As the Ears Go By: Part 2

Jim Sharrick

July 7, 2014

Plugged In, But Not Clued In

The second in a 3-part series on one man’s experience in getting a cochlear implant.

Well folks, it’s clear I have issues with written assignment deadlines. You needn’t take my word for it, since I have dozens of educators who will vouch for me. But enough groveling, because I have big news to announce. I have an installed cochlear implant! I had the surgery to install the implant at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, NE, June 16th.

I had to report to the hospital at 8:20 a.m. that morning, so my wife, Deb, and I left Hastings, NE at 5:30 a.m. Ugh. Deb drove, and I snoozed, and my daughter, Jenny, who lives in Omaha, met us there. Once checked in, it was straight to my…umm…guest room, I guess, for a quick change into the traditional backless gown. I was then given a valium, attached to an IV, followed by a injected dosage of muscle relaxant. I crawled onto the little patient cart, and was gently pushed into several stationary objects on the way to an elevator. Once in the elevator, I passed out, and awoke in my room again. I think this is the first time I wasn’t conscious going into the operating room. That staff knows its muscle relaxants. It felt like it only took five minutes for a scheduled two and a half-hour procedure that wound up taking four hours.

The major negative concerns going into this procedure were the remote possibility of developing meningitis, possible damage to the vestibular system, and possible facial nerve damage. Well, I had two boosters to prevent the meningitis, eight weeks apart, and I don’t have it now, so that worked. My first attempt to stand was surprisingly successful, so no damage to the balance system. The facial nerve issue was a bit more complex than I realized, as the cochlear sclerosis creates what was described to me as a “soft bone tissue growth”. In essence, it can enable the electronic impulses from the implant to go beyond the intended path, and activate the facial nerve. Or maybe deactivate it, because the left side of my face could have gone numb. Anyway, long story short, they tested the connection while I was under, and I was good to go, and knew it when I awoke.

That same test also checks objectively that the auditory nerve was responding. Since it hadn’t been stimulated in a couple of years, it was a concern in my mind. It’s amazing what all I got done while unconscious. Recovery was the usual routine: take a short walk, then come back for a robe, walk again, eat jello, wash it down with chicken broth, and repeatedly make the same statements and ask the same questions over and over again as if it were the first time. Anesthesia is a wonderful thing. The procedure was outpatient, so I got dressed, and Deb and I made the trip home Monday evening.

My head was wrapped in a Velcro strap that held the bandages, and presumably, my ear in place. That, combined with the standard post-surgical bed-head, was the look I sported for the next three days. Tuesday was no big deal, as I stayed home. Invasive as having my scalp rolled back, then having a hole bored in part of my skull, and another hole drilled into my inner ear sounds, this was as mild a surgery as I’ve ever experienced; so I put in a half-day at work Wednesday. A more critical look in the mirror convinced me to buy a shower cap for Thursday’s venture, (to cover my ear in the shower, not to wear to work), and the Velcro wrap came off. I also removed the left temple from my glasses to avoid hitting anything vital around my ear.

Let’s move forward to June 25th, and I made the drive to Omaha again, hair mostly shampooed, this time for a reasonable 1:30 p.m. appointment for an x-ray, then a post-surgical inspection and bandage removal with the surgeon, followed by an appointment with the audiologist, whom I shall call “Jenny”, mostly because that’s her name. Jenny showed me the contents a briefcase-sized case, filled with what she said was $8000 worth of sound processors, rechargeable batteries, ear hooks, cables, coils, magnets, remote controls, and a coupon for some free “Skin-Its” just in case I want to cherry up my units. That’s right, plural. You get an extra everything, just in case repairs are needed to the primary unit.

Anyway, the big moment had arrived. I got activated. And suddenly, I could hear…more varieties of tinnitus. That’s right, ringing in the ears, only with accurate pitches. I could whistle a scale, and I heard it pitch for pitch, but about three octaves higher. Any sound I heard that could be visually verified I checked, and I was receiving the signal in real time, no delay of any kind. The only sound I found that is virtually the same electronically as it is acoustically is cricket chirping. Now I understand why someone with developed language skills has visits with speech pathologists in his future. I’m getting sound, but none of it means anything to me. The really hard work is still in front of me.

Read More:

As the Ears Go By: One Man’s Search for Better Reception (Part 1)

As the Ears Go By: A Mild Reception (Part 3)

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