Post-Surgery

Shannon did an excellent job recapping the actual day of the surgery on her blog in terms of what happened. Overall, I was cautiously optimistic the morning-of that it was gonna happen. He didn’t have a cough, didn’t have a fever, and the visit to the pediatrician the day before had set my mind at SOME ease that, just maybe, his weird inhaling thing wasn’t something to be terrified of if it was just that, by itself.

Sort of sad to say, but the trip into the hospital, going to admissions, getting the security badge, and then waiting to be called into an exam room was so totally standard at that point that it wasn’t too scary. As Shannon wrote, we were both sort of operating the assumption that his surgery was going to be canceled anyhow. I started getting excited for the surgery after the nurse practioner ran a quick physical on him, especially after she took a look at his throat and confirmed that there was nothing going on there that could prevent any sort of issue for the breathing tube.

Our surgeon was great that day, though some of that might be because we didn’t have way too many questions for him to answer. When we saw him prior to the surgery, it was really just a “Yup, here we are, we know the score, let’s go” kind of thing. I was a little nervous when Shannon handed Alex over to one of the nurses for him to be taken off to surgery, but I think most of that came from a position of hoping that he was going to be implanted. I knew he was going to be alright, or at least I didn’t let myself think that he wasn’t going to be. That comfort level was almost certainly due to the fact that we’d already done this before.

The wait was the wait. Not much to discuss there. I had a sensation of being very humble; every time I noticed someone walk in and glanced up to see that it wasn’t our surgeon, I felt grateful.

When the nurse popped out to say that Alex had one side done… huge relief. Huge. So relieving that I think I was actually in shock, but the positive kind. Though he was only halfway done with his surgery, he now had enough to be able to hear. It hasn’t been until recently that cochlear implants are done bilaterally (one per ear), and we’ve seen plenty of cases where unilaterally implanted kids still had great speech. We were now strictly in bonus territory. He’s gonna hear on his birthday! For the holidays! I’ve been really excited for the holidays this year, especially since it felt like last year’s were basically destroyed by the news of Alex’s diagnosis.

When I first saw Alex after surgery, I actually thought he looked pretty good, considering. Again, a lot of that is probably just because I’ve already seen what he looked like with the bandage on one side of his head, so this wasn’t a huge shocker. He was a lot groggier than last time around because he was under for longer. Sabertooth stopping by and Christmas in July were pretty awesome. I’ve gotta remember to donate something next year, or at least for this coming Christmas. It meant a lot and, as much as I thought the movie was stupid, I’d like to pay it forward.

The hospital discharge was pretty standard. All I really remember from the drive home was focusing on the drive and trying to avoid big potholes. Though Shannon and I were both relieved, it was an odd sort of relieved, because even though Alex had his implants, he had also just had a major surgery. I think the real celebration is going to begin either during his activation or the first time he shows a sign that he heard something that’s softer than a jet engine going by.

That night he was just out of it. Sucked to see, but pretty typical. He gave us a tough two hours in the night, but that obviously wasn’t his fault. I think the thing he hated the most was that he could really roll on his head because of his Princess Leia bandages. Once we took those off (and thank god that the incisions looked good and that the implants weren’t incredibly obvious), I think he was able to get a little more comfortable.

It’s been relatively smooth sailing since. After he gets up from the evening or a nap, he usually needs his nose or ears cleaned up, but the amount of blood has definitely trailed off. It was very gratifying to give him a bath after the designated 48 hours had elapsed, and I got to once again wash the hospital off of him, hopefully for a long, long time.

The areas around his implants are still swollen; it’s tough to say what the “final product” is going to look like, but then again he has hair coming in. The next few weeks will be telling with regard to head shape. His eyes are much less puffy than they were. I’m guessing a few more days and those will be back to normal.

Most importantly, his smiley / laugh-y personality is just about at 100% again after three days. It was relieving to get him to smile and laugh at me again.

So really, the recovery hasn’t been all that horrible. I think we gave him Tylenol twice yesterday and that was it. Nothing so far today, though he did spit up a little bit of blood today. I had read that that’s to be expected, but called our surgeon to ensure that was the case and got the affirmative there. We’re told that it can go up until about a week, and if it happens again after that, we might want to call.

Alex had a visit from his speech therapist yesterday, who was very sweet about the surgery. It meant quite a bit to us that all of his teachers at Buffalo Hearing and Speech were so obviously concerned with how he was doing, even though they’ve probably seen these surgeries many times before. Alex is really in amazing hands there. We’re working on getting Alex to lipread, especially “up,” “bye,” “yes,” and “no.” I just ordered a Mr. Potatohead to use to point out nose / ears / eyes. I think I’m going to work on that a lot with him now, and hopefully that will help when he gets activated and both sees AND hears me say it to make that association between sound and things. I can’t believe he’s going to hear us in a month. Holy shit.

PT-wise, Alex is fine. Not even worried anymore. He’s crawling on his hands and knees now and is pulling up on things like it’s nothing. Boy, do I wish I could send a message back to myself and Shannon in March and say “HE’S FINE PHYSICALLY, WILL CRAWL BEFORE 11 MONTHS, HE DOESN’T HAVE USHERS, AND HE’LL GET HIS CIS.” We obviously still have a road in front of us; I’m already preparing for the infinite amount of times Shannon and I are going to wonder if that was a speech affect we just heard or if it’s just because the kid is x months old. In the meantime, those are some pretty serious victories.

The only other thing I can think of to comment on is that we’re about to start the process of requesting an FM system through early intervention. I get the impression that not too many families have one for their own personal use. I want one if not just for long car rides to Shannon’s mom’s house or to have handy for noisy environments. Taylor likes music and things that are noisy, so having an FM system to let her have those things while also making it easier for Alex to hear us would be a boon without having to take too much away from Taylor.

So, there we are. A lot happened in a very short amount of time. It’s nothing short of exhilarating to know that he’s going to hear the world around him in a month.

Mission 6/6: Success.

Yesterday Shannon got a call back from the insurance person she had spoken to a few days ago with the wonderful message that we had actually been pre-authorized. This means that Alex is now a go for his 6/6 surgery and will have a few extra months worth of hearing than the current FDA-recommended minimum. By the time Alex goes to his oral-deaf school, he will already have eight months of hearing under his belt.

I think I’m still in shock. I was fully expecting that we were going to have to file a formal appeal. We were all ready to start pushing things and calling whichever party had the ball in their court until we had our approval, but it wasn’t necessary.

I wish I could say what EXACTLY got us pre-authorized if it would help anyone else, but we can’t be 100% positive. Our theory is that the pre-auth department opened the case, saw that our surgeon had already stated why we wanted to go in early (I want to get whatever he sent in and post the important bits here), and also saw that Shannon and I were all over the process and clearly were ready to appeal hard, and decided at the end of the day that it’d be more cost-effective to push us through on the basis that they’d be paying for the operation a few months down the road anyhow.

So we’re thrilled. Alex is going to hear when our family and friends sing “Happy Birthday” to him in September, and he’s going to be soaking up sound when he’s still young. This is his best chance to have age-appropriate speech at the youngest age possible, and even though therapy and our work with him is going to be a huge part of the battle, it all requires the raw materials to be in place and now we’re in position.

Next steps: We have an appointment scheduled with our ENT / surgeon in mid-May to ask any questions we might have about the procedure and pick out what sort of accessories (remote control, extra cables, batteries, etc) we want to get along with Alex’s cochlear implants.  We’re still thinking we’re going to go with the Cochlear N6s. I want to see the full list of accessories we can get for it as well as an idea for what the limitations are on how much stuff we can get, but Cochlear’s website is basically a pile of shit so… we’ll see.

Thrilled to be in this position, though. A lot went down this week.

Mission 6/6: Part 3

I’ve gotta say, I’m actually relatively happy with how things have been moving up to this point.

Yesterday I called up the ENT to see if they had gotten a response back from BCBS in the form of a denied pre-authorization. Shannon called BCBS directly a few hours later. It turns out that it was a good thing that I had called, because even though they had sent everything in, BCBS wasn’t going to process it because of the initial “stop” that the ENT’s office put on the pre-authorization when they were incorrectly told that any failed appeal would tack an entire year onto Alex getting his implants.  So when the ENT called the insurance company to get a status, they were able to hammer that out and make sure it WAS being processed.  We’ve been told that will take something to the tune of 72 hours to turn around, so basically this Thursday. Additionally, we were told that the ENT actually sent in material explaining why we wanted to go in early.

Good things taken from that:

  1. It validates our strategy of calling over and over.
  2. The ENT didn’t just tell us “We haven’t gotten a response yet,” they followed up with BCBS and actually got a status and fixed the issue themselves rather than waiting for us.
  3. The ENT is ALREADY sending in the information on why we’re trying to get Alex implanted early instead of just waiting for the denial.

I’m probably saying this too early, but I’ve been impressed and grateful for the proactivity of our little team. Our audiologist sent us her drafted recommendation to be sent in for any appeal process after she integrated the verbage “medical necessity” at our request, and even asked if we wanted to make any changes or tweaks.

These might all seem like small kindnesses, but they really do add up, and in the healthcare industry where you’re asking for someone to go the extra mile for you, it’s nothing short of great service.

Shannon and I have a very small hope that the pre-authorization will actually be accepted based off of what the ENT sent in as well as just looking at the calls that we’ve made in the past week. The logic would be that given what we’ve already done, they’ve gotta know that we’re going to appeal vigorously, so maybe it’s worth accepting it now and losing whatever administrative costs and headaches would be associated with the appeals process? It’s a very small hope, because at the end of the day, we’re talking about insurance. They’re going to put up whatever walls they can to see if we just lose interest, but maybe they’ll weigh that against the appeals process we WILL put them through.

On the ear tube front, Alex has an appointment for next week. It’s just an office visit, so no procedure will actually take place, but the good news is that we’d still have all of May to get the procedure done. I asked the office person I was speaking with if she could make note that we need to have the procedure done prior to June, and she said that that note was already on our case, but she’d put it in again. Obviously when we go in, we’ll make note of that yet again and be as nice about it as possible.

I think that’s about it for now. Probably more to come on Friday.

In other news, Alex has made some pretty good strides lately in the physical development arena. He’s sitting up on his own for longer and longer periods of time, and he’s now rolling from back to belly. We’re hoping that means crawling soon-ish. Alex has a physical therapy appointment tomorrow. We’re hoping to ask the therapist if she might be able to write something up about the benefits of to Alex’s physical development if he has a sense of hearing earlier than later. I also want to ask her about Alex’s balance again and make sure that he’s doing well on that front. I did more googling about Usher Syndrome (where you’re born deaf or hard of hearing and slowly go blind) and balance issues are often associated with it early on. Alex is doing DECENTLY sitting up and once did it on his own for a good nine minutes, but I’d like that reassurance if we can get it that his balance is in good-ish shape. We’ll get confirmation once his extended genetic results roll in, but we still have weeks to go for that.

Now that I think of it, we also have an appointment with our teacher of the deaf tomorrow as well – I’ll probably ask her if there’s anything she can write up, though I’m not sure what that would really look like. Won’t hurt to try.

That’s a wrap for now.

Mission 6/6: Day Two

Actually went pretty well.

For whatever reason, the ENT called Shannon instead of me, but the news was still what we would call “good.” They finished submitting the pre-authorization on Wednesday to insurance, which is great. I had a weird feeling that was going to slip by a week or something.

More importantly, they told Shannon that they (meaning the office and the doctor) are completely planning on filing a petition. Since we didn’t know if the doctor would have any sort of issue doing that due to time constraints or prior experience, it was really relieving to hear that they’re on board with fighting to make Alex’s June date a reality. While on the phone, Shannon told the office that we had also reached out to our audiologist and were getting something from her for the appeal and asked if there was ANYTHING else we could be doing. The person on the line said “no,” but I think I’m going to start compiling that list of research demonstrating the benefits of early implantation. I’d LOVE if I could find something that would imply that BCBS could potentially save money down the road by going in early, but that’s probably a stretch goal.

Next steps are to find out about getting Alex’s ears drained out, but I’m almost afraid of doing that too early for fear that the fluid gets drained in the next few weeks, only to come back right in time for the surgery. We’ll see how that goes, but the most important thing right now is to know that we’ve successfully rallied the troops. Starting this Monday I’ll start hounding BCBS about getting the pre-authorization through whether it’s accepted or rejected, and I also need to ask about the appeals process.

Kid wants to hear.

Mission 6/6: Day One

When I write this blog out, I think about it from the perspective of what I would’ve wanted to read when we had first found out that Alex was deaf, to know the details of how the whole process really worked instead of just reading vague statements about how there were lots of appointments and lots of healthcare struggling. That’s definitely not a jab at the myriad amount of people who’ve currently written about the same topic, but I always appreciated it when someone went into a little detail, so I’m going to do the same thing here by giving the day-by-day events whenever anything happens on our mission to get Alex implanted as early as possible. Our current goal is to to try to keep Alex’s current surgery date of 6/6, and if that has to slip, the very next available date possible.

After all of the events that transpired on Tuesday, we decided to give our ENT until Thursday to finish submitting the pre-authorization before starting to call daily until it was done. We also wanted to start working on the appeal and gathering as much material as possible for that. To that end, we emailed our audiologist, who agreed to write something up for us on our behalf. She probably thinks it’s just a small thing to do, but we definitely appreciate the hell out of it, since her professional and veteran opinion carries weight. Anyhow, she said she’d try to get that out to us by Friday.

I left a voicemail with the ENT this morning saying that I wanted to confirm (gotta use that word) that Alex’s pre-authorization for surgery was sent in and to also ask if we could go with a different ENT than who was recommended for Alex’s ear tubes given the aggressive schedule. When they call back, if they say that the pre-auth was sent in, I’ll ask about typical turnaround and see if there’s a number I can call to inquire about status, make sure it’s received / processed, let them know that this is six weeks away, WHATEVER I can do to push it along. I’ll also ask the ENT if they can start getting an appeal ready if that becomes a process, offering to help however I can in compiling scholarly articles, mentioning that we’ll have an official recommendation from our audiologist, etc.

I have a feeling that if we’re going to get burned somewhere, it’s going to be when the insurance formally rejects the pre-auth and the ENT doesn’t have an appeal ready to go shortly thereafter. I plan on asking allllll of the details around this, but BCBS’s appeal process can supposedly take around a month to complete, so a quick turnaround between rejection letter and filed appeal is key.

We’ll see how those calls go and I’ll be sure to write about what I learn here.

I’m starting to get the impression between the conversations we’ve had so far and from some responses we’ve had on our Facebook support group that not a lot of parents are too aggressive after health insurance initially denies the procedure. Personally, I can’t relate to that, especially given all of the research about the benefits of early implantation and just the raw prospect that he could be hearing and soaking up sound sooner than later. I’m not sure if we’re forging new territory locally here or not, but we’re definitely going to put up a fight.