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Born in Stockholm (Sweden), now live in Sapporo (Japan). Hold a Ph.D. in computer science and work with computers during the days, perform magic in a bar during the nights (and weekends, for kids). Also used to teach historical fencing back in Sweden.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sudden Deafness, part 2

My patient card, sporting something that is almost my name.
Last Friday my boss at the university sent me to the university hospital to get one more doctor to take a look at me. I was not very interested in doing that, since my first doctor seemed competent enough, but my boss said that "this is the Japanese thing to do", and since he is my boss, off I went.

I had to register as a patient at the university hospital since it was the first time I was there (except once when I was interpreting for a Swedish friend). They made up a patient card but did not have space for all the letters in my name, so my card says "Sjobergh, Jona" (instead of "Jonas") in Japanese. The part that describes how to read the name (which is non-trivial to understand from the spelling of Japanese names, though easy for foreign names) uses smaller letters and has my full name, though.

Anyway, I got to meet a doctor who sent me off to get a hearing test after I explained that I probably had "sudden deafness" and described my symptoms, the medication I am taking, etc. The lady who did the hearing test first used sound and later vibrations sent straight into the bone (to see if there is a difference in you hearing sound waves and you hearing other vibrations, for example if your ear drum is busted). At the same time the put lots of noise in the other ear, so you do not react to sounds reaching the other ear by going around or through your head. This is pretty much the same test set up they had in the first hospital I visited.

My right ear is doing fine, normal hearing. My left ear is more or less completely gone, hearing-wise, though physically it is fine. For some frequencies I could feel the thing producing vibrations in the bone jumping around like crazy, but still hear absolutely nothing. Even the nurse seemed a bit surprised the first time, "So, only noise now??". It was also somewhat interesting to judge what level of sound I should have heard had the ear been doing fine, based on the level of noise put into my good ear. At some times, it was loud enough to be painful, and still no response in the other ear.

So, as before, I can hear some high frequencies but only very very weakly. Low frequencies, I cannot hear at all. This, by the way, makes many sounds in daily life sound very weird. I get only a small portion of the complete sound, so it is for instance very difficult to realize that a certain strange sound is actually the sound of pouring water etc. If I was guaranteed that my hearing would come back, these thing would be very interesting, haha. Now, while interesting it is mostly overshadowed by worry that the hearing will not come back.

The doctor later told me that he was also sure that what the first doctor though I have (sudden deafness, a virus having killed the nerves in my left ear) is indeed what I have. He also said that the standard treatment for that is steroids, which is what my first doctor gave me. He had nothing to add or change in the recommendations and thought my first doctor was correct in everything.

That is what I had guessed too, so in some sense it was a bit of a waste of 4500 yen (and money from the insurance company, I guess), but then again since it is a fairly severe affliction, having one more person telling you that what you are doing is what you should be doing is perhaps good.

He also mentioned that many people do not actually get better from the standard treatment, which I already knew. He said that should I be in the unlucky group (which is about 50% or so, apparently) that do not get better, at the university hospital they can also inject steroids straight into your ear. This makes it possible to use very high levels of steroids in the ear but still get less of the side effects of taking steroids normally (now I am taking pills). This apparently is also extremely painful ("like pouring acid into your ear"), but since being deaf forever would be the alternative, that should be fine I guess.

He said that even people who do get some hearing back may not have any apparent change the first two or three weeks, so having no improvement so far is not necessarily a cause for concern. Though it is of course better if you are already getting better.

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