What’s it like to have a Cochlear Implant?

me with CII got my first cochlear implant (CI) in July of 2011, and my second in September of 2013.  When I was going through that time I wrote some about it but I’ve never talked about what it’s like to live with my cochlear implants (CIs).  A friend of mine asked me a few questions about it recently.  I’m here today to answer some of those questions.

What exactly is a Cochlear Implant? – To put it simply, a Cochlear Implant is an electronic device that can help provide a sense of sound to someone who is deaf or severely hard of hearing.  Let me see if I can explain this in my own words.  There is a part that is on the outside of the head that consist of a microphone a processor and a transmitter.  There is part that is on the inside that is the stimulator and the electrode array.  Sound comes into the microphone and goes through the speech processor to the transmitter  (the microphone and processor are the parts around the ear, the transmitter is the part that is on the outside of the head – it is held on by a magnet connecting it to the receiver/stimulator).  The stimulator is in my head, between the skin and the skull.  When the sound comes in to the stimulator it is then sent to the electrode array it then send impulses to the auditory nerves.  For a better explanation please go here.   (you can see the microphone, processor and transmitter on me in the photo at the top of the post – yes mine are orange -, and in the second photo below)

Cochlear Implant

This is a photo of the receiver/stimulator and the array. The array is the wire it is what goes in the cochlea of the ear and sends impulses to the auditory nerves. The stimulator is right on the inside of my head.  The transmitter connects to the stimulator by a magnet.

cochlear implant 2

This is a photo of a microphone, processor, and transmitter. You can readily see the microphone that hooks around the ear but there is one at the top you can’t really see. Many processors have microphones that are not readily seen.

Why did you get cochlear implants? – I lost my hearing due to Meniere’s Disease.  My hearing loss happened fairly quickly.  I was diagnosed bilateral in November of 2009.  In 2010 I got hearing aids, within 3 months of having my hearing aids I couldn’t understand anything out of my left ear.  That sent me on the tract to getting my first CI. (July 2011) By the time I received my first CI, the hearing in my right ear deteriorated to the point that my hearing aid no longer worked.  It took a little while, but I soon got my second CI.(September 2013)  Why did I get cochlear implants?  because that was the only way I would be able to “hear” anything.

How does a cochlear implant work? – I’m going to quote this straight from the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders site.  “A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound.”

Do you hear the same with a cochlear implant as a you do with normal hearing? – No.  Some people can understand words and sounds immediately, other people can only hear clicks and whistles.  It is a completely different way of hearing and your brain has to be retrained.  When I was first activated I could understand a lot of words from the start, but everyone sounded like they had been sucking on helium.  A lot of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse voices were around.  Soon my brain started to remember what certain sounds sound like and I started hearing things the way I used to, for the most part.  When I hear something I’ve never heard before things can sound very odd.  Sometimes when I meet a new person their voice will get that cartoon sound until I get used to them.  The longer you use your CIs the better you hear with them, so 10 years from now I should hear better than I do now.

Do you now hear like everyone else? or is it odd?  What is your hearing like now? – This is the big question isn’t it? What is my hearing like now?   First I’ll tell you about challenges I have that a lot of people with CIs have, then I’ll tell you about my personal challenges.

I often can’t hear when someone speaks behind me.  If there is noise in the room I have a very hard time hearing.  (the newer CI’s are better for this, even though I have a newer CI I still have a hard time)  In groups it is very hard to keep up with what everyone is saying.  I am much better at conversing one on one.  I find I it is much easier for me if the person is facing me so I can read their lips while they are talking to me.  Between the two of those I do pretty well, but put me in a crowded room, and I’m lost.  Heck, put me in a room with more than one person and I can get pretty lost.

I think I might be able to hear better if I had more practice, I’m not sure.  Most of the time I only talk with Stuart.  I talk to my doctors.  I talk with our roommate, but I have a very hard time understanding him.  His voice is deep and I simply cannot understand most of what he says.  It makes things difficult, and sad.  But for the most part I don’t see anyone else.  Since we moved I haven’t met many new people, it’s hard to get used to groups and hearing other people when I don’t have the opportunity.  However, it’s also really hard to put myself out there in those situations because I get so lost and confused.  It does make meeting new people even more challenging.

Unlike most people with cochlear implants my hearing fluctuates.  Some people with Meniere’s who get CI’s end up still having fluctuating hearing.  Normally this happens when we have vertigo, our hearing will change and we need to get our CI’s adjusted.  My hearing doesn’t fluctuate just when I have a vertigo attack it happens every day.

Let me tell you what an average day for me is like.  I’ll get up and put on my cochlear implants, at first it takes me a little bit to get used to suddenly hearing sound.  Everything sounds a bit loud.  Then things will normally calm down and my hearing is stable for a few hours, but every evening my hearing will change.  It’s hard to explain what it sounds like, it gets hollow sounding and can sound way too loud.  I’m always telling Stuart to please be quieter.    Sometimes my hearing will change throughout the day.  I will often say, “I’m having a bad hearing day.”  I’m thrilled when I can say I’m having a good hearing day.

When I take my CI’s off the world changes.  Suddenly the only thing I can hear is my tinnitus.  (When I have my CI’s on the sound of the outside world helps me to not notice my tinnitus as much.)

I don’t know sign language.  I am working on learning some, but I haven’t been able to take a class.  At times Stuart and I can only communicate by me reading his lips and the little bit of sign language we know.

What is a challenge you wouldn’t normally think about? – This one is easy, having the headpiece suddenly fly off  because I got too close to something metal.  I have a bracelet that I wear sometimes and if I put my arm up around my head the CI headpiece (the transmitter) will jump off and stick to it.  It’s kind of funny, kind of annoying.   Other times when I want to lie down the headpiece won’t stay on.  This is annoying, especially when I’m sick.  I deal with vertigo better when I can hear what is going on around me since I can’t focus on anything, but during an attack I need to lie down, this often knocks my CI off and I can’t hear anything out of one ear.

Does it hurt? – Well the surgery hurt, but it wasn’t so bad.  It is actually an out-patient surgery.  Does it hurt on a day-to-day basis?  Not really.  If the magnets that are holding the headpiece to my head are too strong it hurts, but then I can change that.  I have screws that are very close to the surface right behind my ears.  One ear is worse than the other.  Most people don’t have this problem, normally when it heals fat and cartilage form around the screws and you don’t notice them, for me the screw is right up against the skin.  Sometimes this hurts.  Sometimes my processor and glasses will rub on them.  My sun glass arms are thicker than my daily glasses and they will cause that area to hurt.  If I can lie down on it, it hurts a bit.  Other than that, no it doesn’t hurt.  If I didn’t have the screw issue I really wouldn’t even notice I have them on.

Now I just have to share the funniest thing I’ve misheard due to my hearing loss–  Once I asked Stuart what Jesus was other than seen as a prophet and son of God.  The answer I heard was, “Jesus was Jimmy Buffett”  I busted out laughing.  “Whaaat?  Jesus was Jimmy Buffett??”  What Stuart actually said was, “Jesus was a Jewish Carpenter.”  I still get the giggles when I think about Jesus being Jimmy Buffett!

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Roller Coaster —– Down

I wrote my last post with just joy in my heart and feeling better than I had in as long as I can remember.

Then I crashed.

That evening I had a bout of vertigo, but I would not let it put a damper on my day.  It was a glorious day, and I will hold it in my heart.

But it’s over, at least for now.  Forgive me if this post doesn’t make as much sense as it should, I’m writing it as I watch the screen dance before my eyes.  This is incredibly difficult, but I felt the need to tell everyone I’m not doing that well and I wanted to talk about it.

For nearly 3 days now I’ve had vertigo almost constantly.   It may be slow at times where I just barely see the world moving, other times I can still handle it, it’s very hard to focus on anything and I can’t hear very well.  Then I have times like I did last night.  I was so sick.  I didn’t sleep until 4am.  I fought then nausea and vomiting.  I had severe stomach cramps and feel like I threw up all night, but I’m happy to say I didn’t.  (thank you to all my medications, and my darling husband who stayed by my side and chanted with me for hours).

I’m amazed at how much this has changed over the years.  When I first started getting vertigo, and when it only came around a few times a year, I would have been throwing up for most of the last 3 days.  I think the biggest thing that has changed is that I rarely freak out from it now.  I don’t fight it.  I know what’s happening.  I try to just go with the flow.  That doesn’t mean I don’t panic and that it doesn’t get to me, after a few hours I’m freaking out a bit.  What if it never ends.

This makes me not want to live.   I’m stuck in this chair, I can’t walk by myself, I can’t even use my walker most of the time without falling.  Stuart and I have to walk in tandem to take me to the bathroom.  I have my head on his chest and he walks backward to get me there.  This is not a life.

I can’t communicate well.  I can barely understand anything that is being said.  I can’t focus on anything most of the time.  Literally, right now I am typing on a computer that is swaying on my lap.  If I didn’t type by touch, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Last night I went to sleep hoping to not wake up.  Don’t worry I’m not suicidal, I just want live like this to end. The only way I can see this stopping is to not be here anymore.  The risk with the gentamicin is so scary.  I just don’t know what to do.  Plus finding a doctor who would actually do it, well that’s a whole other thing.

My new doctor has mentioned steroid injections.  I’m not sure it will do anything, but it can’t hurt to try.  If I can hold it together long enough to get it done.  And handle the side effects that are sure to follow for a while.

If I can get through more days like this.  Days where the world spins at what ever speed it wants.  Days where I can do nothing but sit here and wish for it to stop.  Days where the steroids are making me so hungry, but I’m so nauseous at the same time.  Unfortunately, the hunger wins most of the time.  So I guess I’ll sit here and eat and just pray that this there is something that stops this.  Something inside me that can slow this down enough that my eyes and brain aren’t so tired from trying to make sense of it all.

What do I do.  I try to remember that is will not always be this way.  It will end.  I will have some relief.  I have to believe.   I will admit that is my biggest fear, that it will never end.

If you walked in my house right now I’d look perfectly fine, minus the few tears on my face.   I’m sitting in a chair, staring at the computer, the TV is on in the background, hubby is sitting in another chair munching away.  I look like I’m perfectly fine.  But I’m fighting like hell just to hold it together.

This moment.  I can get through this moment.  I know I can.  The next moment isn’t here, things will change.  I know it will.  That is the constant in the universe, everything changes.  I will be in this moment, as crappy as it is, but I know it will change.

Sometimes that isn’t a good thought, I know this change could be worse.  I’m not good with worse right now.

When people who have never had vertigo here me say, I’m having an attack, they have no idea what I’m talking about.  However, I think when those of us who have vertigo mention, we had an attack, or we are having an attack.  We don’t think about how bad it really is, until it is happening to us again.  And we don’t think about how different vertigo can be for different people.  I have found myself thinking, “If you are having an attack, how could you possibly be typing?”  Yet here I am.  When I only had the most horrific vertigo attacks and I heard someone say they had vertigo and it wasn’t like mine, I wondered, “Do they really know what vertigo is like?”  Now, I can’t judge.  I understand.  Vertigo can manifest itself differently.  You can see the world rotate, at different speeds, it doesn’t always have to be so fast that the world is a complete blur, it can mean that the world is slowly rotating, I see things they simply will not be still.  Both are vertigo, I can just handle one better than the other.

Then I’ve found you can have vertigo where you feel you are moving but you don’t see anything moving.  Most people say they feel like they are on a boat or something similar.  I do have this kind of vertigo too, for me this is not as bad at the visual vertigo, for others this could be much more dramatic.  I was rushed to the hospital once because the vertigo made me feel like I was being tossed around the room and I was completely still.  I threw up a lot during that one, unfortunately I don’t think the ambulance attendant got out of the way of that once.  I knew something was wrong, I thought I might be dying.  I remmeber telling Stuart if I died I was happy everyone I love knows it.

When we got to the ER, they couldn’t do anything.  Pumped me full of more of the meds I already have at home and told me that vertigo can make you feel like that.  Inside I freaked out thinking, “I could feel like this again?”  Now I have this recurring vertigo where I’ll suddenly feel like I’ve stepped into an open elevator shaft and I just keep falling.  Stuart will hold me so tight and tell me I’m not falling, but I am.  I know I am.  I see the world rush by, I feel my body dropping.  It has happened once without him here and I thought there was no way I could get through it.   I did.  But I never want to do that alone again.  I never want to do it again at all, but that is kind of unrealistic.

Again, I want to assure everyone I’m not suicidal.  I do believe this will stop.  If it doesn’t there has to be someway that I can learn to live with it.

I didn’t post this when I finished because I started having much worse vertigo and I couldn’t see the publish button anyway.  I might be able to type by touch but I can’t see that dang little cursor.  This morning things are better. I’m still swaying, things are still a tad off, but it’s better.  In this moment.  that’s the only time I can count on.

What’s this thing called “Vertigo” anyway?

vertigo caught in motion

me during a vertigo attack – photo by w. holcombe

There are different definitions for the word “vertigo” (noun – ver·ti·go \ˈvər-ti-ˌgō\)

Webster’s Dictionary defines vertigo as:
a feeling of dizziness caused especially by being in a very high place

1a : a sensation of motion in which the individual or the individual’s surroundings seem to whirl dizzily
1b : a dizzy confused state of mind

On American Family Physician’s site I found a great article, Dizziness: A Diagnostic Approach.  It describes all kinds of Dizziness, the different causes and treatments.

In it they describe vertigo as : (A) False sense of motion, possibly spinning sensation.

I could go on and give you different definitions, many would be a bit different from others, but the main thing they have in common, one feels as if they are in motion.

Vertigo is not just dizziness, it is a type of dizziness, just as lightheadedness, and disequilibrium are but it is more than what most people consider dizziness.

Vertigo is the sense of motion.  Most often it includes seeing a spinning sensation, it also include other feelings of motion including, a sense of falling, rising or being jerked in one direction.  These are not encountered as often as rotational vertigo. (Understanding Vertigo and What to do if you have it. – The Washington Post – 2014)

I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you, as best I can, how vertigo feels to me.

I have rotational vertigo (seeing my surrounding spin around), and motion vertigo (I often feel like I’m moving when I’m not.  I will feel like I’m suddenly free-falling, or being jerked around.)

The best way I know to describe rotational vertigo is to give you an example most people understand.  Remember when you were a kid and you used to spin around and around until you fell down seeing the world spin around you, (if you don’t remember this, or have a loved one with vertigo, I encourage you to do it now to have a sample of what we see).  Now that you have that image, imagine seeing that but it doesn’t stop.  When you just spin around the spinning sensation stops in a few seconds, for me it can last a few minutes to a few days.  The average is about 4 hours.  When I have this type of vertigo attack I often get very sick.  Imagine motion sickness times 1000.  I will throw up for hours, it can get so violent that I will lose control of every bodily function.  It is horrific.

I used to have other motion vertigo every once in a while, now it comes much more often.  I often feel like I’m in motion when I’m not.  I’ll feel like I’m on a boat, I’ll even feel like I’m walking around while I’m sitting still.  In the past year I’ve started having vertigo that makes me feel like I’m being thrown around the room (the first time this happened I thought I was dying, after an Ambulance ride and spending over 9 hours in the Emergency Room I was told this is a different form of vertigo.  (freaky)  I’ve also started having feelings as if I’m free-falling, I can only imagine it’s how one would feel if they stepped into an open elevator shaft.  This is one of the most frightening things in I’ve encountered.

Rotational Vertigo is not always at the same speed.  Sometimes I see my surroundings spinning by in just a blur, during these attacks I always get sick.  This will include hours of vomiting and sometimes I will lose all control of my bodily functions.  It’s horrific.  Other times my surrounds will spin by at a much slower rate.  After having rotational vertigo for so long many of my attacks are not as horrific.  I don’t panic now.  I will stay as calm as possible and just watch the world spin by, mostly I’m really bored.  This is the time when my mindfulness practice really comes in handy.

I’ve learned if I focus on something about 12 – 18 inches from me I often don’t see things go by quite as fast.  If the spinning isn’t too fast I will watch TV reading the captions.  For some reason if I concentrate on the captions the vertigo slows down.  This does not happen if I try to read anything else, that just makes me sicker.

I used to throw up no matter what.  I may have mentioned this before, maybe not, but I’ve had 2 doctors tell me that if medicinal marijuana were legal they’s prescribe it for me.  So I’ve tried it to see how it helps.  I can honestly say that I believe it has stopped me from going to the ER many times for dehydration.  It stops me from throwing up.  That is amazing to me.  I very rarely throw up now.   It can also calm down an attack if I use it fast enough.  (if you’d like to know more about how I use this to help, feel free to ask, I will say that I never feel high, I use very little, just enough to help me.)

Now, do you understand more about what Vertigo is and what my vertigo feels like?

If you suffer from vertigo, do you have similar experiences or is your experience different?

6 Signs Your Symptoms Could be a Vestibular Migraine

migraine eyeAs I’ve written about before, I have vestibular migraines, with Migraine Associated Vertigo (MAV).   It is hard to diagnose this type of migraine,it’s also very difficult to figure out if your vertigo is coming from MAV.  I came across this article the other day and thought it was worthy of sharing.

6 Signs Your Symptoms Could be a Vestibular Migraine

Following are the Symptoms they talk about, please go to the actual article to read about each of these in detail.

1. You have a personal or family history of migraine.
2. You experience vestibular symptoms in the presence or absence of a migraine headache.
3. Your vestibular symptoms vary in their severity over time.
4. In an episode, you experience other classic migraine symptoms.
5. Your symptoms increase with exposure to known migraine triggers.
6. Your vestibular symptoms significantly reduce your quality of life.

From this article there is a link to a blog post on My Migraine Brain that I found interesting. Valerie’s Vestibular Migraine

I hope you will find this as informative as I did.

If you have any questions about my experience with vestibular migraines and MAV, please ask.  I’m happy to keep the conversation going.

Hey Doc…What the……?

I went to the new ear doc to get the results of the vestibular testing, and I felt like I walked into the Twilight Zone.

He walked in the room with his too big smile, shook my hand and told me something about the test…that didn’t make a lot of sense.  He said that it showed that I had reduced cochlea function in both ears.  That at my age he would expect it to be a 21, but my right ear is a 4 and my left is a 13.  I asked…”What does this mean?”  He said that it meant that my cochlea wasn’t working as it should in my ears…well duh.  I repeated, “Yes, but what does that cause?”  “It means you have vertigo.  And you might have this thing called Meniere’s”

WHAT??  I MIGHT HAVE WHAT?  DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?  YOU DON’T REMEMBER ME?  YOU DIDN’T LOOK AT MY CHART BEFORE YOU CAME IN THE ROOM?

Okay, another reason that whole thing was weird….cochlea function refers to hearing.  My cochlea is not going to show up working on any test, I have cochlear implants, I have a device in my head that is coiled around my cochlea that vibrates so I can hear.  It doesn’t work on it’s own.  And the tests I were given doesn’t even test that.  But the numbers he gave me do correspond to the main test that I was given.  That was just so weird.

He also talked about a hearing test I had last February, I told him I didn’t have a hearing test last year.  He argued with me and pointed to the computer and said, that it said the tests showed my right ear had severe to profound hearing loss.  I looked at him and took off my Cochlear Implants and showed him and said, “I have Cochlear Implants, why would I get a hearing test?  However, I do have some residual hearing in my right ear, but…”  and he interrupted me and said….”That’s impossible, if you have Cochlear Implants, you can’t have any hearing…blah, blah.”  Stuart tried to explain to him that with the newest CI’s you often keep any hearing you had…he still argued.  Dang-it, I think I know if I can hear or not!  When I told him that I wouldn’t need a hearing test I saw the nurse point out to him that the date on the hearing test was not from 2015.  It was 2014, shortly after my CI surgery….of course he didn’t put that together, that I can hear out of my right ear, a little bit.  And he did not admit to us that he got the date wrong.  It’s also very sad that the audiologist that gave me the test knew that the new CI’s are often allowing people to keep some of their residual hearing, she was not surprised that I can hear a little out of my right ear.  (I want to explain, I can only hear a certain frequency, I can’t hear much.  For example, I was sleeping through the fire alarm at the hotel in December, yet Stuart said it was hurting his ears.  So it isn’t much hearing, but there is some there.)

Finally, I got tired of dealing with him.  I asked him a couple of questions, which I don’t really trust the answers to now, then I said, “So the plan is, I start Vestibular Rehab, I keep working with my migraine doc to get the migraines under control, keep up the low sodium diet, and taking the Valium twice a day.  After I go through the Vestibular rehab we will talk about the gentimiacin injections.  That’s the plan.”  Then I stuck out my hand to shake his.  In my mind he was dismissed.   He just had that plastered on smile like he had the whole time, and shook my hand and said, “That’s the plan.”

I saw no reason to spend any more time with that man. It was obvious he did not review my chart before he came in the room.  I do not understand how he could not remember me.  He told me when I saw him last time that I am the most advanced case he has seen, and how many other patients do you think he has that have been to Duke and John Hopkins?  Plus, Stuart and me together are pretty darn memorable.  I have NEVER had a doctor make me feel like they didn’t remember me.  I “might have this thing called Meniere’s”…geez…are you kidding me?  He said a number of other things that just didn’t make sense…like, “I thought you had gentimiacin and it didn’t work.” He just said that I might have Meniere’s and then he said he thought I had gentimiacin injections?  dodododo

About the tests….well he only gave me the numbers for the biggest test they did.  The Caloric Stimulation Test.  (click on the link if you want to learn about the test)  This is used to for damage to the acoustic nerve (hearing and balance) and it test the brain stem.  It is the only test that test the ears separately.  The numbers he gave me fit right in on this test.  21 is normal.  He kind of dismissed the 13, I really didn’t understand that.  Of course, the one that is really out of wack is the right ear coming in at only a 4.  So, I’m thinking when we get to the point of killing off the balance center we will do the right ear first and see if it straightens things out, or makes it so much better I don’t feel I have to do the left.

Now for the big decision, what do I do about this doctor?  I really don’t trust him enough now to let him give me a shot in my ear that will kill my balance center.  Heck I don’t trust him enough to give me a B-12 shot.

What do I do?  I can’t find another ear doctor in this whole city that knows anything about Meniere’s except for the other guy I went to who thinks he is a god.  He doesn’t listen to his patients…at least not to me, and according to his ratings on-line and on Angie’s list, he doesn’t listen to most people…he didn’t believe I have vertigo as often as I do.  Really?  Does he think I use a walker just for fun?   Ugh…..I hear stories like this from so many people with chronic illnesses, we have such a hard time finding doctors who are compassionate.  I’m lucky, most of my doctors are wonderful, but I’m having a heck of a time finding a good ear doctor since we moved.

I found an ear clinic I would like to go and check out that is close to 2 hours away from here.  I have a list of questions for Stuart to ask them on the phone before I even think about making an appointment.  If they treat people like it appears they do on their website, I think this would be a very good place to go.  They are very well versed in advanced Meniere’s, and they aren’t afraid to treat it.

As you can see, I do believe in being an advocate for myself, but I know when I can’t burn my bridges just yet.  I’m also not afraid to fire an incompetent doctor and as soon as I find a new one, I promise this doctor will know why he is being fired and I will write a review on him letting others know what I think.  The group does have a good support staff, too bad he is the only one in that group that (supposedly) knows anything about Meniere’s.

 

The Future is Scary, with a side of Hope.

It seems appropriate that I’m writing this on the eve of a new year, what better time to look toward the future?

For me, contemplating the future is more than a little scary…. let’s just say my anxiety about it has been more than I ever thought was possible.

After my illnesses changed my life, I learned about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), it struck me how it has helped many people in many aspects of life, but mostly I was struck by how much it often helped people who are ill.  I had already learned of mindfulness during my studies in Buddhism, and while practicing yoga, but I admit I didn’t practice it regularly.

Over the last few years I’ve learned more and more about mindfulness, as I continued to studied Buddhism and MBSR, I’ve worked hard to live my life in the moment.  I don’t dwell in the past, (all of that is gone)…. I don’t worry about the future, (that hasn’t been written yet)…I try hard to live in this very moment, because that is all we truly have.

Yes, at times I still have moments when I get upset that I can’t do what I used to, and get upset about what might happen…but I don’t dwell on it.

Then we started making plans… how we are going to try to make things better for me….decisions about this unknown future, decisions that I have to make. Suddenly, I HAVE to look at the future. I HAVE to think about it.  And it really scares me.  Suddenly, I’m scared about being like thbe mindful of the futureis forever.  I thought I had accepted that and was okay with it.  Not that I was giving up, just that I accepted things if they didn’t change.  At least that’s what I thought, but actually, I thought I was going to be like this forever, I had come to terms with it, and now, that may change.  Now, I suddenly have options….plans.  I am having a very hard time not being anxious about the future.  I’m even thinking about things from the past. I keep thinking about all that I can’t do now, and how much my life has changed, and I keep wondering, could I get some of that back?  The main thing I know is that, I don’t want to lose myself in this quest to get better.  I don’t want to be afraid.  If I don’t get better, I need to know that’s not the end of the world.  I don’t want to start having to accept all of this all over again.

Each day I have begun to get more and more upset about things I simply can’t do.  As usual, most days all I can do is go from the bed to the chair in the living room.  But I tried hard not to let this get to me before.  I tried hard to make the most out of every moment…no matter what.  I’m trying now….but I am not doing as well as I have been.  Then I hear the voice in my head….Be Gentle With Yourself.  and I Breathe.  I am doing the best I can.  Yes, I’m a bit overwhelmed right now.  Everything is changing, all of a sudden, it’s going to take me a minute to keep up with it….deep breath….and I must remember, it still has to happen one moment at a time.

Okay, let’s move on from this and let’s talk about what the plan for my future is right now.

I was going to write a post right after my visit with the new ear doctor here in town, but I decided to wait until after the tests and the results.  I was supposed to get those yesterday, but I had to reschedule my appointment,  guess who was too sick to go?  Surprised?  I’m not….I have cancelled so many appointments because of vertigo, you just can’t imagine.

So, I’ll give you a break down of what is going on as of now…..

I saw the new ear doctor here.  So far he seems pretty good, I was impressed with his knowledge about Meniere’s, and he is very willing to work with the doctor from John Hopkins.  He suggested I start taking a low dose of Valium twice a day to try to keep my vestibular system calm.  He wants me to keep track of how much Sodium I’m eating.  (Okay, I laughed at that.  I know I don’t intake much sodium but since I haven’t been keeping a record he was not convinced.  I have been eating a low sodium diet for years, I know how much sodium is in almost everything, I don’t eat processed foods, and if I eat out I order everything without seasoning….yes I know that is boring, but it is safe with all of my food issues.  So I tracked my food since I saw him, I admit I was curious too, the results?  I normally consume just under 1000mg a day, I haven’t been over 15o0mg in any given day.  They say a low sodium diet is 2000mg a day.  I don’t think I have a problem there.)   I’m starting vestibular therapy on January 12th, we’re going to start training my eyes and body to balance without my ears.  I am to continue working with my headache specialist to get my migraines under control.  We will talk more about killing off the balance center after doing all of this and seeing if it helps.   Also after seeing the results of the vestibular testing I went through, we want to see if one of my ears is close to being dead already, if so we may go ahead and kill that one off, it may be causing much more trouble than the other.

(just let me say, I’ve been through these tests before and it wasn’t so very bad the first time, this time, it was absolute torture.  I cried.  I am not that kind of person.  If my husband hadn’t been back there with me, I don’t know how I would have gotten through it.  The person giving the tests told my husband she thought I was suppressing, because some things that should bother everyone I was not showing too much of a response on.  I thought that was strange.  I didn’t feel like I was suppressing, but after I’ve been going through this for so long, I’m sure I automatically try to not have vertigo when it is coming on.  I didn’t throw up, I almost did, I had cramps like dry heaves were coming, but no vomit.  Yay!  it really takes a lot to make me throw up now.  I rarely throw up during an attack now.  I get really nauseous, but I rarely throw up.  I always thought it was the meds.  Heck it’s already ruined my teeth and caused burns in my esophagus, I’m very happy it stopped.  Anyway….I’m very interested to find out the results of the tests, and upset I didn’t get to go yesterday.)

He does think my Meniere’s is definitely autoimmune.  Not that I want an autoimmune disease, but it does explain a lot.  Most of my doctors have felt I have symptoms that lead to one, but haven’t been able to put their finger on it.  I just have so much going on, and everything gets worse with stress, and gets better with steroids.  I often run a fever and no one can find a reason.  I have a marker for an auto-immune disease, but the one I have a marker for I do not test positive for….however, that is a red flag that I could have another.  They believe they simply do not have a test for the autoimmune disease I have, or I don’t test positive for it.  Like a friend of mine, has rheumatoid arthritis, but he always tests negative for it.  It is visible on all scans and he responds to treatment, but the test for it comes back negative.  So, in other words, we can’t prove it, but it is thought that it is an autoimmune disease, at least in my case.

So, there is the plan for now.  I don’t know what will happen.  How it will change.  Or anything right now.

I feel that there will be a lot of change around the corner.

The future is scary, but it holds promise, and hope…..something I haven’t had in a long time.

 

My Visit to John Hopkins

A couple of months ago I applied to be seen at the vestibular clinic at John Hopkins Hospital.  My records were sent, and an appointment was set up for December 27th, then it was moved up to December 11th. I must say, that was just fine with me.

I was scheduled to have a hearing test, and an Electonystagmography (ENG) test before seeing the doctor, but the doctor had to leave at 2pm (before my original appointment time) so he wouldn’t see the test before he left, so we asked if I could take the test at home.  You see, I had to stop any medication that might help with vertigo attacks before the Electonystagmography (ENG) test, if I didn’t have to stop these medications while out-of-town, I sure didn’t want to.  They said no problem, and I sure was glad.  I spent all of Thursday with vertigo, it was slow but it was there, I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I hadn’t been able to take my meds.  I also had an attack right before my appointment on Friday.  I had very little balance when I saw the doctor and my vision still wasn’t clear.  So he saw me when I was not doing well.  I think that’s a good thing.  How many times have you been to the doctor and all of your symptoms just magically disappear right when you get there?  That is so frustrating.

When we walked into the Outpatient Clinic it was like walking into an airport.  You checked into the front desk, we both got arm bands to prove we belonged there.  There were all kinds of signs and lines and directions, it was a bit to take in all at once.  Stuart said we were told where the elevators were (no I couldn’t hear much in there) and off we went.  When we got where we were supposed to be, I was very impressed that the check in and out areas were looped.  If you don’t have hearing aids of CI’s you won’t understand that.  If your hearing aid or CI has a telecoil setting, then the hearing loop provides a magnetic, wireless signal that is picked up by the hearing aid or CI when it is set to ‘T’ (Telecoil) setting, and the person using that setting can hear the voice right in their ear, no background noise or anything…it is really cool. So, we checked in and were told to go to the little waiting room in the back….that’s when it started to look like just a normal hospital setting.  The little waiting room, wasn’t all that little, but it wasn’t all that big either.  We were early, because I HATE to be late.  My first appointment was to get a hearing test…(snicker).  But soon a very soft spoken woman came out and said the doctor wanted to see me first, at least that is what Stuart told me she said, I had no idea.  She took my vitals, she asked for my weight and height…I got it mixed up as to which one she asked for first, because I couldn’t hear her and I was guessing.  Soon the doctor came in…..

We talked a bit about my history and he gave me some tests while in his office.  A bit of touching my finger to my nose and then to his hand, turning my hand over and over….ect. Some I could do okay, some I had trouble with.  Then he said he was sorry but needed to shake my head a bit.  I did not do well with that one.  I had to look at his nose while he shook my head.  One time when he shook my head Stuart said he saw my eyes jerk, he said it was “kinda freaky”.  The doctor asked me to stand up and I staggered a bit, he said never mind, sit down, be careful.  I guess that answered that test.

He then said he wanted me to have the hearing test and come back in to see him.  So I went out.  I still thought it was kind of funny getting a hearing test because I’m deaf.  I can hear a tiny bit in my right ear, but it is so little you may as well say, I can’t hear anything.  Soon the doctor comes to the waiting room and said, the Audiologist said that since I have cochlear implants she couldn’t give me a hearing test.  Yes, I kind of giggled inside.  Stuart told them over on the phone that I had CI’s and a hearing test was kind of unnecessary, but they said it was ordered.  Then the doctor said they could do the ENG test that I was originally scheduled for now, so he could see it.  Well, I had just taken meds to help me, since I was really sick after the test he performed.  I told him, that and how it said I wasn’t supposed to take any meds for like that for 48 hours before the test, and I’d already taken it twice that day.  He agreed the test might not be accurate under those circumstances. Oops, kinda wish I hadn’t taken my meds, but then again, I really don’t want to be so far from home when I have that test done.  I just know I’m going to be sick.

The ENG will show how much vestibular function I have left in each ear.  That’s pretty important right now…..because here’s what he thinks and the plan……

He said, it is obvious I have damaged vestibular function, it is just a question of how much, and how much in each ear.  He said he believes that, yes I have Meniere’s Disease, and Vestibular Migraines, and he said I have balance issues caused from getting my Cochlear Implants.  I noticed before, my vertigo got worse after getting my CI’s, but no one ever said that they could have caused some of it.

He said we have to treat these in different ways.  One is to get my migraines under control.  He likes that I’m seeing a Neurologist that specializes in headaches, so I’ll continue to see her and try to get the migraines more under control.  If we can’t do this, I may be taking another trip to John Hopkins to the Headache Clinic for evaluation.  The next thing he said was, I need to have vestibular rehabilitation to train my body and brain to balance without my ears.  He also said,  we need to kill my balance system in my ears.  We plan on doing this with gentamicin shots in both ears.  How much I need to have depends on the results of the test, one ear may already be dead, who knows…we just don’t know how damaged they are yet.

I will be seeing a new otolaryngolgist here in Charlotte on Wednesday, the 16th, and we will discuss all of this, and set up getting the test that the doctor at John Hopkins wants.  They will confer with each other on a treatment plan.  I guess, It will also be good getting a 3rd opinion.  The one from my doctor at Duke, the one from John Hopkins, and now let’s see what this doctor thinks.  This doctor knows I have been to John Hopkins and they will be conferring with each other.

There are a few questions I forgot to ask.  I know many of you are thinking….”You should have written them down.”  I did, really, I did.  But I wrote it on the paperwork they gave me, and I gave it to them…I didn’t have it after that….duh.  So I’m going to ask the new doctor.  It’s only a couple of things.  Nothing that would really change the plan I think.  I just want to know if they think my Meniere’s could be autoimmune, since it reacts so well when I am on steroids; and I’d like to know if they can answer why when I breathe in through my mouth, or drink anything cold or hot I feel it in my right ear.  That’s just weird.

I know I forgot to ask him these things because he was telling me things that had been thinking for a long time.  I actually asked for this treatment from my doctor.  But he wouldn’t do it.  He said it was too destructive and I could be so disabled I wouldn’t be able to do anything….ect.  The doctor at John Hopkins looked at me and said, “more disabled than you are now?”  He then asked if I had been given vestibular rehabilitation, and we told him no, that I asked for it, but my doctor had said that things fluctuated so much he didn’t think it would help.  He frowned, and said, he thought I could benefit a lot from vestibular rehab….so as I said before, we plan to do that first.   I went into the appointment with no expectations.  Actually, I expected them to tell me there was nothing they could do.  I had no real hope.  I told the doctor this, he said….No, don’t give up hope.  I explained, if I came in there thinking he was going to fix me and then he couldn’t do anything I would have fallen apart, if I came in there with no expectations, I would be thrilled if he could do anything.  He liked that.  We talked a bit more, and he insured me he would consult with my doctor here and answer any questions, and if I came back up there he would be happy to see me.  Then when I left he shook my hand and told me that it was a true honor to meet me.  That shocked me.  I told him it was so very good to meet him and thanked him profusely.  and went on my way.

A little about the trip itself…….The trip up to John Hopkins was pretty uneventful.  We stopped by Duke to pick up films that I’ve had done….you know, MRI’s, and such.   When we went through Washington, I saw the White House, the Jefferson Memorial and the National Monument in the distance.  I’ve been to Washington before and have seen those things up close, but it is still kind of magical to me.  I don’t know why.  Driving into Baltimore, it seemed so BIG.  The GPS told us to go straight when we should have gone to the right to get to our hotel and we ended up in a very sad part of town.  The buildings were mostly boarded up, yet there were a few businesses here and there.  I can’t imagine how they would ever do any business.  One place we passed there were a lot of nice cars parked on the road, and one burnt out car right in the middle of them.  Soon we made it back to our hotel.  It was just a very sad detour.

On Wednesday night…well I guess it was Thursday morning…Stuart shook me awake at 5am.  I thought, we don’t have to be anywhere, why is he waking me up.  I read his lips… FIRE!  I was awake then!!  He pointed to the alarm.  The Fire Alarm was going off.  I jumped up and put on enough to get out of the hotel…it was very hard for me to go down 3 flights of stairs!!  We were all out on the street and almost immediately there were 2 fire trucks on the scene.  No fire.  I never found out what happened.  I could not climb back up those stairs, and it took a while for them to turn the elevator back on so we had a bit of a wait.  That was fine with me.  I was very impressed that the fire department got there so fast.  The scariest part for me, if Stuart had not been in the room I never would have known there was a fire alarm going off.  I would have slept right through it.

Well, we had an adventure!  I told Stuart when we got back to the room, that with all this stress, I still hadn’t had a vertigo attack…that was amazing….so, we were moving to Baltimore.  But I spoke too soon.  Of course, I woke up with one the next day….and it lasted all day….but I spoke about that earlier in this post.

I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to do anything while we were there.  The one day I felt good, we wasted because 2 of my shirts didn’t get packed so I didn’t have enough clothes.  Curses.  The next day if I had felt well, we were going to do something.  We planned to go to the Aquarium, it wasn’t far from where we were staying.  However, of all the sites in Baltimore that there are to see…..after all it is home to one of my favorite poets, Edgar Allen Poe…I really wanted to see Charm City Cakes.  Yes, I wanted to go see a Bakery!  I didn’t even care if I went inside, I just wanted to see the building.  It is the bakery from the show Ace of Cakes….that isn’t on any more.

Duff Goldman

Duff Goldman – photo courtesy of Food Network

Duff Goldman started it..still owns it, has a second one in LA now.  He is often on the Food Network.  They do spectacular work, and I was just a huge fan of that show, and I just love Duff.  I could just eat him up.  I love the story behind his life, and I love his personality.   I regret that we didn’t at least drive by Charm City Cakes.  Yes, I am a goof.  I was sick, had a migraine, couldn’t focus worth a toot, had about 8 hours on the road ahead of me…and I regret that I didn’t stop by and see a bakery.  But hey, what is life without the little things?