I was feeling really anxious the night before my husband Richard’s cochlear implant surgery a few days ago. We had spent many months waiting for the operation date and many more talking and thinking about it. I really hoped more than anything that the operation would be a success and that Richard would soon be on the path to better hearing.
Yet I couldn’t shake off my constant nagging worries. “What if the operation goes wrong?” I thought. “What if there are complications?” “What if after going through all this it doesn’t work when they finally switch it on and he’s left permanently profoundly deaf? How will we cope?”
I know there are risks with any operation, and I have also met a few people who have had CIs where it hasn’t worked and they are left profoundly deaf permanently. But I have also met many more people, who have had very successful implants, and their lives have been transformed. I was trying hard to focus on the positives. How wonderful it would be if Richard could use the phone again, not struggle to communicate with people on a daily basis and not feel uncomfortable in any crowded or noisy environment with big groups of people.
Richard, on the other hand, seemed unnaturally calm. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t feeling more anxious. Maybe he was trying hard to hide it or maybe he had spent so long thinking about it that by the time it had arrived, he had accepted it was the right choice and felt calm about it. Either way I was impressed by his calmness, which reassured me too.
I didn’t sleep very well that night at all. When my alarm clock went off at 5am the next day, I had been awake for a while. As we travelled in the cab to the hospital, it was already light outside but there was hardly any traffic on the roads or people on the streets. We were both really tired but Richard looked incredibly calm and relaxed.
At the hospital we saw the anaesthetist in the ward. She looked at Richard’s medical file with the doctor’s letters explaining his complex medical history and details of his drug treatment. She then looked really concerned. She said that he might not be able to have his surgery at the hospital that day because of the additional risk of potential complications due to his underlying medical condition. She was concerned about how he would cope under general anaesthetic. They didn’t have the back-up equipment at that hospital to deal with any emergency, so she said that they might have to postpone the operation to another date in another hospital, which did have the back-up equipment.
Richard couldn’t really follow what she was saying but he understood from her negative body language that the operation wasn’t going to happen that day. He looked absolutely gutted and suddenly seemed really stressed. He told her that he’d be devastated if it didn’t happen that day. Richard’s consultants at other hospitals had been discussing the possibility of Richard having the CI surgery at another hospital because of this for months, but they told us that it had all been resolved, his medical condition was stable and that he would be fine under the general anaesthetic. The problem was that the letter to explain all of this was not in his medical file due to a clerical error and miscommunication between different hospitals.
Thankfully the situation was resolved fairly quickly when Mr Shiada appeared on the scene and saved the day. He calmly reassured us all that he had a copy of the letter in question. After the anaesthetist had made a few phone calls to Richard’s consultants at St Mary’s and Whipps Cross Hospitals to double-check, he was given the go-ahead for the operation. He was then assigned his own room in the ward and a dedicated nurse to look after him. I was actually really pleased that the anaesthetist had been so thorough in checking all this and doing her job so thoroughly, as I knew there was a lot at stake if anything went wrong.
Eventually, at about midday, Richard was brought into the operating theatre for his surgery, which would last about three hours. After about half an hour waiting in Richard’s room I felt really on edge and couldn’t concentrate, now more worried than ever about the risk of complications during surgery. Three hours seemed like such a long time to have to wait on my own.
I decided to go for a walk to try and take my mind off it, so I ended up walking into nearby King’s Cross Station, where I wandered into some of the small shops there to try a bit of retail therapy. I ended up buying Richard a small box of chocolates as a present. I smiled as I thought about how many times I had told him off for eating chocolate, and how much he loved eating it. Now it didn’t seem to matter at all.
After a while I wandered back to the hospital. Shortly after that Ian, Richard’s step-brother, arrived in the ward to pay him a lovely surprise visit and we waited in his room together. Suddenly, the young student nurse came to tell Ian and I that she had been in Richard’s operation and that it had gone really well. It was the first operation she had been involved in and she was really excited to tell us. She explained how impressed she’d been with Mr Shaida’s calm, confident manner as he was operating. She was really happy to have been a part of it. I was so touched that she’d come to tell us this personally.
The matron then came in and told us that Richard had just come round and we could go and see him in the recovery room. Ian and I went down into the room and saw Richard lying there, all wired up and attached to a monitor. He looked really tired but he had a massive smile on his face. He had a big bandage wrapped round his head. Immediately, he wanted us to take photos of him, so we took photos of ourselves with Richard, all three of us with massive smiles on our faces now.
I felt immense relief that it was all over, like a huge weight had just been lifted from my shoulders. Seeing Richard’s smiling face made me feel really happy and so proud of him. The anaesthetist came over to say hello to us, and she ended up being included in the photos. She recognised Ian as he is an ENT surgeon and they used to work together eight years ago. She looked very relieved too. I thought that she, Mr Shaida, the theatre team and the nurses at that NHS hospital had all done an incredible job looking after Richard. I find it amazing that they do that for all their patients on a daily basis.
That evening I sat by Richard’s bed while he slept, as he was still tired and dizzy from the anaesthetic. He was missing the England versus Uruguay World Cup match showing on the TV in his room, but that was probably for the best, given their disastrous performance.
I felt physically and emotionally drained after such a long day, but incredibly relieved. As I left Richard in the hospital overnight I went home and felt shattered. I know that Richard’s cochlear implant journey has only just begun as he has only just started his recovery. But I am now hopeful that it will all be worth it in the end. I will keep you posted.
By Joanna Turner