Friday, August 3, 2012

Surgery (Living With Cogan's Syndrome)

June 15th:

Aside from hearing the occasional voice, tinnitus has plagued my ears—various tones buzzing and screeching through my right ear; noises that only I recognize. To make matters weirder, I’ve also experienced voices in my left ear. I know, I probably sound like a lunatic; however, I’m completely serious. These aren’t your characteristic voices, whispering dangerous thoughts into my mind. What I’ve heard sounds more like a radio station playing in another room. I’ve heard music—mainly brass instruments—coinciding with what typically resonates as a car salesman; yet I can’t make out exactly what he’s saying. Sometimes, though, I swear I hear him emphatically encouraging his listeners to buy a “new Hyundai!”

One night while lying in bed, after weeks of not telling Sarah about the strangers in my head, I decided it would be best to let her know.

“Really?” she asked. “Why haven’t you told me about this before?”

“I guess I just got used to it after a while,” I said.

“Have you looked it up to see if anyone else has experience the same thing?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said. “Maybe I’ll do that now.”

And so we did. I went into the living room, grabbed the laptop, and returned to bed. I researched for a little while Sarah read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

“I’m not crazy!” I shouted, after I had found an article defining my symptoms.

It turned out that what I’d been experiencing was called “non-psychiatric auditory hallucinations.” Apparently, this type of hallucination—not to be mistaken with “psychiatric auditory hallucinations” (those are the ones in which the person hears voices speaking directly to him or her)—is very common for individuals who lose their hearing.

A few days later, while having dinner with my in-laws, Sarah and I told her parents about what we had found out. During the course of the meal, my father-in-law would imitate his impression of the “voices in my head,” whispering in my ear in an eerie, low, gruff voice, “Maxy…Maxy…” Suffice to say, I couldn’t hear him and didn’t know he was doing it until everyone at the table was laughing and Sarah had to clue me in on the joke.
For months, my two ears played these tunes inharmoniously. Thankfully, that is all about to change.

This morning, Sarah and I got ourselves ready and made our way to the hospital, as I was to undergo cochlear implant surgery. Originally, the date was for ten days from today; however, Sarah received a call last week from Dr. Mazen’s assistant, Amanda. She wanted to let us know that there had been a cancellation and asked if we would like to move the surgery to June 15th. After very slight consideration, we decided that this would be a great opportunity to push everything up and rejoin the hearing world sooner!

We arrived at the hospital and the valet parked our car for us. We walked to the surgical waiting room and signed in. Sarah received a card with a number on it representing my surgery. The card stated that when my surgery was finished and it would be time for visitors, the number would come up on a screen in the waiting room and Sarah would be allowed to go see me.

While seated, a lady called out my name. Sarah and I followed her behind the front desk and sat down at a table where we had to give her all of our information. Once we were finished, we were asked to sit back down in the main area. A few minutes later, another lady called my name. She guided us into an elevator and then into an office with multiple rooms. She asked me to go in one of the rooms to change into the surgical gown and for Sarah to wait outside. When I was all finished, I opened the door and Sarah came in along with a female nurse.

After about two minutes of trying to find a vein in my arm, the nurse slid an IV through my skin. I must say, considering that I have to get blood work done every two weeks, and that I have to have an IV hooked up to my hand once a month, I have grown accustomed to medical professionals who are highly capable of finding a vein with ease. Usually, the person administering the needle will say, “wow” or, “Thank goodness you have such nice veins.” It seems as though regular doctors and nurses who may not have as much practice with this sort of thing have a hard time performing this task—and they end up causing me more pain than expected.

The next person to come into the room and greet me was a large, jolly, male nurse with an English accent—though I couldn’t tell since my hearing was poor again in my right ear. He told me that he would be in the room, helping Dr. Mazen during surgery. His job, it seemed, was to prepare me for surgery by making me feel comfortable with his demeanor and humor. If that was the case—regardless of my inability to hear him—it worked.

A few minutes after he left, the anesthesiologist came in the room with forms for me to read and sign. Sarah and I arrived at the hospital today with some nerves, but they were minimal at best. There were some serious possible side effects from surgery that we were made aware of when we first set the date a few weeks back. After reading through the possible side effects of the anesthesia, it was clear that there was more to be worried about through the process of putting me asleep: nausea; nerve injury; paralysis; my worst fear—being aware during surgery; or death! What the heck? Death?

Finally, about fifteen minutes before surgery, Dr. Mazen—who would be performing the surgery—surprised us with a visit.

“How are you feeling?” he asked as he sat down on a stool next to me.

“A little nervous,” I said, “especially after reading about the possible complications of general anesthesia.”

Dr. Mazen gave offered a faint smile, discarded the notion with a wave of his hand and tilted his head in reassurance.

“You’ll be fine. Surgery will go well,” he said.

“I know,” I smiled.

“How has your hearing been?”

“Actually, I’ve had pretty good hearing in my right ear for about a week, up until today,” I replied.

His lip curled as he shook his head with a slight motion.

“Well,” he said, “this will be a huge step for you. I really believe this is the best decision.”

“I do too.” I said and Sarah nodded in agreement.

“Okay. I have to get going. But it should only be about ten minutes or so,” he said.

“Great! Thank you.”

Dr. Mazen headed out and Sarah and I looked at each other.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I have been feeling pretty nervous, but I’m calming down and realizing how big this is for you.”

“I’ve been feeling all sorts of emotions. I was nervous earlier this morning but also excited. This is a big step that I’m really looking forward to taking. The form we just had to fill out didn’t help with the nerves, though. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

The anesthesiologist returned to bring me to the operating room. Sarah and I kissed and hugged tightly and parted ways. It happened fast. She returned to the waiting room where her sister, Christin, and her brother-in-law, Matt, had arrived. They had driven out a fairly far distance to keep her company.

When I entered the surgery room, I was ushered to the operating bed. I lay down and immediately felt cold. Before I had a chance to ask, the friendly male nurse that I had met earlier placed blankets on me. Mind reader, I thought.

The anesthesiologist showed me a piece of paper. There was a phrase on the sheet that said, “I’m going to
administer the anesthesia now.”

“Okay,” I said.

After a moment I spoke again.

“How long will it take for me to start feeling tired?”

He wrote on the sheet again.

“Not long,” it said.

I opened my eyes and saw a female nurse nearby in a room I did not recognize. Exhausted and groggy—eyes still adjusting to the fluorescent bulbs—I looked around and didn’t see anyone I recognized.
The nurse showed me a piece of paper that said, “Surgery is all finished. You’ve been in recovery for a while now.”

“It’s over? Didn’t I just go under? Are you sure?”

She smiled and nodded.

Just a minute later, I looked over toward the entrance to the room and saw a beautiful, blond-haired woman walking towards me with a smile on her face. It was Sarah. I smiled back at her with tired eyes.

“There he is. Hi, honey,” she said as she grabbed my hand and held it tight.

“Hi,” the word dragged out. “Are you sure the surgery is over?”

“Yes. I’ve been waiting for a couple of hours.”

“It feels like I just went to sleep a few minutes ago,” I said as tears fell down my face. “I don’t know why I’m crying.”

“That’s okay,” Sarah said. “It’s been a traumatic experience.”

“I’m just so happy.”

Even though I was still waking up and having a hard time comprehending that it was all over, I was thrilled that Sarah was with me again. I asked if Christin and Matt were still there, but they had already left. Sarah looked at me sympathetically said they weren’t sure if I would want a lot of visitors. I hadn’t been certain myself before, but now, I felt a strong longing to be with as many loved ones as possible. Sarah sat by my side for a few hours in recovery.

The first pain medication that they gave me—which I’m unsure of the name—relieved the wincing pain on the side of my head, but caused me to have a difficult time breathing and feel pressure on my chest. The nurse and Sarah both talked to me and helped me to calm down. Next, they gave me Vicodin pills which seemed to do the trick while at the same time triggering an even stronger case of fatigue.

It wasn’t until I got up to use the restroom hours later that I saw my headdress in the mirror. It was a plastic dome-shaped cup covering my ear with a Velcro strap wrapped around my forehead. Gauze filled it and a light red hint of blood appeared on the bottom layer. My face was pale and my cheeks still looked a bit puffy from the prednisone steroid I have been taking.

When they finally agreed to discharge me, Sarah picked up the car and drove it to the main entrance of the building as the nurse pushed me in a wheelchair to the elevator, down a couple of floors and outside.

On the way home, Sarah and I talked about the surgery.

“I’m so tired,” I said.

“I know. It must be hard.”

“Yeah. Have you talked to your family yet?”

“Not yet,” she said.

“I’d like to see people tonight, if anyone is able.”

“Are you sure? We could wait until tomorrow," she said.

“No. I really want the company.”

“Alright. I’ll call my parents.”

Sarah and I stopped at Stop and Shop before going home. We needed to pick up my pain medication (Percocet) along with some other prescriptions. I waited in the car while Sarah went to purchase the goods.
When she returned, she had more than just the drugs.

“I bought you some ginger ale and I bought you peanut butter chocolate chip cookies!” she said.

“You bought me cookies?” the joy of those few words brought more tears.

“Of course, sweetie. I also talked to my mom and she and my dad are going to come over in a little while with dinner. I texted your parents and let them know that everything went well and that we’re on our way home.”

“That’s great,” I said with a dazed grin.

We returned home and I eased my body down on the couch. Sarah helped me change into a new t-shirt and smiley-face pajama pants that my friend Dan would be proud of (he’s always had an odd obsession with smiley-faces that rubbed off on me in some small ways).

A little while later, Sarah’s parents arrived with food from Boston Market and rice pudding. I recently discovered my appetite for rice pudding when Sarah’s mother brought it over earlier on in my illness.
Sarah’s parents came into the living room, walked over to the couch and hugged me.

“I’m so thankful you’re here,” I said, crying again. I couldn’t stop crying and I could tell my emotions were affecting everyone else as well.

I sat down at the table with them for dinner. Sarah and her mom cut up my food into smaller-than bite-size pieces because I could barely open my mouth due to the pain. It took me about an hour to eat my meal, but I ate the whole thing and Sarah and her parents gladly sat with me. We started playing a game in the living room afterwards and I was quickly asleep.

It’s been a long day, and it will take a little bit of time to recover; however, I am feeling very grateful. The thought of hearing again, of enjoying social functions, watching television, listening to my wife sing, is overwhelming. This year, I have experienced more physical, emotional and mental hardships than I ever could have guessed and at times it felt as though I would never be normal again. In two weeks, my audiologist will be activating the implant, and I see clearly that I have been brought to a new plane of possible, replacing my world of impossible.


  1. Yay!! Love this one! It is great to watch the videos of before and after the cochlear implant! So happy for you! We love you!

  2. This must have been your first experience with anesthesia. It's so weird to wake up without dreaming, but at least the feels like the surgery is quick!

  3. Thanks, Michelle!

    @Benvolio - Well, I had been given anesthesia when I was in second grade when I had surgery on my broken arm but I but that was almost twenty years ago (I don't really remember it).