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'I've no doubt that playing bass in a 1960s rock group contributed to my deafness, but I still hope one day to hear my grandkids speak'

Portadown Orangeman David Jones on his silent world, and why a cochlear implant may just be answer to his prayers

David Jones with his wife Marie at home in Portadown
David Jones with his wife Marie at home in Portadown
David Jones (second left) played bass in rock group The Machine
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Drumcree Orangeman David Jones has gone deaf. And what the former Craigavon councillor says he regrets most is that he has never heard three of his four grandchildren speaking.

"My deafness has had a huge impact on my professional life and public duties but it's my grandchildren's voices that I miss more than anything else," says David, who thinks his involvement with a rock group in his teens may have had a bearing on his hearing difficulties.

David, who played in a band called The Machine in his home town Portadown, says: "I would imagine it probably was a factor as I was listening to music on headsets.

"The volume probably didn't help and we know there are famous musicians like Pete Townshend of The Who that developed hearing problems."

David (67) later became one of the most outspoken voices during all the years that Portadown Orangemen were stopped from completing their first Sunday in July march down the Garvaghy Road to the centre of the town.

David lost his hearing three years ago, but the warning signs were there years earlier, with the problems first surfacing in the mid-1980s.

He says: "I noticed that the hearing in my left ear was not so good. I simply thought it was wax. So I went to my GP to have it syringed.

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"But after he did that he looked in my ears again and said he didn't like the look of them, particularly the left one, which he thought was very red. He decided to refer me to the ENT department at Craigavon Hospital"

While he was on the waiting list to see a specialist David started having severe bouts of vertigo and dizziness and often ended up being physically sick.

He spent two weeks in hospital to stabilise the vertigo, and while his condition was closely monitored, his hearing deteriorated to the point in the mid-1990s when he got a hearing aid for his right ear, his previously 'good' ear.

Once during the Drumcree stand-off a reporter spotted the hearing aid but wrongly thought it was an earpiece for an electronic device to enable David to keep in contact with other protesters.

As the years went on, medics' concerns that David's hearing could get even worse were realised and several weeks after getting the flu injection in 2016 David developed a viral head cold.

And to his horror, what hearing he had left in his right ear disappeared.

"Since then I have been totally deaf," says David, who got an even bigger shock when he went for private consultations after a series of X-rays and tests.

"I don't normally agree with going private but I was feeling so bad that I had to do something. And to my dismay the specialist told me that I might have a brain tumour," he adds.

"But thankfully that was eventually discounted. And the problem was found to be with my hearing and balance mechanisms."

Losing his hearing was, says David, his lowest point.

"Thankfully, however, I had taken early retirement from work; had I not I would have been unable to work," he says.

But David did have to quit his role as the Orange Order's district secretary in his area.

"I gave up because you can't really have a deaf secretary," he says.

David, who was for a while a member of Ukip, was able to continue as an independent councillor with Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council thanks to a technological link-up across hundreds of miles.

David says: "I was using a system where via the microphones in the council chamber the sound fed out to a stenographer in England who typed the words and I read them on my screen.

"It was very effective and quick, other than for a slight time delay."

David failed to retain his seat in the last council elections in May, and on a personal level he says he misses social interaction.

He adds: "I miss not being able to sit down and have a chat or a discussion. When you are deaf you subconsciously learn to lip read. You don't realise it but it takes a high level of concentration when you are taking to someone.

"You are trying to listen to what sound you can hear through a hearing aid and watch the speaker's lips to try and match the two up. It can make you tired.

"You learn the best way to talk is in small sound bites. If someone talks on too long I lose the thread of the conversation and my eyes tend to glaze over.

"I tend to steer clear of social gatherings. There is nothing worse than being in company where everyone else is obviously chatting away and you haven't a clue what is going on, especially if you try to chip in thinking you know what they are talking about and you don't.

"Some people have a laugh about it and you feel like the village idiot.

"My family and friends have been very understanding and learned when I am in or out of a conversation."

David says he tries not to allow his hearing loss get him down.

"You have to make the best of what you have and not let the disability take control," he adds.

David misses "the everyday sounds everyone else takes for granted".

He says: "Thank goodness for subtitles on the TV other than for those I would miss a lot of entertainment and general programmes."

David regrets that music is no longer a part of his life.

But he says: "I always loved music of all sorts but can't listen to it now.

"I would always have had the radio on in the car listening to music when I was driving."

In his teens David was bass guitarist in a prog rock group called The Machine, who played support to the likes of The Move, but split up after their drummer Leslie Binks moved to England where he later joined the heavy rock band Judas Priest and is now fronting his own band.

David says that there had never been any history of hearing problems in his family.

But he remembers that he suffered what he calls "sore ears" as a child.

He says: "My mother used to put warm olive oil in my ears along with cotton wool. It wasn't until years later I became aware that as a child I also suffered tinnitus. I can remember lying in bed at night listing to this hissing in my ears. I didn't know what it was and just thought everyone had that. I still have it today but hardly notice it."

Doctors have been unable to pinpoint what's behind the hearing problems for David, who was able to rule out any accidents in his youth as a possible cause.

"The consultant said his opinion was that repeated ear infections in my younger days were not properly cleared," says David, who was also told that regular sore throats as a child were not to blame.

"I remember that when at the age of eight or nine I had my tonsils removed at Lurgan Hospital a specialist saying he had no worries about my throat but he did have concerns about my ears, but nothing was ever done for me back then."

At the moment, however, there is hope for David. He adds: "I am currently waiting for a cochlear implant to my right ear. This will not cure my condition but it will apparently help me to hear better.

"As I understand it, the device will be turned on a few weeks after the operation. At first the sounds will probably be a bit like cartoon voices until my brain gets used to them but it is hoped my hearing will improve.

"Only time will tell."

There are no prizes for guessing what sounds David is looking forward to hearing most of all.

"Without doubt it would be the voices of the three grandchildren whose voices I have never heard," says David, who has a message for people who like him lose their hearing.

He says: "Don't feel you are alone. Perhaps of all disabilities it is the one that most people joke about. When you miss hear something, everyone laughs.

"It's unlikely they would laugh at someone who is blind or in a wheelchair, but if you're deaf it's open season.

"Mind you, I often use humour myself to overcome this.

"I would also say that people who lose their hearing shouldn't become socially isolated. Find ways to communicate and let people know that you are there and that you are deaf, not stupid.

"Sometimes I try to have a conversation with people who don't know I'm deaf and it usually ends in failure. So let folk know you can't hear.

"With many applications today and technology there are avenues of help. Seek them out and use them."

Belfast Telegraph


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