It's been one week since my surgery, and I feel almost back to normal. I'm off the antibiotics, and I'm only taking pain meds before bed so that I can sleep more comfortably through the night (after one bad night when I forgot and had to stumble out to the kitchen at 2 a.m. with my head and ear absolutely throbbing). I'm no longer feeling as much pressure in my inner ear, so burping/sneezing/ yawning aren't as uncomfortable. I still do have to be careful about blowing my nose, though. The doctors told me to avoid it for the first few weeks if at all possible, but the other day I ate too much spicy salsa, so my nose was really running. It's a feeling I typically enjoy, being an all-around hot food obsessive, and I got a tissue and gave a tiny little blow before I realized what I was doing. Whoops. The pain was instantaneous, the pressure unbelievable. It felt like a soft, expanding balloon had slammed against the walls of a metal box, precariously close to bursting. Or like my ear was a tender slug being crushed underfoot. Needless to say, I decided to dab at my nose and let it run!
I've been spending my days at home, indoors for the most part, reading and writing for hours at a time. I'm not allowed to be physically active or to lift more than 20 pounds for another week or two, just to allow the surgical site to heal. It's hard to restrain myself when I've been feeling so good, but the fact remains that my body still isn't completely back to normal. I can now turn my neck almost its full range without soreness, but the muscles on my left jaw are still stiff, and there's a constant tenderness beside my left ear. I can get up without dizziness, but something in the back of my mind cautions me that it's best not to walk too fast. If I'm on my feet for too long, even just unpacking or doing dishes, my head starts to throb. A strange edema has persisted on the left side of my head, a pouch of fluid above and behind my ear. When I press on it with my fingers, it literally gurgles and shifts to a different place beneath the skin on my skull. The first time I discovered this physical sensation, I was horrified. It was like sloshing water, or gel, around in a closed bag. Compulsive icing has helped the swelling a bit, though.
My left ear is still numb, a veritable slab of meat. I can pinch it without pain, just as I remember gleefully biting my inert tongue after local-anesthetic procedures at the dentist when I was a child. Strangely enough, my tongue has been affected as well: the left side has gone numb. The doctors told me this might happen right after surgery, but it's only emerged in the last few days. As a result, I can only taste on the right side of my mouth, something which has made meals decidedly less savory. It's as if someone rubbed off all of my left taste buds with sandpaper, leaving only a smooth, dead surface. I'm wondering if the swelling beside my ear could be constricting the nerve signals that pass to the rest of my head. And, if not, hopefully those sensations will come back with time.
Minor annoyances like these are all I have left to deal with: swelling, loss of sensation, headaches and fatigue. Pretty remarkable when you consider where I was a week ago. I'm not sure how much of my headaches are from the fact that I can't hear from my left ear. The ringing and tinnitus have all but stopped at this point, thankfully, but my right ear continues to bear the full burden of the sounds I do hear. My brain is not used to this, and sometimes listening to and interpreting noises can seem overwhelming, like a gigantic beast is standing over me gnashing its teeth. Come on, leftie, help me out a little! But it doesn't. It won't for another week and a half, and then it'll have its own problems to deal with. Sometimes I get so short-circuited that I have to go off by myself and sit in silence for a little while. I don't mind this.
One thing people have been asking me is how much the CI will help my hearing, when I do turn it on. What percentage am I expected to recover? What will I be able to hear? The answer, quite honestly, is that there is no answer. I'd feel better, too, if I could pin down an exact number, like 75 percent - it's true that there's something reassuring about numbers. But, in truth, the only thing I know is that it will likely be better than what I had before the surgery. That term, "better," is a slippery word. A trickle better, or better in life-altering proportions? A lot of it depends on me: my biology, my body, my perseverance, my desire. It will not come all at once. The reassuring news is that most of the people I've talked to and read about with CIs say that the quality of their lives improves after the implant.
Again, I guess that's what this blog is for, to track exactly what changes for me and how. Maybe several years down the road, with objective testing, I'll be able to calculate some bogus figure that states how much I've improved. But it will be applicable only to me and my journey, not to the workings of the implant itself. In any case, I'll be able to look back at what I've written and know - hopefully - that the decision I made was the right one.