The day of the surgery my daughter Amy, her husband David, and I all headed to the hospital. We sat in a large waiting room filled with other patients and family members awaiting surgery. Everybody waited for the phone to ring at the receptionist’s desk, hoping it was their turn. Finally it rang for me. A volunteer led all of us to the operating prep room, wending our way through a maze of passages, floors, and elevators.
At the prep room I changed into the traditional bare-in-the-back hospital gown. I gave my hearing aids to Amy (the right ear for the last time) with my clothes and personal belongings. The anesthesiologist arrived and asked several questions. She marked my right ear as the one to be implanted. She inserted an IV, started a drip, and must have also injected an anesthetic but I never noticed it. That was it—I was out.
I woke up on a gurney in what turned out to be the recovery room surrounded by the operating room crew, all dressed in their green scrubs, white caps, and face masks. Still under the influence of the anesthesia, in my haze and daze I thought they were election officials from the recent Presidential election. To peals of laughter, I told them I had to get up and vote. The doctor appeared and took off his mask, the only complete face among the crew. That woke me up most of the way and I realized I now had a cochlear implant embedded in my cochlea and skull.
The doctor said the operation went fine. I said I was feeling ok with no sign of dizziness or nausea (which often follows ear surgery). My right ear felt numb and like it was stuffed with cotton (it was) but with no pain.
Amy and David came in. I stayed in the recovery room for what seemed to be about an hour. I was given post-op instructions and told that I had an appointment a week later with the doctor. Eventually they decided I had recovered enough and I could go home. I was given some painkillers and nausea pills but never needed either one. With some help from David, I got dressed and was taken in a wheelchair to the exit. We got in the car and drove home.
At home I was greeted by Joy the dog and the cats. I looked at myself in the mirror. My right ear was covered with what looked like a soup bowl filled with cotton held on by a strap of Velcro that encircled my skull. The right side of my head was mostly numb. I could hear nothing in that ear and very little in the left, even with a hearing aid. Everything was muffled and echoed, and tinnitus was a roar in both ears. I was deaf.
I expected to sleep soundly that night. I was wrong. With the “soup bowl” over my ear, I could lie only on my back or left side. The raging tinnitus rumbled all night in both ears like a thunderstorm.
The next day I was washed out and tired. I still could hear very little. Two days post-surgery my family physician carefully removed the Velcro and the soup bowl and cotton packing. I felt like a magician’s assistant as he pulled what seemed like an endless bale of cotton from my ear.
Things slowly improved. The tinnitus gradually subsided to my pre-surgery levels. I still heard nothing in the right ear, and very little in the left. My quest for better hearing had made me deaf, at least temporarily. A week later we went back to the surgeon for a checkup. The audiologist gave me a mini-hearing test to see if there was any residual hearing in the low ranges in the implanted ear. The test was inconclusive because the ear was still somewhat swollen, but she thought there was some residual hearing. The doctor said the incision looked good.
A few days later I took the dog and one of the cats to the veterinarian for a checkup. I explained to the vet that I had surgery for a cochlear implant and could barely hear. He asked if he could look at the incision. I didn’t mind, and for two or three minutes he examined my head and the back of my ear, asking me to turn this way and that as he asked numerous questions about the procedure and probable outcome. I half-expected him to examine my ear with an otoscope.
At this point all I had to do was wait a few more weeks for activation or “hook-up” day when I would get the processor, turn it on for the first time, and—we all hoped--begin to hear more normally again.
Bruce Sloane, M.S., M.A.