Ray’s Ear

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.

Must sleep.


7 thoughts on “Ray’s Ear

  1. well, you can’t beat the price…. poor little guy – i could just picture him bundled and on the slider thing…. 😦
    if/when you need the operation, will that be something you would do there or here at Mass Eye & Ear?? i understand about health care costs and it being nuts, but it’s also his ear. i’m just wondering how the health care system is there and if there are specialists to handle that type of surgery? hmmmmm…. anyway, i’m glad it’s over for a little while at least and that you don’t have to consider major surgery for a while!
    who knows, he might just be able to hear fine once everything develops – like he’s in a tunnel or something, but nothing too bad!
    have a great day and kiss that boy for me, will ya??
    xo =0*

    1. there are two different issues with his ear, one is the strictly cosmetic issue on the outside, and the other is the internal problem with his canal…from what the doctor said it seems like both would have to be done by a plastic surgeon…i there are many qualified specialists in japan, but none in this particular part of the country…he suggested waiting until ray is old enough to make a decision himself about what he wants to do…i agree though, let him grow for a while and see what happens…the boy has been kissed 😉

  2. It must be somewhat of a relief to have some more information and to at least have some of it conveyed to you in English! In general I am impressed with the Japanese health system… especially the price! Here’s hoping the next test shows even more improvement.

    1. i was really happy the doctor offered to explain in english, though i had intended on asking him to at least give it a shot…i can hold my own in japanese but medical situations always throw me for a loop…i don’t know much of the vocabulary they use…i’m also a fan of japanese healthcare, though i do need to look into getting some more extensive coverage than the basic national plan…

  3. Medical jargon is the worst. Once I had to translate into Spanish for a woman at the Health Department about some problem with her reproductive system–in infection, I think. She was not supposed to have sex for awhile, among other things. My Spanish was not nearly that good!

    My love to all 3 of you–we worry tremendously about our children.

  4. Hey there,
    I know it’s a little bit late, but I wanted to share something: a good friend of mine has had a more severe version of this condition – she was born with almost no visible right ear at all, save for that little knob Ray has, too. Since her auditory channel never developed properly, she can’t hear things on her right side. This troubles her in loud environments or when it comes to locating sounds, but her good left ear makes up for a lot; you would never know something was wrong if she didn’t tell you.
    Her parents let her decide for herself if she wanted plastic surgery, and by the age of 18 she got her outer ear reconstructed by a specialist. Now you couldn’t tell it wasn’t there from her birth.
    I think since Ray starts out with even better prospects, he’s going to be fine.

    wishing the 3 of you all the best from Europe (:

    1. hi emm, thanks for reading and especially for commenting…it’s interesting to hear that your friend had the operation when she was 18…the doctors we have talked to so far recommend doing it by age 12 or so…but we will also give him the choice of whether or not he wants to do anything once he’s old enought to decide…thanks for telling me about your friend…it’s good perspective to know that someone worse off than Ray hasn’t had too much difficulty…take care!

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