My Cochlear Implant Journey, Part 7: Convalescence

Thankful Homecoming

I made it home from surgery safe and happy. I suffered no adverse effects, had no dizziness, and walked fine. My taste remained normal — no metal taste — and there was no facial numbness, tingling, or facial paralysis. I can smile!

As per the plan, I spent a week on the couch and rested and healed as much as possible. I was on pain medications, and though I wondered if I needed them, I didn’t want to skip one to find out.

I decided that the pain medications would support my healing process by allowing me to sleep more soundly, so I opted to stay on the prescribed schedule to maximize the effects. With my sticking to the plan, I had to avoid driving or making big decisions. I could do that for a week, no problem.

My husband, Phil, stayed home the first 48 hours to help me and keep an eye on me. Thankfully I was fully functional and able to walk and prepare my own foods and take my medications, but it was nice having him at my side.

Phil made some delicious meals for me while I was laid up. I was craving salty foods, and my favorite dish was eggs and salmon on buttered toast. I liked it so much I think I ate it every day. I’m happy to report I did not lose my appetite.

The pain from the surgical site was bad the first night due to the bandage I had to wear for 24 hours. I lost some sleep that night. The pain medications didn’t seem to help enough. We tried loosening the bandage to relieve the pain, but my ear felt like it was tenderized by a meat mallet. No adjustments could provide relief.

Thankfully that bandage came off the next day. For many weeks following, I avoided touching that ear in any way.

The Big Reveal

We got a good look at the surgical site once the bandage was off. The incision was bigger than I expected, extending all along the bone behind the ear in a curved fashion at least 4 inches.

The area was red and swollen, making it difficult to get a sense of the extent of the trauma. It would be two months before I’d see the depth of the drill points where bone was removed or drilled out.

The incision was covered with Steri-Strips to protect it and keep it clean, and I was instructed not to wash my hair until my surgical follow-up in 10 days. That’s a long time, so I had to get pretty creative. Braiding my hair was my fix.

My time off was unremarkable, filled mostly with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, emails, and social media. I gingerly moved around the house and did some light cleaning and organizing to stave off boredom.

I think in some ways I missed the office. Having time off after surgery just isn’t much of a vacation. It felt like idle time. Going back to work the following Monday after surgery was a relief. I was really getting bored. With all the restrictions on activities, I wasn’t feeling like I could accomplish anything.

No Crooked Smiles

I knew I’d be working two to three weeks without hearing anything in my left ear, so I gave myself a pep talk on the way back to work. I determined I could manage one way or the other and that my patients would be patient with me.

Still, it was scary to return with only one ear working. The right ear — my good ear — isn’t that good. I give it a great deal more credit than I probably should. It has a severe-profound hearing loss that isn’t much better than my left ear, but with my hearing aid I can maintain a decent speech score.

With context, lip-reading, and my hearing aid, the “good” ear can carry me. Even so, going from stereo to mono is jarring.

Around two weeks post-surgery, I felt completely free from pain. With no pain waking me up, I slept well and spent a couple weekends just catching up on sleep. I don’t operate well without it, so this was a big help.

Around this same time, I had a post-op visit with my surgeon. His resident removed the Steri-Strips and checked the incision. Everything was healing as expected. They had me raise my eyebrows and smile to check for evenness. No crooked smiles here.

They looked in my ear, and my eardrum was looking great. I told the surgeon that my ear felt a bit clogged and that I suspected some fluid. He said that was normal and to give it more time to heal.

The doctor sent me home with instructions to apply triple antibiotic ointment twice daily and to go ahead and wash my hair but blot dry around the incision. He said he would be attending my activation appointment in two weeks.

A Turning Point

That medical visit was my first outing on my own since surgery. It was nice to be independently capable. I felt like I was getting back to normal.

I was also happy to have permission to wash my hair. I thought I would run home to do it, but when they took off the adhesive bandages, my incision became tender. I decided to wait another day, letting the inflammation subside before shampooing.

The next day, I felt much better and shampooed for the first time in 10 days. What a relief! With my hair wetted down, I could feel some small new lumps from the implant and magnet under my skin. I expected that some of this was swelling, but it was still very strange to feel these new bumps.

With such a good report from the surgeon, I decided to put my hearing aid back in my left ear. Surprisingly during the first few weeks post-surgery, I still had useable residual hearing in my left ear, so I went back to wearing my hearing aid daily in the implant ear.

It wasn’t much but having a little bit of hearing helped me feel more balanced. Sadly, I later lost this residual hearing, but it was good to have it during those transition weeks between surgery and implant activation.

My second week back, I was still keeping up. Whew! I had feared the surgery would set me back more and force me to take sick leave. We did have to ask folks to schedule out farther because my follow-up visits with the implant center would take me out of the office. This will continue a couple more months as I go through rehab.

Thankfully we have some very thoughtful patients who are working around the scheduling challenges.
The journey continues! Follow Dr. Yoder’s cochlear implant story here and on Facebook to learn about the “bubble” mystery and more

Part 8: The Bubble

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