What happens before the operation?
You will receive information about how to prepare for the operation in your admission letter. The surgeon will explain the operation in more detail, discuss any worries you may have and ask you to give permission for the surgery by signing a consent form.
An anaesthetist will also visit you to explain the procedure. If you have any medical problems, particularly allergies, please tell the doctors about these. Please also bring any medication you are currently using.
The cochlear implant operation is performed at St George’s Hospital, in Christchurch.
The operation takes approximately two hours and is carried out under a general anaesthetic. You will need to have some hair shaved off for the operation, which will be done once you are asleep.
The surgeon makes a cut behind the ear and drills through the bone, into the middle ear and into the cochlea. A ‘bed’ is made in the bone behind the ear to hold the receiver and internal magnet. The incision is closed using dissolvable stitches.
Once the cochlear implant has been inserted, staff will perform some initial testing while you are still in the operating theatre. This testing confirms that the electrodes are working.
Are there any risks?
While it is important to be aware that complications can occur, in practice there have been very few significant negative side effects reported worldwide.
The cochlear implant surgeon will discuss the risks with you in more detail before the surgery.
Every operation carries some risk of bleeding and infection. However, the risk is low and you will be given an antibiotic injection during the operation to reduce the risk of infection. Immediately after the procedure you may feel nauseous. You may have a headache or sore throat. These side effects do not usually last long and are not severe.
You may also feel dizzy after the operation due to the balance mechanisms of the ear being disturbed during surgery, but this will get better. There is also a chance that you could have ringing in the ears for a while after the operation. Again, this is temporary and will improve in time.
Patients are generally admitted the day before surgery, or the day of surgery itself. Those with a more involved medical history (e.g. diabetic, on autoimmune therapies, etc.) may be admitted a few days prior to the scheduled surgery date.
What happens after the operation?
After the operation, you will return to the ward to wake up fully from the anaesthetic. You will have a large pressure bandage over the implant site.
An overnight stay in hospital after the procedure is usually required. The day after surgery, you will have the bandage removed and an x-ray will be taken to document the position of the electrode.
Recovery rates vary but most people report feeling well 24 to 48 hours after surgery. Once released from hospital, you could expect to be back in regular routines within 1-2 weeks.
You will be able to feel the cochlear implant under their skin.
You will be given antibiotics to prevent the likelihood of infection. It is important that the full course is taken according to the instructions on the label. You should take pain relief medicines such as Paracetamol or Nurofen on the advice of your surgeon. There may be swelling around the area after the operation, which may take a few weeks to resolve.
You may experience some bloody discharge from the ear for several days. You may be off work for a period. You will need to take care during hair washing, bathing and showering to avoid water getting into the area. Swimming should be avoided until after the first outpatient visit.
Can you hear when you wake up after surgery?
No. At this point only the internal parts of the device have been fitted. There is a wait of two to three weeks after surgery to allow any swelling or tenderness around the implant site to subside, before the external parts of the device are fitted.