Cleft Lip and Palate · Medical/Dental · Mom

Remember That Time I Almost Died!

Craniofacial Awareness Month is almost over. I told myself that I would write more posts this month that relate to the experiences I had growing up with cleft lip and palate, so I could build on the amount of content I had before approaching a publisher about the book about my life. I guess you could say that never happened. As the month comes to a close (and as a last ditch effort to make good on my word to myself), I give you one more chapter in my “book-to-be-published-and-named-later.” See what I did there; tomorrow is Major League Baseball’s Trade Deadline for 2014. 

2812 ear

Eighth grade was quite the year. I was 13 years old and had two major operations ahead of me, one in November and one in May of that academic year. The one in November had doctors hoping they could graft my perforated ear drum. Yes, that is right, there was a hole in my ear drum. Thankfully, there was no pain. I suffered many ear infections as a baby and a toddler. I would have tubes put in to assist the poorly constructed Eustachian tubes. The tubes were supposed to aid in the proper draining of the ears. The tubes would either be removed later, or would fall out on their own as the tissue grew. Ear tubes are a normal kid thing, but the ear infections and odd draining pattern of my sinuses were far from the norm. Remember, I was born with a bilateral complete cleft lip and palate. The holes in the palate traveled up into the nasal cavity. Everything was a wee bit shifty in the whole maxio-facial arena, so the sinuses were surely off in their own way, too, forcing mucus to travel and get stuck mostly in my ears and down my throat. The left ear took the brunt of the ear infections’ damages. In the end, I had hearing loss, which the audiologist and otolaryngologist were concerned would worsen. On the bright side, the left ear drum did drain well with the hole present. Still, the doctors were not as thrilled and wanted to intervene, and make yet another attempt to make me whole.

I go in for the surgery, which of the two that I would have that year should have been the less dramatic one. It was not; this ear surgery would be life altering in the cosmic sense. The surgery slated for May would be a bone graft that lived up to all the ominous warnings and exultations that patients and doctors claimed it would be.This skin graft should have paled in comparison, but that was not to be.

Everything went according to plan that day until the end. In the recovery room after the surgery something must have gone wrong. I wasn’t conscious. I was semi-conscious, so all of this could be completely inaccurate, but this is what I remember.

I lay in what I believe to be the half of my own room on the 10th or 11th floor of the hospital building. People are all around the bed, but I cannot see them. I can see blurry, static filled air, and can hear voices calling my name. I come to consciousness, only to get sucked back into a warm, fuzzy, seductively, sleepy state that I know has danger written all over it. It is too good to be true. I fight to open my eyes even though I cannot see. I fight to breathe even though every inch of my body, especially my lungs, wants to ignore my brains demands.

The breathing device must have looked something like this one.

Someone, a nurse, yells my name too loud, and thrusts a tube, a large tube to my lips, and tells me to blow real hard to “make the beads move.” I can only hear the beads; I can’t see what I am doing. She tells me I need to move the beads up. I don’t know which way is up. I just want to go to sleep only I know I cannot. I know I will die if I do not fight. I hear my mother’s voice, my father’s voice, and my aunt, too, is in the room. I have to fight even though the alternative feels so good. I got to keep breathing, blowing into the tube held by the nurse who keeps yelling my name, commanding me to blow out of my mouth as hard as I can. I do it. I fall asleep again, quickly, force myself to come to, lose consciousness again, force myself awake a second time. The cycle begins again, only to be interrupted by the nurse’s yells. I blow into the tube again. I hear the beads. When I open my eyes, the world looks like it has been smeared with a heavy coat of Vaseline.   I fall unconscious, come to, blow into the tube. This repeats itself for what seems like an eternity. The only bright lights I see are the ones above the bed. They make me squint.  This is a good sign. I know I am not going to die.

As eternity passes I come to back to consciousness more and more, slowly, but surely. I keep fighting one breathe at a time. One breathe at a time, I get closer to winning the campaign my brain has been waging.

At thee end of it all. I believe what happened that day was that narcotic pain medication was administered before the anesthetic, which was given to me in both gaseous and liquid intravenous form, had worn off. Thus, overdosing me on two potent chemicals at the same time, nearly killing me. Yes, I felt death come and try to take me. Those moments of fighting to get my breathe, still hold as the scariest time of my entire life.

And I do not see that changing any time soon.

Oh, and the ear drum. After all that the skin graft never took. The ear is still perforated to this very day. I have hearing loss in my left ear, but it is not bad. Actually, during college, and even today it is not such a bad thing. If I lay on my right ear, I can not hear much. You can party it up all you want next door because I cannot hear you. Sometimes when low, staticky noises are present while people are talking I have a hard time hearing, but that is about the only loss there is.

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