As we were headed to bed Wednesday night, Charlie suddenly started screaming that something was in his ear. Since he'd been sitting in the living room floor, it seemed unlikely that anything creepy had gotten into his ear, but I looked in there anyway, praying to God that I wouldn't see a bug lodged in his ear canal, because honestly I would just lose my shit if that happened. I couldn't see anything, so I wondered if this was a creative way to delay bedtime. He was truly freaked out, though, so I knew something was up. Finally he took a breath between whines to tell me he had put a rock in his ear at daycare that afternoon, so I grabbed a pen light and took a closer look. Sure enough, there was a small white pebble deep in his ear canal. Awesome. Then he said, "I stuck one in Andrew's ear too!" "What? Is there a rock in Andrew's ear!?" "No, his fell out."
I was already longing for my pillow when he told me this, and I had three important appointments the next morning including an interview for a summer teaching gig, so suffice it to say I did NOT want to spend the next four hours in an emergency room. I woke Tim up and announced the beginning of Operation Rock Retrieval. Tim made him turn his head to the side and shook it like a bottle of ketchup. That's the only thing we tried. But here are some things we considered:
vacuum cleaner hose attachment
flush it out with saline
leaving it there because damn I'm tired
Since turning him upside down and shaking him like a bottle of Heinz didn't work, and I was afraid of pushing it deeper into his ear with a pair of tweezers, I loaded him up and headed to the ER while Tim stayed home with Andrew. I've never had to wait long in the Forrest General emergency room. In fact, despite a handful of visits to the ER in the 12 years I've lived here, I'd never even been to the waiting room. We've always been taken to triage within half an hour then put straight into a room. Two to three hours later, we're headed home. (Except for that one time they admitted Tim because they thought he had a pulmonary embolism. That was a fun night.) My luck didn't hold this time, and I realized we were in for a long night when they sent us from triage to the waiting room I had never seen before, and it was packed with people. We made our way past a baby who was projectile vomiting all over the place, and I reached into my purse for hand sanitizer as we settled into a corner as far away from everyone as possible.
Charlie was enjoying it at first, and I hoped this wasn't going to be the start of a series of ER visits brought on by his love of attention. Every time someone looked at him, his eyes widened a bit as he told them his predicament.
"I have a rock in my ear!"
"You do!? Well how did that happen?"
"I stuck it in there."
"Well why did you do that?"
"I don't know."
The fun soon wore off, and he began to complain. I didn't miss an opportunity to remind him why we were there.
"Mom, I'm tired and I wanna go to bed."
"Well we'd be in bed right now if you hadn't stuck a rock in your ear."
"Mom, I don't want to wait anymore."
"Well we have to because you stuck a rock in your ear."
"Can we please go home now?"
"Do you want to go through life with a rock in your ear?"
About two hours into our wait, Charlie raised his head from my shoulder and whined loudly, "Mom, we're never getting out of here!" Everyone in the waiting room got a chuckle from that, which was a nice mood lift for such a miserable bunch. "We will eventually. Once they get that rock out of your ear."
We sat in the waiting room for over three hours. Some terrible show about a handsome fire fighter with daddy issues played on a tv nearby. At first I was annoyed at being forced to watch it, but then I considered that the channel choice might've been a strategic move. You've got a large room full of people who are miserably sick or in bad enough pain that they've come to the ER, it's late at night and everyone is cranky, they have to wait for several hours in uncomfortable chairs, and they've got you outnumbered 20 to 1. You can A) Turn on the news and run the risk of depressing them to the point that they no longer want to live and decide to go home and die, thus costing you thousands of dollars, B) Turn on something thought-provoking that will cause them to liven up and begin talking to one another, possibly form an alliance, and turn on you, or C) Turn on a show that is so absolutely mind-numbingly retarded that their IQ's begin to plunge and they no longer have the brain power to speak, much less question anything you say or do.
When the same nurse from triage finally appeared in the doorway and called our name, he was like a scrub-adorned angel of mercy. We had much longer to wait in the room, but at least there was a stretcher for me to pass out on. I laid down, Charlie climbed on top of me, and I pulled the sheet over us and started to drift off just in time for a nurse to come in and flip on the light. Each time someone came in, they did just enough talking and poking and prodding to wake both of us up, then they disappeared again without even attempting to retrieve the rock from my kid's ear. After we'd been in the room for an hour or so, the nurse came in and told us it was going to be a long time because there were seven people ahead of us. It was after 1:00 a.m., and we'd been there since 9:00. I was over it, so as soon as she left I jumped up and began digging through drawers. There had to be something in there I could use to get that rock out. I found a package with those long q-tip things that have the wooden stems. A doctor once used one of those to poke around in a hole in my eye looking for stray pieces of glass after I had a car wreck that shattered a window into my face, so I knew they were good for sticking into holes. At 1:00 a.m. that seemed like all the medical training I needed to get a rock out of an ear. I grabbed the light and pulled it down to Charlie's head and told him to turn over and hold. very. still. I slowly inserted the wooden end of the q-tip into his ear, thinking I could get it behind the rock and push it out. Just as the tip touched the rock, he screamed.
So I guess we'll be waiting for the doctor, then.
When he finally came in, the doctor tried suctioning the rock out. No luck. The little suction hose would attach to the rock with a promising snap, but it wouldn't pull it out. Then he tried alligator forceps, but every time he got them around the rock Charlie would scream and start to wiggle. Finally, he tried flushing it out with saline, but it still didn't budge. After more than five hours and lots of tears-- mostly from Charlie-- we were sent home with instructions to see the ENT the next morning. They would try to get it out and if they couldn't, they'd send us to same day surgery. We were given numbing drops for his ear and sent home. I couldn't believe that after all that I was about to put my child to sleep with that rock still lodged in his ear canal.
At 2:00 a.m. I put Charlie in his bed and pulled his shoes off. Rocks fell out. As I scooped them off the bed I mumbled a bad word.
"Mom, I wish you weren't mad."
"I'm not mad at you, honey. I'm just sick of rocks."
I told him to sleep with the rock-ear touching the pillow. Maybe we'd get lucky and it would just fall out.
The next morning, I grabbed the pen light and looked into his ear. I didn't see it, and feared he had somehow pushed it deeper into his ear. He said, "It's gone. It's not in there anymore." I thought he was just tired of having his ear prodded and wanted to avoid the trip to the ENT, then he said, "It fell out. I felt it, and I saw it on my pillow." I looked in his bed, and there was the white pebble.
It's been two days now, and he hasn't complained of any pain or messed with his ear at all, but I keep checking with the pen light to make sure the white pebble on his bed was the ear-rock and not one of the ones that fell out of his shoe the night before. Tonight when I did my obsessive ear checking, he said, "It's GONE, Mom! And I'm not sticking any more rocks in my ear!"
I think it's safe to say he learned his lesson. I put the little white pebble into a baggy and stuck it in his baby book. Never throw away physical evidence of how you got your gray hairs.