30 years ago...In December 1989, we planned a trip to England from Botswana, where we were living, to visit family for Christmas. We wanted to take this opportunity to see Specialists during our visit and to find out if we should be moving to England. Was England ahead in their approach to deafness or should we remain in Africa?
We asked my Dad in England to arrange some appointments for early in December, for me to take Hughan to see an Ear Nose and Throat Specialist and an Audiologist, to get our questions answered. We also wanted confirmation of his diagnosis and how should we be communicating with him; was sign language our best approach? Appointments were set up in Harley Street for the 11th December, so I would fly early with Jamie and Hughan.
At this stage Hughan was 16 months old and his first trip to England. There was great excitement, as he is named after my Dad and I was looking forward to them meeting each other for the first time.
Arriving in England was a complete contrast to the way of life in Africa. We were so used to open spaces and natural bush. In Gaborone, where we were living, we had recently had our first set of traffic lights put in and the roads crisscrossed with lots of roundabout. With all the animals straying on the roads, you can imagine it was very different for us arriving in England. We also only had one lane of traffic going into the city and one lane going out, so the width of all the roads and all the traffic was a complete contrast.
The boys were very excited when we arrived. We had also come from a very hot climate, to the cold. Where we were living the sun rose at a similar time of day during the summer and winter, with the seasons not being so noticeable.Arriving in England everything seemed quite dark and freezing cold. What made it feel even more special was all the twinkling of the Christmas lights.
We had flown from Gaborone in Botswana, via Harare in Zimbabwe, landed at Heathrow Airport near London and caught a connecting flight to Plymouth, which made the journey long and tiring. It was a great relief to be reunited with my Dad and Step Mum.
Before Christmas, we had our appointment to attend in the Harley Street, London. This was with the Ear Nose and Throat Specialist who my father had arranged for us to see, to confirm the diagnosis we had been given in Africa.
Willem, Hughan and I travelled by train from Par, in Cornwall, to London. Vil was very excited to spend the day with his grandparents.
We arrived at Paddington station and caught a taxi from the station to Harley Street to meet the Specialist. The Specialist went through all of Hughan’s records that we had brought with us and he confirmed what we had been told previously about his diagnosis.
After our appointment we went on to see an Audiologist. She explained to us that we needed to continue in the signing programme that we had started in Johannesburg, to learn to communicate with Hughan.
Willem and I were still struggling with the idea of signing. The idea that there wasn't a universal sign language meant that Hughan would have to learn signing at the centre in Johannesburg and when he travelled, it would be different. This also meant that family members would need to learn how to sign as well.
We came away from the appointments at Harley Street feeling that there were no other solutions to Hughan’s hearing loss.
London was very busy. The day had been a bit rushed but the time we had spent with the Specialist and the Audiologist had been very informative and also encouraging to see that South Africa and England were working in a similar system.
We caught a taxi back to Paddington station. Paddington station was a buzz of Christmas shoppers. People were making their way onto the trains with all their Christmas shopping.
When we boarded our train there were a lot of people standing in the aisles and most of the seats had been pre-booked. There was a lady sitting at a table with some spare seats and we asked her if she minded if we joined her. Within a short time we started chatting. She had noticed that Hughan was wearing hearing aids. She explained to us that she was studying the cochlear implant.
This was just like winning the lottery. As you can imagine Willem and I couldn't believe our ears. She had also been to University with the Audiologist we had been with earlier in the day.
It was so interesting listening to all the information she was giving us about the cochlear implant. She explained the differences between the Australian and the American devices. At this early stage of the invention of the equipment, there were differences in the makeup of the electrodes that were being threaded into the cochlea. She explained that, if by any chance, the device had a breakdown and needed replacing, the Australian equipment was more like a silky thread and there was less damage to the cochlear, if the internal equipment needed to be changed for any reason.
To think that we had travelled all the way from Botswana to our appointment at Harley Street, and got onto our train at Paddington station (when I was so busy) and sit with the a complete stranger, who was able to give us so much information about something we had never heard of and this was going to prove life changing.
This had been the most amazing day for us. Hughan was still so young, but for us to have boarded the train when we did and asked to sit with this lady, was in absolute miracle (we still hope one day to meet her). She got off the train at Plymouth, where she was spending Christmas with her family and we continued on to Par station.
The day to London had been the most fact full day for us so far. A wonderful outcome and now we had information that we knew would help us in the future.
We all had a truly magical Christmas in the cold. The darkness of the days and all the Christmas lights made it feel so special. This was one trip we would never forget.
Our trip to England seemed to fly by very quickly and we had all had such a wonderful time.
It was now time return to Gaborone.