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Farmer boy

Imagine that most of this post is backed by intermittent screaming, the kind that jerks a parent awake at night and sends her running down the hall. That was Charlie, several times a night, from the start of this post almost to its end. Here, just shove these in as you're reading, whenever you get to a comma:

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His ear hurt, you see. Since he's had several ear infections, we pretty much knew the drill. You give him Tylenol, you apply a warm compress, and you dully wish for the quiet of the grave as he wakes you yet again.  We did what we've always done: we comforted him in the night, held him until he relaxed, then stumbled back to bed muttering, "Oh Christ Jesus please just sleep." And took him to the doctor, who peered into Charlie's ear and said, "You know, I can't see much. There's a big ball of wax in the way." So she brought out her irrigation rig and a lighted curette and attempted to dislodge it.

She dug. Charlie screamed. The giant wax boulder didn't come out. But she'd managed, she thought, to see far enough past it to tell that his eardrum was in fact inflamed and bulging. (Suddenly realizing I'd never asked to peer into the otoscope myself, I wondered what she had seen, so I consulted the Internet. Free tip: If you're ever curious about what something INHERENTLY DISGUSTING looks like, Google Images will show you, but be warned: It is INHERENTLY DISGUSTING, and so are the fifty other unrelated INHERENTLY DISGUSTING things Google cleverly assumes you're also in the mood to see. Lissen up, Google: If I'd wanted to know what shingles plus ringworm plus throat cancer plus an ear infection plus a Speedo look like, all heaped on some poor golden retriever, I'd have searched for exactly that. ...Then it would have shown me a McRib.)

So she prescribed an antibiotic. Now, we don't give Charlie amoxicillin, for reasons that are probably more superstitious than reality-based.  (We're still scarred from the last time we did, when it had INHERENTLY DISGUSTING results; I cannot believe I wrote that, here, on the Internet, to be read by people I like. I cannot believe I'm linking to it now. Don't read that. Forget I was ever here. Lock up behind you when you go.)

But amoxicillin is the preferred antibiotic for ear infections, I guess, so when the pain hadn't abated by the end of the course of Zithromax, and was in fact made worse by the analgesic drops we'd been given, back we went to another doctor. Maybe it was time to give the more effective antibiotic another try.

This doctor didn't think so. Without seeing his eardrum, she said, she didn't want to hit him with another round of drugs. When she couldn't get the wax out, either — when Charlie's keening made her falter — she prescribed different drops to help dissolve it, warning us, "If it doesn't come out on its own, and if the pain continues, we'll need to consult an ENT." And almost as an afterthought, she asked, "Charlie, is there any chance something got in your ear? A bead, a pebble...?" And I laughed, because he knows better than that.

In went the drops, on went the screaming. No wax came out, so far as I could tell, and the pain was, if anything, worse. The ENT couldn't get it out, either. So they scheduled Charlie for surgery.

I am proud of the way my kid held up. He was worried, but he kept it together, and in fact stayed very much himself, struggling hard to see every single thing in the operating room. He was still in the middle of asking, "And what does that thing do?" as he sank under the anesthesia. (It replaces your blood with zombie juice. Breathe deep! Sweet dreams! We'll see you on the flip side!)

The operation was brief, as we'd expected. Afterward the earnosethroatician stalked out to the waiting room, still in his scrubs and booties. "He had something in his ear, and it wasn't wax," he said, all scowling and j'accuse-y.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I don't know," he answered irritably. "I didn't really look. It's disgusting. You can examine it if you want," he said, leaving unsaid, "...you gruesome freak." And handed me a jar.

And there...in the jar...was a bean.

"I know that bean," said Paul in affronted recognition. He explained that it had been used in a school science unit. On seeds. And germination.

We could pinpoint the date of insertion because Paul volunteered on bean day. This particular bean had somehow gotten into Charlie's ear — soooomehowwwww — two weeks prior. During that time, in the warm murk of our son's ear canal, the bean found a comfortable home. With every drop of moisture that entered, the bean began to do...what beans do...when given dark and warmth and water.

EarbeanOne end of the bean had split. It had begun.

The craziest thing is that as Charlie's pain had increased, we'd been giving him ear drops — first to relieve the pain, then to dissolve the wax. We had been unwitting abettors. We were practically farmers, when you get right down to it. We had watered Charlie's ear bean. We lovingly tended his bean.

Two hours after the operation, Charlie was as good as new. "Is it possible," I asked him, sidling up to the obvious question, "that you put the bean in your ear...without noticing? And then forgot?"

"I suppose," he said doubtfully, looking at the floor. The thing about Charlie is that it is entirely possible; in fact, it's likely. I don't believe he consciously thought, "Hey, let's cram some produce on up in there." I think he was probably absentmindedly noodling around, maybe grooving on the sensation of it — because I guess shoving something in your ear hole feels...good? — and then got distracted. For two weeks. As something started growing in his head.

So the upshot is that we had about two weeks of shrieking hell here; everything's fine now; I've labeled the jar CHARLIE'S EAR BEAN and intend to show it to his children; and when the nurse called the next day to see how he was, I invited her for cassoulet.

(Hat tip to Nicole for the song.)