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Breaking the sound barrier - I lost my hearing and found it again

Why Lisa’s smiling from ear to ear once more.

By Fiona Fraser
At first, Lisa O'Neill put it down to "typical mumbling teenagers".
The motivational speaker, author and former Weekly fashion editor found herself asking her four children, three of them teens, to repeat themselves.
"Constantly," she tells.
"I was always asking, 'What? Speak up! Speak clearly!'"
Not long after, Lisa (48) says, she got "really grumpy" with her husband Mark, who was listening to English football on the radio in the dead of night.
"Nothing new about that," she acknowledges cheerfully.
"If we ever get divorced, it will be because of the English football. On this occasion, the radio woke me up and I did a bit of a huffy rollover to physically show him how cross I was.
"I was lying on my right side and thought, 'Oh, that's nice, he's turned it off!' So I rolled back over to say thank you. And I realised the radio was still on. Then I covered my right ear with the pillow and it dawned on me that I couldn't hear properly."
Lisa's all ears again thanks to the help of her two tiny hearing aids.
A visit to an ear specialist confirmed it.
Lisa had lost 60 per cent of her hearing in her left ear and was told she probably had some sort of brain tumour. But Lisa wasn't standing for that.
"I said, 'No way – I do not.' And when he sent me for scans, I was clear. Thank goodness."
More tests followed, with a sound audiologist diagnosing Levin-based Lisa as having otosclerosis, a condition that affects the growth of the bone near the middle ear.
The audiologist also detected hearing loss in Lisa's right ear of around 40 per cent.
"She told me I'd need two hearing aids and that I may lose the ability to speak."
Shocked, but pragmatic as ever, Lisa railed against that idea too.
"I said, 'Nah, that's really not going to work – speaking is kind of my job!'"
There were options – one was surgical intervention, where the bones in the ear are filed down so they can move and vibrate again.
"But there is a high risk of losing all the emotion and movement in one side of your face. I'm really vain," Lisa laughs.
"So I said, 'Bugger that. I'd rather have two hearing aids than mess with my face.'"
And that's what she has. Lisa now hears with the support of two tiny hearing aids – so small, that she's already misplaced them a couple of times.
"Now, when I get up in the morning, not only do I have to put on my watch, remember my reusable coffee cup and take my own bags to New World, I've got to deal with my hearing aids," she jokes.
The result, when she did get her tulip-style hearing aids, was mind-blowing.
"I noticed so many strange things, such as the noise your clothes make when you pull them over your head. Also, for the first few days, I thought everyone was talking with a lisp – I hadn't heard the 'ssss' sound for so long, I felt like I was hanging out with snakes!"
However, as light-hearted as she is about her struggle to hear, Lisa also has a rather serious message.
"The important thing is that people get their hearing tested and see where they're at," she says. "Wouldn't it be great if we all went for a hearing test each 'zero' birthday – so at 40, 50, 60 and so on?
"People my age might notice a change in their hearing but be too scared to do anything about it. And it's such a game-changer that I reckon if there was one week a year where the whole world got to try a hearing aid, everyone would get one!"
She's also struck by how "fricking rude" people are to the hearing impaired.
"People often said to me, 'You're so deaf!' as an insult. If I was blind, they certainly wouldn't be saying, 'You can't even see, you dumb cow!', would they? It's not right."
Since leaving the world of fashion almost three years ago, Lisa has been developing the speaking, motivational and mentoring side of her business, as well as running guided trips to China and her "Repotted Retreat" held in the Coromandel.
"The repotting idea came from a workshop I was running, where one woman was trying to figure out what was wrong with her life," Lisa explains.
"She was a keen gardener, so I told her, 'Actually, what I think you need is repotting.' You know when you look at a plant and it's just a bit buggered? That was her. We're all just house plants with feelings!"
With only two of her kids – Oscar (19), Ruby (18), Tilly (15) and Felix (11) – still at home, Lisa is embracing change in all its forms, including that her kids "come back, pop in and ask me for advice from time to time – it's nice".
She's also recently welcomed a puppy into her home. Max is an Australian terrier Jack Russell cross and Lisa is in love.
"He's basically the world's smallest German shepherd. And he's always so excited to see me!"
But she'll be keeping him well away from her hearing aids.
"Apparently, that's one of the most common insurance claims," she giggles. "'My dog ate my hearing aids.'"

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