EARS, EARLOBES AND A BLOODY NOSE

One night, while at a 50’s style diner, Michael, our oldest, thought it would be funny to give Ethan a drink from his cup—his cup of milk. Ethan hates milk! He hates ice cream! He loves cheese, though only if it’s on a pizza, or a cheeseburger; but he hates the part of the cheese that sticks out past the burger… Sorry.

Back at the diner, I ended up wearing the milk all over me, after Ethan spit it out. For the rest of the night he sat on my lap, half naked, while we tried to finish dinner.

You heard right, half naked, because you see he refuses to wear clothes that have any wet spots on them. We’re talking even the slightest hint of water on his clothes requires them to come off. That is unless it is raining, then he loves to get his clothes wet. Of course if it is raining he has to take his glasses off, because he can’t stand to get water on his glasses.

Funny thing about his glasses is that they have to be meticulously clean! We ended up having to get a new pair, because he was so distracted by a small scratch on them, that he was constantly asking us to clean them. After twenty minutes of cleaning, the scratch was still there, and the request to clean them continued.

I could go on, and on. Needless to say these quirks do not just reveal themselves in his choices of food, or how he wears his clothing, or how many items of clothing he wears, or… Well, you get the picture.

Because these quirks are based on a sensory need, an anxiety, or a compulsion, these quirks have a stunning effect on his environment, and the world around him.

Take noise for instance. He is very particular to noise. When listening to the radio in the car, and a favorite song of his is being played, the volume must be set just perfectly at level 10. If it had been on level 9 when the song began, he will quickly ask for it to be turned up. If you turn it up too loud he will ask for it to be lowered. The level is 10 precisely, no more no less.

When we are in an uncontrollable environment that is too loud, there are two options to how he will react. First, scream at the top of his lungs to gain the attention of all around him so he can yell shut up! This normally doesn’t work in public, but has an eerie affect on family gatherings, and induces a quick exit to the far corner of the house, or church, or wherever for some hug therapy, and a few minutes of cuddling to calm the anxiety.

His second option is to plug his ears, any way possible. We discovered the need to plug ears while at a local restaurant for a Father’s Day celebration. The restaurant is quite loud, as patrons talk over the hiss of grilled fajitas, sizzling on their iron skillets, which dart constantly up and down aisles to the awaiting palates.

Like most restaurants, this one has an annoying rendition of Happy Birthday, sung by the staff that includes a boisterous array of clapping hands, culminating with the popping of balloons in crescendo. The concluding “pop” and the raucous cheers that follow render a loud shriek from Ethan’s lips.

Following the outburst, he repositioned himself on his chair, sitting like a vulture, with his feet on the seat, squatting down, his one ear resting on his knee, the other ear being plugged by his finger. With his free hand he drinks from his soda. No eating is done because there is nothing on the menu that he eats. When both hands are required, say he is drinking and playing with a toy he can’t seem to put down, then I come in. Sitting on the end of the table I can reach around and using both hands plug his ears.

Over time, this procedure has worked itself into an art form, a science. We use it at a variety of locations. One place where it came in particularly handy—pun intended—was in public bathrooms. I don’t know if many people notice, but industrial toilets are very loud when they flush.

You may not want to picture this, but imagine a small boy, his pants and underwear at his ankles (one of those sensory things) standing on my feet—to obtain the correct height for the urinal—trying to go potty, while I stand as casually as I can, my fingers plugging his ears, to drown out the roar of toilet flushes from other patrons. A social story, which took some time to set in, eventually led him to use the stalls for all things pertaining to the bathroom – this is particularly help since at age 15 he still drops his pants and underwear to his ankles. Despite the idiosyncrasies, he now uses the bathroom by himself, his hands, since he sits, free to plug his own ears. When it is time to flush, he plugs his ears, and kicks the handle with his feet.

We have tried converting the finger plugging to earplugs. We’ve done this at movie theaters, amusement parks, and other notoriously loud locations, where the noise level is consistent.

The only drawback to the earplugs is related to his compulsion to tuck in his shirts. Earplugs, like his clothing, must be tucked in as far as possible. This creates a medical danger, so we do our best to watch him like a hawk. Occasionally we discover he pushed an earplug in to far, and we have to remove it with help from a pair of tweezers.

When I say these quirks, sensory needs, anxieties, and compulsions, have a stunning affect on his environment, and the world around him, I mean the whole world around him. There doesn’t seem to be anything that is not affected. Some of these characteristics seem to affect us more than they do him. The most dramatic one causes us the biggest stress pertains to his reaction to Epistaxis; the common bloody nose.

Nosebleeds, they say, are due to a rupture or hemorrhage. They apparently have witnessed Ethan’s when they decided to associate nosebleeds with words that give connotations of gushing, bursting, and breaching, like the flooding Mississippi as it breaks over the banks of the levees. Dry conditions, allergies, nose picking (ALL of which occur around here unfortunately) are major factors in the cause. We have tried nasal sprays, such as simple saline solutions, but I’m sure you could imagine how well that goes over…

When these ‘special occasions’ first began in earnest around here Ethan was fairly young, young enough that he didn’t speak much, so we would only discover them by accident. Add to it a lack of fear in response to bona fide dangers, and a dash of obsessive compulsion, and bloody noses were fun; nobody wants to put a stop to having fun!

Needless to say some of these occasions were downright horrific. At least for those of us that knew we should be worried about blood coming from our body, or that it is dripping down the ladder of the bunk bed, pooling on each step, splattering down the wall, and gathering in a puddle on the carpeting. Normally we'd find him leaning over the marble sink as it fills with blood, splatters of which dance out of the sink and on to the mirror, faucet and counter top. If we are lucky, when we find him, he has already started to clean himself up, even if this does cause an excessive number of towels to be christened.

These E-Ticket rides arrive quite suddenly, for the most part, and occur at all hours and in all places. Take for instance one Sunday. I was sitting at one end of our pew at church. Ethan was sitting quietly at the other end, against the wall, a hymnal on his lap as he played with a toy. I glanced back once or twice during the passing of the sacrament to see what he was doing. He was fine. I glanced over once more and saw that he was picking his nose. I motioned for him to stop, and he complied.

I turned back to look up to the front of the chapel when seconds later a friend sitting behind me tapped me and said, ‘His nose is bleeding.’ I turned to see the green hymnal on his lap was now red, his hands were covered in blood, and he appeared to have a red goatee. I stood up, grabbed him and the hymnal and pressed them against my chest, lifted him off his seat and turned to flee the chapel as quick as I could without breaking into a full sprint.

My eyes were fixed forward and to the door, I couldn’t tell you what facial expressions were being made, but as we turned to head out of the chapel, I knew Ethan had pulled his hands out from against my chest, and was holding them out so all could see.

In the bathroom we took several minutes to stop the bleeding, half an hour later we were nearly cleaned up from the encounter. Needless to say the hymnal made its way to the trash – it was the first, but would not be the last hymnal we disposed of because of a bloody nose.

Since that day we have become fairly well acclimated to these little detours on the acronym highway. But there is just one thing we have never come to grips with; one particular little thing that occurs to which we still find our knees wobbling as we unwillingly participate in the adventure.

Following each nosebleed there is the eventual escape of a large snotty blood clot – I apologize for the graphic description. On his FUN-O-METER, the escape of the bloody snot-clot is a perfect 10. It is the apex of all that is exciting to him about bloody noses. A close second is that bloody noses allow Ethan to spit blood! A trait he describes as, ‘Way cool!’

For us there is no fun in these adventures, but we trudge through them as best we can. During a trip this summer we experienced an overload of nosebleeds. We had at least three one day, and nearly one a day after that for the week. As we were driving home, heading down the highway in a construction zone, with no safe place to pull over being available, a bloody nose decided to rear its head. As I drove, my wife grabbed napkins and a plastic shopping bag, while our oldest daughter shuffled seats with the youngest to administer aid. The bloody nose was not as bad as they had been during the week. It lasted about five minutes, and culminated in pegging the FUN-O-METER with you guessed it.

Well, everyone survived, no hymnals were damaged, no seats stained, just a few extra handfuls of fast food napkins met a fate worse than greasy burgers and fry sauce.

After returning to work the thoughts of that particular trip had come to my mind and I decided to ask my coworkers if they knew of any good treatments or home remedies for treating or stopping bloody noses when they occur. Tampons were suggested, as well as ice packs on the nose. One coworker, caught off guard by my question asked me what had brought this on. I briefly related our experiences with Ethan and bloody noses. He sat there for only a second, and then asked intently, ‘How is it you come to work everyday so happy?’

I hadn’t been looking for pats on the back that day; even now, as I type, I have both hands on the keyboard. I threw out a simplistic answer, ‘Oh, you know. It is what it is…’ His question however has haunted me for several days now. Why am I able to be so happy with all this turmoil? I know it’s not me, so what could it be?

While studying for a lesson I had to give this past Sunday, I came upon a talk that gave me a small glimpse into the answer to the question.
Life presses all kinds of burdens on each of us, some light but others relentless and heavy. People struggle every day under burdens that tax their souls. Many of us struggle under such burdens. They can be emotionally or physically ponderous. They can be worrisome, oppressive, and exhausting. And they can continue for years…No matter the burdens we face in life…Burdens provide opportunities to practice virtues that contribute to eventual perfection. They invite us to "yield…[to put] off the natural man and [become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.” Thus burdens become blessings, though often such blessings are well disguised and may require time, effort, and faith to accept and understand… (emphasis added)
As the Apostle Paul taught, by bearing ‘one another’s burdens’ we ‘fulfill the law of Christ.’ (Galatians 6:2) It is just as true that ‘…he that keepeth the law, happy is he.’ (Proverbs 29:18)

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