The Things We Do When We Have a Hearing Loss

By Rick Faunt, HLAA-WA Treasurer

I have different hearing losses and causes on both sides. On the left is Meniere’s Syndrome, and on the right, a combination of problems culminating in the loss of the bones in the middle ear. It is my right side that this blog post will cover.

I have never had an earache without a sore throat or vice versa, and it took me until I was 37 years old to figure this out. Some people are slow learners. When I developed a sore throat that turned my right ear into a throbbing drum of pain, I figured it was time to let a professional look at it instead of relying upon the old home remedy of wrapping my ear in Saran wrap and gutting it out.

Since I was retired from the U.S. Navy and am being “followed” by the Veterans Administration for hearing loss and related complications, I called the VA to make an appointment. After being on hold for what seemed to be a week but was only about 20 minutes, the other shoe dropped.

“Yes sir, we would love to see you, but our next opening is not for 3 months. Can you wait?”

Since I am a calm, collected, patient, and understanding individual, of course I said… If you have ever heard the phrase “he cusses like a sailor,” then you have some idea how that part of the conversation went. The gist was something like, “Lady, in three months it will have killed me or cured itself, so I won’t need your services,” accompanied by my placing the phone handset back into the cradle at about Mach 30.

So off to a civilian clinic I went instead, only to find out that I needed to see a “specialist.” I hate it when I hear this, as it always seems to mean more pain and more money.

Finally: A Specialist and a Diagnosis

After waiting only two days, I got to see the specialist. This was more like it. The doctor came in, investigated my ear, and said, “Did you know you have a nasty infection?” For this I needed a specialist? Anyhow, he got his doctor tools, put on a full-face shield, and said he’d drain the middle ear and insert a tube. Just as he finished saying this, the face shield was covered with gross yellow and green and red stuff. But I felt 1000% better already.

Now it was his turn to drop the other shoe. All those ear infections, earaches, and whatnot had been caused by a non-functioning Eustachian tube, resulting in a retraction pocket, which in turn resulted in cholesteatoma. If the Eustachian tube doesn’t work properly, the middle ear cannot equalize air pressure or drain, and nasty things start growing. When the tube is working right, you can tell by the “popping” that occurs when you drive over a mountain pass. In my case, that didn’t happen often, and some of my problems when I was SCUBA diving were now also explained.

But about that other shoe. It seems that modern medical miracles include the ability to surgically repair the middle ear, and the doctor felt that I was a good candidate for the procedure–or did he say guinea pig? After thinking about it for a couple of days, I said, “What the heck, doc. Give it a shot.”

The Surgery, Part One

After the surgery, I remember being in more pain than I had ever suffered in my total life. When Michael Ann, my girlfriend, came to pick me up, I lifted one of the patches they had placed over my eyes, looked her in the eye and said, “Go home, get the gun, shoot me.”

I couldn’t figure out why my entire body hurt when all they worked on was one ear! I mean I HURT everywhere, from the hair on my head to the hairs on my toes. After I recovered somewhat and went to the follow-up visit, the doctor explained that after about six months, I had to come back and let him finish the job. This was only part one of a two-part experience. Lucky me. The first trip was primarily to clean up the cholesteatoma and determine the extent of the damage. The bad news: The middle ear bones were all so rotted that they couldn’t be saved. The good news: Modern medical science saves the day by providing a plastic or exotic metal substitute for the middle ear bones.

The Surgery, Part Two

Six months go by, and again I make all the usual arrangements. This time when the anesthesiologist comes in and asks, “Are you allergic to any medications?” I have an informed response: “Most definitely I am, and I hope my chart shows the drugs that were used the last time. I promise you that if I wake up in as much pain this time and I recover I will bring my cement filled rubber hose back here, find you and beat you with it.”

It took him several seconds to respond to that while he was flipping through the chart so fast the pages felt like a fan. The look of combined relief and disbelief on his face made me wonder what was next. It seems that last time, they used curare, the same stuff South American Indians used on their poison arrows, as a paralyzing agent. Normally when used in small amounts, this stuff works just fine; however, lucky me is that “one in a million” who has a bad reaction. When the curare took hold, my entire body underwent a muscle spasm, and every muscle tied itself into a knot and stayed tied for the entire time I was under anesthesia. After telling me all this, he said we had a deal: We wouldn’t inflict pain on each other.

He was true to his word; I didn’t hurt as bad this time. Only my head hurt especially where they stapled my ear back on. Yes, I said stapled. I looked like one of Doctor Frankenstein’s lab rejects. I smelled like one too, since you can’t take a decent shower for a few days. After the staples–or if you are lucky, sutures–come out, you can get your head wet, but not your ear, so you take a shower holding a plastic cup over one ear. This isn’t so bad after all, as it lowers the volume of the singing.

But There’s a Problem

This procedure was supposed to restore my hearing to a good portion of “normal,” and my luck held true to form. The darn thing would not stay in place. My hearing would improve drastically for a short while, then would go away, much like a stereo with a bad solder joint in the volume circuit. Loud, soft, loud, soft. . . and then it stayed soft. Nothing was gained except an infection was cleaned up.

Being a glutton for punishment (I told you I am a slow learner), I let the doctors try to “correct” the positioning of the prosthesis a few more times. Each time it was the same thing – the bad solder joint. I finally gave up hope of fixing my hearing in that ear. I find having hearing aids a blessing in that I can always shut off my hearing when I don’t want to put up with my surroundings.

My resistance lasted about three years before the doctors talked me into trying again. During my annual checkup and evaluation, the doctors noticed that the retraction pocket was forming again, and since they couldn’t see it all, there was a probability that another cholesteatoma was growing.

Another Surgery and a Harvest

The doctor told me it would be different this time. My main goal in this attempt was a permanent ventilation tube placed and a new ear drum built and installed, as per his recommendations. I told him he could take the prosthesis out and throw it into the trash. He wasn’t willing to give up on it yet and wanted to try his idea. Since he had to open the area again anyway, I agreed to let him try. I thought that if the hearing was fixed, so much the better, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up again.

The doctor went in behind my ear and harvested (I love that term; it makes me feel like I’m a crop of some kind) some cartilage. Then he molded it into a replacement eardrum and inserted the tube. Then he took some more cartilage, built a “ramp,” and rested the prosthesis on it. This was supposed to hold things in place while they heal.

After this surgery, the “bad solder joint” didn’t go through the usual swings of loud and clear to soft and muffled. A good sign at last?

Stay tuned for part two.

About the author

Rick Faunt has been a member of HLAA, in its several names, since 1996. He has held nearly every office at the Chapter and State level and continues to this day. He is a retired Boeing worker and was a consultant/installer of various Assistive Listening Systems for the hard of hearing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *