My Pre-Op Appointment
A few weeks after I made the decision about the surgery date, I was scheduled to see the nurse for my shot, the surgeon (again), and the pre-anesthesia folks.
I had to get a meningitis shot– people who have cochlear implants apparently are more prone to getting meningitis because the anatomy around the ear has been mucked around with, making it easier for nasty things to get in there. Whatever, just immunize me.
Gigi, the nice nurse, punctured my arm with a nice-sized needle, which I barely felt, but my arm was sore for a few days afterwards.
Then I went to the anesthesia clinic and talked with a nurse named Judy. The whole time Judy talked to me, she over-articulated like crazy. It was like she was chewing bubble gum and her mouth was stretched twice as big and it actually made it harder for me to understand her.
“SO, WHEN YOU COME IN FOR SURGERY, YOU MUST GO TO THE SECOND FLOOR AND CHECK IN…” she droned on and on, all the while writing down notes for me as if I was clueless. I thought I would fall asleep because she was talking so slowly and carefully.
I could have just told her, “You know, I may be deaf, but I am not dumb. Please relax your lips.” But I decided to stay quiet and just nod understandingly (and sleepily), and use this opportunity as a fascinating study into human behavior.
After that obnoxious appointment, I saw my nice Jewish surgeon, Jay. He’s a man of few words and he has kind eyes.
“Ok, sign the consent form and pick which ear you want done,” he said.
Huh? I thought I had a little more time– I hadn’t yet decided which ear. I knew I only wanted to do one, wasn’t ready to do two at the same time. Call me chicken, but I’m taking my time! We talked for about 3 minutes about pros and cons of right versus left and in the end, I picked my right ear, figuring I since I’m right handed, I am dominant on that side anyway and it would be easier to manipulate the implant with my right hand.
When he did my husband Ed’s second implant a few years ago, Jay shaved the whole side of Ed’s head. I remember screaming after he took his bandage off! He looked like some war criminal or something. It was a little over-kill I thought. I said to Jay, “Don’t shave my head like that!” and he smiled and said, “Nah, I’m gonna cut a little swath just around your ear.”
And I signed the formal-looking paper giving consent for him to do my surgery and that was that. All that remained was to party it up til the day of surgery arrived.
I got the call on Friday, June 14, that I needed to show up at the surgery check-in area at 9:45 Monday morning. I was a little disappointed as that late morning time meant I was not the first surgery of the day and wouldn’t get out until later in the evening.
So on Monday morning I get up and at the last minute remember I am not supposed to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before. Which was fine because I am not usually terribly hungry in the mornings anyway.
Got to the hospital on time and ended up waiting til almost noon before I was seen! The nurse weighed me and took my blood pressure (which is always sinfully low- it’s a miracle my heart is still pumping!). I got into a gown and went to the bathroom for the umpteenth time (nerves) and discovered my monthly friend had paid me a visit.
Once that was taken care of, I got in the bed which had a regular bed sheet and underneath that an inflatable plastic sheet with warm air running through it and snuggled down to wait for the inevitable.
Another nurse came in, asked me a few questions, and did a lot of typing on the computer. These questions were going to be repeated many times in the next thirty minutes by several other people. “Is your name Elizabeth Ralston?” “What is your date of birth?” “What kind of surgery will you be having?” “Who is this man sitting over there?” (my husband)
Then the anesthesiologist came in, a nice man named Christopher.
“Are you Helen Hastings?”
Ruffling through paperwork…”Oh, you must be Elizabeth Ralston.”
Heck, yeah. Just make sure I’m not getting triple bypass surgery or something, thank you very much.
So he chatted with me about the risks of anesthesia and described the procedure for making me go over to la la land. Then he left and his nice young anesthesiologist assistant came in and fussed over me, and set up my EKG, putting all over my chest and back these little sticky white pads with wires coming out that are supposed to monitor my heart (they later forgot to remove one of them and I found it two days later on my lower back!).
He solicitously asked me several times if I was warm enough.
It was really quite pleasant. I could have been at the Four Seasons for all I knew.
And all the while, my husband, Ed was there with me, which made me feel better, because I was starting to feel a little nervous. Where the heck was my drug cocktail to relax me??
Then Jack, the resident who would be working with Jay, came in, asked me the same ol’ questions and chatted with me about what would happen once I got into the operating room. When they wheeled me in there, they would ask me to move from my bed onto the operating table. He said they would give me an oxygen mask which would smell kind of funny.
Wait a minute, I thought I was going to be knocked out before you put the mask on?
I had been worried I’d feel claustrophobic with that thing on, but as you will soon learn, I needn’t have worried.
Then Jack leaned down and marked my right ear with an X, so they knew which one was going to get the cochlear implant. That’s a relief. Can you imagine if they started cutting into me and realized it was the wrong ear?
The anesthesiologist assistant inserted my IV into the top of my left hand (what a weird place– not my wrist, but the middle of my hand)! Didn’t really feel much of anything. So far so good. Then he left the room for a while and I twiddled my thumbs a bit.
Finally, he came back and told me he was going to give me my cocktail and they would wheel me into the operating room. And just like that, I said good bye to my husband and the cocktail slowly flowed into my IV. Again, didn’t feel much of anything… maybe starting to feel a tad woozy? Hard to tell. At this point, I took my hearing aids off and put them in my waterproof Otter box (such a HUGE fan of those boxes) but kept my glasses on (I am legally blind in California without my glasses, apparently) because I still wanted to be able to communicate with folks.
Then they wheeled me into the operating room, which was this large, brightly lit room with all kinds of equipment here and there. They gestured with their hands to move out of my bed onto the operating table. Jack (or was it Chris?) gave me a thumbs up, and then I saw the oxygen mask was coming towards my face and I could smell that funny smell. Literally, all of this felt like it only took five minutes.
The next thing I sense is being lost in the middle of this delicious dream and I really don’t want to wake up. Groggily I come to and realize the dream was no longer delicious because I am in a hospital room. It takes me a few minutes to really wake up and then I see my husband walk in with a smile on his face.
I shift from my side onto my back and it was amazing how rapidly I reached full consciousness, which is what Chris, the anesthesiologist had mentioned- it’s pretty quick, coming out of that haze. It was a little freaky, to think about going from that oxygen mask to la la land and then suddenly be awake and conscious a moment later (but was really twoish hours later)!
I really had to go to the bathroom and they put me in a wheelchair and I was able to get out and do my business without a problem. I looked in the mirror and was shocked at the face that stared back at me, with what a friend called a “Civil War” bandage dressing covering my head.
Within an hour, I was sipping water, eating crackers, taking pain meds, and ready to go home. We were home by 7 pm. I pretty much sat in my living room like a zombie for a little while, then I went to bed.
The next couple days I pretty much slept a lot and popped the tylenol every 4-6 hours (took the big pain killer Oxycodone only a couple times, but didn’t want to become constipated, so I stopped). Really, the pain was pretty manageable- the ultra-tight bandage was the real problem. It’s tight to keep down the swelling. BUT, on Wednesday, that freakin’ bandage came off and my energy surged back, full force. Whew. I started doing more than I should, and one evening I got into bed at 6 pm and didn’t get back out! It is easy to do too much- I really was just feeling great! No nausea, no dizziness. It was amazing!
Really, the whole thing was so easy and rather painless. Judy, that mouthy pre-anesthesia nurse, had told me that she had had a total of about five surgeries on her ear and that she LOVED having surgery (and I was really weirded out by that). But now, I can kinda see what she was saying- it really wasn’t so bad!
Getting my stitches out
Eight days after my surgery, I got my stitches out. They made me wait for one whole hour before I was seen. I cleaned out my purse, checked my email, chatted with the nurses (“Were you able to have a bowel movement?” one of them asks me) and then finally Jay walks in.
“Ok, let’s get those stitches out.”
He makes me lie down on my side. I glance up and there is a monitor up on the wall and before I could blink, Jay was using some high-tech device to zoom in on my stitches. They were black and spooky and made me look like Frankenstein, except it was behind the ear. I think I had at least 15 stitches and I could see exactly what he was doing to remove them. But now and then I would close my eyes, because I really didn’t want to see any close cuts. Are you cringing yet?
He was very gentle and very perfectionistic (that’s good, right?) and cut each one first before he went back and pulled them out with a tweezers. Each stitch looked like a tiny black spider with a little knot in the middle but only 2 legs! I honestly did not feel a thing, maybe a twinge here and there but so fleetingly. Hooray!
Jay helps me sit up and says, “Everything looks perfect!” with a big smile. And he added, “You can wash your hair now.”
Um, are you telling me my hair looks dirty — because I already have been washing it!!
Stay tuned for Part 3: Activation