Thursday, January 24, 2008

Of Deaf and Cochlear Implant Moments

It used to be that I had CI moments. Those moments where you heard a sound that you had never heard before. I brought wonder, joy, satisfaction and great pleasure. And in the fifteen years when my Cochlear Implant worked perfectly, I had many of them. From not only hearing birds, but recognizing what bird it was, to taps dripping, hedgehogs having sex outside my window, a banana peeling, a pencil writing on paper. There’s so many I can’t list them all here.

The only time I was deaf in those fifteen years was when I got phone calls from telemarketing companies trying to sell me something. When I think about it, that’s hilarious in itself. The phone would go, and I would answer it, and the conversation would go something like this..

Telemarketer : ‘Hello – may I speak to the head of the household please?”

Me: ‘Yes this is she”

Telemarketer: “I’m just ringing to tell you about a great offer”

Me interrupting “Are you trying to sell me something?”

Telemarketer: “well..”

Me interrupting again “Well it’s no good talking to me because I’m deaf and can’t hear on the phone”

Telemarketer apologises and hangs up.

They accepted it every time, even though I was talking to them on the phone with no problems, they accepted I was deaf and couldn’t hear them , would apologise and hang up. Hilarious! It works on market researchers too!!

Anyway – for the last 8 months, there have been no CI moments, and I’m slowly having more and more deaf moments. Take today. I have a habit of making my breakfast, then sitting on the sofa with my laptop on my lap, checking emails and answering any messages from my website. I had lots of them this morning, as well as having to give lots of attention to my cats who were determined to glomp all over me. Finally an hour later, I grabbed my breakfast plates and headed into the kitchen with them. To find the hot tap running on full. Water cold. Thank goodness it’s summer as there went my hot shower, but I’m not looking forward to the power bill!

Looking on the bright side of things, the last time I did that was 20 years ago(pre implant) when my daughter was very young, and that time was much worse. That time I had left the plug in the sink, with the hot tap running on full, and I not only filled the sink, but completely flooded the kitchen, the downstairs, the dining room, the lounge etc.. Worse still it was at my mother’s place, and she had only put in brand new carpet the week before. It did need cleaning didn’t it???

I know I’m not the only one who has deaf moments like these. I’m sure there’s lots of hilarious disaster stories to tell, that probably weren’t funny at the time, but looking back makes you double over with laughter now !

I remember popping in on a friend of mine. He didn’t hear us, so we walked in. He held up his hand and told us to take a seat but he MUST finish the vacuuming as he has ONE more room to do. It was summer, it was hot, and sweat was dripping off him, he was working so hard with that vacuum cleaner. Just as well he told us to sit down as we would have fallen otherwise, as we were laughing so hard. We had tears in our eyes. You see – the vacuum cleaner wasn’t even plugged in!! It really did look like something out of a Monty Python movie!

Then there was another friend who was away at a beach house. She decided to turn on the jug to make herself a cup of coffee. She went back to her book. About an hour or two later she realized she still hadn’t had her cup of coffee so went back into the kitchen. The jug was nowhere to be seen. All that was left of it was a little mound of plastic with a power cord going into the wall. The jug had simply melted! No automatic switch off.

This is funny as well as serious. The consequences could have been so much worse, there could have been a fire or an electrocution but luckily there wasn’t.

I rely on my ears to give me clues to what is happening around me. I’ve relied on them for years. I was only profoundly deaf for a short while before I was implanted and the implant gave me more hearing than I’ve ever had in my whole life.

I can see I’m going to have be more vigilant with my other senses in the upcoming months while I wait to see what happens with my ears. I find out on Tuesday whether the hearing nerve is still intact on my left side and whether I can have a possible CI. I’m hopeful. And I’m hoping I will have less deaf moments, and more CI moments in the future.

If you have a hilarious story of a deaf or CI moment, please share with me as I need the laugh, and I also need to be constantly reminded that I’m not the only one!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Oxfam 100km in 36 hours Challenge

I made a decision in the weekend. It was an extremely difficult one, and one that even though I feel is wise under the circumstances, makes me feel as if I’m inadequate for not being able to complete a goal this year. But all is not lost. Let me explain…

I’ve been training for the Oxfam challenge for the last three months. The Oxfam is an off-road challenge where you need to walk 100km in 36 hours. The team is made up of four walkers, plus the support crew. All four walkers in the team have to complete the full 100km to pass the challenge, and all four have to pass each checkpoint (four in total) together. The point of the challenge is to raise money for Oxfam, and as a team we need to raise $2000. The team includes both walkers and the support people. The walk is on the weekend of the 5th and 6th April.

We’ve been training in the Woodhill Forest, week after week, as well as going to the gym, running, and walking midweek. We’ve got up to 6 hours in a stretch in the forest, and this Sunday we’re walking 7 to 7.5 hours – about 40km. I’ve only missed one training session in the whole 3 months. Our team consists of Derek (Coach), Lara, Debbie, Saluma, Jackie, Sheila, Fran and myself. However, only four can walk it, so decisions need to be made on who is going on the team this year, and who will be the support crew. We will be doing it again next year as well, and those who are on the support crew this year, will walk it next year, which is why all is not lost!

From left to right - Shelia, Debbie, Derek, Jackie, Fran, Lara. I'm taking the photo so I don't break the camera! See the greenstuff under their feet? Thats some kind of herb - probably catnip, and when you walk on it, gives off an amazing minty aroma as you walk. Bliss!

I’m fast in the forest, and have no trouble completing those hours and keeping up, even though my feet scream with blisters most of the time. But after 6 hours, I’m totally knackered. At this stage there is no way I can walk 100km. I have admitted as much, and told everyone I will be on support rather than walk it. However, reserves are needed as anything can happen on the day, so I will continue the training.

This road goes for 12.5km and we walk it every week. It seems to go on and on and on and on and on! Very pretty for the first hour, and then it loses some of it's appeal!

Last weekend we trained in the Waitakere Ranges, rather than in the forest, as we needed hills. It was there I realized I was holding up the team. My balance or lack of it, meant that climbing up and climbing down steep terrain I was slower, and needed help, where speed was necessary to complete it in time. A stick would not have helped as this terrain was very steep. I ended up feeling very guilty as I was stopping the people who are going to be walking from training properly for the event. The terrain made me feel dizzy and nauseous and my balance was definitely off – quite dangerous really. However, I didn’t know this would happen until I tried, and I’m still learning my limitations, no matter how annoyed at myself for having some.

So…. I will continue to train with the team in the forest. We don’t know how many will drop out due to injury or sickness as yet, and I still may be needed on the day. If I am not needed, I will be part of the support crew getting food and drinks throughout that 36 hours. I may even walk some of the way with the team as one extra person is allowed to walk one leg of the challenge.

But for the training that takes place in the Waitakere ranges where it’s steep and rough – I will still pitch up. I may walk for an hour or two with the group, but will then go back to the car and meet them at checkpoints with food and water so they don’t have to carry so much during the day. This suits me fine as I will be able to take my camera gear into the forest and take proper photos. My camera gear is too heavy if I’m training, the photos I have been taking have been with my daughter’s Fuji point and shoot.

1000 year old kauri Tree in Waitakere Ranges walk. This tree was so tall/big I had to take 3 photos on wide angle, and stitch them together later.

I’m still pretty proud of myself that despite my disability, I’ve still achieved some amazing results. Just to give you an idea of what having no balance means, when I walk, nothing stays still. Everything moves up and down as you move up and down. Much like looking through a video camera with no image stabilizer. And yes – you can feel quite seasick at times. I’m proud to still be part of the team, and if I don’t walk this year, I’ll try again next year.

In the meantime – if you would like to make a donation to my team, no matter how small, it would be really appreciated. Just go to the following website and click on the green ‘make a donation’ button. Oxfam Website to make a donation. Or if you click on the orange Support a Team logo at above right, this will take you right to our teams donation page. Your support will be invaluable, and you will be supporting me as part of that team.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I'm Grumpy!

I’m really grumpy today. Best not come and visit. I’m struggling with my hearing loss, and have got into the ‘can’t be bothered with anything anymore’ mood. Even asking myself the ‘Why bother?’ questions.

Why bother keeping my piano when I can’t hear it?

Why bother trying to hear when it makes me so tired?

Why bother paying Telecom on a monthly basis for a phone I cannot use?

Why bother walking with a group? I can’t hear them while they banter so I may as well walk by myself!

Why bother having a TV when the programs I want to watch aren’t captioned?

It doesn’t help when organizations like the Auckland District Health Board keep sending me letters about my upcoming audiological appointments and highlighting a phone number that I must ring and confirm my appointment, otherwise my appointment will be cancelled.

I got another one yesterday – my 5th in about 5 months. This is in spite of my daughter phoning them about two weeks ago, knowing an important appointment is coming up, telling them that I’m deaf, I cannot hear on the phone, that I don’t have a fax, and that email is the best way to get hold of me. They assured my daughter that they have my email and it would be used, and I wouldn’t get another letter asking me to phone them. They lied.

The letter supplied no email address, but they did supply an URL which I pulled up and found a complaints page. I typed in my complaint and pointed out how ludicrous it was, that a health provider couldn’t communicate upcoming appointments for deaf people properly, and that their system needed an overhaul to improve this service. I told them the problem has been going on for a while, and that I couldn’t be the only deaf person dealing with them who can’t use a phone.

Now most of you will say – ‘I’ll ring for you’ but the thing is, I’ve always been totally independent, and I’m still capable of that independence, and I really don’t want to have to rely on other people to make phone calls when it’s unnecessary. Email is instant, affordable, easy, and there is no reason that I can think of, why it can’t be used for appointments instead of phone calls.

Sending my message of complaint through the website, I doubted that it would even get a reply, so I was surprised this morning to get an email from a customer liaison office following up on my complaint wanting more details. I have absolutely no doubt that they will email me later to say that my appointment has been confirmed, but this isn’t what I want. What I want is for there to be absolutely no more letters asking me to phone and confirm. Instead I want an email that I can reply to, so I can do this every time. I’m not so confident that the ADHB will be able to put this in place. I’d like to be surprised though!

I’m still grumpy! Maybe I need ice-cream?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Of New Zealand Summer and Irrational Fears

Whitianga Estuary. Five images stitched, High Dynamic Range.

I was lucky and unlucky this week. Lucky to be able to get away and go and stay, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of New Zealand. But unlucky in that I was only able to get away for two days, and not two weeks or more!

I went down to visit my father and his wife of 30 years. They sold up everything about 15 years ago, and moved down to Whitianga, a small seaside town on the east coast of New Zealand, on the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula. Now that old age has crept up on them, and that Whitianga doesn’t have a hospital, they have their house on the market and are returning to Auckland to be nearer good medical facilities, so they don’t have to drive around the country every time they have an appointment with a specialist.

View of Estuary from house. Six images stitched together.

Whangapoua Beach Entrance with Pohutakawa Tree

The Coromandel Peninsula is the land of one lane bridges, of pristine countryside, farms, and thick New Zealand Bush. It has miles and miles of turquoise coastline that glitters like jewels in the summer sun, with golden or white sands. Beautiful clear rivers lined with rocks full of crystals, huge hills that offer fabulous views, winding roads, and sparse population. It’s really quite something, and I’m going to miss visiting once the house is sold.

View from top of hill looking toward Coromandel Township. Two images stitched together.

My visit this week, was all the more beautiful, as we’re basking in a fantastic summer this year – gentle sea breezes, not too much humidity, and fantastic blue skies with the odd puffy white cloud. And it’s hot – temperatures are ranging between 27 and 32 C. So visiting the beaches are a must.
Whangapoua Beach looking north.

After our train trip (as per last entry), we called in to Whangapoua Beach on the way home to have a look. I love this beach. It’s not too big, and the water is crystal clear to swim in. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my togs, so I had to suffice in wading in knee deep instead to cool down. I was quite happy with this, as to be perfectly honest, I don’t enjoy swimming as much as I used to when I was younger. It has a lot to do with the fact that I have to take my implant off, and once this is off, I’m totally utterly deaf. I don’t even hear anything without it on at the 140db mark. That’s like lying underneath a jet plane taking off. Sure – my eyes rattle, but I don’t hear anything!

With this, there is a fear. And like most fears, it is totally irrational. I’m afraid that I won’t hear the sharks coming. Yeah yeah – I know, I know, I wouldn’t anyway, but there it is. No more irrational than the fear of spiders in New Zealand when none of our spiders are poisonous. No more irrational than the fear of snakes when we don’t have any. No more irrational than the fear of wide open spaces. But still irrational.

Funnily enough, I will swim in the sea when there is another person with me, someone that can hear those darn sharks! But what’s weird, is that this fear also applies to swimming pools, when I’m alone in the pool. Weird! I wonder if it’s just simply part of being a bottled blonde?

Back to Whangapoua Beach – I had my feet in the water, and I took heaps of photographs. The surf was quite something and there were lots of people in the water with and without boogie boards, diving under the waves and body surfing. I really did want to swim that day, but I wasn’t going to strip to pants and bra as there were slightly too many people around!

Surfers enjoying the Surf and looking for sharks! Whangapoua Beach.

After a while, we headed back to Kauatunu Beach and stopped for an icecream in a cone. One of the few dairies that still offer this service, and they are really really generous with their servings. Because most places are usually stingy, I decided as it was so hot, to have a double scoop. It ended up being a weight watchers special – looks like there was about a whole litre of icecream in the two scoops!!! Very nice on such a hot day.

The next day Dad bought the front page of our newspaper to me to show me the following article..

Traffic Jams at Matarangi and Whangapoua Beach!!

Perhaps my fear is not so irrational afterall???

Taking a Breath or has a Shark got her foot?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Driving Creek Railway

Driving Creek Railways, 3km north of Coromandel Town on the Coromandel Peninsula, is one man’s passionate hobby that took 27 years to build.

Barry Brickell came down from Auckland in 1961 and bought 22 ha (60 acres) of hilly scrubland in 1973. Building the railway from scratch required the task of surveying the route though very rough back country. Trial surveys with slasher and home-made instruments had to be repeated until a suitably graded route could be found. Local contractors were then used to do the major earthworks.

The tracks were made from the old logging tracks that had been left in the area and the result is some major viaducts, two spirals, and 5 reversing points that elevate the railway up the terminus to the Eyefull Tower where at 173m above sea level gives you colossal views of the Coromandel Peninsula coastline.

This was my first time on the railway, despite coming to the coromandel region many times and I have to say that I was pretty impressed.

We couldn’t have picked a better day to go – the weather was stunning, not a cloud in the blue blue sky, fantastic visibility for those views up top.

We arrived at 10am in time for the first trip of the day. Bookings are essential, and there’s four trips a day during the summer months, and 2 per day during winter.

I asked if there were a commentary on the train and was told there was. I explained I was deaf, and asked if there were any notes I could read instead. The result was that I not only got a small handout, but my Dad became my ‘caregiver’ and he was able to ride free! We chuckled over this as it’s been a while since he’s had to play that role, but hey – a free ticket isn’t to be sneezed at!

Once seated on the train, I was then sought out and given another handout titled ‘Notes for passengers who are hard of hearing and deaf’. This explained that prior to the trip the driver gives a safety talk, and that the main points were to keep your arms and heads etc inside the train at all times as trees, tunnels, buildings and other structures come very close to the train during the trip.

I was quite impressed that they had taken the trouble to understand that deaf people can’t hear commentaries, and had supplied an alternative. In my experience, very few organisations do this, so top marks for Driving Creek Railways.

Our train was packed full, as was the other one leaving at the same time, and waiting for it to start, you could feel the air of expectation and excitement from the adults and children around alike.

The train takes you through beautiful New Zealand bush/forest where you see native Rimu, Rewarewa, Tanekahu, Miro, Kauri, Kanuka, Kahikitua and many more. Little signs have been nailed to the trees naming them as well to make it easier for everyone to recognise them. You pass through a Eucalypt plantation, a pine reserve, an old golddiggers campsite, clay pits, springs, over bridges, through tunnels, around spirals, a Kauri plantation, and over viaducts, one which is double decked. The steepest grade is 1:14 and one of the reversing points is on top of a high ridge which gives you quite a weird feeling of being suspended in midair!

Any banks that have had to be shored up around the tracks have been done ‘green’ style. Either clay bricks have been used, which have been made at the pottery/brickworks, used tyres, or recycled wine bottles. Impressive!

The Eyefull Tower (Eiffel) is a round building at the top and very nicely constructed so that you can either go up the quick way up the stairs to the views, or wander around the ‘scenic route’ which is a spiral ramp around the building taking in the view as you spiral to the top. The views are simply amazing.

There's another notable building by the Eyefull tower - the toilet! It's organic and self composting which is great in itself, but what’s amazing are the bottles used in the walls, which let in light, that you can see out of, but no one can see in.

After a talk at the top, it was back to our seats, and the trip back down to where started from. One hour in total, but an hour well worth it.

Driving Creek Railways is also a Pottery as Barry Brickell is a potter by trade. At the potteries they have studios for resident and visiting potters, but they are not a teaching institution.

I really enjoyed the time spent here as it’s not often you get a place that combines art, Conservation AND engineering all in one hit.

View from the 'Eyefull Tower' - 8 image pano stitched together. Click on image to see in full.<

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Bird Lady

I had the honour of visiting Sylvia Durrants’ home in Mairangi Bay last week. Sylvia is commonly known in Auckland as ‘The Bird Lady’. Any bird that needs rehabilitation, care, or rescue, is taken to her to be looked after, and when they’re healed, they are let go back into the wild. Whether they’ve been caught by a cat, or fallen out of a nest, they make their way somehow to Sylvia’s place, through members of the public dropping them off, or a team of volunteers that collect them if you are unable to get them there.

New Zealand Tui.
Years ago, on the way home from school, my daughter picked up a Tui out of the gutter and brought it to me. It seemed to be absolutely stunned, but otherwise okay. I happened to be in bed with a really bad dose of flu, so bad I couldn’t even get up, so here I was, lying in bed, with a Tui on my pillow next to me. Most odd! Naturally we had shut the cats out of the room!! I rang Sylvia who instructed us to pop it in a box in a hot water cupboard, and that she’d send round someone to pick it up seeing I couldn’t move. Sure enough an hour or two later, there was someone to collect the bird. As Tui’s are territorial, Anne had to show the volunteer where it was found, so it could be released in the same area once it was okay. I’ve never forgotten this, and when my cats bring in the odd bird, I pop it in the hot water cupboard for 24 hours, and if it’s still alive and okay I’ll release it. Most of them die unfortunately, although we do now have a budgie that my Burmese Blue brought in. It’s a worry when your pets bring home their own pets!!

Tui Taken with Canon EOS 20D Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec F/5.6 300mm ISO400

Anyway, back to my visit to Sylvia’s - leading up to her door, are rows of cages, each with different birds. So many I can’t remember all of them, but from what I remember there four young Tui’s which their mother had abandoned, a Wood Pigeon a baby Gull, Doves, and in the bigger pens, some little blue penguins and a white faced heron. We were taken inside, and there were young blackbirds, young finches, white-eyes, a young morepork, and a young Kingfisher with a broken wing. Into another room were the real babies – canaries, blackbirds, thrushes, skylarks and kingfishers. And in the Kitchen was a baby morepork owl.

Young Kingfisher with Broken Wing, caught by a cat. Canon EOS 20D 1/60 second F/2.8 100 mm ISO100

I love birds myself, and I was in absolute awe with Sylvia’s devotion in helping these birds back to life. Never have I seen someone so passionate about what she’s doing. Ask the right questions and you get given a wealth of information about each bird, their food sources, their behavior, the particular dangers they face, why they were brought in to her, and how far they’ve come along.

Baby Morepork Owl. Canon EOS 20D 1/80 Sec F/2.8 100mm ISO100

Having my camera was no problem , and I was able to take a lot of photos. Sylvia brought out a number of nests that she had in boxes, and placed some of the baby birds in the right nests, which meant I could get more ‘natural’ images. What amazed me was that as soon as she put these babies in the nests, they would snuggle down and go to sleep immediately. Their own safety haven.

Baby Kingfisher Canon EOS 20D 1/80 second F/2.8 100 mm ISO100

Sylvia’s favourite bird to rehabilitate are the Little Blue Penguins. For some reason there is not a lot of food for them in the Auckland Harbour probably due to overfishing. You can see their plight here in this newspaper article of 2006 here. There were three in residence when I visited, one very underweight one, and two looking a bit healthier. I got to stroke them and they are so soft. Not really like bird feathers at all, which really surprised me. They get taken down to the rockpools at the beach to keep their swimming strength up, and Sylvia’s dog has become a ‘sheep dog’ or a ‘penguin dog’ in this case. He stops the birds from making an escape to the sea before they’re ready to go by growling at them.

Young Little Blue Penguin. As they get older they lose their 'blue' colour. Canon EOS 20D 1/100 second F5.6 300mm ISO200

This year, Sylvia Durrant was given the New Zealand Order of Merit for services for Wildlife. In my opinion, it’s very much deserved.

I’m looking forward to going back to learn more!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Bottled Blonde Moments of 2007

Thank goodness 2007 is over. My intentions this year is not to have as many blonde moments as I did last year. I had so many in 2007 I must be up for an award!! Im almost too embarrassed to list some of them, but I will as hopefully I'll be able to look back and laugh, and perhaps this will also set a standard for 2008 :)

1). I turned up for a bbq a full day early. I obviously didn't want to be late!!

2). I put my car through the car wash, when finished, missed the green light to exit, and my car ended up being washed again courtesy of the ticket from the car behind me! I was so embarrassed and I now hold the record of the fastest exiting car from the vicinity!

3). Before my implant stopped working, I answered the phone and put the phone to the wrong ear - the one that hasn't heard anything for 16 years, and proceeded to try and have a conversation. Duh!

4). I locked the keys in my car in this really really remote area of Northland of New Zealand. I was rescued by a local by running after them waving my arms as they were driving off. You can read about it and see the photos here: The Kindness of Strangers

5). Broke my finger while visiting a friend in Nelson, while getting into her car. I put my left hand on the roof of the car to balance me as I went in. Left it there, then reached over with my other hand, grabbed the door handle, and slammed the door shut - with my hand still on the roof of the car. Double Duh! This is the photo I had taken just before I did this...

6). I forgot to put the handbrake on my car when I parked in the Shore City Carpark. I got back to the car after shopping, to find the security guard had put a lump of wood behind my back wheel to stop it from rolling into the cars opposite. Fastest exit speed out of that carpark in embarrassment!

7). I dribbled in front of my ENT doc while talking to him. How on earth did I do this? Even more embarrassing he pointed it out and said we all dribble at times! Ever wanted the earth to swallow you up? I have no idea how it happened!!

8). Bought a Christmas present for my Dad and as I was wrapping it up, realised I had bought the same thing last year for him!! Duh!

Is there any hope for me??? Should I dye my hair back to Brunette?