Monday, February 13, 2017
By the time we returned home, I started to feel like I had some impacted wax in my right ear. This is VERY normal for a musician who uses in-ear monitors or headphones a great deal. So much so that I wasn't planning on doing anything about it until it became an issue. About a week passed & my hearing started to deteriorate in that same right ear. I remember very clearly: it was on Inauguration Day (Jan 20th) that I decided to visit my local ENT (Ear, Nose, & Throat) doctor. I basically called up & asked to have a cleaning. I even made it clear that I didn't even need to see the doctor as long as SOME medical professional could remove the wax from my right ear.
I have been through this at LEAST once a year for the past 15 years. I take much pride in the way I protect my hearing & ears. Since before I could remember, I have gone regularly to the ENT. My eustachian tubes are a joke. So much so that I have a permanent, flanged tube in my left ear drum that helps regulate the pressure. I thought my visit that day was as routine as it could possibly be.
My doctor checked my left ear. Tube was functioning & clear. He popped his head in the questionable ear & didn't say anything, which I thought nothing of. He was looking for a LONG time. Which I still thought nothing of. He reemerged & said "I have good news & bad news." "The good news is there's not a BIT of wax in that ear. The bad news is that I'm 90% sure you have a cholesteatoma behind your right ear drum."
Silence. I didn't even know what to say. I was NOT ready for ANYTHING along those lines. He explained it to me & sent me on my way saying that he could perform the surgery next month. It was time to do some research.
The first thing I did was call my boss & tell him I might be missing some time for recovery. After telling him why, he basically ordered me to find out who "the best in the business" was for this surgery & to not worry about missing anything. I've said it before & I'll probably say it a million more times: he's the best boss I've EVER had.
The following Monday I got a 2nd opinion from an Emory doctor & sure enough, he agreed with my local ENT's findings. I also asked his opinion on who "the best in the business" is. He said Dr. Mike McKenna at Mass Eye & Ear. Later that week, I spoke with the head of Head & Neck surgery at Vanderbilt... he independently suggested Dr. Mike McKenna at Mass Eye & Ear. The next day, I got an e-mail from our management who had been asking around & the director of head based surgery at USC suggested the SAME doctor. It was pretty clear cut at this point.
A few people made some calls on my behalf citing the urgency of my recovery schedule. Dr. McKenna worked me in for a CT scan & consult. Within one week of learning about this crazy thing in my ear, I had a surgical appointment scheduled... with the best in the business. At this point, I feel good about taking the quotation marks off of "best in the business."
With these new plans & recovery schedule, it became clear that I had to cancel my upcoming solo tour of the East coast. So many people worked really hard to put the tour together. Not to mention my new album... which is a topic for another blog as it has a story unto itself.
Standing before me was a week of Zac Brown Band madness then right back up to Boston for recovery. It was a lot of playing, resting, traveling, & trying not to freak myself out with anxiety. By the time I met my wife in our hotel on the night of Monday, February 6th, I was exhausted.
The following morning, the good folks at Mass Eye & Ear took me in & did their best to make me comfortable.
My understanding of the surgery is this: they went in BEHIND my ear & removed the cholesteatoma & one of the tiny hearing bones... subsequently replacing it with a titanium prosthesis (enter bionic hearing joke here). As for my ear drum, they shaved a swatch of skin from my right bi-cep area & grafted it over my ear drum. I believe there was also some regrading of some skull to keep this from happening again.
It was a 4 hour procedure. Being under that long really hung around with me for the following couple of days... & not in a good way. I had to stay the night, which was not expected for this type of surgery. To be honest, I don't remember much from that night but waking up in pain handful of times.
The following morning, we made our way in the car up to New Hampshire... where my wife's family is. Here I would recover as I won't be cleared to fly for at LEAST a month. I slept a good deal for the first few days. I ate VERY little. Turns out oxycodone & I are NOT friends. Once the pain dropped below an 8 in the ear, I switched over to Tylenol full-time... & that's where I am now, though I would rate the pain at a 5 at this point. I still am averaging 2 naps a day. My first follow up appointment is on Wednesday. Hoping for good news.
Even though the ear canal is stuffed with packing, I started to somewhat regain hearing already. It's basically just my pulse that I'm hearing but that's a GREAT sign. It's also rather maddening so it takes a bit of concentration & focusing to not go crazy. My glass is more than half full & I am still 100% on tackling this recovery. I'll keep you posted.