Sometimes, with cochlear implants, there are side effects. You are warned about them before the operation and they form part of the consent process – “yes, I am aware of the following possible side effects……” Frankly, I’d have signed almost anything at that point, so desperate was I to get an implant. Well, almost anything…….
In my case there have been a few small things.
The area around my ear and my upper jaw were quite bruised after the op, which made chewing on that side of my mouth tricky to begin with and a big, luxurious yawn quite painful. This lasted for a good few weeks, but gradually improved and has now gone.
I have a lingering taste problem. Things I am eating taste perfectly normal but I sometimes have a salty taste in my mouth when I’m not eating. It seems to be exacerbated by fluids, any fluid. I wondered perhaps if tea or coffee were making it worse but a glass of water has the same effect. This side effect might well still disappear; online cochlear implant communities are full of recently implanted people reporting taste problems (metallic seems more common than salty) and old hands replying that they had problems for sometimes up to a year, which then resolved. Even if it never went it’s not a big deal.
My right eardrum is not moving normally. The eardrum on my right (implanted) side doesn’t have (since the op) the degree of movement of a normally functioning eardrum. Some time ago the audiologist tested both ears with a device that measures such movements and found that the right eardrum was moving slightly in response to a stimulus but not as much as my left eardrum. After monitoring this for a couple of appointments she decided to make me an appointment with the consultant, Mr Strachan, who’d performed the operation. He had a look and declared everything to be healthy. Of course, that eardrum is now completely redundant. “Hearing” on my right side involves the speech processor (behind my ear), the implant in my skull, the cochlea (with electrodes in it), the auditory nerve and my brain. The eardrum is bypassed, so not a worry.
Finally, I’ve had a slightly sore outer ear (I think pinna is the medical term). It’s nothing, really, it’s nothing……but the audiologists had been monitoring it and it hadn’t completely gone away so it was also on the list for the consultant to look at. The wound has healed beautifully, so that can’t be the problem. Initially, the arm of my glasses on that side had been digging into the scar somewhat, which had seemed to be a likely cause of the soreness, but a couple of trips to the optician to experiment with bending that arm in different ways seemed to have done the trick. Not that then, either. Mr Strachan had a good look and we declared ourselves mutually mystified but unconcerned.
Since the appointment I have a new theory. I think it might have been caused by my fleecy hat. A tight fitting woolly hat, a speech processor behind my ear, plus the arm of my glasses…..that could cause an ear to get squashed and a little sore perhaps? Now that spring has arrived at last and I’m not wearing a hat the problem seems to have disappeared.
It’s rather embarrassing, to be honest. Although I was at pains to point out at the appointment that I didn’t want to waste NHS time with trivial problems (“no, no” said Mr Strachan, “it’s important that we know”) I worry that taking up doctors’ valuable time with the side effects of your woolly hat might one day feature in a tabloid exposé. You know, like the articles about people calling out an ambulance for a nosebleed or ringing 999 to say they have a splinter in their finger. But this time it would be “Yorkshire woman wastes NHS time with fleecy hat problem”. Oh dear.
I’d just finished drafting this post when I realised I’d not mentioned another side effect; I’ve lost virtually all the remaining hearing in my implanted ear. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, but usually it does. Being completely, utterly deaf in one ear is very different to having some remaining low pitched hearing, although I only experience it at night or when I’m in the shower. Am I worried? No. Instead of having a thoroughly useless natural ear I now have a completely amazing bionic ear and I’m very happy with the swap.
Cartoon image copyright: mkoudis / 123RF Stock Photo