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I've just had a stapedectomy in my right ear and thought I would share my experience with others who may be considering this operation. I'll try and update this every couple of days, but feel free to ask any questions you might have in the meantime. I've really benefitted from reading people's first hand accounts in the lead up to this op so this is my opportunity to try and give something back to this niche stapedectomy community ;-).
Background to Stapedectomy: Since Dec 2016 I started to notice that I was losing hearing in my right ear. At first it was only minor (20% loss) but by early 2018 I was classified as severly deaf in that ear at around 85-90% loss. The severe hearing loss had a big impact on my social life, my ability to carry out simple tasks (i.e. riding my bike) as well as my work (meetings became a struggle). All of this coincided with a 10 year relationship break up in 2017, which when combined with my hearing problems, made me the social equiavalent of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Something had to be done...
Getting Diagnosed: Getting the diagnosis for Otosclerosis in my right ear took a bit of time. Initially I thought it was wax build up and went to see a Dr in Romania while visiting my then girlfriends parents. They couldn't find any wax and recommended an MRI to check it wasn't anything sinister. Returning to the UK I got an appointment with the ENT department who undertook a series of checks and concluded I had Eustachian Tube Dysfunction. Cue several months of steam baths, decongestants, anti-hystamines none of which were effective in improving my hearing. I also had a CT scan which confirmed that there were no tumours present (these tumours are often harmless even if found). Returning to ENT after 6 months ready to demand grommets for my ears I was put through a hearing test again. This confirmed I was now severly deaf in my right ear, but also that my Eustachian Tubes were functioning normally. Hmmm? What had happened?
It turns out that the machine that they would have used to check the pressure in my middle ear canal wasn't working during my original appointment and therefore they were unable to discount ETD. Annoying.
My crude understanding of how they diagnosed my Otosclerosis is as follows. Ear drum was working fine, my auditory nerve was picking up sound fine (checked through bone conductivity tests if I remember correct) and my middle ear pressure was also good. By process of elimination they were pretty sure it was my a mechanical problem with my 3 ear bones, in particular the stapes.
Why did I opt for the Op? At the time I was given the option of hearing aids (hmm); a Bone anchored hearing aid (i.e. a hearing aid implanted into your skull) or a Stapedectomy. My personal reasons for going for the op were 1. my hearing was so bad in the affected ear that I felt the risk of losing my hearing totally through the op would not have resulted in a much worse situation to the one I was already in. 2. The success rate was for the op appeared to be good and could be undertaken as a day case 3. The op offered the potential to hear completely normally again. The other two options would have provided more artificial hearing benefits. 4. Probably an element of vanity about not wanting to wear hearing aids of have an implant
Day of the op: So I was quite nervous about the prospect of a general anaesthetic (GA). I woke up on the day of my surgery Tues 8th and had to skip my coffee and breakfast as per the rules. The order of play went a bit like this....
1. Seen by nurse who checked vitals
2. Seen by anaesthesist
3. Seen by surgeon
4. Dress in funny clothes and excellent socks
5. Go into the operating theatre, have a small freak out about how many people are there just for you, get a mask over your face and then passing out.
In all seriousness I am a fairly anxious person, but the NHS staff were amazing and knowing what was coming each step of the way really helped quash any mystery about the process. Essentially GA is extremely safe unless you are a 120 year old man being rushed into A&E with half an arm and a penchant for long mid-morning snoozes.
Waking up and Day 1: The surgery took 2 hours for me, although 45-60mins is more common (i have a small ear canal apparently!). and you'll generally be put under for about 4 hours in total.
Waking up you will have a nurse checking your vitals and handing you some water to sip. Everyone has a different post GA experience (inc. hysterical laughing, crying and memory loss) but for me I was just moderately dizzy and very lethargic. I got wheeled into a recovery room for about an hour an ate everything they had on offer. The first trip to the toilet was difficult as was putting on my clothes due to being so off balance.
I was given some paracetemol and Ibuprofen for the pain (at this point there was none) as well as some cotton balls to replace periodically over the next few days. I was told my follow-up appointment would be in 2 weeks where the packing in my ear would be removed.
At this point many people talk about being able to hear straight away. I can't say this was my experience, but I largely think this is due to the packing which is fairly tight in your ear. However, I did notice that scratching my ear lobe lightly produced a much louder sound than prior to the surgery which helped to give me some piece of mind that something has worked.
Day 1 returning from surgery: Dizzy and tired. Dizzyness comes more from leaning head forward, leaning head backwards or going up and down stairs. This is a very common side effect of the surgery so I'm not worried at this point. I have to move in a more considered way but I don't think I'm at risk of falling over from this feeling of being off balance. There is some pain in the affected ear but it's not too bad. Had a big meal, watched some TV and then feel asleep on my back.
Day 2: Just as dizzy as yesterday, cotton swab has a small amount of blood on it, ear pain definitely worse and can hear my heart beat/blood rushing sensation in my ear. None of this is unbearable and I still manage to talk to my sister on Facebook and listen to Adam Buxton's podcast. It's fairly embarrassing but one piece of advice I would give is get some 'stool softners' and or laxatives. A side effect of GA and pain medicine is constipation. Combine straining with a traumatised ear op and you have a fairly tricky pain balancing act while hovering over the toilet. Heed my words!
Day 3: Bad night of sleeping waking up in pain. Think I'm trying to do to much to soon. No change in hearing, but I'm really not expecting anything until the packing is out. Felling generally a bit deflated after the GA and not being able to do anything active...I am not an indoors person. Had a dizzy walked to the shops looking like a drunkard.
Day 4: slightly better sleep. Still some pain but I've only taken one ibuprofen today so it could definitely be worse. Still some minor bleeding on cotton swab. Ear continuing to make weird farting and squelching noises. I'm pretty relaxed that my ear is in recovery mode so I'm not expecting any miracles at this point. You'll read on other forums that some other people are already back to work at this point. This still feels some way off for me, but from what I've read about this procedure I can say for sure that everyone has very different recovery experience and associated timescales. Life can't be too bad as I've managed to write this post. Will update more over the coming days...
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