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‘Well,’ replied Gerald, ‘You have just answered the question I was going to ask you next!


So I had to get things put right, and I arranged to see Mr Terence Cawthorne at the London Clinic in September 1960. He was one of the most distinguished of the British ear, nose and throat surgeons and he was knighted for his work shortly after I became his patient. He gave me some simple tests, which took all of three minutes. He then pulled a foolscap printed sheet from his desk drawer and said ‘Read that – that’s what’s wrong with you and that’s what I can do about it.’ It was an explanation of the disease of the ear known as otosclerosis. The hearing mechanism of the ear consists of the eardrum, which vibrates as it picks up the differences in air pressure which any noise creates and transfers those vibrations to the oval window of the inner ear via a chain of three tiny bones, the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup. The last of these, the stirrup or stapes bone, is so called because it is shaped like a stirrup, with an oval footplate fitting into that oval window of the hearing organ. Otosclerosis means that the window becomes affected by spongy growths which prevent the easy movement of the stapes. This explains why sufferers from this disease can often hear better in a noisy railway carriage than in a quiet room – the sheer volume of sound mobilizes the stapes, which can then respond to further vibrations, even from voices in the next compartment. Early operational procedure for the disease was known as ‘defenestration’, whereby the spongy growths were removed and the stapes mobilized, rather like decarbonising a car engine. But they tended to reappear and a technique had been developed which demanded the entire replacement of the stapes. The surgeon would cut around the eardrum, leaving a hinge on it so that it could be opened outwards like a door. Then, using a microscope, he would extract the stapes bone itself, which left the hearing organ window open. This window, full of fluid which transmitted the original vibrations finally to the hearing nerves, then was closed with a graft of a piece of vein which the surgeon had removed from a vein in the patient’s arm, and the stapes bone replaced by a piece of polythene, either tube or wire, about 4 millimetres in length. This connected the anvil bone to the ‘drumskin’ now grafted across the window, and the chain was again complete. I had my two and a half hour operation at the London Clinic on 6th December 1960 and woke from the general anaesthetic to complain that my Irish nurse was shouting at me and that my room must have been changed because I could hear the rattle of London taxi diesel engines in the street below. I believe I was one of Sir Terence Cawthorne’s biggest successes. Although only one ear was treated in this way, my hearing was restored to completely acceptable social levels and I never had to resort even to a hearing aid. On the Wednesday following the operation I returned to Rotherham by (very noisy) train, with Cawthorne’s admonition to take things easy at home for a week. I went straight from Sheffield Midland Station to my works and took up where I had left off


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