Do you want to hear about the operation? (A number of people have asked). Or rather, what happened in the hospital (I was asleep for the operation). The very squeamish needn’t read on. No, really, it was fine.
First of all, a big cheer for the Listening for Life Centre at Bradford Royal Infirmary (BRI), the base of the Yorkshire Auditory Implant Service.I can’t sing their praises loudly enough. It’s now well over two years since my first assessment for a cochlear implant in the summer of 2015, and I’ve been bowled over at every appointment by how great the service has been, even when, in 2015, they were telling me something I didn’t want to hear.
Here they are – consultant ENT surgeons, audiologists, speech and language therapists, teachers of the deaf, technicians, reception/administrative staff and Head of Service. It’s a big team; around a hundred patients have been fitted with implants at Bradford in the last year.
The Centre do all the testing of potential implantees and all the rehabilitation work afterwards. For the operation itself I was admitted to Ward 18 of the BRI, on Thursday morning 16 November.
Nigel and I got to the ward at about 11am. I was shown to a bed, forms were filled in, the anaesthetist seen, and the consultant (Mr Strachan) arrived to say I’d be first on after lunch, marking my right ear with a marking pen so there could be no confusion later. I got changed into the regulation hospital gown. At about 1pm the theatre nurse arrived to take me down to the operating theatre. That triggered more form filling, signature checking and so on (yes, I’m Vera Brearey, yes, I’m allergic to penicillin, yes right ear cochlear implant, yes, that’s my signature consenting to it) and off we went.
The last time I had a general anaesthetic, about thirty years ago, I was wheeled to the operating theatre on a trolley because I’d already had pre-meds and was feeling woozy. This time the theatre nurse walked me there, which was totally reasonable because I was very well. We even took the stairs instead of the lift. It’s hard not to feel somewhat self-conscious, though, as you wander busy hospital corridors in dressing gown and slippers.
For reasons unknown I’d been given a pillow from the ward to carry down to the theatre with me and that felt a bit odd too. I asked the nurse why I’d been given it, and she said “something” in reply, but deciphering failed and we mutually decided to let it go. Off I went with my pillow, feeling rather like an older version of Christopher Robin going off to bed.
In the theatre area I was shown to an ante-room and asked to get onto a trolley, lie down and then wriggle myself along so that my head was at the very end. A drip cannula was inserted. More identity checking. (Vera Brearey. Allergic to penicillin. Et cetera). I’d known this was coming so I’d made sure I still had my hearing aids in and glasses on – these too had been included in the tally of checks when I left the ward. (“And she has two hearing aids and a pair of spectacles to be brought back please”). Then communication needs were declared over, and hearing aids and glasses taken off. The anaesthetist mimed “injection” then “sleep” and off I went. Very quickly.
At 3.30pm I was in the recovery room with someone holding a piece of card in front of my eyes; it read “operation over”.
Back on the ward I felt a bit sore on the right side of my head, but not terribly so. Unfortunately, though, I then got quite bad nausea. The nurse declared this to be “not uncommon” after a CI operation (they are after all fiddling about right next to your balance organs) but I think most people avoid it. By the time Nigel arrived to visit at 6pm I was retching away into a hospital vomit bowl, looking ashen (he says, I certainly felt it). Ideas of snapping a picture of me post-op in the massive head bandage (I’d thought of taking such a pic for the blog) disappeared. “It will pass”, we said to each other, grimacing, and it did. I was given anti-nausea medication and by 9.45pm felt well enough to text Nigel to say I felt a bit better and had kept down half a cup of tea. (What do people in other countries get offered after an operation?? A yearning for a cup of post-op builder’s must surely be a particularly British peculiarity).
The next morning I managed some toast and milk. I sent cheerful texts to Nigel to reassure him that I felt better. I got dressed. Henrique and Nicola from Med-El arrived to film the morning’s proceedings. (Thankfully, they had departed at the first mention of “hospital gown” the day before). Mr Strachan arrived to remove the head bandage, which only stays on for the first night. He was happy that the wound looked good and I was packed off to X-ray after another dose of intravenous antibiotics (I’d had one lot on the operating table, I think, and another in the middle of the night).
The X-rays are to check the position of the implant and the other things inserted under your scalp during the operation. Mr Strachan promised to look at them as soon as he could, in between his other jobs that morning. Before long he popped into the ward, grinning cheerfully. “The X rays are fine”, he said, “Do you want to come and look?” To be honest, I had mixed feelings about that (I was feeling really very unsteady on my feet) but his enthusiasm was infectious and I tottered off into the corridor, where the computer terminal was. It was worth the totter. There, in my head, was the tiniest, tiniest thing, curled up in my cochlea, perfectly in position. I was shown it from various angles, by a very pleased consultant, obviously very happy with the outcome. What better recommendation?
So that was it. After a few more checks, I was discharged. We got home about 3pm. I took over-the-counter painkillers for a few days. To begin with my ear felt a bit sore “inside”, then that went away leaving me just with a somewhat sore jaw and some tender areas on the side of my head. That’s all really. I felt a little unsteady on my feet for a couple of days but no more nausea. I could wash my hair after five days. Sleeping was no problem so long as I didn’t lie on “that” side of my head.
I was going to include a picture of the scar but there’s nothing much to see. It’s nicely tucked away behind my ear and just a few centimetres long. No hair-shaving worth mentioning, just the tiniest bit behind my ear.
No drama then. Big thank you, BRI.