When I called the ENT’s office for the eighth time in ten days to find out the results of the CT scan, the receptionist didn’t have to ask for Peter’s date of birth.
“Oh, yes, let me pull his file.” For the first time in eight calls, she had an update.
She read from his chart, “This says your husband has a cholesteatoma. Surgery in a tertiary care center will be required.” Her voice trailed off. “Let me find the nurse to explain this to you.”
When the nurse came on the line, the flow of information ceased.
“Dr. Kevin would like your husband to come into the office so he can discuss the results and treatment options.” I scheduled the appointment for the following week and turned to the internet for the answers that the nurse held back.
I discovered that a cholesteatoma is an abnormal collection of skin in the ear. It continues to grow if not removed, so surgery is the only treatment. I skimmed over the dangers section. This says it’s benign, I assured myself. Further research taught me that a tertiary center is a specialty hospital. They’ll probably send us to the Cleveland Clinic. I knew that meant at least one more appointment before a surgery would be scheduled.
I tried to prepare Peter for this eventuality as I drove him to his local ENT.
“That means more waiting,” he grumbled. He closed his eyes and tilted his head to the side. Never a patient man, the increased discomfort and continued loss of hearing added to his grouchiness.
After we checked in, a nurse escorted us to an exam room. We waited, Peter tilting his head and rubbing his eyes some more. Still, I felt ready and hoped that Peter was, too.
Dr. Kevin strode into the exam room. Taller and louder than his soft-spoken father, the doctor who discovered the issue, Dr. Kevin peered into Peter’s ears and then launched into his report.
“You have a cholesteatoma,” he began, pointing to a diagram of the inner ear affixed to the door. “My father saw it behind the eardrum when he made the incision for your tube surgery.”
Peter and I nodded in understanding.
“The growth is benign, it’s not cancer.”
Peter and I nodded some more.
“That being said, these tumors destroy everything in their path, including bone. It has probably damaged the bones that let you hear. This has been developing for years.”
He pointed at the diagram again. “Your CT scan showed us that it extends beyond your inner ear. The tumor is encroaching on the bone separating your ear from the skull. As far as we can tell, it hasn’t penetrated yet. But since I’m not a neurosurgeon, we are going to send you to Cleveland for surgery.”
My nod was on autopilot.
Benign. I had latched onto that word during my research. I hugged it like a security blanket. The doctor had just ripped that blanket from my grasp. There was nothing gentle or harmless about this tumor, so how could something so destructive be labelled benign?
Peter and I didn’t talk much on the way home. Between being in pain, not being able to hear and worrying about the news, Peter didn’t feel like chatting. He tilted his head again even though it had no affect on the menace lurking in his head. I drove on, gazing out the window as if I might spy a new security blanket in which to hide my fears laying on the side of the road.