Of passing years and ear wax

We arrived home last night from a weekend in North Georgia, where Jon and I attended our 15-year high school reunion. (Every five years, I am reminded how nice it is that we share our graduating class.) The showing was small, but we had fun catching up with former classmates and revisiting the campus where we met and spent a lot of happy times. It usually seems a lifetime ago, but being on campus, where so much is the same (including that awful mural our class painted in the religion room), it felt like yesterday. I badly missed someone, though. Jennifer, my best friend from those GCA days, died this past November. As I flipped through yearbooks, I paused over so many pictures of a cute, smiling blonde who also occupies so many of my memories from that place. She should have been there, flipping through those yearbooks with us. I talked about her a little, but I thought about her a lot.

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In today’s news, Lina had her first appointment with a pediatric ENT at Vanderbilt. (Actually, we were scheduled to meet with the nurse practitioner.) It was not a picnic for either of us.

You may remember that Lina failed two newborn hearing screens in the NICU. She was then referred to the audiology department at Vanderbilt for a follow-up screening that showed moderate conductive hearing loss in both ears. This means something is preventing the sound from clearly reaching the ear drums: in this case, likely a build-up of fluid. The audiologist described Lina’s hearing as sounding like she was under water. Another follow-up screen showed continued blockages in both ears, as did a repeat test today.

I’ll try to shorten our 3 1/2-hour experience to the cliff notes. We met with the nurse practitioner, who indicated we would be scheduling an appointment to place ear tubes to drain the fluid, which should significantly improve Lina’s hearing. She walked me through the relatively simple procedure, answered my many questions thoroughly, and then sent the nurse in to provide further information on follow-up care. We were then to meet briefly with the ENT himself, who would be the one to do the procedure. He was brusque and rushed, but the summary is that he was concerned about the size of Lina’s ear canals. He wanted to verify they were actually big enough to place the tubes. He was not able to see to the ear drum due to a build-up of wax. Thus commenced a thoroughly unpleasant experience in which he used a metal tool and then a suction device to remove wax from a strapped-down, wailing Lina’s ears while the nurse held her head still and I wiped her tears (and struggled to hold myself together).

The final verdict is that Lina’s ear canals are definitely too small for tubes. Her canals will grow with time, so we will go back in August for a re-check. In the meantime, we have been referred back to the audiology department for a bone anchored hearing aid. In adults, an implant would be attached to the skull bone, but in Lina’s case, they will use a headband to hold the device in place. I have more learning to do about this – an informational DVD is awaiting my attention – but the gist is that this aid will help bypass the blocked canals to improve Lina’s hearing at a time critical to speech development.

It was a tough day. I am feeling better tonight, as I’ve had time to process and recover from the trauma of the afternoon. We know Lina’s diagnosis of Down syndrome will mean a series of challenges to be faced in their time. This is today’s. We will do whatever is necessary to give her the best chance of hearing and learning speech.

A few bright spots of the day: Corin was so, so well behaved through that entire appointment, brandishing his new toy stethoscope in the real doctor’s office. And all the office staff thought Lina was so cute. Because, let’s face it, she is.

One thought on “Of passing years and ear wax

  1. […] hearing aid decision was more complicated than the ENT led me to believe. He seemed to indicate the next step would be a bone-anchored hearing aid, but in talking with the […]

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