Getting An Earful

Dear Michael,

From your earliest days, while still a baby, you sometimes cried inconsolably. One day we took you to the physician and he looked down your throat and into your ears and found out why. You had an ear infection.

Or, more accurately, a middle-ear infection. Or, as we learned after some study, otitis media. Oh-tie-tus-mee-dya.

Dr. Neumann, your first pediatrician, whom I actually knew from his stint as a columnist with American Druggist, then prescribed amoxicillin for you. We went to the drug store and picked up a bottle of pink liquid that looked like a strawberry milk shake.

You cried the whole time, your mouth open wide, your lips quivering, letting loose your wail. Your ear hurt. And just as you hurt, we hurt, too. Seeing you cry, hearing you cry, left Mom and me feeling painfully helpless.

As soon as we got home, we poured the pink medicine onto a spoon and fed you your dose. You winced at the taste, sticking out your tongue in disgust, but down your throat and into your belly the medicine went.

And the effort proved worth it. Within an hour you stopped crying. It happened just like that. You were so exhausted from your exertions – crying nonstop takes energy – that you dropped straight off to sleep.

Mom and I watched you sleep now, your features still, your crying silenced, your little chest heaving, safe and properly medicated in your crib. We felt so relieved your pain was gone. We also felt we had carried out our duties. Problem solved.

For years afterward you came down with these ear infections regularly. Every time it happened we went through the same routine. Crying, doctor visit, medication given, relief all around.

It got to the point where we could pretty much diagnose the issue ourselves. No sooner would you break out crying than Mom and I would look at each other, nod and say, “Ear infection again.”

The doctor never made a big deal out of these recurrences, but I worried. After all, my mother is profoundly deaf, the result of spinal meningitis contracted at age one, and my father was severely hard-of-hearing from birth.

Could you, by any chance, be genetically predisposed toward hearing loss? I asked the doctor. Did otitis media pose any threat to your hearing?

No, it turned out. As Dr. Neumann explained, you were susceptible to the infection because of the configuration of your internal ears.

Eventually, the infections stopped. No more crying, no more pain, no more visits or medicine or worry. And your hearing stayed intact. And in the end that’s all that counts.

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