Cochlear Implant Surgery, Part 2
I realize someone is tapping or shaking me on the shoulder and my eyes flutter open. “Wendi! Wendi!” Some nurse I don’t recognize is smiling and waving. I think I smile back…man, it’s SO hard to keep my eyes open, what is going on?!
It slowly dawns on me that I’m in the recovery area. (This whole time is very hazy for me so my recollection isn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be, but these are the things I remember.)
Thinking back on it now, I don’t believe I had any thoughts like “Oh, the surgery is over!” or anything. I just remember telling myself over and over, “Keep your eyes open. Don’t fall back to sleep. They want you to stay awake. Try to look alert.” I would keep seeing people I didn’t recognize come within my field of vision, smile, give me a thumbs up or whatever, but they weren’t talking to me. I didn’t have my glasses so it was all really hazy. I do remember squinting at the clock which was right in front of me on the wall, trying to figure out what time it was. I think it was a little before noon but really, I’m not sure if that time was before or after I got my glasses back. I kind of doubt I was able to make out the time without my glasses on!
I think the first thing I was really aware of, other than that it was extremely difficult to keep my eyes open, for some reason, was that there was a totally gross taste in my throat. I kept clearing my throat and swallowing and UGH, it tasted like someone poured rubbing alcohol down my throat. Every time I swallowed, it tasted like alcohol. My throat didn’t hurt; it just felt like I really needed to clear my throat more than anything.
At one point, a nurse came up and asked if I knew where Dave was – was he planning to wait in the waiting room? They were having a hard time finding him. I was still kind of out of it but alert enough to tell her that yes, as far as I knew, he was going to be in the waiting room. However, he had planned to do some shopping, so maybe that’s where he was. I remember thinking, “Wow, he’s still at the computer store?!” 😆 (There’s a MicroCenter and a Fry’s both near the hospital, and he had planned to run over there once I got into surgery.) I figured he would’ve gone to the store around 8:30 or so and would already be back by then!
I laid there for a while, periodically letting my eyes drift closed and then yelling at myself, “Open them! You need to stay awake!” It was just so boring though…I could hardly see, and there was nothing to focus on close to my face. I felt the blood pressure cuff on my calf constantly pumping up and releasing – it was so weird because I’d never had anything like that before and didn’t know what it was. I think it was only on my left leg though, not on both legs, but I can’t be positive of that. To be honest, I have to credit Shari for reminding me about it in her comment on my last post. It’s funny because at the time, it was the main thing I was thinking about: “Oooh…there’s that weird feeling…what IS that?!” but I had actually completely forgotten about it til she mentioned it. I had a blood pressure cuff on my right arm but it only went off once in a great while.
It seemed like only a few minutes passed before the nurse was back and had my glasses. I asked Dave to fill in this portion for me, and he said that he had actually given my glasses to Dr. Battista around 11 am, after the surgery was over. The doctor had told Dave it would be at least another hour, hour and a half before he could come see me, so if he wanted to go out or whatever, that would be a good time. So he did actually go to the computer store but he got back about 5 minutes after they started looking for him. They found him at 12:35 so they must have started looking for him at 12:30. I had my glasses well before that, so obviously the nurses must have found out that the doctor had my glasses and not Dave, and got them from the doctor.
Anyway, he had modified my glasses with a dowel rod. We figured this would be more fool-proof than a chain because we realized we didn’t know how thick my bandage would be, so we didn’t know how long to make the chain. He took both arms off my glasses and taped them to a wire frame that had the dowel rod taped to one side. Then I just brought them up to my face and held them there – it worked perfectly!
At first I was keeping the glasses up to my face constantly (at this point it was around 12:15 pm) but I quickly realized there was not that much to see (LOL!) so I put my arm down and let it rest. I used the glasses whenever someone came in to talk to me, which made things so much easier. I made sure to lay my arm down every time the blood pressure cuff started to puff up, though.
Dr. Battista came in right after I got my glasses. He smiled, gave me a thumbs up and said the surgery went perfectly. It only took 2-1/2 hours, instead of 3, to do both ears! He asked if I had any questions and the only thing I could think of was whether he was able to get all the electrodes in or not. (I’m surprised I was coherent enough to even think of this, to be honest.) The implants I received each have 16 electrodes that get inserted into the cochlea. Sometimes, though, for unforeseen reasons, not all the electrodes can go in. That’s still okay – the implant will still work – but obviously I was hoping all of the electrodes made it into each cochlea. And they did!
The doctor left and I rested some more. Finally a nurse came in and told me that the bed I was on was too big and they needed to move me to a smaller one for the trip back to the original pre-op area I had been in that morning. (I guess it’s pre- and post-op!) I briefly worried about falling during the transfer, just like in the operating room, but it went fine and they were able to get me moved to the new bed pretty quickly. They took off the blood pressure cuffs and removed my IV before they moved me. Right after that, I was being wheeled back down hallways, into elevators, and back into the familiar pre-op area.
12:45 pm (or so):
I was there only for a minute or two when Dave came in. It was so good to see him! I realized the reason I was having such a hard time keeping my eyes open was because of the bandage. It was wrapped VERY tightly around my head, over both ears. I had lots of packing and gauze over each ear, kind of like Princess Leia. It was wrapped down to my eyebrows, and was pushing down on them. (If you take your fingers, lay them horizontally on top of your eyebrows and then press down, you’ll see what I mean.) This forced my eyelids closed and also made me look extremely pissed off. 😆 I used my fingernails to kind of scootch the bandage up off my eyebrows, which helped tremendously but made Dave very nervous. He kept saying, “Oh! Don’t do that!” and I just ignored him and pushed the bandage up. Poor guy!
We talked for a while, with Dave telling me what the doctor had told him about how extremely well the surgery went, and me telling him about that icky taste in my throat but that otherwise I didn’t feel bad at all. I wasn’t in pain, wasn’t dizzy, wasn’t nauseous. I was just really fighting to keep my eyes open!
One of the nurses came by and asked if I wanted anything to eat. I was absolutely not hungry, so I said that I was fine and no, I didn’t want anything. Dave and I continued chatting and I think another nurse came up and asked me the same thing. I said no, I’m fine, I’m not hungry but thank you.
I kind of closed my eyes and Dave started patting me on the arm.
“Honey…they won’t let you go home until you eat something, and get up and walk around.”
He kept telling me this, every few minutes (I kept dozing off). Finally I started focusing on what he was saying. I was trying to wrap my mind around it…I thought the offers of food were just on an “if I wanted anything” basis – I swear, I don’t remember anyone ever saying that I needed to eat before I could go home. I told Dave, “Well, okay – it’s not like I can’t eat, I just really wasn’t hungry. But sure, I’ll eat something…what can I have?”
Dave went to talk to the nurse, and then told me I could have toast, Strawberry Jell-O or … something else. (I just went to ask Dave if he remembered the third choice and he couldn’t either. See?! This is why I have to get all this stuff down…my mind is like a sieve!) 🙂 I forget all these details so quickly.
Well, anyway, all I can say is thank God I didn’t pick toast! I would have probably spit it out, since I can’t taste bread and the texture feels really gross on my tongue. I chose the Jell-O. I realized at this point that I was going to get a chance to try out my taste buds, so I got kind of excited and that cracked Dave up. I was also looking forward to eating something to help get rid of that rubbing alcohol taste in my throat.
I got the Jell-O and a glass of water with a bendy straw. That took care of one of my questions – whether I could use a straw. I knew I wasn’t supposed to blow my nose for 2 weeks after surgery, and I have to sneeze with my mouth open (ewww) but I wasn’t sure about using a straw. I took a tentative bite, on the front of my tongue, and told Dave, “Yeah, I can’t taste anything on the front of my tongue.” As I got ready to swallow, though, I realized I could taste everything just fine on the back of my tongue and on either side. I got really excited and told Dave that I could totally taste the fact that it was sweet and strawberry-flavored. I was thrilled! We spent some more time talking while I finished the Jell-O and drank more water, and slowly woke up more and more. I was extremely relieved not to feel nauseous, by the way. I really wasn’t sure what to expect as far as dizziness and nausea went.
Then Dave mentioned that I still had to get up and walk, before they’d let us leave. Did I feel like I could do that? So I told him, yeah, what the heck, I’ll give it a try. I mean, I was tired as hell but the only way I’d know was to get on my feet and see how I felt! So he got the nurse again, and she helped me to slowly sit up on the bed. I sat for a second to check my bearings…no dizziness. Whew. Then she helped me down, carrying the IV bag. We walked slowly in a circle around the nurse’s station, straight to the bathroom where I’d forgotten my sample earlier in the day.
I was thinking, “Well, hmmm. I don’t really have to go to the bathroom, but okay…whatever.” The nurse led me into the room, hung the IV bag up on a hook, and told me to pull the call cord when I was finished and they would help me back. I was stunned to find that I really, really had to go to the bathroom! I guess it was that IV solution. I had no problem – did what I needed to, pulled the cord, then the nurse and I walked back. While I was gone they had removed the bed and brought in a reclining chair, so I sat in that, covered in warm blankets, for about 20 more minutes.
Then they brought my clothes back, pulled the curtain and told me that I could change. I was momentarily confused – I remember asking Dave, “I just change right here?!” I think I assumed I would go back to the bathroom to change, since that’s where I changed when I first got there. So I got dressed – no problems there either. Dave helped steady me as I got into my clothes, and I had a shirt that buttoned so there was no pulling anything over my head.
Let me just stray off to the topic of shirts here for a second. Everyone recommended a shirt that buttoned up, for the day of surgery. As surgery day approached, I realized that this is the shirt I would be spending the day in as well. It was really a dilemma for me because I’m used to t-shirts and my only button-up shirts are kind of dressy-casual. I realized, though, that I have a long nightshirt/nightgown that buttons in the front with about 4 buttons. It doesn’t totally unbutton, but just enough to make the neckhole much larger. This is all you really need once you get home. I guess if you’re unsteady or dizzy, it might be easier to avoid pulling a shirt over your head. But if the bandage is the only issue, like it was for me, then any kind of shirt that has a few buttons at the neckline will be large enough to get on and off. I have a lot of polo-type shirts and that’s what I ended up lounging around the house in. My nightgowns all have buttons so when I changed at night, it wasn’t a problem to get them on and off. It took about a week for me to be able to get a t-shirt on without it bothering me; even after the bandage was off (2 days later) my head was still too sore to tolerate a small neckhole like most t-shirts have.
So! Now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about what shirts to wear before and after CI surgery…
After I got dressed, I slipped my sandals on and was ready to go. That was another tip I received – don’t wear shoes that you have to bend over to put on and tie up or buckle. I was lucky to get my surgery in the summer because sandals were an easy solution!
I sat back down in the chair and thought, “Man, I hope I get a wheelchair to go to the car.” Right at that point, a nurse came and told Dave he should go get the car from the parking garage and meet us out front. He took off and shortly after that, a wheelchair arrived for me. Yay! They helped me get settled and then wheeled me not only through the hospital, but out into the front area where Dave had the car parked. I was SO glad I wouldn’t have to walk through a parking lot or anything because I was still really fighting the tiredness from the anesthesia. All I had to do was step up out of the wheelchair and right into the car, where Dave had the seat reclined for me.
I closed my eyes and dozed for the entire ride home. The whole time, from recovery until I left the hospital, I was really forcing myself to stay awake. I have to give Dave the credit for keeping me awake and reminding me of my goal to leave the hospital as soon as I possibly could. I had warned him ahead of time that I would probably be content to just sleep for days if I was left alone, but that I did NOT want to do that. I absolutely wanted to get home as soon as I could!
So I reclined in the car, thinking, “I did it! I can’t believe I did it and I’m on the way home!”
Once we got home, I had to climb 2 flights of stairs to get into the house. That was pretty exhausting! Dave got the couch set up for me while I changed into more comfortable shorts and my nightshirt. And that was pretty much it – from there on in, we started leaving updates here as I went through recovery.
So here I sit, 9 days later. I would say that one week from my surgery was the turning point for me – I really, really felt much better and had a lot more energy. I’m about 75% back to my regular routine at this point. I can get through the day with one nap or no nap at all. I can make a quick dinner and stand up without feeling like I just got finished running a marathon.
The pain has never been intense, but I also did not shy away from pain medication. I took it on a regular schedule and switched to extra-strength Tylenol about 4 days ago. Now I’m not taking the Tylenol on a regular schedule, just if I need it. (I still get some aching and throbbing where the stitches are; no headache though.)
I came home with a prescription for nausea medication and a prescription for Vicodin; no antibiotic pills or ointment. I took one nausea pill the night of the surgery, after I got sick so unexpectedly. I think that was from the anesthesia though, because I had no nausea at all – it just came on with no warning and then was over just as fast.
I’m still sleeping on the couch, because I have to be careful not to sleep on either side and that’s the easiest way to keep myself from rolling over. If I had only one side done, though, I would’ve switched to my bed long ago. I think I’ve got a setup that will work for my bed though – I tested it this afternoon and I’m going to give it a try tonight. The couch isn’t bad but I’m afraid it’s going to bother my back eventually, and I really don’t want to have back problems!
The doctor had told Dave to expect two weeks for my recovery, before I’m fully back to normal. I think that’s just about right.
My next appointment, for a post-op check, is on August 8. I think my stitches must be dissolvable so I assume the doctor will just look things over and see if I’m healing well.
I’m so glad to be at this point. I know I still have some recovering to do but everything just gets easier and easier each day. Now all I have to do is wait for August 20, my activation day!