I've always been a pretty healthy child. I never had any issues at all until I was about 9/10yrs old. I was in the final years of Primary school, therefore preparing for my entrance exams for Secondary school. So all very important stuff. Alas – I started to get ear issues just at that time.
At Primary school, in Year 5, we were forced to go swimming every week. We would take a coach to the local pool, and split into groups. I hate swimming, so was put in the smaller pool. This is where they have a lot of young kids coming for swimming lessons. It was the nastiest pool I have ever seen. Having to get in it every week filled me with dread. The pool would always have plasters floating in it, along with other unidentifiable debris! So, you can put two and two together what would happen when putting your head underwater in such a disgusting pool.
It started off as a little bit of ear ache in my left ear every now and then, but it never bothered me much. Then one day I was washing my hair in the bath, and the water ran into my ear. I was left screaming, and crying in absolute agony. It was the worst pain I had ever felt, and it still affects me today. It got to the point where I was terrified to wash my hair. I would cry, and argue with my parents every single week about it. It genuinely scared me to have to wash my hair, as I associated it with pain. This weekly routine went on for almost a year.
I started to notice I was getting a build up of wax in my left ear. This then turned into wet, yellow wax, with a very distinct scent. Graphic, I know. Sorry! I would have to constantly keep a tissue on me, so I could clean it out. I'd moan about it, but thought it would just sort itself out. Unfortunately, it didn't!
I began to notice it was also affecting my hearing in that ear. It felt like it was completely blocked up, but was also beginning to get very sore, and itchy all the time. This was the point that I started to complain about it more often. I didn't go to the doctor for a very long time though, and would just take medicine like Calpol to help with the pain.
Once I finally went to the doctor, he gave me some antibiotics to hopefully clear up what I was told was a "mild infection". I remember the antibiotics being a very thick, slightly crunchy, yellow paste, that you take in a syringe. It was absolutely vile, and I would make a whole big deal about having to take it every evening. I really hated it! Sadly it never helped anyway.
I didn't go back to the doctor for a while, mostly because I hated taking any medicine, as so far it hadn't helped at all. We continued with the same routine of trying to keep my ear clean, being in pain most of the time, then having a torturous bath to wash my hair every weekend. It got to the point where I needed to sort it, so I was referred to an ENT specialist.
This time I was told I had a pretty bad infection, as he couldn't even see through to the eardrum! I was given very strong ear drops to take every few hours or so. This infection had been going on more or less for almost a year at this point. We went home, happy that a solution had finally been found. Little did I know this was just the start! The time came round to do the first round of drops. I had to lie on my right side, and put 3 drops, one at a time, in my left ear. Then stay lying down for a few minutes, in order for it to properly sink in. The first drop was put in, and I remember flinching because it was so cold. I laughed about that, then within a few seconds of the first tiny drop of solution entering my ear, I was screaming in agony. I cannot explain how terrible the pain was. It hit me so hard, it still makes me cringe thinking about it today! I was rolling around the floor for a good half an hour, pleading for it to stop hurting. I flat out refused to take the rest of the dose after that experience. My parents would beg me to take even one of the doses a day. It would take every part of me to make myself lie there, just waiting for the searing pain to begin.
After three days of this torture, we went back to the specialist. Luckily, putting up with the intense pain from the ear drops had been worthwhile, as it finally cleared up most of the infection; or enough for the specialist to manage to diagnose me. He did a few further tests, and I then had a hearing test. It turned out I had a pretty substantial hole in my left ear drum, aka a perforated ear drum! That explained why any liquid going into my ear was so painful for me. It was going straight through my ear canal, and into the fragile ear drum, which is there to protect your middle ear and all the internal structures from anything bad. The ear drum consists of a ton of nerves, and tiny bones, which would explain why it was causing me so much pain. The consultant tried to work out where I caught such a bad infection. When I told him about the nasty swimming pool, he said it came from there without a doubt.
I was booked into hospital, to have a myringoplasty to fix the hole. This would consist of them taking a piece of cartilage/tissue from the side of my scalp, and using it to plug up the hole in my left ear drum. It's quite a delicate surgery, but routine for this specialist. I only had to stay in hospital for two days, then I could recover at home. As I had never had surgery before, I went into hospital totally chilled, not expecting it to be that bad. It's funny to think that I didn't care at all, as now after the multiple traumatic surgeries I've had, I'm terrified of even the mention of a hospital! I was told it would fix my hearing problems as well, which was great to hear (Ha Ha! Pun very much intended!).
So, the surgery was done, and everything went to plan. I had a huge bandage around head for a few days, which took a lot of persuading to let them peel it off. The release of pressure from the bandage made me incredibly dizzy, and nauseous on top of the blood-matted hair and bald spot where they took the tissue from the side of my head! After I got over that, the rest of the recovery wasn't too bad. Well, except that I found out I don't react to anaesthetic too well! I woke up in ICU, extremely confused as to where I was, so started trying to sit up, asking for a glass of water. The surgeons didn't want me to sit up yet, so literally held me down. I completely freaked out, so began screaming, and thrashing about. I ended up with more medics holding me down to the bed. All I wanted was a glass of water, as my throat was sore from being intubated, but they just wouldn't listen to me. They finally went to get my mum after 10mins of holding me down, and I instantly calmed down, and went back to sleep in my hospital room. Apparently you could hear me screaming from the other end of the hospital! I remember this experience all too well, as I still have this issue with anaesthetic, which results in me usually having to be sedated again.
I bounced back pretty quickly, being only 10yrs old. I had to stay inside for a bit to avoid infection, or catching a cold, as this would mess with the pressure in my ear drum. I missed a few weeks of school, including our end of year play, which they decided to cut me out of, due to me missing two rehearsals. I will always be bitter at them for doing that! I was soon back at school, and everything was back to normal.
Then I noticed that it was still agony every time I put my head under water. I was having the exact same problems, and got another minor infection. Once checked over by the specialist again, and having another hearing test, I was told I had lost 30% of my hearing in my left ear. It sounds really insignificant, but it really does make a noticeable difference. The best way to describe it is like someones holding a cup over your ear, and you feel almost "blind" to that one side. He then looked inside my ear, and saw that the hole had opened up again, which explained the hearing issues! This was extremely frustrating, as we were told just one surgery would do the trick. It's not that common for the eardrum to burst open again either. So, I was booked in to have another Myringoplasty!
The second surgery was in 2010, and I was 12yrs old. I don't actually remember much about the surgery the second time around. I had actually taken on my very first share pony, maybe a week before that surgery, so I was really upset about not being able to ride her. I had more cartilage taken out of my scalp to plug up the new hole in my eardrum, so I couldn't wear a riding hat for a while. I really think having a pony to play with during my recovery made a huge difference though. I would spend my days off school running around with her over jumps, in the snow. Good old pony therapy always does the trick! The photo below was taken just a few weeks after my second surgery, where I had a sneaky sit on my first share pony, Melody. It was snowing then as well!
Fast forward a few months, and I had recovered fully from surgery, and back to living a normal life. The surgery wasn't fully successful though, so I still have a small hole in part of my eardrum that they just couldn't fully plug. It's not terrible, but there are still certain activities I'll never be able to do; such as diving, swimming with my head underwater, and flying always causes a lot of pain, due to the pressure change. I eat almost an entire bag of boiled sweets every time I fly, in an attempt to stop my ear from popping!
Nowadays, my hearing is still not perfect, but it doesn't bother me too badly. If someone shouts something to me from far away without getting my attention first, I often won't hear them. As not many people know about my ear problems, they think I'm just ignoring them, which is not the case at all! I also find taking lessons on my horse difficult, as if the instructor gives me an instruction, but I'm concentrating hard on my horse, I just won't hear them if my bad ear is turned towards them. The other way my hearing affects me is that I prefer people to walk on my right side, or I will start to drift into them. My right ear registers more sound than my left, so my brain tells my body that the person is standing on my right side, and I will start slowly drifting into that person on the left side. Crossing the road is also strange as well. As I said earlier, it's like I'm slightly "blind" on my left side, so I have to be extra careful to really look and register whats coming from the left before crossing!
I always have a fear of getting water anywhere near my ear, as I associate it with pain. So, I always avoid getting my hair washed at salons, and am very careful in the shower at home. I also avoid swimming at all costs! I had always wanted to go diving though, as my mum loves it as well, and we have a large salt water aquarium at home, so it's a bit disappointing I won't ever be able to do that. I am more prone to ear infections as well, and actually had a pretty bad one recently where I ended up with a large, incredibly painful lump on the back of my ear, but I know what to expect now, and will never leave it till it's eaten through my eardrum anymore before I get it treated!