For quite a few years now, I've been a member of the UK Bionic Ear Association for Advanced Bionics (my CI company) and in September 2012 I was lucky enough to be one of two UK mentors to be invited to the first International BEA meeting in Staefa, Switzerland. We flew out there on Wednesday afternoon and flew back to England on Friday evening so it was a whistlestop tour of everything AB had to offer at their Staefa offices and lots of FUN!
In no specific order of events, the food highlight of my two days was having a chocolate workshop with all of the AB staff and mentors. In this, we learnt how to make a chocolate cup and shoe and took them home as gifts for friends and family. We also were given free license to 'sample' all of the different types of chocolate that we could see laid out and you can probably imagine, we went a bit mad! Dark, milk, plain, lemon, nuts - we tried all different types of truffles... It was yummy and so much fun, in our personalised BEA aprons (that we could keep) that I went back to the hotel with lots of new memories and 7lbs heavier!
At some point, we had a presentation from employees at Phonak (got to see a prototype of the future processor - exciting and jaw dropping didn't cover it!) and had a tour of the huge factory next door to the offices. In there, we witnessed the mind boggling scale at which hearing aids are manufactured at from the tiny, nimble fingertip work being carried out by human workers and the vast, huge numbers of hearing aids that are lasered, cut out, installed, tested in seconds, minutes and hours and moved around the building by robots. Seeing crates whizz around over our heads whilst we walked from room to room only hinted at the size of the building and one wished they could sit in a crate for an exciting ride! (Think of the Monsters Inc film and all the doors) Disappointingly, we learnt that our CIs are manufactured in America, so we couldn't see that in action but for those of us that were hearing aid wearers or used to be, it was still incredibly interesting to see it all in action.
Part of the trip was about creating a short video to be posted on AB's YouTube channel promoting the BEA website so all the mentors featured in a video clip with personalised message boards. It was a lot of fun filming these and you can watch them here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffkFtkQZQEY&feature=share&list=PLo1a43uJmTy14eZlozNaF3A7MZjVEqhtJ
I feature in both the videos - see if you can spot my embarrassment at having to 'bop' my head along to music!
Just before we went home on the Friday, I gave a short PowerPoint presentation about my experience of having a CI to the other mentors and Phonak/AB employees. This was quite nerve wracking but I felt it was important to increase awareness of the unique and emotional journey that we humans go on when we decide to be implanted with a medical device. It was humbling to hear from the other international mentors who are parents of children that have CIs and we watched a video of a father's son playing the drums and singing in the bath with his Neptune. I work with hearing and deaf children every day and this video brought tears to my eyes (In fact, I don't think there was a dry eye in the room afterwards) because his parents had made the decision to give their child access to sound. A momentous decision that took a lot of courage. One day, I may have to make that decision myself and although I know what I'll do, it won't be easy because it involves handing your child over to surgeons and medical professionals for a life changing operation and lots of work afterwards. But it'll be worth it.
The highlight of the trip for me was making two bionic friends for life, they'll know who they are when they read this, and I'm glad the trip brought us together. We all had so many laughs together at the evening meals and I consumed more alcohol in those two nights than I have done since my university days! Another highlight was meeting the other BEA mentors, who came from the Netherlands, Spain and other European countries. Being together for two/three days and sharing our different experiences of acquiring CIs and mentoring candidates was a privilege. The language differences, surprisingly, wasn't a barrier and we all had a common experience of adapting our communication to understand each other, which helped. I loved being in Switzerland, with the crisp blue skies and fresh mountain air, and I was very sad to fly back to England.