Tag Archives: tinnitus

Vestibular Therapy Update, and Post-Op Obsessions

I have four sessions left on my first post-op PT prescription (we’re asking for more), so we did a little testing today. I’m up several points on the rating scale from where I began one week after surgery. As of today, I can:

  • Stand on one foot, both sides, for 60 seconds with eyes open
  • Stand pointed (one foot directly in front of the other, heel to toe) for 60 seconds with eyes open and closed
  • My gait has returned to normal, and I don’t wobble looking from left to right or from up to down as I stride
  • I don’t need handrails on stairs
  • I can walk over a mile
  • BUT, I cannot stand either foot with eyes closed for more than a second or two. I tip over immediately.

All in all, not bad in the balance department.

Early mornings, just after waking up, I tend to get swimmy helping the kids get ready for school. Doing computer work for more than an hour gives me a thumping headache. My skull is suddenly very sore these past two days, too, which effects my sleep — as does the tinnitus. Blah, blah, blah. 

The biggest issue is that I’m a perfectionist. Always have been. I know I’m going to have to find a way to get over this, but the hearing issue bugs me a lot psychologically. It’s not just the fact that I can’t hear out of that ear, and that what I do hear is annoying, but it’s the knowledge that something is wrong, broken, not right — that drives me crazy. It forces me to question everything. My decision to do the surgery. My choice of surgeon. The type of procedure. My recovery protocol. The smallest little thing like accidentally picking up my son after I cam home, or that time I burped and it hurt my head, or digging out the storm drains with a hoe. All of it.  Did I do it? Could I have made a better call? Why me? 

Self-pity ain’t cool. And it’s stupid to obsess over these things, I know, when much of my recovery is going well. Nothing can be done about it. But right now, for me, the obsessing is unavoidable. I’m hoping getting back to work in two weeks will push all of this back some and give me a little peace. 

I actively seek out perspective now. Like this story, about a 12 year-old boy from New Zealand who is slowly going blind and wanted to see the Celtics play while he still could.

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Good and Not as Good News

Three and a half weeks post-op, and today was a pretty big day.

I drove myself to physical therapy, then later drove myself (with my mother as chaperone) home from a visit to my surgeon, Dr. Wiet. All told, it was about 30 miles. No significant negative effects to report. It’s good to know I’ll be able to get myself around.

I went for a 1.25 mile walk today. My quads get burny, and my head gets a little bit swimmy, but it’s nothing that I can’t push through. It does make me wonder, though, if running and bike riding are in my future. Both will likely take a long build up of endurance and brain-training before they become possible. The pounding of a run, not to mention the up/down jostle, seems problematic.  I’m also left wondering, as usual, whether the dizziness I feel is from the surgery (which should improve) or from my unrepaired left side (which may not). No way to know yet.

BUT, Dr. Wiet confirmed today that he doesn’t think my left side needs surgery right now, and if it did, it would likely not be a craniotomy. My hearing on the left side is perfectly normal. I’m not willing to risk it without a serious need for surgery because the right side hearing has not improved. I thought it had, but the test results say otherwise. He doesn’t want to hit me with more steroids right now, but instead wants to wait three months before we start hearing aid discussions. The tinnitus is bad. Both my hearing and the ringing are much worse than before surgery, but the doctor reiterated today that he felt I had to do the operation because the dehiscence was so large, and because my tegmen was so compromised, that I was a brain herniation waiting to happen. I get that. But I want to hear, too, or at least not hear this high-pitched cloud of noise all the time. And yet, there is no going back. It is what it is. I seem to be one of the rare few who suffer serious hearing loss from superior canal dehiscence repair.

There are therapies, he says, for the tinnitus. And a couple of options to improve hearing, especially if more hearing comes back over time. All of those options involve hearing aids.

People in the support groups on Facebook have asked me if I think it was worth it. I guess I have to say it’s too early to tell. I don’t know what the final dizziness result is yet, and the hearing, while likely permanently damaged, is still in flux, too. I mean, avoiding a brain hernia is a very good thing, but if it weren’t for that one consideration, I probably would not do it again if I had a second chance. I think I would have tried to live with it longer and not risk my hearing.

Every case is obviously unique and people’s priorities are different. My quality of life was diminished before surgery, but I had reached a liveable plateau. How long that would have lasted is hard to say, and much of it was due to constant therapy and a daily dose of valium. Is that a sustainable lifestyle at 41 years old? I don’t know. Doesn’t matter now.

I do know I’ll be protecting my good left ear in every way possible, and doing all I can to retrain my body and brain to deal with its situation.

Oh — fun fact. Tinnitus is caused by the brain, not the ear. It’s noise the brain creates to fill in for a lack of sound. Crazy, huh? Sometimes, if I try really hard, I can quiet the tinnitus a few degrees by focusing on that ear and simply telling the noise to go away. At least I think I can!

Not that the scar is even close to being my biggest concern right now, but here it is:

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The Perfect Recovery Part III

As I’ve been made to understand it, the vestibular (balance) system is comprised of at least three separate parts. There are the three semicircular canals in either ear – anterior, superior, and posterior – that let the brain know where the head is in space. Then you have the eyes, which do the same visually, and the joints — particularly the ankles, knees and hips, which respond and adjust after the brain has processed that stimuli. The superior canal, which is likely compromised in both of my ears, negates the up/down movement in our vision when we walk and run — or drive a car. It’s like the steadicam system for the eyes. My hope is that the other two canals, and my plastic brain, can learn to adapt to whatever loss these canals have suffered and stabilize my field of vision.

It’s a good idea to not tweak an ankle when you’re trying to recover your sense of balance. I overdid it a bit on my dyna-discs — surprise! — and my now right ankle is out of whack (thanks to probably at least a dozen sprains over 41 years). Given the pressure on that joint to compensate for shaky balance already, it’s another tiny setback. It’ll be fine a few days.

I keep thinking my hearing is getting better in the right hear. I’m noticing sounds more and more, but the constant cloud of high-pitched tinnitus there makes separating sounds from each other very difficult. What I do hear and understand through that ear sounds like the radio voices of Rebel Fleet pilots as they attacked the Death Star in Star Wars. Remember that? Metallic, electric, distorted, and like it’s travelled 10 light years to reach my ear drum.