In his late twenties, Brad Hiscock was living the dream of many young Australians; living and working in London. Working at iconic retailer, Harrod’s, Brad recalls London fondly, as a time when he socialised often and enjoyed a carefree life.
On his return to Australia, Brad had a severe throat infection and when the flight landed, he noticed his ears felt blocked. Over the next few weeks, his hearing didn’t improve but he didn’t seek medical advice, something, he says, was a mistake.
In fact, Brad would carry on with deteriorating hearing for more than seven years, because, he says, there is a stigma attached to hearing loss for young people, that can lead to denial. In Brad’s case, he began refusing social invitations that involved noisy environments, such as bars and restaurants. “I would make excuses so that I didn’t have to admit that I couldn’t hear well. I started to lip read to hide it, but when someone turned away or wasn’t directly in front of me, communicating was difficult and I began to avoid social situations,” he recalls.
As a young man in his early thirties, reducing his social participation to ‘quiet’ locations meant missing out on a number of events, and also losing social connections. Brad says this lack of connections led to what he terms ‘undiagnosed depression’. “I was frustrated and angry, but I also couldn’t bring myself to face the fact that I had lost my hearing – and I felt like I was too young for this to be happening to me.”
Eventually, prompted by his family and his now wife, Jaythene, Brad had a hearing test. “The audiologist said to me ‘how have you been living with hearing like this?’ She was shocked that I had continued to live and work in customer-facing retail with such bad hearing. And I suppose that was the turning point.”
Brad initially got hearing aids, which he said were helpful at first and did make a difference, but over time his hearing deteriorated further, and he kept getting ear infections that couldn’t be cleared, so his medical team suggested a Cochlear implant.
“It was quite overwhelming at first,” he recalls. “I didn’t want anything noticeable, I didn’t want to feel different. I was also worried about the surgery. It’s a big decision.” Brad says he knew little about Cochlear implants prior to his referral, and he did a mountain of research, and talked to people with cochlear implants to get advice from those who had first-hand experience.
But once he made the decision, Brad says he never looked back. A multidisciplinary team from RIDBC worked together, from the surgeon to the biomedical engineer who tested the implants, through to the audiologist, to make sure the process was seamless.
In February 2018, when his first implant was switched on, Brad says he noticed a change immediately. “I could hear a variety of sounds and speech! It was amazing. Around four months after my first implant, I was invited to talk to the team at Cochlear. I did a presentation, sharing my journey. It’s something I could not have even imagined doing prior to my implant – they were firing questions at me, and I never had to ask them to repeat themselves. It was a whole new world,” he enthuses.
Following the surgery, Brad continued to work closely with his RIDBC Audiologist, Nick Baulderstone, to optimise his hearing and ensure he was able to achieve the outcomes he was hoping for. It was Nick who suggested he consider a second implant in his left ear, after tests showed there was little residual hearing. This time, Brad didn’t have any concerns and jumped at the opportunity.
Having received his second implant in early January 2019, Brad says just a few weeks after the surgery, he was well aware of the improvement a second implant made. “Previously, my balance was a little off at times, and I couldn’t tell where sound was coming from. Once I had my second implant, this went away and I could determine quite accurately what direction a sound was coming from.
Just recently, I was in the car with my wife and my three young children, and I was engaging in their conversation and listening to the GPS. This was something I could never have done before – I used to zone out of conversation in cars. It’s not just the big things, it’s being able to be part of these small moments with my family that matters.”
A self-confessed Apple-tragic, Brad also loves the way his implant interacts with his devices. “I can stream directly from my iPhone – it’s life-changing in my work and home life. It’s amazing technology.” And as for being worried about people noticing his implants, he says that hasn’t been a problem. “Look around on any bus, or in the street – everyone is wearing headphones – I just happen to wear mine 24/7.”
Since receiving his first implant, Brad has talked to people of all ages who are considering cochlear implants, and he is so enthusiastic about the industry, he has recently taken up a retail position in the hearing space and is planning to study audiometry.
This Hearing Awareness Week, there’s a message he wants to share loud and clear.
“Hearing impairment can affect anyone at any age. If you have concerns about your hearing, if other people tell you can’t hear them, get tested. It’s not going to improve on its own – and it’s likely to get worse. The technology out there to help you is amazing. I wish I had done something about mine much earlier than I did.”