Author Stephen King was plagued by chronic ear infections when he was five, the result of a run in with measles and strep throat. In his memoir On Writing he recalls being forced by his mother and the “otiologist” to have his ear lanced.
“There was a sharp smell of alcohol. A clank as the ear doctor opened his sterilizer. I saw the needle in his hand – it looked as long as the ruler in my school pencil-box – and tensed. The ear doctor smiled reassuringly and spoke the lie for which doctors should be immediately jailed (time of incarceration to be doubled when the lie is told to a child): ‘Relax, Stevie, this won’t hurt.’ I believed him.“
This memory is seared into Stephen King’s mind. He describes the accompanying pain, however brief, as worse than any he’s experienced since. And despite his kicks and screams of protest, little Stephen King had to have his ear lanced time and again.
Keep in mind that this was 1953. Times now allow children to undergo the procedure with general anesthetic. Adults are just given the local.
The procedure itself (known as a Myringotomy) now differs too. Rather than simply perforating the eardrum with a needle and placing the patient on their side to aid drainage, doctors often insert a tiny ventilation tube that keeps the hole open for longer. This way there’s less chance of having to go through the ordeal time and again.
Children usually need to have their eardrum perforated for different reasons than adults. They commonly undergo the procedure for severe or chronic ear infections that are unresponsive to antibiotics, while adults are more likely to be subjected to it for Eustachian tube dysfunction when it presents with recurrent symptoms such as fluctuating hearing loss, vertigo, and tinnitus.
Recurrent barotrauma (injury caused by change of air pressure), especially with flying and scuba diving, may also warrant ear drum lancing and tubing because it helps to equalise air pressure on either side of the eardrum.
If Stephen King and I have frightened you off going to the doctor to treat your middle ear infection rest assured that, in the unlikely event you need your ear lanced, the procedure is now bearable. You will likely thank your doctor for it afterward.
(Remember, Stephen King is a lauded horror fiction writer. He even owes some of his success to his ear infections; to pass the time spent in bed he read comics and copied the stories onto paper, prompting his mother to encourage him to write one of his own.)
So, if your ears are giving you grief, make an appointment with your GP or an audiologist for a thorough checkup – without delay. (The clinicians at Blamey Saunders are equipped to look after children over five.)
Did you have your ears lanced as a child? What’s your memory of the event (if not repressed!)?