it was supposed to be simple

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.


35 thoughts on “it was supposed to be simple

    1. I appreciate that the doctor didn’t just put in the tube and leave it at that. He later explained that, left unchecked, this could grow in size and destroy the bones in Peter’s ear leaving him deaf.


    1. I was telling a friend that I can’t believe no doctor ever noticed the fluid before. It was Peter’s new primary care physician who saw the issue and made the referral. I’m thankful for that.


    1. My husband had been so hopeful this would solve his problems. Now we are back in waiting mode – waiting for CT results in order to schedule the next surgery. And then waiting for the surgery.


      1. All that hurry up and wait must be so frustrating and still not having the problem resolved when he already went through what I am sure was an expensive procedure. I hope everything comes out well in the end. How frustrating. You will have my thoughts and prayers as you await the next step. Blessings to you both. ♥


  1. And, you know, I gotta say, after 2 different tube-implanting surgeries for my son, I’m not sure the brochure is even telling the truth about THAT version. At least they discovered what the issue is and it seems as though they can fix it. Not simple, not quick, but I’m sure Peter (and you) will be much happier (maybe not brochure happy, but genuinely so) when he can hear properly. You told this very well, by the way, with great timing and an effective blend of wit and straightforwardness.


    1. Thanks for the feedback. On the one hand, I know I should have taken advantage of the last week for critique, on the other, I just needed to get this written. It’s been keeping me up at night.


  2. I feel for all of you. I have to consciously remind myself not to push all the cool buttons in hospitals. All the waiting before the surgery is torturous; especially when you’ve had some time to psych yourself up for it and then waiting pushes you back down. And being the caretaker is a delicate position to take on—politician, nurse, stenographer. You wrote convincingly on all three roles.


  3. I love your writing style, Cindy. Everything you write is so clear and elegant, no matter what the topic. You’ve got a way of drawing me in and making me feel like I know your family.


  4. The comparison of the situation to the brochure truly made a remark on the unpleasantness of the situation. Things can never be oh so simple, especially when it comes to anything medical related. And I will have to agree with previous comments, I felt like I was sitting on your couch sipping coffee while you related an event about your family.


  5. This is so well-written. I also loved the use of the brochure, very effective in your pacing to touch on it from time to time, and a wonderful device for highlighting your frustration. And the image of Phlip trying to push the red button, the detail of the nurse’s making the coffee–superb.


    1. I had to leave out this part about the coffee in which Peter thought I was trying to trick him:
      Peter: This coffee is really good.
      Me: The best you’ve ever had?
      Peter: Um, no. The coffee you make is the best.


  6. I really feel for you all with having to wait, and now having to go back again. There is nothing worse than getting ready for something, only to be told there’s a complication. I hope future investigations and treatment go well. As for Philip trying to press the buttons – isn’t that what they’re for? The picture you paint of him saying goodnight to Peter and waving is so sweet in a really heart-wrenching way.


  7. Oh, wow! What a jumbled moment – glad that it was found, anxious about the next steps. I hope it resolves quickly.
    I had tubes as a kid and there are times that I kind of wish I still had them. I’ve had ear infections come on so suddenly that my eardrum ruptures as recently as two years ago. I’m too dang old for that!
    Hope he’s feeling better soon…


    1. Apparently, this sac can be caused when your eardrum ruptures and then closes in on itself as it heals.
      The doctor says the condition of Peter’s eardrum and the presence of the sac indicate issues that have been on-going for years. Peter hadn’t realized/been diagnosed with infections, so it’s all a bit disconcerting.


  8. Even though you might not be taking the most direct route, I’m certain that you’ll arrive at the same place in the end. Don’t let the journey get the best of you.


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