Cochlear Implant Surgery
It's a big decision to take the Cochlear Implant plunge and to go into the operating theatre. Any surgery under anaesthetic appears daunting.
My Cochlear Implant Surgery Journey
When I think back to my Cochlear Implant surgery experience in 2001, I was young and unprepared for the journey ahead. I never expected that I would have to endure two operations within the space of three months. The duration of each was 8 hours approximately.
I knew the risks. I'd done the research. What scared me most was the risk of nerve damage causing weakness or paralysis to my face. But, there was a one per cent chance that this might happen. I was willing to take a punt. The odds were in my favour after all. Post surgery, I signed the forms to agree to the operation and its outcomes. I had the scans. Preparation seemed to be at its peak or was it?
I will never know fully why the operation was a glorious failure. The surgeon had done over 150 Cochlear Implant operations and was an expert in his field. They'd done the scans of my head before operating. His mission now was to find the cochlea in the inner ear and do his magic surgery. It couldn't be that difficult. And yet it was.
The post-op diagnosis was bleak. It turned out that the surgeon had mistaken a cavity for my cochlea. My ear was now leaking fluid. It was also goodbye to my functioning ear. The one remaining bit of hearing I'd had now gone forever.
The surgeon then went to a conference in Germany. My case created widespread discussion with the experts there. On his return, I received the news that he would aim to operate again, on the same ear. Three months later, after more surgery, I woke up to silence. They wrote a sentence on a piece of paper for me, 'Your operation has been a success.' I held back the tears. It was all I needed to know. (Switch-on of a Cochlear Implant takes place 3-6 weeks after surgery.)
Given my experiences, you'd be hard-pressed to think that I would recommend surgery to you. But, here's the thing. I consider myself to be lucky. I'd go through all of this again as there was a light at the end of my tunnel and for me, the Cochlear Implant has changed my life.
Having relayed my Cochlear Implant surgery experience to you briefly, this is the scenario:-
You are experiencing hearing loss and struggle to communicate in your daily life. You understand what a Cochlear Implant is and have met the candidacy criteria. You are at the stage now whereas you want to understand more about Cochlear Implant Surgery.
Below is a question and answer list about Cochlear Implant Surgery. At the end of the article, I have included my top tips list on how to prepare for surgery.
Will I lose residual hearing in my inner ear?
Some residual hearing may be lost but rates of preserving the remaining hearing is considerably higher today than it was ten years ago. This is due to better surgical techniques and improved electrode designs.
In terms of single ear cochlear implantation, do you have a say on what ear is chosen for surgery?
I am UK (United Kingdom) based and the UK National Health Service (NHS) funds one Cochlear Implant for adults only. My right ear was my strongest ear. Surgeons, worldwide, will often advise that it is the strongest ear that requires an operation on primarily. It's likely that the current auditory pathways in the brain will channel more to this ear. So, it has more potential in terms of future stimulation. You can discuss this further with your surgeon. The final decision is your choice.
If you are to have a bilateral Cochlear Implant (Cochlear Implants in both ears), will a surgeon operate on both ears in one surgery session?
If the surgeon is happy with the insurance procedures and payments in place and is confident with your health, then they may recommend bilateral implantation in one surgery session. Agreement on this has to be finalised with you. There is no pressure on the candidate to sign up to bilateral implantation in one surgery session.
What is the duration of Cochlear Implant Surgery?
The procedure is relatively short lasting approximately two to three hours if everything goes to plan, any abnormalities to do with the bones or the nerves will prolong this.
In advance of Cochlear Implant surgery, what are the tests I have to take?
You will have tests for your eligibility for the device; doctors will run tests on your hearing; in which you must score a substantial amount lower than the average ear, indicating a very high amount of hearing loss to qualify for the operation. Please see our Candidacy for Cochlear Implant article for further information.
You will also have an x-ray to review the shape of the cochlea, to see if there are any visual abnormalities with it; this could include extra bone growth within the ear that would interfere with the placement of the implant. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan and a physical exam will be taken to ensure your safety and comfortability with the procedure.
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What happens in surgery?
The procedure will begin with general anaesthesia and patches and cables to monitor vital signs. Then a small piece of hair behind the ear is shaved off, enabling easy access for the surgeons to reach the mastoid bone.
The surgeon then makes an incision behind the ear to enable access to the mastoid bone using drilling. The mastoid bone is part of the temporal bone, located within the skull. The surgeon then must check the placement of facial nerve, so they can protect them, being wary of them when they are using the scalpel. The surgery continues with the surgeons making an opening within these nerves to gain access to the cochlea.
Once the cochlea is accessed, the surgeon threads in implant electrodes into the cochlea; which work as a replacement for the small hair cells which would usually work within the cochlea. Then the surgeon places an electronic device, called the "receiver" under the skin just behind the ear, it's secured to the head at this area, this is called a suture, which means that the device is fixed into the skull using a junction between two bones, making it un-movable and overall very secure.
What happens soon after my surgery?
The incisions made will be closed by stitches, a bandage is placed over this and must be left on overnight to ensure your safety and prevent any infection. You will generally be released from the hospital the next day.
Useful videos which demonstrate Cochlear Implant Surgery
During Cochlear Implant Surgery
A gorier look at Cochlear Implant Surgery
Is there pain after surgery?
Everyone's recovery is different. Most patients do not suffer any significant amount of pain; the pain should be relatively mild to moderate for the first few days, and dizziness/ disturbance of balance is a possibility for the first week. The incision must be kept dry and must be covered by an ointment antibiotic two or three times daily for a week.
Make sure you keep yourself relaxed and occupied; do things you enjoy such as reading. By doing this will help your recovery as you'd be focusing less on the pain or any inconveniences you've had and thinking about being content rather than frustrated.
What should I avoid after surgery?
You should avoid vigorous exercise for the first four weeks due to a possible shift in the internal device. Avoid also heavy lifting or anything that might increase pressure/inflammation.
You're advised to not blow your nose after surgery, or bend over. The fluid in your ear prevents you from bending over without pressure/pain. Your ear will feel like it is full of water. That will subside but will take time.
Switch-on of your Cochlear Implant
Switch-on of a Cochlear Implant takes place 3-6 weeks after surgery. For the next few months, a patient should expect check-ups and adjustments to their Cochlear Implant Processor by the audiologist.
Your surgery date is now confirmed. It's always good to prepare in advance hence my pre-surgery tips:-
If it’s your child having their Cochlear Implant operation, then consider purchasing headbands in advance of processor switch-on. This will ensure that the processor is secure and safe on that day. Children need to get used to the processor on their ear.
A great headband that I use, for exercise purposes, is the Cochlear Implant Comfort Headband by HearBand. It’s very comfortable and made from a stretchy cotton-elastane which is washable. The child-friendly versions can be found at Amazon US website and the Amazon UK website. They can be shipped internationally also.
Consider as to whether you can book overnight accommodation near the hospital. If your journey from the hospital is far then, it makes sense to have this scheduled in advance. You can rest and then travel home the next day.
Purchase a button down shirt or pyjamas. Have easy on/off clothing available.
Ensure you have time off booked with your place of work.
Do all errands in advance. It's important to rest and sleep.
Prepare your resting space with all the essentials such as blankets, pillows, remote controls, movies, books, magazines. This way you won't need to get up often, and you can relax.
Request your anti-nausea medication. Ensure medication stocks are sufficient so that you can rest without worrying about a trip to the pharmacy or doctor.
Request your pain medication. Ensure medication stocks are sufficient so that you can rest without worrying about a trip to the pharmacy or doctor.
Wash your hair before surgery since you won't be able to wash it afterwards for a few days.
Your jaw may hurt after surgery. Have soft food in stock, just in case, so you don’t have to chew.
When sleeping, it's important that your head is elevated. Consider purchasing more bed pillows and wearing the neck pillow.
Have ice-packs available. Their use eases any swelling.
Your throat may hurt a little after surgery. Consider purchasing herbal teas to help soothe this.
Consider purchasing a U-shaped travel pillow. When placed, it helps you to watch movies and television in bed in an upright stance. I recently bought the Familamb Travel Pillow Memory Foam U-Shaped Neck Pillow. It boasts Ergonomic Design, Ultra Soft Full Neck Chin Support and its adjustable. Please see the Amazon US website link to purchase.
A similar product is available on the Amazon UK website known as the Luxsure Memory Foam Neck Pillow & Comfortable Head Cushion.
If you’d like to know more about my Cochlear Implant experience and the side effects of Cochlear Implant Surgery, please read my article on Pros and Cons of Cochlear Implants. (The Only Way is Up!).
Special thanks to Jessica Toomey for researching and editing this article.
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If you like this article, you might like… What is a Cochlear Implant? This overview includes simple factual and video information.
If you like this article, you might like... The Cochlear Implant Animator. A fascinating interview with Animator and Director, Eric Giessmann, who talks about his path to success, losing his hearing and what inspired him to create the ‘Ciborg/Cochlear Implant animation.'
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