Today was a long but informative day. We’ve been looking forward to getting a more detailed analysis of Ray’s ear, and the extent of his potential hearing loss in it. We arrived at the hospital around 9:30 and did testing until 1 or so. After a trip to the passport center to apply for Ray’s Japanese passport, and some much need lunch, we were back at the hospital for a 3:30 appointment with the doctor to go over the results of the tests.
I know I’ve mentioned Ray’s funny ear before, but I’ve never shown you a detailed picture of it. So here you go, with extra crust!
The outer abnormalities are obvious; the ear is small, and he has that extra little hunk of skin that probably should have gone towards forming a normal-size ear. What we were more concerned with, since Ray failed his initial hearing check at the clinic where he was born, was what was going on (or not going on) inside his ear. We were also hoping that he would get a clean bill of health on his good ear.
The hospital we went to was huge, and on our floor alone were offices for pediatrics, dental surgery, the ear doctor, a urologist, a dermatologist, and eye doctor, and a psychiatrist. These were all situated on either side of a long hall, with benches in front of each area. So it was funny to see how different the patients looked; people with eye patches in front of the eye doctor, a bunch of uncomfortable looking folks in front of the urologist, people with various bandages in front of the dermatologist, and the slightly dishevelled group in front of the psychiatrist. And there was some OLD, decrepit people lurking around there as well. It’s unnerving for me to see people that old and frail, knowing that it could be me someday. Not a big fan of hospitals.
We saw the ear doctor for about 2 minutes, during which time he determined that he couldn’t see inside of Ray’s ear, and we needed some more revealing tests.
First we went to a room where a woman used a small megaphone that played at various low tones. She used it on both of Ray’s ears and basically confirmed what we already — that he had some difficulty hearing in his little ear. The next test required that Ray was asleep, so a nurse came in and gave him a few drops of some medicine that made him sleep. The doctor then hooked up some electrodes below Ray’s ears and to onto his forehead, and put some headphones on him. The goals was to measure his brain’s response to the frequencies he was hearing. This gave us a little clearer picture of Ray’s hearing difficulty. He can hear higher tones in his bad ear, but the lower one give him some difficulty. The head doctor, when we spoke with him later about the results, cautioned us that since he is still so young the brain’s reaction might be a little slow anyway. These are estimates of his hearing.
After that we took Ray down to get a CT scan of his ear, since the doctor couldn’t see inside of it with his scope. It was a little sad seeing him all bound up and tiny on the stretcher (what is that called?) that slides into the scanner. But it was only a few minutes and he was still pretty out of it, so I think he was OK.
We had to wait a few hours to talk to the doctor again, and just as he started explaining everything Ray took a massive dump and started crying, so I scampered off to the changing table. By the time I got back the explanation was wrapping up and I had no idea what was wrong with Ray’s ear or what we are going to do about it. I was relieved when the doctor came out again and proclaimed ‘I will try to explain to you in English.’ He proceeded to talk with us for about 15 minutes, explaining in detail and in good English what was going on with Ray’s ear.
The most important thing, he said, is that Ray can hear out of his good ear, and thus his speech won’t be affected by his little ear’s shortcomings. The problem, which is clear on the CT scan, is that Ray’s ‘external auditory canal’ is completely blocked. The canal is open at the outer ear, but shortly thereafter tapers to nothing. The good news is that beyond the ear drum, all of his other ear components appear to be well-formed and where they should be.
Where do we go from here? We have to go back when Ray is six months old to get his hearing checked again to make sure it hasn’t gotten worse, since according to the doctor it’s from that age that the ability to hear and mimic sounds/words becomes critical. He said the operation to excavate (for lack of a better term) the ear canal is pretty rare, and that he himself had never done it. We wouldn’t be able to get it done around here, but it’s not something we would do anytime soon anyway.
So that’s a bit of a load off of our chests. We know what is wrong structurally with Ray’s ear, and the potential limitations it will cause him (and that they are minor). I’m looking forward to following up in a few more months. There is a potential for his hearing ability to decrease by that time, but it could also get better. It’ll be interesting to find out more.
So, my fellow Americans in the heat of health care reform, how much would today’s hospital visit and fancy testing cost you? Under our Japanese national insurance, we paid about $10. The hospital will bill the city hall for our CT scan and the other hearing test. It cost us $2 for parking, too.