Losing my hearing didn’t happen overnight – it’s like the volume was turned down gradually over the years. Humans are incredibly adaptable and will find ways to deal with most situations. I was always too busy and too ready to dismiss hearing problems as something that came and went with allergy season and the occasional ear infection. The inevitable result was a loss of hearing that was slowly getting worse. It reached a point where I couldn’t hear what people were saying unless they were facing me. Add a little ambient noise to the room and I would have to lip-read to understand what was being said. Depending on the seriousness of the conversation, I would occasionally fake a smile or nod knowingly if I missed something rather than embarrass myself by asking for a repeat.
I finally made the decision to visit an ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Jane Lea. After a thorough examination and hearing test, she diagnosed me with otosclerosis, a genetic disorder that occurs when one of the bones in the middle ear, the staples, becomes stuck. In that state it is unable to vibrate, rendering sound unable to travel through the ear. If you think getting diagnosed with otosclerosis is a bad thing, think again. This was fantastic news because the condition was treatable.
At the time, I was speechless. I didn’t want to admit to having a hearing issue which I considered to be a nuisance. I had not allowed my diminishing hearing to direct me to a conclusion of having a health issue that needed to be dealt with. I actually believed myself to be in perfectly good health. Later, I researched Stats Canada to learn that more than one million adults across the country reported having a hearing-related disability, a number more than 50 percent greater than the number of people reporting problems with their eyesight. Other studies indicate that the true number may reach three million or more Canadian adults, as those suffering from hearing problems often under-report their condition, myself included.
To repair my hearing loss, Dr. Lea gave me two options, which were either get a hearing aid which was the safest, non-invasive route – or have laser stapedotomy surgery which included a negligible (two percent) risk of losing my hearing. I wouldn’t be able to have my hearing returned if the operation was unsuccessful. I was unsure about the ear surgery as I didn’t want to lose what I had left. After thinking about it for a few weeks, I decided to go for the surgery. I confess to being nervous right up to the surgery date because I really couldn’t imagine how my hearing was going to be almost magically restored. Yet Dr. Lea was confident it was my best option and there was a high success rate with this type of operation.
The day of the operation I was nervous because surgery of any kind was foreign to me. I was thinking, “What if the anesthetic doesn’t work and I’m still awake? Should I tell them?” And, “Are all those tools on the tray for me?” And of course, “You will remember to wake me up when it’s time, won’t you?”
The staff at St. Paul’s Hospital was amazing. Before going under, the nurse had a calming effect as she held my hand. When I woke up Dr. Lea was smiling and I could hear better already. What a feeling. The sounds were beautiful and no words could describe the feeling.
Even though you go in expecting the best result, it was still such a relief to learn everything went exactly as planned. There would be no more coping or struggling to hear.
When I came home that same day, I could hear my feet hit the floor for the first time in about two years. It was surreal. I could hear so well that my ear would ring. It spooked me at times being able to hear so perfectly. It was going to take some getting used to. I couldn’t work out for a few weeks so when run day finally arrived I could hear my feet hit the ground. By not having to struggle with my hearing, all of my other senses seem sharper too. I’m more focused on every task than I ever remember being. My overall confidence is no longer an issue. The benefits of having the stapedotomy surgery will last a lifetime.