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Cholesteatoma Surgery: My Experience

Updated: Jun 11, 2019

My ear before surgery. Gross pics coming up...


In my last post, I described what a cholesteatoma is. So I won't rehash it here. But for anyone who is curious about what to expect, I'm about to lay it all out on the examining table. As someone who scoured the Internet for this information and came up with nothing on a personal level, I'm pretty sure someone will be grateful, if not grossed out, for this information.

Step One:

So, my boyfriend drove me to the Outpatient Surgery building on Sawgrass Drive. I was nervous, but a big focus was on my sick cat and whether or not she would have to be taken to the vet (by my ex-husband, of all people). He did take her, so my mind was in a million different directions.

The anesthesiologist offered to give me "calming medication" before the actual sedative that would put me out for the three-hour operation, but I turned it down. I prefer to have the least amount of chemicals streaming through my body as possible. I think he was surprised, but anyone who knows me understands stress and anxiety are my bedfellows, and I'm used to their presence.

Step Two:

They gave me Prilosec through my IV because I've had issues with GERD, and because they'd be placing a breathing tube down my throat, they didn't want any complications rising...pun not intended. It felt like ice sliding into my vein. But the sensation ceased after a bit. It seemed as if a lot of the medical team wanted to check on my well-being, including a resident intern who asked if he could get me anything. "Yes, get me out of here," I joked. The poor kid wasn't quite sure what to do with that request. But he didn't tuck me into a laundry cart and steal me away to a getaway car, so at least he takes his job seriously.

Step Three:

They gave me the anesthesia and immediately whisked me out of the room, leaving my boyfriend and I to give each other stunned glances. I thought, should I ask him to turn around so I can kiss my boyfriend bye? But that was a fleeting thought, and my last conscious one because I was out immediately after. Seriously, it was as if someone switched off a switch. One second I was watching the hospital walls glide by, the next I was waking up in the recovery room.

Step Four:

The nurse gave me water and three Tylenol. My boyfriend came into the room. I guess I asked him the same questions a multitude of times: "Did you go back to work?" "What time is it?" and a few other things that apparently were of such great importance I needed to know the answers every so many minutes. I could feel a binding around my head. It felt like the turban towel I wear after a shower. I couldn't feel my ear at all. But, I knew it was there.

Step Five:

I slept quite a bit after the surgery. I couldn't chew anything because of the temple pain (the jawbone is very close to the ear). Eventually, the pain killers wore off and about three a.m. my ear felt like an ice pick was jammed into it. I relented and took the codeine they prescribed. A half hour later, it was tolerable and I fell back to sleep. Here's the gross part: sometime in the middle of the night, my ear leaked runny fluids.

The morning after surgery

This is normal, by the way. And can continue for weeks. I'm on Day Four now, and it's still coming out like a leaky faucet. But after the initial 24 hours of wearing this "cup" device over my ear (shown in pic, above), my boyfriend cut off the bandage and now cotton balls are my saving grace. They collect the red gunk. I dump them when saturated. And yes, I can feel the liquid oozing from my ear.

Step Six:

I was not supposed to bathe for 72 hours. Which was fine, because I felt groggy and really had no qualms about sitting in the same clothes for three days. Meantime, my cat was getting better at my house (I stayed at my boyfriend's so he could watch over me and bring me liquids). Turned out she had a double ear infection. My kids were giving her ear drops, and my ex and I commenced over how ironic it was that both my cat and I had ear problems at the same time. Like my cat, I received ear drops daily. Like my cat, we were slowly on the mend. Kindred spirits. I couldn't wait to see her again.

I also took an oral antibiotic and ibuprofen three times a day to help with the swelling. Let me explain the swelling bit: the surgery included cutting open the area behind my ear and then stitching it up. Between that trauma and the surgical incision inside my ear, my head looked exceptionally wide on one side. Like, I actually thought I looked creepy. I really hoped it wasn't a permanent look. Thank goodness, it wasn't.

Post-surgery ear

Step Seven

Recovery. I needed a shower. Badly. I was told to coat a cotton ball with Vaseline to plug up the ear and create a seal where water could not enter. I shaved first, off to the side before showering. I didn't want to bend over in the shower and risk having water enter my ear. I used shower gel as a lubricant that easily rinsed off in the shower afterwards. I was careful not to tip my damaged ear into the stream of water. But I still didn't want to wash my hair.

Today, I came up with an genius idea. I have these little Cover Mate stretch-to-fit plastic bowl covers that I use to place over leftovers before sticking food into the fridge. They look like saran wrap with little elastics. I fit the smallest sized one around my ear and voila! A mini shower cap for my ear. I still used the Vaseline coated cotton ball trick for any droplets that might have squeezed their way through the protection, but it worked like a charm. Yay! Clean hair!

So that's where I am now. Typing this feeling fresh and clean, albeit still uncomfortable because of the stitches and plugged up ear. Other things I'm dealing with include a numb ear, I can only slightly feel anything at the lobe and the entire top portion of my ear feels as if it's fallen asleep and doesn't want to wake up anytime soon. My temple bone is very sore and chewing hurts that particular area. Soft foods are my best friends right now. I occasionally hear crackling and popping, hissing and throbbing. All normal as the ear heals. I took a long walk yesterday, but I think I'm supposed to be resting. Still, it felt good to move around, even though I feel completely and utterly exhausted. I'm changing out my cotton ball every few hours. Sometimes the stitches feel tight, but for the most part they've given me no trouble at all. Oh, and the side of my tongue is numb and the taste buds aren't working there. But that's normal as well, and likely the numbness will go away on its own. So, if you're about to have cholesteatoma surgery, hopefully this information helps you out.

I'll update on my progress as it happens. :)

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