Sharing my story as a profoundly deaf person

Toni Trendall, a Senior Financial Accountant at NHS South, Central and West CSU was asked to share her story as a partially deaf person who became profoundly deaf, as part of Deaf Awareness Week. Here is her story…

I was almost 9 years old when I was diagnosed with a hearing problem, but one that was unique and congenital, as my local audiologist was perplexed by my hearing results. A Harley Street audiologist specialist tested me, and who finally diagnosed me with a unique type of hearing loss. I was the only person in this country to be born with it and one of only 10 in the world. This was why despite being born with hearing loss, I wasn’t diagnosed until nearly 9 years old and after several hearing tests. This is because there is a wide variety of hearing loss spectrums that many people have.

Back then, childen with hearing loss would usually go to a deaf school but it was decided by the specialists that since I was coping and doing well at a hearing school then I should continue to attend. I credit this with how comfortable I feel in the hearing world as many deaf / hearing impaired children who go to a deaf school (not all) find themselves having to adapt to the hearing world once they leave and start employment. 

Outside of school, I was a competitive swimmer competing up and down the country. Although my hearing impairment did not stop me doing sports – I could be as good as any hearing person – it did mean I could be slower than if I wasn’t hearing imparied.

At 16 I decided to stop competing after my coach noticed I had natural teaching skills – I had been asked to give confidence to a young boy who was deaf and was having difficulty understanding hearing swimming teachers. From there, I became a swimming teacher as a hobby and by the time I was 17, and despite my hearing loss, I was Lead Swimming Teacher with a class of up to 30 pupils. To this day, the thing I have most enjoyed accomplishing as a person with hearing loss is teaching babies to swim, just marvellous fun.  This shows how important it is for deaf / hearing impaired children to grow up realising they can achieve things and don’t need to be ‘left behind’.

After school I then chose to study Hotel Management and work in the hotel industry. I then worked for the cruise company Carnival UK for 25 years, where I started my financial career and exams. Life was going well (albeit up and down like everyone’s) until I was injured in a car accident where I was very lucky not to be paralysed and endure heavier brain damage. This started the next 10 years of challenges, both as a person and a deaf person, and raised many factors for emergency situations for deaf/hearing impaired people.

After the car accident occurred, I was rushed to emergency and put in a head brace to protect me from being paralysed. On arrival at hospital, I was then told I could not move an inch to avoid paralysis – this was the first of many things where I felt helpless for the first time in my life as a hearing impaired person! As you can imagine, I needed to look at doctors to lip-read, but every time I tried to turn my head the doctors told me not to due to my injury, but they did not know how to communicate effectively with a hearing impaired person. It was very challenging as I wasn’t allowed to move an inch for 7 hours to avoid paralysis and had also developed some minor head injury due to concussion. 

Because I was driving to work at the time and thus on my own, I didn’t have anyone there with me to guide on communication, so the hospital then tried to to find interpreter. As this was last minute, it was very difficult to organise so they had to find someone in the hospital to check on me every so often. Imagine, being left on your own for hours in a head brace and not able to move and not able to hear anything, and most of all not be able to use my eyes that help me (as I could only look at the ceiling). I had no idea for hours what was going to happen with the threat of paralysis hanging over me and even imagining life in a wheelchair and also not knowing how serious the concussion could be! Eventually, an interpreter arrived and was able to support me with communication. This shows how useful it would be for hospitals to have a back up plan in such unique situations.

But my accident experience brought on two significant consequences….Very shortly after the accident I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder which went undiagnosed for 9 months until I saw a specialist. This sent me into clinical depression for nearly 2 years (never had depression since). The doctors believe this happened because I could not move at all for 7 hours on the day of the accident, and not knowing what was going on for a good 3 hrs or so is probably what triggered this. Since then I have advocated for emergency doctors, nurses and healthcare workers to learn some sign language or communication methods so that further stress is not put on a deaf / hearing impaired people emergency situations.

Eventually, after numerous hospital visits I had a hearing test again and found that I had lost all my hearing which left me in shock. I couldn’t stop shaking for months, due to the anticipation of how scary life could become. However, slowly and surely, I found my way through life again. Career-wise, I owe my former finance director so much for kick-starting my career again, by offering me the role of newbuild cruise ship project accountant (Ventura, Azura and Queen Elizabeth when they were being built) and then passing my final ACCA exams. I was even short-listed to the top 6 newly qualified accountants in the country! 

Health-wise and essentially my life, I owe the NHS an enormous and immeasurable debt and during my recovery period, my accountant head would always switch on when I visited hospital….and here I am now working for SCW. This shows that you never need to give up and life can be good even with no hearing….and just how fantastic our NHS is, not just during Covid-19 but always. They literally put me back together and gave me the tools to live a life as successful as I can!