Talk show host Rush Limbaugh is back on the airwaves after taking a week off to have surgery for a second cochlear implant in hopes of restoring hearing to his right ear.
"When I got my original cochlear implant 13 years ago — I still can't believe it's been that long — I was told to leave my right ear alone," Limbaugh explained on his program Thursday
about his decision then to only have an implant in his left ear. "I was told back then that they take, in essence, the guts of the ear out. So, if there were to be a cure, I need my right side untouched so that the cure could be applied to it."
But although doctors told Limbaugh the cure would come in about 10 years, that cure hasn't happened, and there won't be a cure anytime soon for what caused his deafness.
The ear contains 35,000 hair cells, which act as frequency receptors for sound, he explained. In his case, the cells were lying flat, which prompted his immune system to flood his ears with white blood cells, and immunosuppression drugs and chemotherapy treatments would not reverse the damage.
Limbaugh's first cochlear implant was a then-state-of-the-art device containing 18 to 21 electrodes that attempt to replicate the natural ear and the 35,000 hair cells.
But even though the device restored some hearing, it's not the same, said Limbaugh.
"It's totally artificial because in my memory of hearing there isn't anything I ever remember hearing that sounds like the way I hear things now," he said. "The closest that I could come to it — and this doesn't get there, but, I mean, this is the closest in trying to help people understand how I hear things is scratchy, static AM radio. That's not it, but that's as close as I can get."
While others have had more success with the implant, Limbaugh said he had to turn off several of its electrodes because of adverse reactions.
Before the operation, Limbaugh watched the surgery performed on another patient so he could see what would happen.
The operation, he said, uses a drill to carve out a trench for the implant, which is about 2 inches long and one inch wide and shaped like a bell.
"I still have all the giant bandages on," he said Thursday, explaining that there was no Dittocam on the show "because I look like Claude Rains [in the film 'The Invisible Man'] with the invisible stuff not working."
Doctors will switch on Limbaugh's new cochlear implant May 9, and begin a mapping process to program the implant.
"It can be better than what I'm used to, it can be worse," said Limbaugh. "I mean, the right side of my brain's been dormant. It hasn't been used for hearing. It may have forgotten how. You never know."
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