After hearty handshakes and friendly hugs with a lovely young couple and their daughter, we walked away thinking back about seven years earlier. When I first met them, they sat quietly, eyes staring forward, unanimated, and I presumed, sadly. I had heard that they were coming in. The six-month old baby girl with them seemed unusually quiet as well.
The story stared with a pretty typical ear infection but something changed. She had become obtunded, lethargic, but also irritable. An urgent trip to the pediatrician resulted in emergency hospitalization and a spinal tap.
Meningitis had only been a vague term, not a familiar entity, not a personal reality. Its dreaded complications were even more unknown. On two intravenous antibiotics, initial hope that their third child, a girl after two boys, would rapidly improve faded as her lethargy persisted.
Five days into treatment, the reason became apparent: the bacteria were resistant to the usual antibiotics. With a medication change, she turned the corner and her personality showed glimmers of her prior vivaciousness. Soon thereafter, auditory brainstem response testing confirmed a major complication: the baby was now deaf, no signs of any ability to hear, not electrical and not even to loud sound. And that's what brought them to see me, and ear specialist.
My wife and I marveled at this now sever-year old blonde delight with untamable rolls of curly hair, and an energetic personality to match. My eyes misted as I envisioned her performance that evening. In the Christmas play in the midst of several similarly aged children, she had been Angel Gabriel, reciting her lines perfectly:
"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy..."