The brochure on myringotomy provided by the ear, nose, and throat specialist outlined what to expect before, during, and after ear tube placement. Geared towards parents, the pamphlet’s cover featured a boy, hooked up to an IV, smiling up at his dad and surgeon.
I compared that image to the tableau in front of me. Unlike the small patient in the illustration, my husband’s feet hung over the edge of the bed. Prohibited from eating or drinking after midnight, Peter had been awake since 2 am without coffee. He also hadn’t smoked a cigarette since being admitted ninety minutes earlier. Peter was not smiling.
“I’m about ready to rip this IV out,” he grumbled.
Our son was almost as impatient as the patient. Seeing Daddy propped up in a bed, Philip said “night-night” and waved goodbye four times in the hopes we would leave.
“It’s very simple. It should only take fifteen minutes,” Dr. Mathur, Peter’s ENT, had explained. The brochure promised the same, as did the nurse who checked Peter into the surgery center. Unfortunately, no one included the minutes waiting for the procedure.
I hoped we would all be smiling as much as the families in the brochure when this was over. I marveled that a small tube would relieve Peter’s discomfort and restore his hearing. Dr. Mathur had tried to insert a tube during an office visit, but Peter’s ear drum had been too thick and scarred to make a pain-free incision. Instead, he scheduled Peter for this simple out-patient surgery.
When the nurse and anesthesiologist finally wheeled Peter away, Philip and I headed to the waiting room. We passed Dr. Mathur on our way out.
“I’ll see you in a few minutes,” he said.
Philip was frustrated when I made him sit again, but, as promised, we only waited fifteen minutes for Dr. Mathur to join us.
“I made the incision, and fluid came out right away,” Dr. Mathur began. “After I drained it, I observed a sac of dead cells behind Peter’s eardrum,” he continued.
Things were no longer simple.
“This has probably been forming for years. It’s causing the fluid and feeling of fullness.”
“Did you put the tube in?” I asked.
“No, it would just fall out. I’ll order a CT scan to see how far the sac extends and determine where to enter in order to remove it. The surgery will take at least two hours.”
It was over, but it wasn’t.
“Did you explain this to Peter?”
“No, he wouldn’t remember. Come by my office tomorrow. I’ll show you on a model.”
I nodded, not because I understood, but to control my emotions. With that, Dr. Mathur was gone. I should have written that down.
A nurse came out to the waiting room and prepared a cup of coffee with cream and sugar. As I suspected she would, she called my name. Philip and I followed her to the recovery area. I was relieved to see Dr. Mathur walking away as we approached.
“Stop by tomorrow,” he reminded me.
Peter sighed after his first sip. “This is really good coffee,” he told the nurse. He demonstrated his love by drinking two more cups while I thwarted Philip’s attempts to push the red “CODE” button.
“Did he put the tube in?” Peter asked again as I helped him put on his shoes. Despite the caffeine, anesthesia still fogged his memory.
“No, it wouldn’t help,” I replied.
“What?” Peter asked. I had forgotten I was on his still-bad-hearing side.
If only I could forget the elusive simplicity and smiles of the brochure, too.