Monday, June 29, 2009

As Ears Roll By ...

I was in the delivery room for Ethan's birth, as I was for Thomas'. There were a few notable differences between the two experiences, which were only 13 months apart so it was rather easy to compare. For instance, I held Sandi's right leg during Thomas' delivery and her left leg during Ethan's. Thomas' delivery took about 6 hours and Ethan's took about 45 minutes. The bed in the birthing room faced north during Thomas' delivery and south during Ethan's. And, of course, Ethan had a funky ear.
I was the first one to notice it. I remember pointing it out to the nurse who calmly remarked that it was probably just folded closed, stuck together by some clump of amniotic goo or something and could probably be fixed with scissors. She gestured above the ear without actually touching Ethan as she spoke, as if demonstrating the wax on/wax off technique, which didn't give me a great feeling. Still, such was my joy that I felt like hugging her. I didn't.
After the usual stuff -- room assignment, baby's first photo, feeding, blahblahblah -- we got a visit from the head ear guy at the hospital. That was the first time we'd ever heard the word "microtia." He, with cheat sheet in hand, went on to explain Ethan's condition (I remember he used the words "birth defect" which tore through me like a cannonball) and assured us that he could fix it. With a cheat sheet in his hand he said this. Like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: "Relax, all right? My old man is a television repairman. Got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it." Thanks, doc. We'll get back to you.
One thing he did share with us from his cheat sheet that totally amazed me was the frequency of microtia: about 1 in every 6,000 births. Really? It's that common? I surely have seen 6,000 people in my life and don't recall ever seeing this before. Maybe I'm just not looking hard enough. And so began my obsession with ears.
At the time I was working in Center City Philadelphia and rode the train to and from work each day. Commuting in a major metro area affords you some awesome people-watching opportunities, so I took every advantage to study people's ears. Know what? There are some FUCKED up ears out there, yo. Mostly what I noticed was a lack of symmetry among pairs of ears, but in some cases there were seriously freaky shapes -- like bites had been taken out of them. Some bent in odd ways, some stuck out at 90 degree angles from the head, some were just freakin' dirty (Come on, people. What's a box of Q-Tips cost, $3? Here's a five. Buy some gum with the change in case your breath is as nasty as your ears, ya stanky bitch.). Even my own ears were suspect. I, still sure that some sin of my past had wrought this upon our beautiful son, begged Sandi to study the asymmetry of my ears. After a few minutes she said, "Oh yeah. I see it now. That's weird." WEIRD!? I KILLED OUR BABY! Oh, the shame! Still to this day, despite everything we've read that insists that it's just one of those things, I can't help but curse my DNA for its inferiority. Maybe that's why I was so chipper during my vasectomy. Ne'er more shall the world have to deal with my decrepit progeny. Whatever.
So after a while my ear fury subsided and I turned my energies to more important things. Like getting fat and balding. (Gestures to self: You don't think this just happens, do you?) But just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in. Seems these days I can't turn around without seeing some bizarre ear-related thing. Yahoo! picture of the day: An adorable dog with gigantic ears. Trip to the zoo: rare animals that only differ from their nearest relatives by virtue of their humongous ears. Stephen Colbert. The karmic bizarreness of it all is too much to grasp sometimes. Is evolution trying to tell us something? Are the slight variations in ear shape among us what make whisper-down-the-lane possible (and entertaining!)? Maybe ears are as unique as snowflakes. Big flesh-colored snowflakes stuck to the sides of our heads. That's it. Now I'll just sit by the phone and wait for the Nobel people to call.
One thing my obsession has revealed to me: in all these things, regardless of the integrity or shape of the ear, there's beauty. Or at the very least inoffensiveness. And some days that's the best thing you can hope for.

"Nature does nothing uselessly." -- Aristotle

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