The first thing I remember about Nathan was thinking he was definitely louder than his brother Joel. The very next thing I recall is a nurse gushing loudly over his piercing cries, “Oh, would you just look at those dimples!”  Sure enough, there on his right cheek was a deep double-dimple. And, to my surprise, he was born knowing how to use them!

Of all my children, Nathan smiled the quickest. By 3 1/2 weeks of age, he was giving big full-on grins, putting that dimple to work. He was born with bright blue eyes and a head of thick black hair that stuck straight up, giving him the appearance that he had something mischievous going on in his little head. Everyone (and I mean everyone) said all that black hair would fall out, but it never did. In fact, by the time he was three months old, the roots were growing in blond. Poor Nathan! He looked like he had been given a bad dye job!  One day I trimmed away the black tips as he slept in my arms. Now he had head full of blond hair to match the blue eyes and big dimple.

Did I mention Nathan was born in Monterey, California?

That’s right.

I’ve got my very own California Beach Boy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nathan was less than two months old the first time it happened. I woke up to his loud shrieks at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night. This cry was not the wail of a baby needing to be fed or changed into a dry diaper. This was the cry of a sick infant, one who was in pain.

No fever. No wound. In my sleep-deprived state, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong him. Nothing I did stopped his cries. At some point, I took him to an ER, where my baby was diagnosed with a raging double-ear infection.

That night marked the beginning of Nate’s ear troubles.

Nathan, center, at 7 months. Three hours after this photo was taken, he was in the ER being treated for another ear infection. A month later, he got his first set of tubes.
Nathan, center, at 7 months. Three hours after this photo was taken, he was in the ER being treated for another ear infection. A month later, he got his first set of tubes.

He got his first set of ear tubes at 8 months, after he had already been treated for a dozen ear infections.

Now you must understand, from my personal experience of living in Monterey, California for nearly a year and a half, the doctors there were leery to do anything. They wanted to take the “wait and see” approach. But Nathan’s little ears were constantly infected. Homeopathic remedies didn’t work. Antibiotics seemed to work, only to have the infection come back with full force just as soon as the medication was stopped. Finally, out of desperation, an ENT said, “Well, he is awfully little for this but let’s put in some ear tubes and see if it will help.”

I never will forget after that first procedure the ENT sitting me down, looking me in the eyes and saying:

Let me be honest with you … I don’t know when I have ever seen so much pus and debris in the middle ear, especially on a child this young. It was like wallpaper paste, clinging to everything! No amount of antibiotic would have ever cleared up that mess. We definitely did the right thing by putting in tubes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like a song stuck on repeat, one ear infection followed another, and one set of ear tubes after the next.

The first time Nathan had a tympanoplasty, he was about five years old.

We checked in at the surgical hospital that morning expecting Nathan was just going to be receiving another set of ear tubes. If you have ever had a child who has gotten ear tubes, you know it is a relatively simple procedure that takes about ten to fifteen minutes for the doctor to perform. Literally you spend more time waiting for your turn than you do waiting for your child’s ear tubes to be inserted.

Nathan at age 4 ... all smiles!
Nathan at age 4 … all smiles!

That particular day Nathan was wheeled back to have the tubes inserted, but he didn’t come back quickly. Forty-five minutes passed. I finally managed to flag down a nurse, who didn’t have any information but promised to find out what was going on for me. Several minutes later, she returned.

The doctor ran into some trouble. Apparently his ear drums were in not in good enough condition to hold a tube in place, so he had to perform a tympanoplasty first.”  Seing my confused look, she quickly explained, “That means the doctor repaired the ear drums with a small graft of skin. He should be finishing up within another fifteen or twenty minutes. It’s alright, Mama … your boy is in good hands.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Nathan was wheeled back out, his little hand strapped to a stabilizing board to help hold his IV in place. Nathan’s ears were covered with bandages. After all of the experiences with getting sets of ear tubes, I wasn’t prepared for him to look so injured and ill.

As I reached over to stroke his sweet head, Nathan gave me a glare, “I cannot move my hand. No one will take this out!” He waved his hand and forearm about wildly.

About that time, the same kind nurse peeked her head into the room. “How are we doing in here?” she asked, flashing a bright smile at us.

Before I could answer, Nathan ranted, “Not well! I do not feel so good right now.

“I’m sorry. What can I do to make you feel better?”

I want this thing off of my arm.” Nathan pointed to the arm taped to the board.

The nurse smiled. “I am definitely going to take your IV out … just as soon as you eat, drink and go to the potty for me. Deal?”

No. It is not a deal. I am not hungry. I am not thirsty. And I don’t have to go to the potty.” Nathan was not in a deal-making mood. Knowing my son was as stubborn as he was charming, I feared we were in a for long stay in the recovery area.

But that sweet nurse didn’t seem at all fazed by Nathan’s grumpiness. Ten minutes later she was back with graham crackers and apple juice.  She set it all up on the little tray and offered to turn on the TV so that he could eat his snack while watching a cartoon.

Humph.” Nathan gave the nurse a grumpy glare. “Watching TV will not make me feel better. What will make me feel better is for you to take this thing out of my arm.

The nurse did not fall for Nathan’s act.  “I’ve already told you that I will take it out just as soon as you eat, drink and go to the potty.”

And I’ve already told you that I do not want to eat or drink or go to the potty.”  Nathan tried to cross his arms on his chest, but between all the IV tubes taped to his arm which was fastened to the board he couldn’t manage to get everything in position.

“Well, seeing as this is my hospital, you are going to have to follow my rules. I’ll leave you alone for a while. Maybe in a few minutes you will feel hungry or thirsty.”

As the nurse walked away, Nathan pushed away the tray with the apple juice. “What sort of hospital is this?” he grumbled.  “Everyone knows the healthiest thing to drink is water. Instead, I got apple juice. She’s probably a terrible nurse because if she knew how bad I felt she would bring me a cup of water.

Seeing an opportunity to perhaps bring about an end to the stalemate, I cautiously asked, “If the nurse brought you some water, would you drink it?”

Fifteen minutes later, Nathan had guzzled down a couple of large cups of water, eaten three packets of graham crackers, gone to the bathroom, and had the hated IV removed. After handing me the discharge papers, the nurse turned to Nathan and offered to give him a ride to our car in a wheelchair. His five-year old eyes glittered with excitement.  Flashing the nurse his most charming dimple grin, Nathan asked, “Can you take me the long way so I can have a really good ride?” The nurse, who had up to now been so firm, couldn’t seem to refuse this final request. She even gave him a wheelie on a quiet stretch of the hospital hallway.

As she dropped us off at the front of the hospital, Nathan gave her a big high five. “The next time I need ear tubes, I am definitely coming back here, ” he declared.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Just last month Nathan got had an ear infection which rapidly turned into mastoiditis. It took three trips to visit our ENT, two trips to the pediatrician, and a visit to the emergency room to get him well.  He got a CT scan, two bags of antibiotics by IV, a shot in the rear with another antibiotic, 14 days of antibiotics by mouth, along with an ear drop antibiotic, and it still was more than three weeks before his ear was pain-free.

“Maybe this will be the last one,” I thought. “Maybe after this time his ears won’t hurt him any more.”

Two nights ago, I found myself sitting in yet another urgent-care clinic watching another doctor look into my boy’s ears and state with shock, “Goodness! That’s an infected ear!”

Inside, I moaned, “Oh, Lord … are we ever going to get past this? It seems like we have been around and around and around on this same merry-go-round. I feel so hopeless about this!”

As I stopped by the pharmacy to get the antibiotic filled, the verse that kept racing through my mind was this:

There is nothing new under the sun.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ear tubes. Ruptured ear drums. Tympanoplasties. So many ear infections, I’ve long lost count.

For years, doctors have told me my son would outgrow ear infections. He will celebrate his 13th birthday on Thanksgiving Day. After all these years of ear aches, it feels as if Nathan and I have tried everything there possibly is to try.

Isn’t that the way we humans feel? It seems like we fight the same old battles over and over.  Some of us battle with the bulge, diet after diet, hoping that one of these days the weight will fall off and stay off. Others find themselves warring with addictions: smoking, drinking, pornography.  We go round and round, wrestling with our demons, desperate for the solution, fearful one doesn’t exist, wondering if our prayers are bouncing off heaven. Our battles feel old and our souls feel weary.

I read something interesting this week. According to Ravi Zacharius, the phrase “There is nothing new under the sun” which King Solomon uses approximately twenty times in the book of Ecclesiastes, is actually an old Hebrew idiom meaning “a life without God.”

It took me a moment to wrap my head around this thought. Maybe you are quicker than me … even so, give me a moment to explain what I eventually realized.

In this life, there is nothing new. If it has happened once, it is just as likely to happen again. Wars, disasters, addictions, diseases. We hear the stories again and again. There really is nothing new under the sun.

But when you have a life with God, everything changes. Suddenly, the impossible becomes possible. The unimaginable happens. The terrible becomes glorious. And that’s because God makes all things new. And because God has that sort of power, we have hope in whatever battle we are facing.

David killed Goliath because, even though there is nothing new under the sun, God makes all things new and possible.

The same thing goes for Moses parting the waters, Gideon defeating the Midionites, and the marching Israelites bringing down the walls of Jericho. Time and time again, we read in the Bible of how the impossible came to be all because of God’s intervention.

There is always hope because even though there is nothing new under the sun, God has given us His Son and through Him all things are made new.

suninclouds

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s taken me a week to write this post. Not only has Nathan been ill with an ear infection, but so has the rest of this house. This morning, four out of five kids are hanging out in pajamas, sniffling and coughing and sneezing. Yesterday, I was down and out myself. A bad case of the sniffles is not such a terrible thing in this world filled with problems. Life could be a whole lot worse than just needing to hang onto a box of kleenex.

But even so, I hang onto hope this morning … because while there is nothing new under the son, everything is new with the Son of God.

Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”  ~Revelation 21:5

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3 thoughts on “The Trouble with Ears

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