Worrying About Your Kids Is Sanity

Yesterday saw another first: Jason's first band-aid. The day had been pretty hot, but our back yard cools down a lot in the afternoon so we were out there playing. I had figured that he didn't need shoes since we'd be playing on the grass, but somehow he managed to break the big toenail on his right foot, which I only noticed because of the blood. Honestly, I think I was more upset about it than he was--he barely noticed until I had him in the sink to wash out the wound. I had to get Juliette to help me put the band-aid on, since by the time I got his foot cleaned and dried he was squirming like crazy to get out of my arms and running around again. And, of course, it only took him a few minutes to pick the band-aid off once I let him go. At least he waited long enough for the bleeding to stop.

I admit, I freaked out a little bit when I saw the blood on his toe. It was silly, since it was such a little wound and, as I said, he wasn't bothered by it at all. Still, the thought of my little guy bleeding just horrified me, and I grabbed him and got him cleaned up as fast as I could.

You can imagine that if I reacted so strongly to what was essentially a stubbed toe, how heavily the prospect of surgery must be weighing on my mind.

But let me back up and explain a bit, because it's not nearly as dire as it sounds. Jason has had a lot of ear infections in the past 9 months. It always goes about the same--he gets a cold with a runny nose, then he gets a fever and starts fussing a lot, then we take him to the doctor, he gets some antibiotics, and a few days later he's feeling fine again. His ears clear up completely in a couple of weeks, which then gives us a few weeks until it starts all over again.

The problem is that chronic ear infections can actually cause real damage to the ear. There can be scarring or even hearing loss, not to mention all the pain and discomfort while his ears are clogged. So, if your child gets more than three ear infections in six months, or more than four in a year, you start getting the talk about tubes. (Jason has had about 8 since December.) It is, from all I've heard and have been able to find out, a pretty easy procedure. The doctor makes a small hole in the eardrums and then puts a little plastic tube into the hole to keep it from closing back up. The idea is to allow fluid behind the ear drum a way to drain so that it doesn't clog up and breed bacteria. The procedure done under general anesthesia, but using a mask instead of intravenous delivery, and the whole thing only takes about fifteen minutes. Eight to fourteen months later, the tube generally works its way out on its own and the eardrum then finishes healing. Of course, there are some risks associated with any surgery, but they are pretty minor and, as the ear-nose-throat specialist we saw put it, "it's less dangerous than being in a car for the same amount of time."

I know all of that. I've taken the time and done my homework, read up and talked to the doctors. I've gotten plenty of advice about the whole thing and have done a lot of thinking about it. I've even seen other children close to Jason's age who have had tubes put in and seen how fine they are. I know that I won't be hurting my son to give the green light to this procedure. It won't even be that big a hassle afterwards, since these days they don't even make you do things like put earplugs in for baths. Despite all that, despite the fact that my rational mind is quite calm about the whole thing, the thought of my son having a mask put over his face by a stranger and being put under and having surgical instruments stuck into his ears, it makes me start to hyperventilate a little. He's so young that he won't be able to understand what's going on or why. I can't help but think that he'll be scared. Thinking about that makes me want to cry.

Even worse is the fact that there isn't really a right answer. Because for right now, the doctor isn't even all that concerned about any damage being done--there's no sign of scarring in his ears and the fact that the fluid clears out between infections means there's less risk. I asked the ear-nose-throat specialist pointblank if there is any danger to not doing it, and he answered "No." So it's just a question of how much pain is it worth it to spare him by doing this procedure. Obviously, if he wouldn't get any more infections, we wouldn't want to do it. And both Juliette and I agreed that if he were going to be getting them every few weeks, it would be worth it. But, of course, there's no real way to know what's going to happen, or what might have happened had we decided the other way.

For now, we've decided to wait and see. We're expecting a call from the ear-nose-throat office this week to schedule the surgery, which would happen in six or eight weeks. If, in that time, he continues to do well, we can cancel or postpone it. We're hoping that's what will happen. If he can make it through the next six weeks without an ear infection, we can push it off another six weeks. And if he gets through that as well, it'll be the longest he's gone without a problem since December, which would likely be a sign that he's outgrown it. Still, we're headed into cold season now, and, as I said, he hasn't lasted six weeks since it all started. All we can do is wait and hope. Which, as Tom Petty once (sort of) said, is the hardest part.