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Two Weeks Later…

Even as someone who enjoys writing, I’ve been struggling to find the right words to describe the last 14 days. How can you accurately define what it’s like to be able to hear again? This overwhelming new reality is an amazing gift for which I will be forever thankful.  

After more than three years of struggling to hear out of my right ear, especially in restaurants, gyms or anywhere with ambient sound – and there are just a few of those living in New York City – I decided to undergo a stapedectomy. The procedure has a high success rate – more than 90% – for those diagnosed with otosclerosis. The rare condition occurs when the stapes bone in the middle ear (which happens to be the smallest bone in the body) stops working properly. This prevents sound waves from reaching the inner ear, resulting in conductive hearing loss. On October 7th, Dr. Neil Sperling, replaced my faulty stapes bone with a titanium prosthesis. 

I was placed under general anesthesia for the procedure, which took about 90 minutes. For me, the anesthesia turned out to be the toughest part of the experience. The kind nurses at the Greenwich Village Ambulatory Surgery Center kept me in recovery a couple of hours longer than expected to administer anti-nausea medication intravenously. Back at home, I slept for five hours straight, and continued to suffer from nausea and dizziness for the first 24 hours. As far as any pain, it was minimal. I needed only two Tylenol before my real bedtime that first night to stave off the slight ache in my ear. 

The dizzy, woozy feeling continued throughout the weekend, but thanks to James’ care and a stockpile of movies and shows to choose from, I simply laid low and drank lots of fluids. Being on antibiotics and steroids, I didn’t have much of an appetite. The biggest shock: I didn’t even want wine. (My liver must have enjoyed the short hiatus!) 

Four days after surgery I saw Dr. Sperling for a follow-up, and he removed the packing from my inner ear. Rid of the gauze, it suddenly felt as if someone flipped a switch and the fog started lifting almost immediately. The best part of that post-op visit: I started hearing sounds in my right ear. Heading home from the appointment, I almost started crying on the sidewalk. I think I may have startled James when I suddenly stopped in my tracks and looked around to fully take in the sounds of the city. They were somewhat muffled and definitely overmodulated, but I suddenly realized the traffic, sirens, people yelling into their smartphones – the cacophony of sound that defines New York City – was being processed by both ears.  

Since then the sounds have grown a bit sharper, and I can follow conversations without tilting my head to the left to favor what was once my only “working” ear. A few nights ago, I even asked James to lower the television. I now have some itching and a bit of a “clogged” feeling in the right ear again, but I’m staying positive this may only be a temporary “setback” as the healing continues. (If it continues by the end of next week, I’ll be sure to get to the doctor’s office.) Right now, I am scheduled to see Dr. Sperling again in a few weeks, and I’ll have a full hearing test to officially gauge how things are progressing. Another exciting day to look forward to! 

In the meantime, I’m getting back to some real exercise and slowly increasing the mileage on my power walks in Central Park. Two days ago, I managed to for my first post-surgery short run, (just one-and-a-half miles long) and experienced no balance issues at all. Just one more reason I’m more thankful than words can describe. 

This unexpected journey has taught me a lot about hearing loss. There are so many different types and causes, but not all have a surgical option as a possible solution. So again, I realize how fortunate I am to have had the ability to choose a course of action that could have such a positive impact on my quality of life. To anyone struggling with hearing loss, I encourage you not to suffer in silence. Talk to your primary care physician or find an ENT. (If you live in or anywhere near Manhattan, I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Sperling!) Get your hearing tested and see what options exist. 

I close with a heartfelt thank you for so much love and support that’s helped me through this ongoing journey. The number of prayers, good vibes and encouraging words I’ve received from near and far are simply overwhelming. I’ve also been amazed to learn how many people of all different ages are considering this surgery or struggling with their own hearing loss story. Please don’t be shy about sending along any questions. By sharing our experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – we can help each other gather information and get back to our sometimes sidelined plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous! 

My Hearing Loss Journey: Part Two

Happy October! 

I hope these musings find you and your loved ones healthy and safe as we continue our journey through these challenging times. Again, I ask your forgiveness for my absence from the blogosphere. I’m certainly thankful to be in a better space both physically and mentally as we move through this fall of 2021, but I also know I’m not alone in my ongoing struggle to find a steady routine. I also haven’t felt compelled to write about anything, as life has felt pretty uneventful – until now. Tomorrow, I’ll undergo surgery for the first time in my life. 

My repeat readers may recall a “big reveal” on this site not long before life as we once knew it changed forever. In January of 2020, I started wearing a hearing aid. This was the non-invasive path available to address the conductive hearing loss that came on suddenly in 2018 because of a rare condition called otosclerosis.

WebMD offers the simplest definition of this condition that affects a little more than three million Americans:

“Otosclerosis is a condition that causes hearing loss. It happens when a small bone in your middle ear — usually the one called the stapes — gets stuck in place. Your stapes bone has to vibrate for you to hear well. When it can’t do that, sound can’t travel from your middle ear to your inner ear. That makes it hard for you to hear.”

In everyday life, this condition makes it extremely hard to hear and follow conversations in crowded places or anywhere with ambient sound, like restaurants or gyms. While the hearing aid did improve my hearing somewhat, the device never felt truly comfortable and I found there were too many circumstances where wearing it wasn’t an option. That included high-intensity workouts including running or kickboxing. Since I couldn’t risk getting the device wet, it also never accompanied me on days at the beach – my go-to destination for solace during the last two summers. 

The bottom line: after extensive research and another visit with the ENT who first presented me with my options, I decided to move forward with a surgical procedure called a stapedectomy. During the short procedure, I’ll be under general anesthesia while Dr. Neil Sperling removes the non-working stapes bone in my right ear and replaces it with a titanium micro prosthesis. 

I am sharing my story as an example of when plan A doesn’t work, it’s up to you and you alone to determine if and when you’re ready to move on to plan B, if one exists. Am I nervous? To be completely honest, yes. But I’m also excited to see what the aftermath will sound like. I’ll be sure to write about how it goes and what the recovery is like. I do know I’ll be resting for a few days after the surgery and facing about two weeks of downtime from my running routine. I’ll also be having monthly audiograms until next spring to track improvements in my hearing. 

I credit my journalism background with helping in the information gathering process throughout this journey to date. I’m also extremely grateful for the guidance from a dear family friend who happens to be a retired ENT and performed countless stapedectomies during his career. Finally, I thank everyone who has reached out since I first wrote about my hearing loss with so many kind words of support. These are the times you realize how a little encouragement can go a long, long way when it comes to getting back on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous! 

Onward!

Hooray for Discharge Day!

Well, here we are just two days shy of the second month of 2020. How’s your January winding down as far as turning those healthy goals into a reality? If you’re still trying to find your groove, hang in there. Remember, it can take up to six whole weeks for habits to take root in our daily behavior. So, don’t give up now! This is a good time to take stock what’s working and what’s not. For example, if you’re more likely to workout in the morning rather than at night, stop stressing out when you don’t get to the gym after work. Instead, embrace that early-bird energy and keep setting your alarm appropriately to make time for that morning endorphin rush.

I know how hard it is to wait for habits to develop. Living in a world where everything is available at the push of a button, click of a mouse or swipe on a smart phone, it’s not easy to be patient. But patience is crucial when traveling on the lifelong marathon that is healthy living. So be sure to count the small victories. They can only add up to big changes in the not-so-distant future.
Speaking of moving forward, I just took a giant leap in a journey that began in November. That’s when I started physical therapy to address two arm issues I put on the back burner during my bikini competition prep. On Tuesday, my wonderful physical therapist, Don Zerio at Spear Physical Therapy, officially discharged me from treatment! Seven weeks ago, it was hard to imagine lifting anything with my arm without feeling pain. However, thanks to Don’s know-how and compassion, my discipline and yes, patience, I am blissfully pain free! Now, I’ll continue the journey on my own by not doing too much too soon and focusing on taking baby steps to get back to “normal” with my weight training and kickboxing routines. One day at a time.
I also took a step in the right direction as I continue to adjust to life with a hearing aid. After my initial euphoria with the device, I started having some issues with sounds being scratchy or over-modulated in different environments ranging from the gym to Church. After several days of struggling on my own and removing the aid in frustration when I just didn’t want to deal anymore, I contacted my audiologist, Dr Elika Cokely, who told me to stop in her office at my earliest convenience. Guess what? I wasn’t wearing the hearing aid properly! I guess I was afraid of pushing it in too far and hurting my ear drum. Just a little reassurance from Dr. Cokley helped me get over that and things are back on the right track. Sometimes asking for help is the hardest part of finding a solution to a problem.
To anyone who needs a little guidance along the 2020 fitness or healthy diet journey, don’t be shy! I’m always happy to answer questions or offer a little boost. Or reach out to the friends and family members who cheer you on all your adventures. Being armed with information, a good support system and maybe more than a little patience can only help when it comes mapping out all those plans for 2020 – and beyond! – to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

“HEAR”‘s to 2020!

Throughout the years, I’ve shared more than a few stories of pushing through injuries or putting them on the back burner until they couldn’t be ignored any longer. I guess I can file this post under the same category as I’m finally addressing a health issue I was diagnosed with back 16 months ago. Today marks day number six that I’m wearing a hearing aid.

Rewind to the summer of 2018, and that’s when I woke up one morning with what felt like a huge ball of cotton in my right ear. After a day of straining to hear out of the ear and several unsuccessful attempts at “popping” it like I would during a flight or an elevator ride in a tall building, I assumed I had a wax buildup and made an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist. To my surprise, the doctor found no wax and sent me down the hall to his audiologist for a hearing test. My next surprise was learning I had significant conductive hearing loss in my right ear. A few days later, a CT scan confirmed what the doctor already suspected to be the cause: a rare condition called otosclerosis.

WebMD offers the simplest definition of this condition that affects a little more than three million Americans:

“Otosclerosis is a condition that causes hearing loss. It happens when a small bone in your middle ear — usually the one called the stapes — gets stuck in place. Your stapes bone has to vibrate for you to hear well. When it can’t do that, sound can’t travel from your middle ear to your inner ear. That makes it hard for you to hear.”

In addition the main symptom of hearing loss, I also experience tinnitus – which alternates between roaring and ringing sounds in my right ear. (Click here to learn even more about otosclerosis.) With a definitive diagnosis, I had to figure out what to do. In full disclosure, I initially found myself a bit depressed and more than a little scared about being diagnosed with significant hearing loss at the age of 44. So, I did what many of us do when faced with unpleasant surprises: absolutely nothing.

My Newest Accessory

Fast forward to December of 2019, and I’d had about enough of straining to follow conversations in crowded places (which is practically everywhere when you live in New York City!) and asking people to repeat themselves. During a very informative consultation with another ENT -where another hearing test indicated my hearing loss had deteriorated since my initial diagnosis- I learned I had two options:

  1. Stapedectomy: a surgical procedure where an ENT removes the non-working stapes bone and replaces it with a micro prosthesis or
  2. Try a hearing aid.

I decided I had nothing to lose with giving the hearing aid a shot. Now my only regret is not having tried one sooner. The very first day I wore it, I attended a Church dinner for a volunteer group I joined last year. Halfway through the evening, I nearly started crying when I realized I was having a conversation with two women sitting to my right and I could hear them despite the din of the crowd and music playing in the background. Since then, I’ve had easier conversations with friends in a crowded wine bar; watched TV at a lower volume and even heard whispers in movies without much difficulty.

I am sharing this particular story in the hopes of preventing others from suffering in silence. If you’re experiencing  any of the symptoms I described, talk to your primary care physician or see an ENT. Getting a hearing aid can be a an overwhelming experience, and I realize I was fortunate on many fronts. My journalism background definitely helped on the information-gathering process, but I also had the guidance of a dear family friend who happens to be a retired ENT; advice from a childhood friend who has worn hearing aids for many years and I also found a very patient and compassionate audiologist. Now I have a 60-day trial period with my hearing aid and can make adjustments if needed. I’d like to think this will do the trick and that I won’t need surgery down the road. For now, it’s one day at a time.

If you have any other questions about my hearing loss journey, please don’t hesitate to ask. While I never expected to be wearing a hearing aid 20 days shy of my 46th birthday, I’m optimistic it will continue to have a positive impact on my quality of life. As I approach the start of a new year on this planet, I look forward to seeing and hearing more of what this crazy life has to offer. So, when life throws you a curve ball, don’t be afraid of getting the facts you need to take control of the situation and get back on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

 

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