Almost a Crisis


Almost a Crisis

Years ago, when I was teaching kindergarten, I had an almost crisis. I was so sure it was a real crisis, I went into panic mode. The situation was this: every week we baked bread. When it was ready to be baked, we took it into another room and put it in the shared oven. Each class had it's assigned day for baking. This particular day, I got distracted and forgot about the bread. After school, I was in a hurry to leave and take our son to his Irish dance lesson. While there, I remembered the bread. It was 4 p.m. and the bread had been in the oven since 11 a.m. This being in the days before cell phones, I was only able to leave a message on a pager via pay phone. I had no way of knowing whether or not the message had been received or whether the oven had caught fire and the entire school was engulfed in flames. After the dance class was over, I drove back to the school and parked in front of the building.

Suddenly, the sound of sirens surrounded me (say that five times fast!) and three emergency vehicles pulled up in back, in front, and alongside of me. I was blocked in by the large fire engine. Now I was SURE I had burned down the school. Funny, though, I didn't see any smoke or flames. I know that now, but at the time it didn't really register enough to help me calm down. When they left soon after, I went in and learned there had been a false alarm. The timing of it was magnificent! The payment for my negligence was so wonderfully karmic, I didn't stress about it afterward. And the bread? The aftercare staff had gotten my message, turned off the over and took out the bread, which was cooked to hockey puck perfection.

Same sort of thing happened this week.

The last time my dad had his hearing aids checked, we were told he had a lot of wax build up in his ears. Now, I'm the ear cleaning champion of the family. I learned how to correctly irrigate ears a long time ago and have provided my services to my kids, husband, and dad for years. No problem. I went over on Wednesday and got everything set up. The water was just warm enough, just enough peroxide, and a clean bulb syringe. I was going to be gentle, Dad is 92 after all. First two squirts, everything was fine. On the third try, Dad suddenly yelled out in pain. I took everything away and dried his ear as best I good. After a minute or so, Dad said it didn't hurt anymore and he was fine. I should have known better. He also said he could hear so much better, he didn't need to wear his hearing aid. Considering he was speaking much louder than he needed to, I should have been very suspicious.

I called that evening and talked with him. He said he was fine, his ear didn't hurt at all and he could hear much better. Talked with Mom. She said he had taken out his hearing aid because there was some blood on it.

Panic button pressed.

I got back to Dad and asked him about the bleeding. He said it bled a little, but was okay now. I was not to worry. (right)

I didn't sleep well. Amazing how our brains can be so imaginative at 4 am, isn't it? Half asleep, I was picturing a perforated ear drum getting infected immediately and going right into his brain and me being accused of neglect or worse and possibly being hauled off by the police and meanwhile Dad is dying of an infected brain because of an infected ear because of a perforated eardrum because I had tried to clean the wax out of his ear and I had probably killed him. And all the while, Dad saying, "It's okay, I'm fine, and I can hear SO MUCH BETTER" and laughing.

At 6 am, I finally got up, stressed around the house, decided I would call Dad after breakfast. No news is good news and he was obviously okay.

Then the phone rang. It was the nurse at the facility.

"Do you know what is going on with your dad's left ear?" she exclaimed in a panic more suited to me than to a professional medical person. I admitted my guilt and told her what had happened. By then I had already emailed his doctor and asked if there was anything I should do or be worried about. The nurse went on to say Dad had blood and other stuff coming out of his ear. I said it was probably ear wax. She said, no, it wasn't wax, it looked like flesh. FLESH?

Okay, now the alarm is going off in my head along with the red lights flashing. I've killed my dad. My mind still functioned enough to suggest that the nurse call the doctor's office because they are more likely to get him in quickly if she calls. She made an appointment for him to be seen for trauma -- TRAUMA. I killed my dad and I'm going to be hauled off, I know it. We got a 2 p.m. appointment on the coldest snowiest day of the year so far. Temps in the single digits, schools closed, streets icy. I left my house at noon to go pick him up. Got there and went to the dining room where they were happily eating lunch. Dad didn't look like he was in distress, in fact he argued with me and said he really didn't need to go in. He was fine. Right. Got him bundled up, into the heated car, and we slowly made our way across town to the doc's office.

No perforated eardrum. What he had was "swimmer's ear", not something I would have thought of considering the amount of swimming he does not do. The gunk in his ear was ear wax combined with debris and it had hardened and had adhered to the skin in his ear canal. And it was infected. So, when I tried to irrigate it, it loosened like a scab being pried up. That's what caused the pain. So, in a way, irrigating his ear helped to discover the infection. Dad has some ear drops to help it heal and has to keep it protected while he showers, but he'll be fine. I went from panic to relief in seconds.

This ended up being something very minor, but it illustrates something we caregivers have to deal with a lot. I wasn't required to help Dad clean out his ears. A lot of caregivers are having to give medicine through IV ports, deal with issues surrounding ostomy bags, gastric tube feeding, catheters, oxygen, and pressure sores. This can produce a lot of anxiety for the caregiver.

Mom told me Dad still isn't hearing well, "He can't hear at all!" She said and went on to say he had taken his hearing aid out. I explained (tried) that Dad's ear needed to heal and, of course he wouldn't hear anything without his hearing aid in. I suggested a notebook and pen. Dad can see and read just fine. I also found out something else, which may explain some of the issues he's had with hearing aids. When the batteries die, he was putting them back in the case where he keeps his hearing aids. When he would run out of new batteries, he'd simply try one of the old ones.

He's been running on dead batteries for weeks now.

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What a hair-raising story! Swimmers ear can really hurt. I used to get it a lot back when I lived in San Diego. (Mine really was a result of swimming) But ears that are soggy from a bath or shower can get it too. I tried using drying eardrops, man did they sting! Now I just dry my ears diligently after a shower.


Thanks Deborah! It was pretty scary for awhile. Now he can't hear much again because he can't wear his hearing aids while he's getting the drops put in his ears. I just hope he doesn't think his hearing aids are broken or not working and throw them away!