Skip to content

Real Fred In Your Head: Surfer’s Ear Surgery

March 8, 2014

Man, after twenty-plus years of surfing, I had  my ear canal widened to cure surfer’s ear. It’s a bone-thickening of the ear canal. It’s like the middle of your ear has a cave-in, and the walls of ceiling and the floor meet–imagine your ear canal shaft turns into an hourglass where the center is closed and clogged and nothing can pass through it. Almost completely enclosed (Although I know that’s what most women believe anyway! ) Over time, you get water in your ears and it won’t come out for weeks because your ears are also infected and clogged by orange globules that resemble vitamin e pill.Come to think of it, maybe surfer’s ear isn’t caused by cold water, but a thickening to knowing that no matter what you’re going to say, you’re going to lose the argument and whatever plans she makes will be your plans, it could be Marriage Ear. Okay, almost done here! Just wanted to go there. Hell, it’s my blog!

What the hell? Cold water it is! I wrote three surfer novels, Gidget Must Die, Surf.Com, and Aliens! Surf! Santa Cruz! Which are also ebooks and too.It comes with the territory.

I told the nurse, “I’ve been surfing for twenty years, I’m in my fifties, so I’m in your demographic.”

I will say the best thing about not hearing in the water is not hearing the jabbering women who cluster around each other and view the surf spot as them to socialize about every little boring detail of their life, family, health, or whatever (I swear, if six of them get together the place feels like Starbucks!)

Sounds like fun?

I went to Dr. Douglas Hetzler of Santa Cruz (and this link explains surfer’s ear and also has a video of the procedure).

Dr. Hetzler has super bedside manners. He makes eye contact. Answers your questions and is a conscientious and dedicated professional and engaging man. And believe me, after going through cancer, I know how to evaluate doctors, since many seemed make a living on a research grant in the inhumanities when it comes to people skills (I wrote as book about my second battle with testicular cancer, Today Cancer Tomorrow The World. Dr. Hetzler isn’t one of them. I highly recommend him. He’s one of the very few that does this procedure. He draws a great deal of justified satisfaction about his accomplishments. He’s done over 800 of the surgeries! I was very grateful he took me on my limited health plan. This guy has a heart for your ear.

They completely knock you out during the surgery.The surgery takes one and a half  hours per ear. It costs about $3,000 (depending on your plan). And you have to have someone pick you up because you are completely dazed from the anesthetic. And you’re back in the cold water in three weeks!

Most docs can drill your ear. Back in the day, they would cut the ear and flop it back and drill. Then the ears would heal up  at a weird angle and guys always had their glasses on crooked! Don’t go that way.

But after making a incision in your tissues, which opens up the area to the bone, Dr. Hetzler takes tiny implements and then delicately chisels away layers of the bone. He said the bone is like crystal, and you can peel tiny chips off. I have the image of a stack of Pringles potato chips in a can, lifting one away from another. He said the other technique, drilling can lead to ear drum damage and hearing loss (Ear drum nerve endings can shatter and they never reheal). I asked about the possibility of piercing the ear drum and he said it has never happen, but anything is possible. My guess is a bad surgeon, which he clearly isn’t might do this.

I know some people get squeamish about seeing anything related to the body, but I can tell you after having cancer, if you can get over that and accept you are mired in flesh and blood, you will develop a lot more compassion for other people’s suffering. One thing about mortality’s rate: is 100 percent. So get over yourself! Here is what my ear looked like before and after surgery:

Fred’s Surfer Ear Before

(Looks like a closed fist. He has to chisel away to open it up. I’d rather be chiseled by a doctor than chiseled by my HMO.)


Fred’s Ear After

Women will say it will make us hear better, and I guess they’re the experts, because they’re so good at listening!


The pictures of the inside of my ear made it look like a closed fist. After surgery, there’s a silver orb that resembles a distant galaxy–that’s the ear drum, which is only a inch into your head. For women it might be a little deeper. Ha.


And my only beef is the tube shoved down my throat left me pretty sore, and after surgery I was wiped and in a daze and then came down with a heavy cold or flu which I believe was contracted from that tube. I’m over sensitive and bias about this because my Dad passed from infections in a hospital operation. So grade me on a curve. But, if I had to do it all over, I’d insist on not having a breathing tube shoved down my throat.


(First Week)

For the next week, you avoid getting water in your ears as they clot with blood. You wear cotton balls dipped in vaseline when you shower. When people talk to you, you feel like you’re sinking in water and they’re shouting at you on the surface. The head feels packed and cramped from pressure. It’s like someone crammed a sofa cushion in your ears. And there’s ringing and a little throbbing. You can get some meds for this, and sometimes ear drops if there’s an inflammation.

They tell you never to stick anything in your ear but your elbow. But after a week, Hetlzer inserts pen-like instruments that suction out the clots and most of your hearing returns. The clots are sticky clumps. Then the following week he removes the rest, which are crusty clumps. I can tell you one thing, I looked forward to being vacuumed out. What a relief! I have to say, the surgery kicked my ass more than I thought,


(Second Week)

You having the bulk  of your hearing bac. There’s a little persistent white noise. I liken it to back in the day when you played cassettes and had that hiss. But it goes away somewhat. The ears still have blood crust in them, and you feel some blockage, but it’s not eve close to the first week.


If you’re looking for the best ear plugs. Dr. Hetzler recommended Hearo (But he said cut the one of the curved rounded nubs off on the tail end and a cut a little off of the part you insert in your ear. Only $5 at any chain store pharmacy. I give you the Amazon link which is cheaper.

I know they say wear a hood in the water, but I’ve never found one that’s comforrtable. The strap always digs into your chin. In the water, you feel like you’re wrapped in an isolation tank of rubber.


The best part of this: it’s elective surgery that improves the quality of your life.

Laurie said to me, “Now you’ll have no excuse not to say you didn’t hear what I said.”

Well, maybe I won’t because some men march to the beat of a different ear drummer no matter how distant or far away.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: