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Sounding right

John Murphy has had hearing difficulties ever since he was a lad growing up in Dundalk. He tells Joy Orpen that getting tinnitus was hard on him and his family. Fortunately, he found a solution to all that unwanted noise


John Murphy. Photo: David Conachy

John Murphy. Photo: David Conachy

John Murphy. Photo: David Conachy

There was a time when John Murphy's hearing was so problematic, it caused major challenges, not just for him, but for those around him as well.

For example, his inability to have two-way conversations affected his relationships with his immediate family and his community. It also caused well-founded concerns about his future professional career. John's hearing problems date from when he was a child, growing up in Dundalk with two brothers and four sisters. This was a family drawn closer by the tragic loss of their much-loved mother in 1977, when John was just seven years old.

"She died of cancer," he explains. "My siblings ranged in age from 18 to three years old. But we managed well enough. We were all at school close to home. Dad worked for the ESB around the corner, and he was always there for us - he was a fantastic father. Our aunts and uncles also helped out."

When he was about 10, John's left ear began to discharge fluid, the result of a middle-ear inflammation. He attended Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital in Dublin and was diagnosed with mastoiditis. Consequently, a mastoidectomy was performed to surgically remove infected mastoid bone.

"That stopped the leakage, but the hearing in my left ear was almost totally gone after that," says John. "However, my right ear compensated well enough, so I had no major problems for a long time."

Fortunately, John's passion for sport was unaffected by having partial hearing, as evidenced by the fact that he played hurling and football at club and county level. After school, he did various jobs until his early 20s, when he began working for a building society. A few years later, he married Linda, who is now an administrative head at the Dundalk Institute of Technology. Some months after their wedding, John got an excruciating pain next to his left ear. When he saw his GP the next morning, he had lost all feeling on the side of his face. "If I moved my head, the pain was unbelievable," he recalls. He was taken by ambulance to Beaumont Hospital.

"I thought I was having a stroke or a brain haemorrhage," he says. Scans revealed that blood was leaking from his ear into his brain. It was a potentially life-threatening situation, so surgery was performed soon after. John remained in hospital for two weeks, and, soon after, he was able to resume life as a newly and happily married man.

John and Linda now have four talented children, including Eoin (18), who plays golf for Ireland. Conor (15), like his brother and dad, is sports mad. At 12, Barry is already a successful soloist (singing) while his sister, Ciara (11) is apparently destined to take first prize at the Great Irish Bake Off one day.

Currently, John is a financial adviser in a successful business in Dundalk's town centre. That he is able to do so is remarkable, given his recent history. In 2007, his left ear began to leak again. Eventually, it was decided he needed more surgery on the affected mastoid bone, which was successfully carried out at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital.

Then, about four years ago, he started hearing ringing, hissing and humming noises. "The noise [tinnitus] was sometimes low and sometimes loud, but I could still manage," he volunteers. "I knew it was there, but it still didn't really bother me. Then one morning, while lying in bed, it felt as if my head had tilted all the way forward. But it hadn't left the pillow - I hadn't moved at all. I couldn't even get out of bed. It took me five minutes to stand up, and when I did, I fell over, crashing into the wall. Everything seemed to be swaying, and I felt very nauseous." John's GP prescribed the appropriate medication and 24 hours later, he was back to normal again.

But after that, the tinnitus, which affected his right ear, got progressively worse and began causing some very real problems at home and at work. "The noise was getting so loud that, combined with my existing hearing loss, it made my life very difficult," he says. "Interaction at home and in the office became problematic. Ironically, noisy environments were better for me, because the background din helped to drown out the tinnitus."

Unfortunately, the reverse of that was also true. When John sat with his family having dinner in their peaceful home, tinnitus prevented him from hearing most of what the others were saying. Not being able to communicate with his own family was bad enough, but that also applied to his work.

"In February [2017] I had to discontinue two meetings with clients because I just couldn't hear what they were saying," says John. "This was the first time I began to really worry that this could be a major problem for the rest of my days. So I spoke to Linda, who got me a referral to see a specialist at the Hermitage [Medical Clinic]. That's when hearing aids were first proposed. Tests revealed my hearing loss was now quite dramatic. The consultant told me to accept that my hearing was never coming back; he thought hearing aids might work for me."

Sensibly, John went to Chime (formerly DeafHear), the national charity for deafness and hearing loss, for a second opinion, and they agreed with the specialist. So he was fitted with hearing aids, and that's when his life was transformed. "The first time I went to the loo, it was like hearing Niagara Falls," he says, laughing. "Later, on the way to my car, someone called, 'Hello, John' from 50 yards away, and I could hear them clearly.

"That was such an emotional moment for me, because people used to greet me in Dundalk and I wouldn't hear them. I'm sure they thought I was snubbing them. And I'm certain I lost business because I couldn't hear properly.

"What was even more remarkable was as soon as the hearing aids went in, the tinnitus disappeared. But once I take them out, I'm back to square one." John also points out that hearing aids don't always work in reducing tinnitus.

He says he is now fully involved with the work Chime does to help people with hearing difficulties. "They are always supportive, interested and available if I need information," he says. "The advice and encouragement I get from them is phenomenal."

John concludes: "Everything at work and at home has become better and much, much happier."

For more information on deafness and hearing loss, contact Chime, tel: (1800) 256-257,

email: rejoin@chime.ie, or see chime.ie

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