The Big Day—Before, During and After
Are you one of those people who never looks back, who never second guesses a decision?
Well, I’m not. In the 14 months between saying let’s do it and actually having my cochlear implant, I did not regret my decision. But when people asked me if I was excited about the cochlear implant, I always said not yet. It didn’t seem real; I couldn’t imagine being on the other side of activation day, the day when I would start hearing with my new device.
But now it’s in progress. Surgery—been there, done that. Activation—two weeks from time of writing. Rehabilitation—ongoing, with expected lifelong improvement. And still, no regrets.
My family and friends have supported my decision from the beginning. The Hearing Husband isn’t the kind of man who sits and dreams about what could be; if something can help, let’s do it. My father, almost 90, quietly follows and cheers on my progress (while limiting his own hearing aid use to daily card games with his lady friend). And I received a strong gust of girlfriend-support at a snowshoeing getaway a few days before surgery. At the final breakfast, my best friends pulled up their sleeves to reveal supportive but temporary cochlea tattoos that echoed my real one.
How could I not succeed with this kind of love and support?
The surgery aspect of implantation may be intimidating for many people and others view it as invasive, but I see it differently.
If I hadn’t had several foot surgeries when I was a child, mere walking would always have been painful. Without a caesarean section, my baby and I might not have survived. Surgery that saves, repairs or corrects is not invasive, but necessary. Many deaf people choose not to have surgery because they don’t require ‘fixing’ and I deeply respect that opinion. But my language has always been the spoken one and I was struggling; I chose cochlear implantation to improve my communication—doing better than ever would be nice, but I’m trying to manage my expectations.
I arrived at the hospital, calm and ready, partly because new pre-operation rules meant I could now have coffee, which was a precious moment of routine in a decidedly non-normal day. As I was prepped for surgery, there were only a couple of ‘off’ moments. You have to wear two of those pale, over-washed hospital gowns; the first one had to open to the back and because its neck strings had become permanently knotted, I slipped it over my head. The second is worn with the opening tied at the front. As I sat waiting like a queen in my regal attire, I actually growled at the TV because—once again—there was no captioning.
Soon I was on a gurney outside the operating room. Various medical people asked me questions, repeatedly, leaning in close for better speechreading as I couldn’t wear my contact lenses or glasses and had just the one hearing aid in my ‘good’ ear which they removed at the last moment. What was my name, date of birth, did I have allergies, had I eaten anything. The question that bothered me even after the surgery: do you have any loose teeth?
The otolaryngology (ENT) resident asked if I had any questions. Yes, doctor, I do: how are you going to make sure you don’t do the wrong side? Call me fussy, but this was important to me. He drew out a purple pen and marked clear instructions on my forehead. It took the nurse and the anaesthesiologist a couple of minutes of fumbling to un-knot my ball gown; I think I laughed and said I’d be writing about this. (Mission now accomplished.) The last thing I remember, as the anaesthetic took hold, is that the tinnitus in my ears disappeared for a few blessed seconds before my consciousness followed behind.
Then I was awake. Groggy, I checked out my worst fear—had the facial nerve been affected (an extremely rare occurrence)? Hooray, my mouth was the same shape as before! Had they implanted the correct side? Hooray again for the purple arrow!
In the 10 days since the surgery, things have improved daily. Pain is minimal, almost nothing. No vertigo. Some minor light-headedness, but in a post-surgery call, Dr. Chen, my surgeon, said the way to get over this was to get up and move around as much as possible. My husband also heard the instructions and, after the first couple of days when I mostly slept, he had me shuffling around the dining and living room; now I can march rather than shuffle. Due to the chorda tympani nerve being affected, my tongue has that scalded (but painless) feeling after you’ve burned it on hot cheese, but my taste is unaffected. Also, the upper rim of my pinna (ear flap) is numb-ish and if I wanted another ear piercing, which I don’t, this would be the time. All of these symptoms will improve with time. Dr. Chen was pleased with the surgery, because the x-rays showed that the new electrodes had done “a perfect 1 ½ turns” in the cochlea.
I have a Walking Dead zombie incision on the side of my head which is healing nicely, they tell me, and my hair is already growing over it. There was a minor freak-out around Day 6…looking in the mirror, my right ear seemed bigger than the left. The more I stared, the bigger it seemed to grow to about the size of a rugby player’s cauliflower ear. Again, this minor swelling will subside which is good; I’ll wear egg-shaped processors on my head but I didn’t sign on for radically different-sized ears. It’s a personal image thing.
Staples come out tomorrow and activation is in 10 days’ time, when I get my very own Kanso. And now—I’m getting excited.
Thank you to Cochlear Americas and to HearingHealthMatters for their support in the development of the “Changing Cochleas” series. As always, the experiences and opinions in this article are mine alone.