The rain started turning into big fat snowflakes as we slowly made our way there. Winter Storm Nemo they were calling it. Once I found the building, I circled around the parking lot a few times trying to find my way to the front, when I finally saw my mom’s car. We parked next to her, got out, gave Nanna a hug, and sloshed our feet through the slush on the ground, finally soaking in the warmth of the lobby on the other side of the door. Up to the second floor we rode the elevator, my mom carrying my bag, Summer in my arms, and we found the front desk where I was asked to fill out a small novel of family histories and past health issues.
A pretty woman with a soft calm voice came out and called us in. She brought us to a room, we took off our coats and put all our stuff down, and she showed us to the sound-proofed booth that would be our cave for the next 15 minutes. I sat on the chair in the middle of the booth, Summer sitting quietly on my lap, and the woman explained that she would be talking into a microphone on the other side of the glass, where her voice would come out of the speakers, 2 speakers on either side of us, each topped with a little plexiglass box that would light up to reveal a Mickey Mouse and a Piglet when she spoke.
“Yep!” I said.
Her voice crept up over my right shoulder.
“Summer, look over here. Hi Summer, over here.”
But Summer didn’t move.
A little louder the next time – “Summer, hi Summer. Over here, sweetie, hi Summer….”
And she still sat quietly, looking straight ahead.
Next, her voice came over the speaker to our left.
“Hi Summer, hi there, over here, look over here, ba ba ba ba ba….”
A little louder – “Hi Summer! Over here, I’m over here Summer…”
And finally, finally! Summer turned her head in the direction of the speaker to see the Mickey Mouse box lighting up and she smiled. But the next time when the sound came from the right, Summer looked to the left and I’m sure she was keeping an out for Mickey Mouse rather than actually reacting to the voice that I myself could hear loud and clear.
Each time Summer’s name filled the left or the right side of the room through the sound of the woman’s voice in the speakers, each time my baby’s name was spoken, sometimes in a whisper, other times louder than a normal speaking voice, I held my breath. I held my breath and prayed that she would react, turn her head, do something. And slowly, a sadness started to come over me as I was proven over and over again that my beautiful baby couldn’t hear her beautiful name.
The audiologist thought that perhaps Summer just wasn’t interested in the speakers and the Mickey and the sounds, and she decided to try something else.
The woman still had hope.
Her hope gave me hope.
She came into the booth and had an instrument in her hand that looked like the ear scope from the pediatricians office with a digital box attached to it. She explained that it would go in the ear, make a few tones that would bounce off the ear drum, and the instrument would measure the level of the sound the eardrum would send back to it. First she did the right ear. And after all of the doctor visits we’ve had in the last 4 months Summer has learned to fear anyone coming near her with weird objects. (Honestly, based on the cries that came out of her in the shoe store a few weeks ago, anyone would have thought the lady at Payless coming over to us with that harmless metal foot measuring plate was the devil wielding a knife trying to kill my child.) So as she watched the woman inching close to her face with something unfamiliar in her hand, Summer turned to face me and wrapped her arms so tight around my neck, and she stayed there scared but quiet as the woman placed the probe gently into her ear and pressed the button.
1. 2. 3. 4. 5 seconds passed and the woman stepped back with a “hmmmmmm…let’s try the other ear.”
So she did. And with her next, “hmmmmm…” I found myself holding my breath again. The woman told me that Summer’s ear didn’t return a single sound on one side and only 1 small tone on the other, and I slowly felt the sadness settle back in, filling up that booth, replacing the hope I had found through the woman’s hope just a few moments before. We tried a few more things - putting a block in a bucket when she told her to, some little device I held against the bone behind Summer’s ear that she should have heard the woman talking through - all with the same result. Little to no reaction.
So we were let out of our little booth, a booth that began quiet and warm but over the course of 15 minutes had shrunken into a claustrophobic box covered in carpet. Summer reached for Nanna and gave her a hug as the woman told us the results, that Summer can’t hear below 40 decibels. Normal is 15. Which means that anything below a regular speaking voice sounds like a faint whisper if she can even hear it at all.
My baby can’t hear. How did I not know this?
I asked if there’s any chance that the hearing loss could be permanent, and the woman explained that we were in good hands with the doctor whose job it would be to get her ears clear, and they would reevaluate in 4-8 weeks with another hearing test and doctor visit.
So up next was the doctor, a woman we were referred to by Summer’s regular doctor. She looked over the history in the computer, asked about her symptoms when she has ear infections, how her symptoms react to the antibiotics, and how frequently she’s been getting infected. I told her all of it – her doctor hasn’t seen her ears clear since September. She has had back-to-back ear infections since November. She’s great when she’s on the antibiotics but 2 days later, her nose is running like a faucet. She loathes taking medication now, after 4 rounds of different kinds mixed with different flavors, she runs the other way when she sees a medication spoon, cup, or plastic-tipped syringe. We’ve tried them all. I’ve had to hold her down and force-feed it to her and it makes me want to cry every time. And antibiotics have clearly just been a band-aid on an open wound that won’t heal, a temporary fix that only buys us a few days until the next infection.
And so, with our new ENT and a renewed hope that there is a light at the end of this tunnel, ear tube surgery is scheduled for next week.
Last night, Summer and I drove behind my mom in the middle of a blizzard during rush hour. It was a combo that kept me both entertained and anxious, and had us on the road for 2 hours in what should have been a 15 minutes, 4 mile jaunt back to my parents’ house. My mom called it character building, a perfectly poetic description to the day.