To raise funds and help continue this vital work, Chelsea Concerts (co-founded by Zuleika’s husband Oliver Gerrish) will be holding a Christmas Carol Concert on Tuesday 18 December in aid of Action on Hearing Loss.
The event will take place at 7.30pm, at the Holy Trinity Sloane Square, London. Buy tickets
It happened last month – my hearing aids broke and I was immediately reminded how fragile I am due to the loss of my hearing. All I would hear is the mumble of conversations and very low, dull tones. Simple things like being in a house by yourself – you don’t know if the doorbell just went or you are hearing things. The feeling of fragility can take over your life. I would rather be on my own in bed than at a party when I feel like this. My lip-reading skills, which I picked up as a child, come in use but, by the end of the day, one is exhausted from putting the puzzle together. This fragile feeling is like someone has taken your voice away from you – in this case it’s my hearing.
I was three years old when it happened. I contracted Meningitis C, which is a nasty bacteria that attacks your brain and spinal cord. The only way to describe what it did to me in simple terms was to picture Meningitis C being a bull-dozer! It bull-dozed all over my good cells, especially in and around my ears. Some of your cells regrow but some, like your hearing cells, just die.
My parents didn’t realise I had meningitis - I didn’t have any of the signs for Meningitis C other than being very pale and crying. My mother drove me to Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and got caught speeding! The policeman saw me and helped my mother get me to hospital. I am truly lucky, as it was a visiting doctor that just happened to spot the signs in me for Meningitis and helped. Meningitis was one of the biggest causes of death for children in the 1990s.
There is currently the most incredible research being carried out about hearing, especially into stem cell research and working out how we can regrow these cells. This is why I wish to support a charity like Action on Hearing Loss. It’s the damage one is left with. I can’t stress the importance, however, of having yourself or your child vaccinated against Meningitis C to avoid a similar situation to mine.
Furthermore, I have been with numerous doctors between Norfolk and London. While Norfolk and Norwich Hospital looked after me until I was 21, it has been Charing Cross Hospital that has looked after me since then. I have a great deal to thank both hospitals for, as well as the NHS. In Charing Cross, I was inspired by the energy of the young and brilliant doctors and nurses. Some of them are doing research for Action on Hearing Loss on the side.
One of these doctors was kind enough to explain his research to me - in simple English, rather than in medical science terms. He’s trying to regrow the little hairs we have in our ears. You have to imagine your ear cells like a plant - you have these grass-like wind breakers at the top, and each one is catching a particular noise pitch. Then the sound travels down into the “soil”, sending a message to your brain about which sound you’ve just heard. This doctor wants to regrow these ‘plants’. As many ears, like mine, have been destroyed, I am warmed and excited by the amazing research that is going on all around. And it is thanks to Action on Hearing Loss that this particular doctor is working on this research.
I am forever amazed by the amount of research and discoveries in the world of hearing loss. The size of my very first hearing aids compared to today’s. The coloured moulds you can get for the children. The fact the hearing aids have gone digital – some even come with Bluetooth if you go private. I find it amazing.
I’ve been very lucky in my life with my education and upbringing, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. While school friends did French lessons, I had extra English and lip-reading lessons with a kind and incredibly patient man called Andrew Brazell. As a child, learning new words and the pronunciation of words meant I had my own language at times. I still do today – examples are bounce-a-line rather than trampoline, a china piece, rather than a tiny piece. I even went through a stage of rebelling against reading, as I found it all too hard.
Nowadays, I am forever thankful for the small things that have changed and made my life so much easier, subtitles on the TV especially! You have no idea how happy this made me. Many of my friends and even family forget I am deaf and just treat me like anybody else.
I wanted to give something back, so I am helping organise the Chelsea Concerts Christmas concert on Tuesday 18 December at the Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, London at 7.30pm. We are hoping to raise money for Action on Hearing Loss as well as the Christmas spirit!
Buy your tickets here.