Wincell and David caught fish, I heard the fish being brought to the boat and put into the holding tank. I got so I knew when they had caught a fish.

Towards the end, Wincell let me drive his boat. Keeping his hands near mine, he showed me what to do. I couldn't hear him speak when we picked up speed, but he was right there as I turned the wheel. When Wincell told me to cut our engine, I did and heard the splashing waves--only this time I created the sound!

It was getting late. We had to start back in about half an hour. Where was my big catch? Rod in hand, I was ready to try again. I still felt the wonders of the day, and I could feel the line trailing behind us as we moved slowly around the area.

I felt a small tug and I waited to feel more movement. I reeled in a little, but felt nothing. I waited, again movement. "Wincell, I got a fish!"

Soon it tugged harder. I couldn't hold it so Wincell gave the rod to David while he got a net. He explained that I had hooked a baby fish and that a bigger fish had gone after the baby I caught, and was still hanging on. We would get him if he held on. There was a splash. As David held on, Wincell netted the fish, and we headed back to weigh in.

I have done many things in my life I did not expect to do, one of them being catching a 9.42-pound pike--the biggest catch of the day! I won a trophy and my name will appear on a bigger one, one on which each year's winning team members are listed.

Wincell has fished for over 30 years and has never seen this before--catching a big fish by first hooking a baby one! All the fish were returned to the water since this was a tournament.

This event was the highlight of spring 2005--a spring for Penny to remember for the rest of her life. The sounds of boating, nature and everything, all together in less than 48 hours! I felt so excited and so pleased to have heard it all, and to have shared it with some many people.

Life is what we make it. You can note its passing or take the time to experience it. It's all up to you.