Wednesday, September 8, 2021

I'm Now Wired for Sound!

Things they don’t tell you about your Cochlear Implant surgery

I thought I knew what I was up against. I thought I’d done my research. I’m not one to Google “Actual footage of Cochlear Implant surgery” but I looked at some nice neat graphics and medical drawings. My surgeon walked me through my CT scan and showed me where she would drill into the mastoid bone to get to my inner ear, that she would remove my Baha magnet first, drill a “well” for my new implant to sit nice and cozy on my skull – I was set to go.

But I didn’t really think about how my poor unsuspecting body would react to all those medical power tools. I had an inkling what I’d been through when my husband removed my oh so chic ear bandages the day after surgery – wow, blood! And all the prong marks on my ear and face reminded me how they got to where they needed to go. I won’t elaborate, let’s just leave it at there was some spreading involved - my ear was swelled up and sticking out like a well-beloved Disney elephant.

Surprisingly the pain wasn’t too bad. I ended up taking only 4 prescription pain pills, the rest of the time just monster Motrins and regular Tylenol. For me, the main symptoms were vertigo, dizziness, and an overwhelming feeling of yuckiness. My whole head felt like the losing boxer in a four hour-long prize fight, even my right eye was thinking “what have you done to me, I’m not even on the bad side”. Putting in contact lenses felt like an invasion of my brain space. Brushing my teeth felt like I was brushing down my throat. Everything was out front and ready to be irritated with the slightest provocation. I even lost my sense of taste, or rather gained a most unappetizing metallic and numb sensation on my tongue on the surgery side. It still is bothering me, but once I figured out the worst offending foods (fruit and cold foods) and the best combatants of the metallic taste (super spicy foods like curry) it's been easier to deal with. This should go away within a few weeks or months. I certainly hope so, because I want fruit to taste good again. And water, it would nice if water tasted good again.

One symptom that threw us both for a loop was a brief period when I had hallucinations. I don’t know if it was from the pain meds or just the swelling. I looked down and saw our dog’s stuffed toy Purple Guy moving across the floor. “Ernst, Purple Guy must have a mouse or a bug in him because he’s moving across the floor.” My husband walked over, stared at me with giant eyes, and said maybe I’d better go lie down. He advised the same when I told him the plant on the kitchen table was rotating. And when I asked him if he had blood coming out of his eyes while we were eating dinner, well apparently that’s kind of a freaky thing for a man to hear his wife say. We won’t get into the voices I heard in my operated ear. Suffice it to say, that was all very creepy and scary and we were both glad that part of my healing journey only lasted half a day.

I think the worst day was the Sunday after my Thursday surgery. A sweet friend drove two hours to bring me flowers, so I came out on the porch to chat with her. I was still in my pajamas at noon, which for me screams “I’m feeling horrid!’ My friend has profound hearing loss in both ears, so her empathy for my situation is dialed in. As I sat there looking like a wild mess, holding my spinning head, trying to hear her through the mask she so kindly wore to protect me, I realized I was not exactly the poster child for making CI surgery look the least bit desirable. 

But after that day things started to get better. Much better. I wasn’t ready to dance a jig, but the realization that I would soon be able to hear that jig better gave me hope. I started back to sessions of my volunteer work on Zoom, I started walking around the pool, then the yard, and participating a bit more in life without holding my head as if it weighed more than my body. I couldn't lift anything over 10 pounds (not that I wanted to) or jar my head in any way (not that I wanted to) or engage in any house or yard work that involved bending down (not that I even came close to wanting to.) I got good at picking up things off the floor with my feet. The day I emptied the dishwasher I knew I was on my way to feeling well again. First load of clothes? Jessica's back!

Our bodies are amazing and want desperately to heal from the things we do to them, either intentionally or accidentally. We have trauma and we swell and bleed and bruise and the swelling hurts and makes us wonder who that is staring back from the bathroom mirror. But it’s all part of the process. Healing isn’t pretty but it happens. I am not and will never be the best person to ask how a surgery went. The operations themselves go great, I breeze through, my body loves anesthesia. But I don’t do well with incision pain and swelling, haven’t since I was a newborn who had kidney surgery. My mom said I would scream bloody murder when they changed my bandages. I don’t scream anymore, I just see Purple Guy moving across the floor. 

Anyway, it’s been three weeks tomorrow since I walked in that surgery center alone to get my Baha magnet explant and my Cochlear Implant. And tomorrow Ernst gets to come with me to my CI activation day. Almost all the pain is gone, I’m still dealing with some after effects of my ear drum being damaged during surgery, but for the most part I am healed. Tomorrow starts the really fun work, learning to retrain my brain to hear in a completely different way. My road to Single Sided Deafness has been a very long and twisting one, but I’m hoping this decision sets me on a new path. I’m a Cochlear Implant recipient! It's going to take a while for me to wrap my head around that.