Lindsay Hanson Metcalf: After son’s surgery, happiness and relief

Lindsay Metcalf and her children, Bennett (left) and Quinn
Lindsay Metcalf and her children, Bennett (left) and Quinn The Kansas City Star

My 5-year-old son shot up at 6 a.m. after a hard-won night of post-surgery sleep. He had spent the previous day retching, an unfortunate side effect of anesthesia.

This day, though, his giddy brand of preschool energy returned.

He was free of pain, free of medicine and ready to get out of the hospital.

The doctor arrived shortly and peeled away the helmet of bandages covering his right ear. The five-hour procedure to forge a path through his mastoid bone had gone well, but we didn’t know whether it had worked.

This was the moment we had anticipated for five years, since Quinn’s birth. We would find out if his new ear canal and eardrum, pieced together with skin from his thigh and tissue from beneath his scalp, would cooperate and trigger a cascade of subtle movements through his newly freed middle ear bones, so his right ear would finally work about as well as his left.

Quinn chirped with excitement as the doctor leaned in. As the bandages came off, he fell silent and still.

Was he hurt? Was something wrong?

“I’m just thinking about how weird it is to hear,” he whispered.

As the sounds of life crescendoed for my son, the noise of uncertainty fell away for me. Suddenly, finally, it was clear that we had done the right thing.

As parents, we make all kinds of decisions. Where to send our children to school. Whether to home-school. Whether to vaccinate.

Even feeding them is a decision process in the modern era. How much sugar does this snack have? Is it locally grown? Organic? If yes, does it matter enough to justify the cost?

We research. Seek opinions from professionals and peers. But so often, no clear-cut answer exists. We can only trust ourselves, dive in and pray we won’t screw up our kids.

One of the hardest decisions of my life was to proceed with Quinn’s surgery. He was born with a malformed outer ear and no ear canal on his right side, so hearing out of just one ear was his way of life. He was happy. He had clear speech and a great vocabulary, so a feasible choice would have been to do nothing.

But bone-conduction hearing tests and a CT scan showed that his middle and inner ear existed, and they worked. Surgery with an out-of-town specialist could free them to do the job they were meant for and give my son a lifetime of stereo hearing.

But Quinn resisted, down to the final minutes. He feared that he would not be able to fall asleep for the surgery and that he’d experience the horror of feeling every cut. He didn’t know what he was missing without two hearing ears, and he didn’t care.

Research all you want, but you second-guess everything when your child tearfully pleads with you to let him be in charge of his own body.

This happened in the hotel 10 minutes before we had to be at the hospital. Quinn refused to change out of his fuzzy pajamas.

Refused socks, shoes, coat — the whole bit. I tried to be resolute, but I got teary, too. I asked him if he believed his dad and I would ever do anything to hurt him. He said no.

“You’ll just have to trust me,” I said.

We coaxed him out of the room with a ride on the hotel luggage cart. At the door outside, we reasoned that he’d be cold in the 20-something temperatures without a coat and socks. He agreed and relented. He allowed my husband to carry him, still shoeless, to the car.

In the hospital parking garage, he conceded that his feet were cold and he wanted to wear shoes. He put them on, then walked on his own volition to the surgical prep area.

And that’s when our little superhero shone. No more tears. All cooperation. He smiled and waved as the anesthesia nurse took him back.

Five hours later he awoke in a stupor, nauseated but in good spirits. The first words he uttered came out in a time warp, as if he were finishing our pre-surgery conversation and no time had passed.

“Mom, you were right,” he mumbled, his eyes fluttering open. “I fell right to sleep and I didn’t feel a thing.”

Then, wow. This: “When is my surgery to get my big ear?”

Friends had told me that he might surprise us. I couldn’t see it. I was sure that I knew my child, so sensitive to change and prone to drama. I just knew he would fight every step.

With complications possible, I wondered whether the surgery was worth the relatively minimal risk. I mean, what if something healed wrong and his ear had to be revised? Would he cooperate, knowing what it was like the first time? Would we be causing some kind of irreversible emotional trauma?

All those questions faded as Quinn weathered recovery with thumbs up and crooked smiles. And amazingly, at his one-month check-up, an audiogram proved what Quinn already knew: He could hear sounds as soft as 15 decibels, compared with 60 decibels before reconstruction.

By comparison, his good ear can hear down to 10 decibels. We couldn’t have asked for a better result, the doctor beamed.

Trusting our choices can be hard. Worrying wastes so much time. Once we’ve studied and researched and planned to our greatest ability, we should make our choices and let go. We should be open to revising them as new information comes up, but for the most part, hakuna matata, no worries, no regrets.


Wish me luck as I try to follow my own advice.