It’s fairly common for cleft lip and palate children to develop ear infections, because there are muscles in the ear connected to the palate. Often fluid builds up in the ear which puts pressure on the ear drum until it bursts (this is called glue ear).
I can still remember the horror of these ear infections that would swing round every winter in my childhood. I can remember crying on my parents’ bed at about five years old (not even appreciating that I’d been allowed to stay up until three in the morning on a ‘school night’!), waiting for the drum to burst. Once it finally did, the worst thing was going to nursery with cotton wool in my ears – big deal!
To try and reduce the chance of further ear infections, I had two operations to have grommets inserted into my ears. These are tiny plastic tubes (they look like tiny cotton reels) and they allow the fluid to drain from the ear. I had two sets put in (although both eventually fell out) – once when I was two and again when I was nine.
I can’t remember the small procedure when I was two, but the three things I remember most about the op when I was nine was that I had ‘magic cream’ so I couldn’t feel the needle that administered the anaesthetic (sadly you don’t get magic cream when you’re older); colouring in a picture of sleeping beauty whilst I was waiting to be discharged and lying in a bed opposite a girl I knew from school. It was a total surprise to see her there. She was in my older brother’s year and was in for the same op too! This helped me feel more ‘normal’ and it was nice to have a friend to play with for a bit before it was time for the op.
Although we were told I’d eventually grow out of the ear infections, my parents and I never really believed the doctors. But, when I was ten and my ear infection still hadn’t arrived, I was relieved the condition had finally stopped. It was a pretty horrible thing to have each year, but luckily it happened at a time when the children at school didn’t really notice things like cotton wool in my ears, and luckily (despite going for lots of hearing tests), I’ve never had a problem with my hearing since.