As a young speech pathologist, I had no problem encouraging parents to have their children undergo ear tube surgery (tympanostomy) when deemed necessary by a doctor because it was the “best thing for them.” In fact I had seen many of my clients completely thrive after having tubes put in their ears. Better hearing, less ear infections, articulation improvements, increase in following directions and many other benefits! I was not yet a mother and had no idea how difficult such a decision was to make for a child until bringing my daughter in to the doctors for her 7th ear infection. Our pediatrician turned to me and said, “I think she might need tubes.”
I remember the office visit like it was yesterday and literally froze in place. I must have stared at her blankly because she repeated herself again, this time justifying the need. “I really think she’s hearing us as if she’s underwater, and she also is suffering from so many ear infections, this could potentially clear this up.”
A million thoughts ran through my head. “Could this be because I didn’t always make sure her ears were bundled up on all those cold winter days?” or “Maybe it’s because I send her to daycare instead of being a stay at home mom? Could that have prevented this?” I knew that it was none of those reasons. I quickly tried to compose myself. I remembered all the times I had told parents that the “simple” surgery does wonders for children. I had seen the immense progress children made immediately after surgery.
Why was I so hesitant this time? Well because…I was never a mother. I never had to make difficult decisions for another human being, especially one that I loved to the end of the earth. And it was then that I understood exactly what all of my client’s parents had gone through.
I quickly booked my daughter’s ear tube surgery with an ENT before I had the chance to “chicken out” or change my mind. I was afraid I would reason myself out of it (“Well maybe it will get better on it’s own? Maybe if we just don’t swim this summer, the fluid will disappear?”). Who knows what other crazy things I could have concocted if given the time! I was doing this for my daughter. For her speech and language development, for her hearing, and for her chance to not be so sick all the time! Deep down I knew she needed it. I knew she didn’t always respond when I asked her questions, or had to repeat myself to her several times before being understood. I knew the things the doctor was telling me was right and it was time to heed my own advice.
We had to wait six weeks for the scheduled surgery and you can bet I tortured myself every day with the questioning of making the right decision. Needless to say, I was a mess the day of the surgery. I choked back tears multiple times on the way to the hospital so that she would see mommy being brave. My daughter didn’t seem scared at all, but rather just excited for the ice cream that was promised to her when it was all over (guys, she literally get’s ice cream all the time?). A million things were racing through my mind, “Is this really necessary? Will it even work like it did for the other kids?”
After saying my goodbyes to her and watching her go under, I walked to the waiting room and cried like a baby. I remember a woman who was waiting as well came up to me and asked if I was okay. “Yes,” I said, “I was just waiting for my daughter to have her ear tube surgery.” She patted my hand and stifled back some laughter and said warmly, “She’s going to be just fine sweetheart.”
To this day I wonder to myself who and what she was waiting in there for. Perhaps it was something much more serious, but I was so wrapped up in my grief at the time that I never thought to ask her. If you are reading this today kind hospital woman, I hope that your loved one also had a successful surgery.
No more than 10 minutes later (literally guys…10 minutes) her doctor came out with a smile and said that she was all done. I couldn’t believe how fast it had been. I remember the doctor giving me a hug and saying, “Erica I told you, I do at least five of these a day!” All that torture and endless questioning was over. I was then able to go see my daughter who smiled first thing when she started to wake. She immediately asked us what kind of ice cream flavors they have and a calmness spread through me.
Although my daughter had been talking, she underwent what we speechies like to call a “verbal explosion.” She was talking in sentences rather than short phrases, she no longer had sound distortions and gone were the days of me having to repeat myself over and over again. She was happy, and that made mommy happy! Since then (almost two and a half years ago) she has not had another ONE ear infection (knock on wood…no seriously, do it).
Now when parents ask me about ear tube surgery, I am much more sympathetic and love the opportunity to share my daughter’s success story. It opened my eyes to the internal struggle that parents have when faced with such important medical decisions. I know that my story helps ease the minds of other concerned parents and I am so happy to share it for others. Please look for any of the following signs and never hesitate to ask your pediatrician if your child has any of the following:
1. Ear infections (especially if they are frequent).
2. Pulling of the Ears
3. Fluid leaking from the Ear
4. Difficulty Hearing
5. Hearing loss reported on a screening
6. Speech and Language Delay
I often look back and it breaks my heart to think that my daughter may have struggled to hear us for all that time, which leads me to encourage you to check your children’s hearing if you have any concerns. It’s always a good idea to get yearly hearing screenings to ensure that your child is hearing appropriately!