My cochlear implant surgery is scheduled for February 5. Not the scariest of surgeries, but I haven’t had general anesthesia since I was a girl.
I know my doctor well and trust him. My son Anthony will drive me to the surgical center in Rochester, NY. The procedure is usually day surgery. I expect to sleep at home that night.
“I’m scared,” a little voice inside says. She doesn’t give up. It’s easy to dismiss her as whiny. She’s about four, my age when I had my first surgery for crossed eyes. She remembers the choking smell of the ether mask as she drowned in visions of bones, huge bones, dinosaur sized bones burying her little body.
“Daddy, they took out my eyes,” I screamed when I woke up. Both eyes were patched and my hands were tied to the bed railings. “Daddy, help me,” I cried. I heard him sniffle and blow. I knew he was crying. “Those bandages will come off and you’ll be able to see,” he said. I believed him.
At home, he held me on his lap to put stinging drops in my eyes. He scolded me for wiping out the medicine, so I didn’t. I wanted to be held.
Looking back, I know how sick he was, how close to dying. Since he was often bedridden, he was home to support me. I knew where to find him.
My dad lived another ten years, but he was always sick. Mom pushed for a second eye surgery months after his death. It was cosmetic this time. I thought I looked fine, but she detected a slight turning inward of that eye. The doctor must have agreed.
I wasn’t ready. Maybe I would have never been ready.
Mom taught full-time and focused on pulling her widowed life together. She had no patience for fear or grief, mine or especially her own. I couldn’t say, “Mommy, I’m scared.”
Who will hold my hand and love me when I’m weak and helpless? Who will say “You’ll be OK?” This time, I’ll tell my friends and sons about the scared little girl within. This time, I know how to comfort myself.
The ear that gets the cochlear implant has been dead to sound for almost a year. Surgical risk is minimal. Implanted people assure me their lives have been vastly improved. I don’t risk losing the barely correctable hearing in my R ear. I’ve struggled with hearing loss for years and hoped for help. The implant receivers won’t be turned on until mid March to make sure I’m completely healed. The transition will be slow. I’ll be OK.
“I’m scared,” my little one says. “I’m really scared.” She doesn’t understand OK.
I remember what the poet Robert Bly taught about supporting his scared inner child. He said he tried to ignore the fear and scold himself into silence, but it didn’t work. So he surrendered and let the little one live in his imagination. He talked to him. Bly imagined the little guy on his knee and comforted that nagging irrational little kid fear.
I did this when my husband was dying and again when my brother was dying. Again when I had Meniere’s Disease “drop attacks” six years ago and feared I’d need assisted living.
This time, I’ve had practice and have two loving sons to help. This time, a friend already offered to stay at my home if I need her and another friend will watch my dog. This time, I know what to do.
“You’re OK,” I’ll tell the scared little one. “I hear you and hold you close. I won’t scold or ignore you. I hear you. I love you. It’s OK to be scared.”
Life offers many chances to comfort or reject our wounded selves. I’ll imagine my little one in my arms with patches over her eyes and a big bandage over her left ear.
“You’re OK,” I’ll say. “We’re both OK.”
“I believe you,” she’ll say pushing her little body against my pounding heart.
What do you do with irrational anxiety or fears Do you try to ignore it or do you let it in so you can comfort yourself? Thanks to my Facebook friend Judy Cohen who has two cochlear implants and told me I could ask her any questions. She’s spent hours reassuring and teaching me. Thanks to Lori Yelensky who offered to spend the night after surgery and bring along her sweet dog. For another post about hearing loss, read My Friend Meniere: Standing Up to Disability. For another piece about my sweet Dad, you’ll enjoy Say Yes and Leave Your List at Home.