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It's been a long road, but worth it

I started losing my hearing about 20 years ago and did nothing about it for 14 years.

It took a local physician no more than a few minutes to diagnose otosclerosis and tinnitus, conditions I inherited from my father's side of the family. I immediately elected surgery as I am an "audiophile" and couldn't stand the idea of a digital receiver in my head. I am an anlogue type person.

I live in Denmark and I had to wait 9 months for my first operation in my left ear. My immediate post-recovery symptoms were mild and my hearing in that ear was restored, albeit the tinnitus was worse. A year later, I elected to have surgery on my right ear, and i had to wait another 7 months before it was performed. The immediate post recovery period was again smooth, but about 4 months after the operation my hearing had dropped off by about 25%. The surgeon said it was the "normal progress" of the disease and recommended that i be fitted with a hearing aid. I waited another 3 months to get my state-subsidized hearing aid - a $3,000 unit that cost me about $500.

But I was not happy. For one thing, the sound was terrible and furthermore, there was a voice inside me that told me intuitively that the prosthesis was the problem, not the disease. Unfortunately, the surgeon who operated on me was opposed to revision surgery. So, to get the surgery I had to find other physicians and surgeons in the country who would support my request for revision surgery. Fortunately, I found a local doctor as well as a surgeon in another city who thought revision surgery might be in order. My own belief at the time was that a combination of the influenza I contracted 3-days before surgery and my poor decisions to resume playing ice hockey a bit too early and then continue on with lacrosse (both are full contact sports) had done me in. The prosthesis had slipped, I reasoned, and I could tell that because there was no clicking in my right ear from pressure drops, but there was in my left ear.

About 18 months after the second operation, i again developed a bad case of influenza that turned into bronchitis. Denmark's medical system doesn't deal very well with little illnesses. The doctor wrote me a prescription for some cough syrup and that was it. By the time the coughing ended and my infection had passed, I had only about 25% hearing left in my right ear. My local physician and the surgeon from Århus were shocked and they referred me back to my original doctor.

But I figured it would be pointless and so I made plans to spend about 8000 of my own money to get an operation at a private clinic in the south of France about a month later. But before that happened, I was called back to an appointment with my surgeon and, within a week, I was sitting in his office, thinking what's the use, and watching him shake his head as he looked at my audiograms. Then he looked at me and said, "I retire in five weeks. Do you want to be my last patient?"

Yes. I cancelled the operation in France.

I had the operation. It was a success. The surgeon showed my a picture of the leaning tower of Pizza prosthesis that indeed had popped completely free of its original hole and was on its side, utterly useless. Both ears are clicking. I am listening to and enjoying my music. I no longer play ice hockey or lacrosse, and i have taken up rowing instead.

I am an incredibly fortunate person and very grateful to everyone who helped me get through this. I am not sure that everything I learned from this process is valuable for Americans - who do not have a national health care system where procedures are rationed and there are long waiting lines. One thing I can share is that, if you want the operation, if you want revision surgery, trust your gut not the physicians. The simple fact is: the success rates that are quoted to you are years and years old, and really weren't based on very large samples anyway.

Anyway, I hope no one has to go through what I did to revision surgery.

John Callaway


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