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Cholesteatoma doesn't stop for a pandemic

Recent surgery patient Martin Munson stands next to his wife, Sue, and his classic Chevrolet Bel Air.

(SACRAMENTO) — It was late March. The coronavirus pandemic had already disrupted nearly every aspect of life in California and around the world. With social distancing and strict limits on public activities, even essential treatments for many conditions and illnesses were being reconsidered by physicians and patients alike.

Blue Car

Recent surgery patient Martin Munson stands next to his wife, Sue, and his classic Chevrolet Bel Air.

For Sue Munson’s husband, Marty, there was no question about undergoing surgery at UC Davis Medical Center to remove an infectious inner ear tumor.

“We were ready,” said Sue Munson, as she recounted all the pre-op tests her husband had done to prepare for the complex procedure.

But the night before the operation, scheduling changes prompted by coronavirus planning at the medical center threatened to cancel Munson’s operation.

Marty’s surgeon, Rodney Diaz, knew the 70-year-old Grass Valley resident’s condition and that the surgery could not be postponed for long. A CT scan showed a deteriorating mastoid bone, which was unusual. And Munson had lost hearing in his infected ear.

“His surgery involved reconstruction of the ear canal, ear drum and middle ear to remove an infectious tumor called a cholesteatoma,” said Diaz, a professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery, who specializes in otology and neurotology, which involve treating hearing disorders and conditions of the ear and skull base.

“Mr. Munson’s surgery was essential,” Diaz said. “He didn’t have any good non-surgical options. We needed to prevent his tumor from spreading toward his skull base and brain – and potentially causing permanent hearing loss and meningitis.”

Munson said she and her husband were thrilled to be able to move forward with the procedure.

“Marty told me, ‘We’re doing the right thing.’ And we were so ready,” she said. “It would have been heartbreaking to consider waiting for another four or five months.”

The Munsons were thrilled with all the infection prevention restrictions that were in place when they arrived at the medical center on Marty’s surgery day.

“It was wonderful to see how the hospital was all set up,” Sue said. “Only one person could accompany each patient. Everyone was staying 6-feet away from each other. And we were screened for our temperatures [at the entrance]. I felt so protected, and it reminded me of what was going on in the world.”

Munson, who’s been married to her husband for 50 years, also pointed with approval to the other precautions UC Davis Medical Center has established in response to the pandemic.

“I couldn’t go into pre-op before Marty’s surgery as people usually do,” Munson said. “And I couldn’t see him right away in post-op [after surgery]” because of all the coronavirus safety restrictions.

But when the nurse wheeled her husband out to finally meet her near the family waiting area, the emotions overwhelmed them.

“We cried,” said Sue. “It was like a movie. But they were happy tears.”

Two weeks after surgery, Marty is doing very well. The couple hopes for the best with Marty’s hearing when Dr. Diaz examines his ear in a few weeks.

And why does Sue Munson get to do all the talking about her husband’s recent surgery? Well, Marty was out in the garage doing what he loves best: Working on his pride and joy, a classic, 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air.

So the hum of a well-tuned engine should again be sweet music for Marty Munson.