We took Liam to see Dr. Terry Baker, an ear-nose-throat specialist who sat and listened patiently while I rattled off our child's lengthy medical history: jaundice, reflux, pneumonia, delayed speech, delayed gross motor skills, frequent ear infections, chronic fluid in his ears. He looked--not surprisingly-- at Liam's ears, nose, and throat, and determined that it was time for surgery. "Particularly with a language delay," he said, "I suggest we do something to get that fluid out of his ears so he can start hearing better. Let's remove his adenoids and insert tympanostomy tubes into each of his ears. This will allow for the draining and aeration of the eustachian tubes. Once that excess fluid is out, his hearing and balance should improve." Abe and I, relieved that we were finally going to do something, scheduled Liam for the earliest slot we could get--Thursday morning, just three days later. I felt great.
A few hours later, I felt terrible. I was anxious about the whole thing: What if Liam had a bad reaction to the anesthesia? What if the surgery ruptured his ear drum? What if his immune system was compromised by the loss of the lymphoid tissue? Was this really what we should be doing? Shouldn't the doctor have taken a CT? Would just ear tubes be enough? Would just adenoids be enough? Should we really do both?
The day of the surgery arrived and I woke Liam at 5:00 AM so we could make it to the hospital by 5:30 am to begin prepping for his 7:00 AM surgery. I thought he would be pissed off about the disruption in his routine: an early morning waking, no Wiggles You Tube videos, no breakfast, a car ride through the dark morning, a strange new place full of strange new people....but, on the contrary, he seemed quite pleased with the whole event. He babbled excitedly all the way there, toddled happily through hallways with me while we waited for the surgery, made a little friend, and only panicked a little when the anesthesiologist and nurse came to take him away.
Afterward he was a little sleepy and a little grumpy, but Gatorade in a Baba made things a whole lot better. That afternoon he was playing normally. The next day you never would have known he'd had a surgery.
In the days that have followed, I have observed him balancing better and acting a little more cheerful. I recognize that these might be normal improvements that may have happened without the surgery. There is one thing, however, that has changed for sure. It's the trains.
Trains periodically pass through the little town where we live. They're too far away for us to see from our house, but we can definitely hear them when they chug through. A few days after Liam's surgery, a train whistle started to blow off in the distance. Liam looked up from his oatmeal and began babbling, looking around for the source of the sound. The whistle blew again: "Uh oh!" he said, "Uh oh!"
I watched him searching for the train and realized I had never seen him react to the sound before. But now, a few days after his surgery, he could hear it: the rumbling of heavy cars on metal tracks, the long, lonely whistle of the engine. "Uh oh!" he said, one last time, before the sound faded out of range, and that's when I knew we had done the right thing.
He can hear the trains.