When I was eighteen months old, my mother found me one morning whimpering quietly in my crib. She came closer to see what was wrong. I turned my head and my mother gasped in horror. The left side of my head had a golf ball-sized bump right where the crevice of the ear meets the scalp. Terrified, she called the doctor, who advised us to rush to the hospital. We raced to the emergency room where the doctor discovered a severe infection that had spread to the mastoid – the inner portion of the ear that connects to the skull. If the skull becomes infected, the situation becomes life-threatening.

A few days prior, I had come down with a typical ear infection. My mother went to the doctor, picked up the prescribed antibiotics and gave me the correct dosage according to schedule. But unbeknownst to her, my body was not responding to the antibiotics and the infection rapidly spread, almost to my brain.

An emergency mastoidechtomy was performed. During the surgery, a bone inside the inner ear (the mastoid) is hollowed out to allow the fluid of the infection to drain. The mastoid connects to the skull and if not dealt with correctly, it is only a matter of time before the brain can become infected, leading to an injurious or even deadly outcome.

I spent a month in the hospital recovering from this life-threatening procedure. My dedicated parents took turns spending nights and days by my side. My siblings sacrificed precious time with my mother and father so that I could be cared for 24/7. My father sacrificed much time from work in order to care for my siblings and myself. My parents experienced many sleepless and stressful nights. Finally, right before Thanksgiving, I was discharged from the hospital. Our family had much to be thankful for.

Sarah, middle, after surgery, with her siblings

I am lucky to be alive, but I did not realize just how lucky until 20 years later when I was in my college audiology class learning about the inner workings of the ear. My professor practically skipped over the subject of mastoidechtomy. I quickly interjected, “Hey! I had one of those!”

He was stunned. “You must be mistaken. Did you just say you had a mastoidechtomy?”

“Yeah!” I adamantly responded. “Look at my left ear. I still have a scar from it!”

“Are you sure it was a MAS-TOID-ECHTOMY?” He slowly repeated the name of the surgery.

“Yes, absolutely! I was in the hospital as a baby for a month.”

“What year were you born in?”

“1985.”

For a moment my professor was struck silent and then he said, “Sarah, you are one lucky girl. Only 200,000 people worldwide have ever had such a surgery. Today a mastoidechtomy is extremely life-threatening, and few survive the procedure. During the 1980s, the medical technology was not nearly as advanced as it is today. Hardly anyone survived back then!”

The entire class was looking at me. Our audiology class suddenly got very interesting. And the professor wasn’t done yet.

“Sarah, do you remember that there is a facial nerve inside the inner ear? During a mastoidechtomy, it is extremely common that the facial nerve gets severed, leading to facial paralysis.”

He looked and me and said, “You, my dear, are a walking miracle. Not only because you are alive, but also because the left side of your face, and particularly your mouth, functions perfectly. I cannot believe my eyes.”

Since I had no actual memories of my stint in the hospital, my gratitude has always been a little abstract. With a new understanding of my medical miracle, I felt deeply blessed, acutely aware of my mortality and the kindness of God Who gives and takes life. I was also shaken to my core that my life could have been markedly altered if I had been nicked the wrong way – even slightly – during the surgery.

This Father’s Day, let’s we take a moment to look back and truly recognize not only what our fathers (and mothers) do and have done for us, but also what our Father in heaven provides for us.

This article was written with tremendous gratitude for my father Meir Ben Shlomo on the occasion of his birthday.

This events described in this article happened many years ago. With current medical advancements the situation regarding such surgery is different today.