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What to expect for your child’s cochlear implant surgery

how to prepare for your child's cochlear implant surgery
On Friday, June 19, our little boy got cochlear implants. Leading up to surgery, I felt I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Still, nothing can really prepare you for your child’s cochlear implant surgery, which includes sending your child off with utter trust in their team, especially during a pandemic. Our experience was probably a little different for that reason, but I feel it’s important to share so that other parents can prepare accordingly for their child’s cochlear implant surgery. 

Pre-Op Prep

The morning of June 19, we had to be at the hospital and checked in by 6 a.m. And when I say we, I mean just me and Coop. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only one parent was allowed to be at surgery. We got a hotel nearby and my husband stayed there so that he was close if need be. 

Upon getting to the pediatric surgery floor, we checked in and went over all our insurance information. We were taken back to the pre-op area fairly quickly. At this point, Coop was beginning to get agitated due to not being able to eat when he woke up, as well as being woken up earlier than normal. 

A few different nurses and the anesthesiologist stopped in to chat with me about what to expect that morning. The biggest challenge was just to keep Cooper content until they could take him to the OR at 7:30. The hospital staff was great about bringing us toys and bubbles, which distracted him for the most part. 

Around 7 a.m., a nurse gave Coop some medication to basically relax him before they took him back. This made him fairly zoned out, which was unsettling to see. At this point, my nerves hit and I began crying into him as he laid in the bed, unaware of what was going on. 

After the medication had settled in, it was time for him to be taken back. I was able to walk down the hall with him, then handed him off to a nurse to carry him the rest of the way. Then, in the spirit of transparency, I wheeled my stroller into the bathroom and had a good sob session. I know it would have been easier had my husband been there, but there was something about being all alone that just got to me. 

Read more: What to do early on for your deaf baby

Cochlear Implant Surgery 

There isn’t tons to report here, simply because my job was just to wait. I knew what was happening in the OR due to prior research and discussions with his surgeon, as well as watching YouTube videos of the procedure. For me, knowing exactly what will happen gives me a sense of control and the ability to be calmer. 

In most cases, bilateral cochlear implants take about four hours. I believe total, it was about four and a half hours for Coop. I was updated periodically and was told when they finished one ear and moved to another. Still, four hours is a long time to just wait. I did try to work and distract myself, then went to find some coffee, which helped the time pass. 

Finally, his surgeon called the desk and I was able to chat with her. She said what I’d been waiting to hear, which was that all went perfectly and I’d get to see my baby soon. 

Recovery right after surgery

This is where the hard part starts. Obviously I knew coming out of anesthesia would be rough, but nothing really prepares you to see your child so out of sorts. The baby I walked back to was not the baby I had left that morning. At first, he was still completely asleep. But as he started to wake, he was agitated and upset, a contrast from his normal mellow self. His throat was incredibly hoarse, and all he could get out were little whimpers. 

The nurse assured me this was normal, but it didn’t make it any easier to see him like that. However, after two hours in recovery, we were allowed to leave the hospital. This still blows my mind, and part of me wishes they had kept us overnight just for my own sanity. 

Upon getting back to the hotel, Cooper was still incredibly irritated and barely opened his eyes. He slept for a bit, before waking up to eat. We were alternating Tylenol and Motrin at this point. However, it didn’t sit well, and he had an episode of vomiting. This strain also led his nose to start bleeding, which I had not been prepared for. But upon talking with other parents of kids with implants, this is a fairly normal occurrence and wasn’t cause for concern.

Back at home

We made it through the first night fairly well, and the following day was a little better, though Cooper was still pretty fidgety and agitated. However, as he started going uphill, I began going downhill. It was as if all the anxiety that I should have been feeling leading up to surgery hit me all at once. I became terrified something was going to happen to him as a result of the surgery and even had a panic attack a few nights after we got home. 

Of course, he was and is just fine. I just needed to be honest with myself about how I was feeling, and I highly encourage other parents to do the same. Just because it’s a routine surgery doesn’t mean it’s easy.   

“Just because it’s a routine surgery doesn’t mean it’s easy.”   

One week later, both Coop and I are doing much better. His incisions look amazing and have required very little care. He’s healing just like he should and is back to his happy self. If you couldn’t see the incisions, you’d have no idea he’d had surgery a week prior. After catching up on much-needed sleep and seeing my baby bounce back, my anxiety has lifted as well. 

It’s important to acknowledge that everyone’s experience with their child’s cochlear implant surgery may be different. For me, it was a little more difficult than anticipated, but for others that may not be the case. 

Beth Leipholtz
Author Details
Beth is a Minnesotan mama to a little boy with profound hearing loss. Outside of writing, she is a full-time web designer and photographer with a passion for CrossFit and small-town living. Visit her personal blog here: www.thescooponcoop.com
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Beth Leipholtz
Beth is a Minnesotan mama to a little boy with profound hearing loss. Outside of writing, she is a full-time web designer and photographer with a passion for CrossFit and small-town living. Visit her personal blog here: www.thescooponcoop.com