Aftermath of an implant operation

Wow, that’s a long incision.

Put a finger a little up from under your earlobe, hard against the ear (where that ridge of bone is), and then run it up, following the line of your ear, and then when you’re level with the top of your ear drift it backwards towards the top and back of your head for nearly the same distance, to the bony ridge. That’s how long the incision for baby3’s cochlear implant is.

But the operation itself (read the gruesome details, previously) went well. The surgeon (Patrick Axon, for anxious parents, or implant-awaiting adults Googling him) came in to us, still in his surgical greens, as we desperately tried to make the time pass since we’d bid goodbye to a now-sleeping infant in the anaesthesia room. “Went well, all the electrodes in, got a good response” were his words (slightly though not that much edited). He seemed happy with it, which is the important thing, I guess. He came around again that evening (having just removed some huge cancer from someone else) and once more the following morning, when he removed the huge pressure bandage that had been in place overnight.

And there weren’t any of the problems that can follow: no facial paralysis (so he avoided the nerve). We can’t tell if his taste has been affected. How do you ask a deaf baby if things taste different from yesterday? But his balance isn’t affected; 24 hours after the operation he was charging around the house, determined to do what he would do, while we gazed at the long, long slice in his head and followed him like presidential bodyguards against the possibility of his falling over and whacking the side of his head. He’s on painkillers, three different ones, alternating to create a two-hourly pattern (most infants don’t need so much pain relief after this op; he is one of the 10% who went against that).

It’s good to be out of the hospital. Childrens’ wards are like Tolstoy observed on families: the unhappy ones are all different in their own way*. We were probably the least unhappy; there were parents who’d been there ages and whose child would cry ever 20 minutes, and one small baby who seemed almost abandoned, her eyes occasionally opening to empty seats beside her cot; the mother apparently was too busy looking after her other five children to attend. The sheeer weight of unhappiness is almost too much to bear. As with parenthood, only when you’ve had a child who’s going through something like that do you understand what it’s about. Until then, it’s just a theoretical concept – “what would you do if your child had, I dunno, cancer, eh?”

But now that’s in the past. All we have to do now is keep dosing him with painkillers, keep the wound scrupulously clean and dry, prevent him falling sideways or forwards and banging his head, which could obviate the whole exercise (much easier to inside against with older children than 15-month-old toddlers), and stop him getting exposed to too many germs from huge family gatherings like the one we’re due to go to this Saturday. Gah!

And in two weeks we see the surgeon again for a checkup, and in six weeks we have “switch on” – when the external part gets linked to the internal processor that just got fitted. And then a long slow process of “tuning” the external processor to match his hearing response to the sensitivity of the external parts. But we’ve got past the hardest hurdle.

Still, that is a long incision, like someone marked him with a knife. Which I guess they did, in a way.

* the first lines of Anna Karenina: “‘All unhappy families are different from one another. The happy families are all the same. All happy families are like one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” [Corrected according to result below, and comments - thanks.] Searching on Google Books today yields no results. (Update: The reason: I was doing this search on Google, which is looking for words that aren’t in the book. Durr.) Ah, but for this one – if you go to the Google Books home page and do the search on “Tolstoy”. So, the followup links from Google don’t work too well, if you search for a phrase that isn’t in a book, you won’t find the book, we conclude.

9 Comments

  1. Charles – do you know Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org? One of the Internet’s great volunteer projects, putting classic books in etext form for free download. As far as Tolstoy is concerned, it means that the brilliant Garnet translations are available.
    It’s very good that your boy’s op went well. All best for the future.
    Chris

  2. See Gutenberg for:
    “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in
    its own way.”
    Which, if you think about it, expresses the sentiment rather more effectively.

  3. I will be following your blog closely over the coming weeks. My boy is recovering from pneumococcal meningitis and, on the day of baby3’s surgery, was having an MRI to check on the level of ossification in his cochlea in preparation for a possible cochlea implant. Up to the illness, which hit at 20 months, Tom was acquiring words at the standard phenomenal toddler rate – to see that stop is so painful.
    Anyway – will be following baby3’s progress closely.

  4. Hi Charles,
    I sent you email a few months ago. Thought I’d check on you and baby 3 — sounds like much has happened!! Congratulations on getting past the surgery. It is the scariest part. Smooth sailing from here on out. You now have the excitement of hookup day to look forward to, and from there on out, every sound, every word spoken by baby3 is a gift!

  5. Children’s surgical wards, yes: I am now about a mile from the hospital where Felix had his hare lip done, about 27 years ago, and some of the other children are still vivid to memory. I have never felt so _lucky_ in my life as when I saw what bullets missed us. What happens when b3 sleeps? How do you stop him clawing at the scar? Poor Felix had to spend a couple of nights with his hands tied to the crib to stop him picking at the stitches. They were noisy.

  6. Charles

    Tuesday 6 June 2006 at 3:25 pm

    “When baby3 sleeps”… hmm, I’m sure he must do occasionally. Though the past three nights he’s woken at between 12 and 4am and refused to go back to sleep without a lot of encouragement, generally milk-based.

    The stitches aren’t a problem, actually; the wound is healing very well. They’re all subcutaneous, self-dissolving, so there’s nothing much to pick at. What surgeons have learnt in 27 years, eh.

    But I’ll bet it will itch like mad in a week or two. Then we’ll see.

  7. The line in ‘Oh, Little Town in Bethlehem’ about the ‘hopes and fears of all the years’ now means something to me, now that I’ve got a child.

    So much of parenting is luck – do you have a healthy happy baby or one who spends most of its short life in intensive care? Sure, there are other factors, but it’s luck, luck, luck.

  8. WOW I AWAITING A COCHLEAR IMPLANT AND I FOUND THE INFORMATION FANTASTIC, CONGRATULATONS ON ALL GOING WELL WITH BABY3 I SHALL CHECK IN AGAIN TO SEE HOW ITS ALL GOING. WELL DONE , THANK YOU

  9. JUST TO SAY I DID A GOOGLE SEARCH UNDER COCHLEAR IMPLANT OPERATION DETAILS AND YOU POPPED UP, YOU HAVE GIVEN ME A WHOLE NEW INSIGHT AS WHAT IS TO HAPPEN, YOUR WORDING IS BRILLIANT, I THOUGHT YOU WERE DOCTOR UNTIL I CHECKED EVERYTHING OUT. GOOD LUCK FOR BABY3.

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