Three years ago today it was Wednesday. At 6:45 I was sitting in the lobby of Töölö hospital right here in Helsinki, waiting for the lab to open so I could have my final labs taken before the surgery. At this time, 10:45 I was already way under, my head open, maybe two hours into the surgery. After everything went dark due to the anesthesia around eight, nearly ten hours passed before I opened my eyes again. I was already two hours out of the surgery, lying in the ICU, when I woke up to the urgent thought that I need to make dinner for the kids. I opened my eyes to a bright fluorescent lamp practically blinding me, thought “oh, nevermind then” and went back to sleep.
The next two, three days were a blur. I mostly slept, waking up enough to eat and talk with visitors for maybe five minutes at a time. Eventually I was forced up, to the toilet and to the shower and walking more and more each day. I was terrified at first, since simply sitting up gave me vertigo, but with each try, everything gradually got better. After five days in the hospital it was time to return home, to our house of three floors, where I could not avoid walking stairs if I wanted to. In retrospect, that was probably a good thing, recuperating my balance faster.
The first weeks were tough, the first of everything making me dizzy, but slowly but surely it all got better as my head got used to everything again. In no time I was taking our dog for walks again, I was driving again, I was going to the store again, I was able to shower properly again. Truly it felt to me like I was learning everything in life again. No part of normal life was a given anymore, and sometimes it felt like I’d never be the same again. I was reading about the new normal and tried to adjust.
Now, three years out of surgery, I am almost completely recuperated. My new normal is almost the same as my old normal. My balance in everyday life is as good as needed – sure, I gave up dancing from frustration due to balance issues – and the biggest nuisance is the SSD, the single-sided-deafness, but even that doesn’t bother me too much generally. I notice things like if I have been doing physical work (home renovations, yard work etc.) for a full day, I get so tired physically that I start to stumble and trip. Then again, I have always had the skill to trip on flat surfaces and bump into doors and whatnot. My mom used to call me “konkkelokoipi” when I was growing up. Basically it means clumsy in a bambi-like manner. I guess my AN just enhanced the skill ;)
As for the SSD, I remember the early weeks like yesterday. After the surgery my head had a constant hum inside, like there was a huge truck on idle inside. I thought I might just go crazy if it persisted, but it didn’t. Now the truck only visits my head after a particularily noisy or exhausting day. Sure, there is tinnitus all the time. but mostly I tend to forget all about it, ignoring it fully.
The first time I tried to watch a movie after the surgery, in our nice tv room with full surround 5-speaker home theater system, I burst out crying when I realised I could not make out a single word of the movie dialogue due to the separate speakers all around the room. I needed flat sound and even then, subtitles for support. Now, I have gotten used to watching everything with subtitles (English for hearing impaired or Finnish if the English is not available) and I don’t really think twice about it. I leave the volume adjustment to the fully hearing family members and that’s ok. Surprisingly enough, movie theaters are a pleasant experience and mostly I can actually follow the dialogue without reading the subtitles there.
I have also gotten used to asking people to switch places with me at lunch so that I can be at the correct corner to maximize my hearing abilities. With friends from work, I usually don’t even need to remind them of the reason, and even if I do, it’s enough to touch my deaf ear. Many of them remember anyway, sometimes even better than I do myself! I am not bothered by needing to tell strangers about my SSD either; I do it rather matter-of-fact and people are ok with that. And, when it gets real noisy and I simply cannot hear, I let the others know that now it’s impossible for me to hear. What happens then depends on the situation and how important it is for me to hear what they’re saying.
Maybe the most annoying thing about SSD in my opinion and experience is the inability to understand where a sound comes from. Like when I lose my phone (which happens frequently for I am aloof and just set it down *somewhere*) and I need other people to help me locate it even when I hear it ringing. Once this happened in a store… Or when I sit at a doctors’ office in the waiting room and then the doctor calls my name, from behind a corner (very bad practice in my opinion, by the way – note this if you happen to be a doctor!) and I have to ask the other patients where the call came from. Or when I call some family member at home and even they don’t bother to elaborate on their location. Highly frustrating!
Yet, all in all, like I already noted, I mostly feel completely recovered. I can walk, I can work, I can climb (walls and trees), I can dance (if not really able to advance like before), I lead a completely normal life. My stamina is not what it used to be – I tire very easily – but hey! at least I sleep way better than ever before, thanks to the bright side of the SSD: when my good ear is against the pillow, I don’t hear all those disturbing noises that used to wake me up before, as I am a very light sleeper by default.