Ear Surgery, Courage, and that Ever-Elusive Place Called Serenity

It’s been a long while since I’ve written an ear update. At this point, I am sure our ENT would categorize J’s tympanoplasty as a success. Our ENT not only repaired J’s ear drum (well, more accurately, he rebuilt a new one with cartilage taken from behind J’s right ear), but he also discovered the physiological reason for J’s congenital conductive hearing loss. He found that J’s first two middle ear bones were abnormally small and therefore, could not strike his ear drum. And, in any event, the right ear drum had been destroyed by J’s previous ENT who insisted on inserting tubes into his ears even after discovering in surgery how abnormally small J’s ear canals were. I guess fortunately, she never really managed to get the left grommet into his left ear drum.

During the tympanoplasty, J’s ENT emerged from surgery, told us about the deformed ear bones, and asked us if we wanted him to remove the first two ear bones and insert a titanium prosthetic device (TORP) in their place. We went ahead with the procedure and it restored J’s hearing to within normal range. In consequence, J has been unaided in the right ear for the past 19.5 months. Although J’s language development was coming along nicely once fitted with hearing aids that actually worked for his small ear canals at 18 months of age and with the help of a Moog-method based school, J’s language exploded in new and exciting ways post surgery. A few months post-surgery, J no longer qualified for speech services and in our recent check-in with a SLP, J’s expressive language ranked somewhere in the 95 percentile for his age group. For all of this, I am so grateful.

J’s right ear, however, has continued to drain intermittently post surgery. We’ve spent more time at the ENT’s office post-surgery than I care to recount here. Unfortunately, in the past two months, the drainage has kicked up a notch. His ENT thought J had an ear infection a month back, but the culture did not grow anything. When we went in for our follow-up appointment yesterday, J’s ear had begun to drain again. Our ENT suggested it was time for a CT scan to check for a cyst. I said, “Do you mean cholesteatoma?” He answered, “yes.” Well, if you want to strike the fear of God into a mother, just use the word cholesteatoma in the same sentence with her child’s name. Especially if the mother has already been through the horrors of ear surgery once before with her child.

And, sigh, . . . I’ve been working so hard on my fear-o-meter with respect to J’s right ear. In fact, I have a large number of alcoholics in my life–mostly past life but still a pivotal family of origin member who remains actively using. Let’s just say that since childhood, I’ve had a way of collecting alcoholics in my life. Countless times throughout my life, people have recommended Al-anon for me. But I always thought that I could go it on my own. Finally, however, I started attending Al-anon this past fall. Mainly because I realized that my living in constant fear over J’s right ear was impacting my health. I needed to learn how to turn that which I cannot control over to my higher power. I am working the program but I have a feeling I’ll be attending Al-anon for the rest of my life. Alcoholism is the family disease that keeps on giving. Anyway, the word “cholesteatoma” puts my mama fear-o-meter right back into the center stage of my life. Cholesteatoma is a disease that can be dealt with, but there is never a guarantee that it won’t return. I asked our ENT if J’s ear surgery increased his risk for cholesteatoma and he answered, “yes.” And then, of course, I had to ask what percentage increase came from the TORP procedure and he told me, “about ten percent.”

Well, I must admit, I thought I had finally found the serenity to let go of my desperate clinging to J’s ear health. On December 5th, we visited his audiologist for testing of his right ear post-ear infection (that really wasn’t an infection). We learned that his hearing had remained stable (no drainage at time of testing)–of course when he is actively draining, he definitely loses some hearing capacity in the right ear. I talked with our  audiologist (who is outside of our ENT’s office but we keep her because we love her so much) about J’s surgery and about how much hearing J will lose if the ENT has to remove the TORP (I wasn’t thinking about cholesteatoma at all at this point) due to the continued issues with drainage. Of course, it will be total conductive loss, which is about 55-65 dmb. When J still had his ear bones, it was about 35-40 dmb, with a reverse slope loss. His left ear still has all three ear bones, but was never quite as good as his right ear so about 40-45 dmb range of hearing. I talked about how I’d second guess our decision if he loses that much hearing in his right ear because we decided to remove the ear bones. And then, unexpectedly, she gave me a gift. She told me how she used to work as an audiologist in a clinic for kids who had lost hearing due to meningitis and she told me that even if they had had two years of natural hearing before meningitis took their hearing, it made speaking so much easier for them. She told me that this time we had given J of natural hearing (unilaterally) during his language formative years (0-5), was extremely valuable and probably weighed in favor of the surgery we had done. I left her office feeling lighter than I’d felt in 19 months. I left saying, “Okay, God (my name for my higher power). You know J’s every need far better than I ever could and I am going to stop taking this burden of worrying over this ear. I am going to stop second-guessing our decision. I am going to start being absolutely, joyfully, grateful that J is fully lingual at age 4 years, 3 months.

I had about ten days of this blissful state. And then, yesterday, I heard about the “ten percent increase for cholesteatoma.” J’s ENT also conclusively diagnosed J with a perforation in his right ear drum yesterday. And so today, it’s back to working my Al-anon program.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

CT scan scheduled for January 15, 2014. And I am so worried about radiation exposure too.

In the meantime, I am hoping to relish this holiday season. E is already home from his first semester of college and got all A’s. H is coming home in 3 days. I am so excited for us all to be together and to cook for my family and to have us all under one roof. To me, there is no greater joy than having all of my kid’s together. I do not intend to “miss” this time by shouldering the heavy sack of ear worry that I’ve been carrying over the past 19 months.

God, you know J’s every need. You love J more than I ever could. You know far more about his ears and what he needs. I put his hearing, his ears, his health into your hands. I lay my burden down. I trust in you. If this is the proverbial thorn in my side (and I think it is), you’ve told me that the only remedy is grace. ‘Let my grace be sufficient for you; for J.”

Enough. There is always enough grace for ANY situation.

IMG_1229

E and J eating at my favorite restaurant (given I am gluten free–and I suppose I need to begin to tell you all about my health journey this past year) before J’s ENT appointment. E held J on his lap while ENT cleaned out J’s ear under microscope. Such a loving big brother.

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2 comments
  1. Shari Gianarelli said:

    As I read this blog I found myself so worried about you and about Josh. I recall in vivid detail my own journey of second-guessing the decisions which had been made during Tommy’s lifetime. Parents are fortunately and unfortunately not God. We ultimately make the best decision we can at the time based on our humanity. Looking back in regret is so unhealthy. Of course, four months ago I couldn’t have made that statement with a straight face. And even today, I face daily reminders of how fragile the balance between serenity and wracking worry and depression is. I do know that you are lucky. Your beautiful son is a gift. Whether his hearing is more impaired or remains good, whether he has to have surgery again or not, and whether he develops some future problem, he is a gift who has brought much joy to others already. He has changed all of you from his Father to his brother. He has taught each of you something different but it has been a wonderful thing, his coming to you at this time in your life and pushing you in a new and different way. Does it suck that he is not 100% with regard to his health. . . well yes. However, he is perfect. He is perfectly himself and he will continue to push you and challenge you each and every day, as any good child does. His health adds an element which many do not face as parents, but it cannot and should not lessen your enjoyment of your time with him. He has been a lovely gift to me, my first Godchild; I had always wanted to be someone’s Godparent. Little did I know how much I would treasure it. So I agree with your closing when you agreed to let it be. . . and give it to God. Great plans await Josh, which are unknown to us; but you are definitely going to be strong enough to handle it. (From one ACOA to another)

    • hmfhp said:

      Dear Shari,
      Thanks so much for this. Just thanks. It’s exactly what I needed to hear.
      I love you.
      H

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