Well, the time is almost here. At the end of this week I'll be going into hospital to have a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) fitted to help with my hearing, I have been essentially completely deaf on my left side for the vast majority of my life. The picture below explains a little about the BAHA and how it works:
If anyone hasn't experienced one-sided deafness it is an extremely frustrating and socially isolating condition, may times people think you are downright rude for ignoring them when the truth of the matter is that you simply haven't heard what they have said to you. If someone calls you from any distance you have no idea what direction the sound has come from and you end up frantically looking around for the source of the sound, you also have no idea which direction traffic is approaching from.
My problems started when I was small with endless recurring ear infections which were just dreadful. In the old days these were treated with the removal of first my tonsils and then my adenoids, both of these procedures were unpleasant and completely useless, nothing helped at all.
I lived for years with the recurring ear infections until, when I was working in London, I developed what had become a much more serious problem, a cholesteatoma
. This was eventually diagnosed by the late Alan Fuller
who treated it with the seriousness it deserved and informed me that he would need to perform a radical mastoidectomy
as a matter of urgency. Alan Fuller was at the time the ENT surgeon to Her Majesty The Queen so I took what he said very seriously.
I was duly admitted for surgery and essentially Mr Fuller almost certainly saved me from a cerebral abscess with all the potential major problems that would have brought me. When he opened up my mastoid he was met with a more serious problem than he had anticipated (no CT or MRI scanners in those days) in that the covering of my brain (the dura mater) had been exposed by the developing cholesteatoma which had eroded through my petrous bone. This complication destroyed the small bones of my middle ear and the opening into my skull vault had to be patched up once the cholesteatoma had been removed.
All this was very unpleasant and in the end I was left with a safe but completely deaf ear as the conduction mechanism of the ear, the middle ear, had essentially gone. Sound was now unable to travel to the inner ear to be passed to the brain, my left ear was rendered useless. The sadness of all this was that my inner ear actually remained functional, the auditory nerve itself was fine, but it has effectively remained dormant for all this time.
Regular checkups kept things in order, I tried a conventional "in ear" hearing aid which was useless as the conduction mechanism in the middle ear no longer existed and the lack of circulating air just led to infections and the whole thing was very disappointing.
On one of my regular checkups a new nurse practitioner asked me whether I had ever been evaluated for a BAHA, I had no idea what she was talking about but when she explained things to me I was keen to try it out. After a period of waiting I met the consultant at The Freeman Road Hospital (FRH) in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a Mr Ian Johnson. Mr Johnson was an exceptional guy, he took great care and as much time as I needed to explain everything and instilled great confidence. I didn't know at the time but apparently the Northern Ear Implant Centre
at FRH has done a huge number of these operations and is the largest centre in the UK, I had been fortunate indeed.
I was able to try out a simulator unit and walk around the hospital wearing it. This unit presses behind your ear and simulates the kind of result you could expect with a BAHA fitted. The results are supposed to be about 75% as good as the implant itself. I was amazed, after all these years of deafness, to find that I could actually hear in my left ear. It was really very very strange but I was sufficiently encouraged to go ahead and I have been waiting for my appointment which is finally upon me.
I have to admit that I feel very apprehensive about the whole thing. I feel confident in the unit at FRH that I am in the care of but it's the personal side of things that concerns me. Inevitably having a metal "peg" permanently attached to your head will bring with it a set of inconveniences which I will have to get used to. I'm not really sure how painful things will be after the procedure as these things are different for everyone but suffice to say I'm not looking forward to finding out! In addition to this having the BAHA unit in situ immediately labels you has deaf and in some way disabled which is something I will just have to get used to I guess, this is what it will probably look like.
So, Friday 11th of October is the big day. My intention is to try to keep this blog updated from time to time with my progress in the hope that it might in the future prove to be a useful resource for anyone thinking of going down this route. Anything posted will be an entirely honest representation of my experiences as a patient.