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Not Quite A Bionic Ear

Posted in Miscellaneous on March 1st 2012 by Randy Reichardt

.: On Tuesday of this week, 28 February 2012, laser stapedotomy surgery was performed on my right ear.  This is a procedure in which a CO2 laser is used to cut into the stapes bone in the middle ear, so that a prosthetic piston made of composite material can be embedded within to improve hearing.  I’m spending the week at home, recovering from the operation.  Essentially I am simply resting, and dealing with lingering pain near my right ear following the surgery.  I have a Medtronic Ear Implant, a “Fisch Fluorplastic and Platinum Piston,” inserted into my stapes bone.  I do not yet know if I will set off airport security alarms, but I have a card I can carry with me that I would need to provide to any MRI facility at which I might appear.

My hearing in my right ear has been diminished since at least the mid-80s.  For years I’ve been using a hearing aid and thought that would be the status quo for the rest of my life.  However, two years ago, my brother called to tell me he had had the operation himself.  I wasn’t aware at the time that he had a similar condition.  I decided to call my otolaryngologist, only to discover that he had retired.  I consulted with my audiologist, who recommended another otolaryngologist.  I met with him, and he concluded that I was eligible for the surgery.  When I met with the surgeon in the fall of 2010, my understanding was that it would be a stapedectomy, where the stapes bone is completely removed.  I was put on a waiting list for 18 months, and when I went to the pre-op clinic a few days before the operation, I was told I would have a stapedotomy instead.

My friend, Margaret, and I arrived at the Royal Alex hospital in Edmonton at 06:00 on 28 Feb, and I was prepped and wheeled into the operating room at 08:05.  I was given a neuroleptic anesthetic, which kept me awake during the surgery.  I remember my head being covered in small sheets, and could detect a very bright light over my right ear.  My head was turned to the left while I lay on the table.  Eventually I could hear various noises – whirring, clicking, a vacuum-like sound, etc.  At one point, the surgeon did speak to me and I responded.

Soon it was over and I was moved into the recovery area.  My brother had told me that he was quite nauseous and a bit dizzy after his surgery.  However, while laying on the gurney, I could tell that I had neither symptom. The surgeon did drop by briefly to tell me everything went well, and that the stapes bone was somewhat misshapen or out of alignment.  (I can’t remember his exact words.) At noon, Margaret came back to get me, and drove me home.    I was amazed that all of this could take place in 6 hours.

My ear remains plugged with some kind of packing, and I am constantly changing cotton balls in the ear.  I cannot get water into it, so when I shower, I need to pack the ear with a cotton ball with Vaseline on the end of it, and keep my hair dry.  I can tell that at least some hearing is working, but I really can’t hear anything until the packing is removed next Wednesday.  Afterward, my hearing will be assessed again.  Hopefully it will be better, and continue to improve.