I hadn’t been diving for more than eight years, but it wasn’t by choice. A problem with my eardrum, had caused it to become so brittle, that the pressure of a metre or so of water, or even a sneeze could cause it to burst. The pattern of bursting and healing had gone on for so long that it seemed to me a flap had formed, opening and closing again in a matter of days. I could still snorkel at the surface, but duck dives, handstands in the pool, and even a forward roll in the water would result in the familiar agony, with water and air bubbling and whistling from my ear.
I sought medical advice on many occasions, and in many different countries, but my hearing was within an acceptable range and no one seemed to understand my problem. If the doctors saw the eardrum when it was damaged, they would tell me to wait a few weeks for it to heal, if they saw it when it was intact, they would test my hearing, tell me everything was fine, and nothing more could be done.
I searched for advice on diving websites, but to no avail, as they concentrated on ways to cope with difficulties ear clearing, and the dangers of diving with colds and infections.
I was resigned to life as a non-diver, frustrated by the limitations of snorkeling; my future would be at the surface of the water.
Then, in a last ditch attempt, I was referred to a surgeon who knew immediately what was wrong, and just how to fix it. Tympanoplasty; plastic surgery of the eardrum (tympanic membrane). Put simply, under general anaesthetic, a piece of tissue from the muscle above my ear was taken, and used to create a new tympanic membrane in a procedure that took about an hour and a half.
About three months after the surgery, everything seemed fine with my new eardrum, but I still wasn’t convinced it had worked. After about six months I risked diving to the bottom of the swimming pool, just a couple of metres, it didn’t burst, but it was only a few seconds of pressure. Then we booked a diving holiday. Eighteen months after surgery, it was time to see if it had really worked.
The first dive was a shallow checkout dive with a maximum depth of 10m. My ear worked like a dream! There were no problems equalizing the pressure, the water was warm and clear, there were fish and nudibranchs to look at. The next day we dived slowly down to 20m, and again there were no problems. By the end of the week I was down to 42m, delighted that my diving career is back on track and grateful to the skills of the surgeon who made it possible.
This is a video of the check out dive, my first dive in over 8 years.