Hear ye!!! Hear ye!!!

When was the last time you gave any thought to one of the most highly-technical senses within your system: i.e. your hearing?
About 2005, I began having problems with tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears. If you have never experienced it, tinnitus can be enough to drive a person crazy… or worse. I have heard of people taking their lives due to this devastating condition.
Tinnitus is almost always worse in the morning and evening. Early-morning hours was when it woke me up. Then, all I wanted to do was get up and get away from the quiet. Even though it was still dark outside, I needed to get away. I dressed hurriedly and went outside where there was traffic noise to drown out the noise in my head.
For a while, it was my morning ritual. Then, The Outdoors Guy bought me a sound machine to use at night and early mornings. It did help, and gradually I began to adjust to the new normal.
But then, along with the tinnitus came hearing loss. I later learned tinnitus is actually a form of hearing loss.
In 2012, I began wearing hearing aids. Normally, they last about five years. I am fortunate mine have continued to perform well for eight years, in part, because I have taken very good care of them. My audiologist told me it is almost unheard of to go eight years and still have hearing aids function as well as mine.
Recently though, after testing, I was told what I already knew. My 8-year-old hearing aids were no longer capable of providing the level I need to make up for my hearing loss, which has gone from bad to worse.
After my last hearing test in September, my audiologist told me, “You’re not even good at guessing what the words are.” We both laughed. But, yikes!!! Sometimes the truth really does hurt! The chart showed my hearing, especially in my left ear, took a nose dive. I have what is called profound hearing loss. No need for an explanation.
Despite the bad news, I put off ordering new hearing aids (I also wear one in my right ear), hating the idea of spending $10,000 for a new pair. And, in case you’re wondering, no insurance covers hearing aids.
Finally, after Bob and I went for lunch with friends, Cathy and Doug, a while ago, I realized it was time. I couldn’t understand Cathy, even though I was sitting next to her. Plus, Bob, our boys, daughters-in-law and grandkids all agreed… it was time.
So, off to the audiologist we went. But there was a surprising twist to our visit. Dr. Hugo Guerrero pulled up the results from my September visit. Rather than discussing new, stronger hearing aids, he asked me if I had considered a cochlear implant.
Bob and I were very surprised! We didn’t think my hearing had deteriorated enough to warrant an implant. An even bigger surprise was to learn when a person has profound hearing loss, cochlear implant surgery is actually covered by Medicare.
While we waited in his office, Dr. Guerrero, audiologist at Mayo Clinic-Onalaska, began the process of conferring with Mayo Clinic-Rochester’s Audiology and Otorhinolaryngology Departments. It wasn’t long before he returned with the promise Mayo-Rochester would contact me to inform me if I was indeed a possible candidate for cochlear implant surgery.
Only days later, I received the call. My appointment was scheduled for mid-March. But, because of COVID-19, the appointment was pushed back to May 18, with no guarantee it would even happen then.
But then, on April 22, the phone rang. The caller ID said Mayo Clinic-Rochester. Mayo was beginning to open the clinic to a few patients. And, wonder of wonders, I was one of those fortunate enough to be offered an appointment for April 23.
Bob and I met with Dr. Weston Adkins in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology. After more testing, he confirmed the hearing loss in my left ear was deemed profound. Yes, I was indeed a candidate for cochlear implant surgery in my left ear and met the strict Medicare guidelines. I must continue to wear a hearing aid in my right ear because my hearing has not dropped off to the profound loss-level like my left ear did.  
That afternoon, we met with surgeon Brian Neff, who discussed the pros of cochlear implants. He stressed the main benefit over hearing aids is clarity. Hearing aids only increase volume. However, with greater volume, background sounds become noisier, too. It was easy for me to get his point. I had been living it just as Dr. Neff had been, too. He has a cochlear implant in one ear and uses a hearing aid in the other ear. He said he has greatly benefited from the device.
Thirteen days later, May 6, after more appointments and additional tests, the day for surgery finally arrived.
Arrival time in Rochester was scheduled for 5:45 a.m. We were up at 3 a.m., and out the door at 4:30. Within 15 minutes, oldest son, Jon, phoned and told us he was on his way to meet us from Cloquet.
“Oh, no!” We said. “It’s too far for you to come!”
“I left home at 3,” he said.
We talked for awhile and discussed whether or not Jon would be allowed into St Mary’s Hospital, even though our info sheets told us three visitors were allowed.
Jon decided to keep driving and as soon as we reached Rochester, he would stop and wait until we called him with the information.
Unfortunately, after arriving at St. Mary’s Hospital, we learned the 3-person policy was in place before COVID-19 entered our world. Not only could Jon not be with us, no one was allowed to stay once patients were checked in and called from the admissions lobby area. So, Jon turned around and went back to work in Duluth. Bob returned to La Crosse where he received updated text messages throughout my surgery. Once he received the text that I went into recovery, he set out for his return trip to Rochester.
I am pleased to report Dr. Neff said surgery went very well. He phoned Bob when he finished with my surgery and told him, “Once the incision was made, the implant slid in very easy!”
But, then Bob asked him THE BIG QUESTION: “How much hair did you have to cut?”
Dr. Neff responded with, "Oh, the hair!! They are always worried about their hair! I didn’t take off much at all, but I’m sure it is still too much!!!”
When Bob told me what Dr. Neff had said, it was a big LOL moment!!
Recovery has gone well so far. I only experienced some dizziness, which was gone after I napped for a couple of hours after returning home.
It was 24 hours before the bandage could be removed. Meanwhile, I looked like a space cadet!!
The next two weeks I am in a holding pattern while waiting for the surgery site to heal. Then, we will make two return visits to Rochester for post-operative visits plus implant stimulation when the cochlear implant will be turned on.
Dr. Neff explained it could take 3-6 months for everything to heal and for me to reach full hearing clarity.
I will be happy to update you once this takes place because I know there are many people who struggle with hearing loss. If I can help one person it will be well worth it!!!
Stay tuned.