Land of Yu-Phonia

by Rosemary Romberg (Wiener)
 illustrations by Linda Tagliaferro

I once went to visit a far off land. As soon as I arrived there I noticed that the people all looked just like us except for one thing. Hardly any of them had ears. On the sides of almost all of the people’s heads were small holes surrounded by small scars where ears should be. I imagined that this was probably an unusual breed of people who were born that way.

I had been visiting for a few days when I came upon a group of children. All of them were earless, just like nearly all the inhabitants of Yu-Phonia. Some of these children stared at me with fascinated curiosity. I soon realized why. I have ears. Soon a woman came along and scolded the children. “It’s not nice to stare at people! Now, go away and leave her alone!”

Family

I asked the lady why hardly any of the Yu-Phonians had ears. She looked at me oddly and said, “We just don’t. We all do it. Everyone knows it isn’t clean otherwise.”

Over the next few days I tried several times to ask people about their earless state. Some of the people would just shake their heads and walk away, apparently shocked by my question. Others gave me vague answers. “It isn’t clean.” “Everyone does it.” “You can get diseases.” No one seemed to know why it was done or want to say very much about it. That was just the way, to them, that people’s heads were supposed to look—in the earless state. I realized by now that something was being done to these people to make them earless.

I was starting to feel self-conscious about my own previously taken for granted ears. I started to carefully brush my hair down so that my ears wouldn’t show. But I felt extremely reluctant to have them cut off so that I would look the same as all my new friends. I mentioned this to a man who said, “That’s why it’s done to babies. They don’t feel any pain. But I once knew a man who came here to visit. He still had his ears because he had been born in the U.S. where they don’t cut off ears. His ears were really dirty with a lot of earwax and he had a crusty sore on one of them. So his doctor told him he’d have to have his ears cut off. He was feeling really odd about them anyway. He wanted to look like the rest of us. So he had it done. Boy, he went through a lot of pain when they cut them off! They had to put him to sleep for the operation. They had to take several stitches. He had big bandages on the sides of his head. He was really sore for several weeks!! But he was a lot happier afterwards not to have those big, funny looking things in the way!! With a little baby it’s all over in just a few minutes and they forget all about it. It saves so many problems.”

I told him, “I’m a foreigner and I just don’t understand your custom. But I’m curious about it. Most people don’t seem to know very much about this and don’t want to talk about it. Where can I find out more about ear amputation?”

He told me about a young doctor who performs them regularly at the local hospital who would probably be willing to give me some information. I made an appointment with that doctor and went to his office to ask him some questions.

“Well, most doctors will admit that ear amputation is not really necessary,” the doctor began. “Five years ago the Yu-Phonian Academy of Pediatrics spent several months doing an intensive study on the subject. Their specially appointed task force on ear amputation, following several months of research, officially came out with the statement that ‘There is no absolute medical necessity for routine ear amputation during the newborn period. It is not an essential component of total health care.”

“I always try to make a point of telling parents that ear amputation is not necessary, but they almost always agree to it anyway. I think they believe that it looks better, or that it is unclean to have ears. They don’t want their kids looking different from other people’s kids. Besides almost all young parents today had their own ears amputated themselves when they were babies and they usually want their children to match them. Sometimes they will say, ‘Well, it was done to me when I was a baby and I don’t remember anything, and I’m perfectly okay. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.’ I think they imagine that ear amputation is not painful for the baby. I continue to do them because I believe that the parents wishes must be respected. Also, I believe that I do a much more skillful job than most doctors. Many people think it’s a simple operation, but there can be some pretty serious complications. I’ve seen some that have bled pretty badly. I’ve seen one or two cases where babies have had to have blood transfusions after their ears were cut off. Occasionally the ear amputation wound gets infected and has to be treated. Once in a while a baby has to stay in the hospital for quite a while for treatment of the ear amputation wound. But most of them heal up within a few days without any problems. The complications can be serious, but statistically, ear amputation is a safe, simple operation.

“Now, of course the baby feels pain. Usually the baby cries when his or her ears are sliced off. But I’ve seen several instances where the baby does not even cry. Some doctors do use a local anesthetic injected into the side of the ear before it is cut off. I don’t know if that makes that much difference, but it might help the baby’s initial pain. There’s a special restraining board called an “Ear-Amp-Straint” that the baby is strapped down to before the operation is done. Then there’s a special clamp that goes down over the ear and smashes off all the blood vessels before the doctor slices it off. There’s also one company that has come out with a plastic device. It’s placed inside the ear and then a string is tied tightly around the outside of the ear and most of the ear is trimmed away. Then the rest of it stays in place for about a week until the remaining ear tissue shrivels up and the whole thing falls off with the plastic.

“The parents almost always sign the permission slip for it, but they rarely see the operation and usually know nothing about it. The operation is usually done one or two days after birth, although in some hospitals they cut off the baby’s ears right in the delivery room. It’s better if the parents don’t see their baby’s ears before they are cut off. They might wonder what they are and why their babies look so strange. Then we have to remind the parents that they all look that way when they are born, but they will look normal once their ears are cut off. And we also have to instruct the parents to care for the ear amputation wound until it heals up.

“Now there is a small but growing movement in our land of people who object to routine ear amputations of newborns. Some people think it is really horrible and painful for the baby. We had a nurse working here for a while that really hated ear amputations. Her own kids had been done as babies, but when she started working here she kept going around saying, ‘I had no idea that this was what was done!! Why did I ever let them do that to my babies!!’ Then one day she came in with a movie camera and filmed the operation of one baby having his ears cut off. Shortly after that she started showing it in the childbirth classes that are given here at the hospital. We soon put a stop to that! That type of thing is just too upsetting for parents to see! People like that are just trouble makers! We soon had parents coming in to have their babies and they were all upset, not knowing whether to agree to it or not. Some of the parents were taking their babies home without their ears being cut off, and you could tell that they were terribly worried about whether or not they made the right decision. You know, they can sometimes have real problems with those ears! And they are terribly difficult to wash! I haven’t seen that nurse around for a while now. I think she got transferred to another department or left or something.

“Of course I’m open minded about whatever parents want. Once in a while you do see parents with very strong convictions that they do not want their baby’s ears cut off. I believe that that must be respected. I’m always very careful to instruct those parents that if ear amputation is not to be done, their children must carefully follow a program of lifelong aural hygiene to insure proper cleanliness. Cancer of the outer ear is a definite risk of having ears, but careful, diligent cleanliness almost entirely removes that risk.”

I asked him, “What about one’s ability to hear? In my country where they don’t cut off ears, it is generally believed that the outer ear enhances one’s hearing ability. Of course you can still hear without the outer ears, but I’m sure there’s some loss of subtleties and variations in hearing without them.”

“Huh?” the doctor went on, “Well, that’s all entirely speculative. I don’t know if there’s any truth to that or not. In fact, I’ve never even heard of any such thing. I doubt if any scientific medical study could ever conclusively prove or disprove anything about the presence or absence of the outer ear having any effect on one’s hearing ability one way or the other. I’m sure very few people would ever believe it if what you say is true. Our people can still hear perfectly well.”

I then said, “You know, this is kind of a sensitive subject, but you’re a doctor and I guess I can mention this. In our country many people find the outer ear quite erotic. It’s very sensitive to the touch. Some people consider the ear an erogenous zone. People sometimes like to nuzzle up to their lover’s ear when they are snuggling or making love.”

“Well, humphhh!!!”, the doctor responded quickly, “I doubt that there’s any truth to that!!” He looked quite embarrassed, so I quickly changed the subject.

“In my country most people think ears look attractive. They complete the face. Most Americans, upon seeing Yu-Phonians for the first time, are startled. To us a person’s head without any ears looks strange.”

“Well, I think that’s all entirely a subjective opinion,” the doctor responded. “Most Yu-Phonians think ears are funny looking. Some are not even sure what they are. I’ve traveled in other countries and I’ve seen some pretty strange looking ears, I’ve got to admit. Sometimes they can be too big, or stick out from the head, or have very long earlobes. I’ve seen adults and older children come in to get their ears cut off because they got in the way of everything or were such a nuisance to keep clean or gave them problems. If parents want to leave their babies’ ears on they really should think the decision over very carefully and be sure they are doing the right thing. It’s a big responsibility, not only with attending to and teaching them proper hygiene, but to make sure that they understand and accept that they are different. That’s why most parents decide that it’s much less trouble just to have them cut off right away at birth.

“But,” the doctor continued, “attitudes are changing and today people do seem to be a little more open minded and accepting of people with unamputated ears than they were a few years back. People are starting to realize that it’s a matter of parental choice about whether or not their children will have ears, and not a matter of absolute medical necessity.”

“When did this practice start?’ I asked him.

“Well, one of our religious groups has been doing it for thousands of years. But as a medical routine it started only about a hundred years ago. It became very popular and was done to about 99% of all infants born in Yu-Phonia about 40 years ago. Shortly before that our country fought in the big war and a lot of our soldiers had to have their ears amputated when they were out in the hot jungles and couldn’t keep them clean and had all sorts of problems. You have to live where you have running water and regular bathing facilities in order to properly take care of ears, you know. So most of these men wanted it done to their own kids later when they got married and their wives had babies. Back then there was more emphasis on ear amputation being healthier and medically necessary.

“Some of our elderly people still have their ears because back when they were born ear amputation was not being done nearly to the extent that it was later. Some of them have ear amputations later in life because their ears give them problems or because they’d rather not have them. I’ve seen some old people that get quite senile and cannot properly take care of their ears.

“There’s one old geezer out on a farm south of here. He’s in his 60’s and he still has his ears. He writes a lot of stuff and calls himself the ‘Keep Your Ears on Society’. If you give him the time he’ll tell you all about his ears and how horrible everybody else is for cutting their babies’ ears off. Most people think he’s crazy. Most people find him quite embarrassing.

“There’s one lady,” the doctor went on, “that might be able to give you even more information. She does a lot of writing and I understand that she has even written a book about ear amputation. Her work is quite biased though. You’ll just have to accept that. she is very much against ear amputation. She’s practically an evangelist against it. She has several children and I think the story is that she had the first two done after they were born in the hospital and like almost all parents she didn’t think much about it. Then she had the third one at home. Now I don’t approve of home birth, but there’s a few crazies out there that do it. People respect her anyway. After having her third one at home, a whole week went by before they took the baby to a doctor to have his ears cut off—so he would look like all the rest of them, you know. This was the first time she ever had had a chance to get any kind of a close up look at ears. She really thought her baby was fine the way he was and didn’t want to have it done. But she didn’t know anything about ears or ear amputations, so she figured it was for the best. And from her perspective, her baby’s ear amputation was terribly upsetting for her as a mother. Ever since then she has been on an active campaign to talk other parents out of ear amputations and put an end to the practice. I think some mothers get a little neurotic and over emotional about these things. But her writing is good and she has researched the subject very thoroughly. She lives in a small town out west of here. You might want to contact her.”

The doctor gave me the lady’s address and phone number. I first phoned her to arrange a visit. I wasn’t sure how to pronounce her name. “Hello, Mrs. Ju- -.”

“Jugandels,” she replied over the phone.

“You’re the lady who’s doing all the research about ear amputations.

“Yes.”

“How do you pronounce your name?”

She giggled nervously, “It’s pronounced just like ‘jug handles.’ I know it’s a funny name for ears. It’s just an incredible, ironic coincidence. I think some people don’t quite take me seriously because of it. That’s why I’m starting to publish some of my material under a different name.”

Mrs. Jugandels invited me to her home so we could discuss the matter in greater depth. I drove up to a modest suburban house nestled in the trees. We spoke for some time on the subject. Then she showed me her small office in the basement. There was a desk with a typewriter and mountains of unanswered letters and unfinished business. Several shelves along the opposite wall were filled with stacks of several different printed sheets. She gave me copies of several of these articles. A number of them she had written herself. Some of these factually spelled out the common arguments for and against ear amputation. The factual arguments all stacked up strongly against the routine operation. Other articles were instruction sheets about correct information on the proper car of an infant’s or young child’s ears.

“Most people mess with them too much,” she said. “You just need to leave the baby’s ears alone until he is old enough to clean them himself. Most supposed ‘problems’ with the ears come about from parents or doctors over vigorously cleaning the baby’s ears.”

“That’s different from what the doctor told me,” I replied, “He really emphasized the importance of proper ear hygiene. He insisted that it was okay to have ears, but he made it sound as if caring for the ears was terribly complicated! “Most doctors are oriented towards believing in ear amputations,” she went on to explain. “Therefore they have been led to believe that care of the ear, if left in place, is extremely complicated. Paradoxically, this overly aggressive, constant cleaning of the ear is what causes most problems that young children have with irritations of the outer ear. Sometimes parents are told that they need to clean their babies’ ears several times a day. It’s no wonder that so many parents are led to believe that it’s much simpler just to cut them off at birth.”

“Well, I still have my ears,” I volunteered, “and I’m sure you’re right. I’ve never had to do anything in particular to take care of my ears. You just wash them whenever you take a bath. It’s no more difficult than washing your face, or your toes, or genitals, or any other part of the body.”

“Doctors just don’t realize that,” she continued. “People are just so biased in their thinking about ears. They’ve been conditioned to believe that they’re dirty. It will take a lot of educating to make the public think otherwise.” Then she looked at me enviously and said, “Gosh, what’s it like to have ears? I guess I can never know. I can only imagine. Once they are gone, they’re gone.”

Some of her other information sheets were filled with personal stories, mostly by parents who now questioned why they had had ear amputation done to their children. She also showed me a set of slides that were taken from the advertising material put out by the medical supplies companies that manufacture and sell the devices for ear amputations. Some of them showed actual pictures of babies’ ears being cut off. The pictures made me cringe. “These make people think,” she explained.

Her mail arrived while I was there. I watched her pore through a stack of envelopes. “I sell these materials,” she explained, “mostly to childbirth educators and midwives, but some to doctors and to parents who want to know more about non-ear amputation and correct care of the outer ear. It takes a lot of time away from my family, but it’s an important mission that I’m doing. More and more babies are now being allowed to grow up with their ears because of my efforts” .

“I’ve strongly emphasized the pain inflicted on the infant during the operation,” she went on. “That was the only thing that was important to me when I first set out to do this. I really thought that people were better off without ears. It was a big dilemma. But now I know that the primary issue is really choice. A baby does not have a choice about whether or not he will keep his or her ears. If someone has their ears and later wants them cut off they can always have it done. There are some valid medical reasons for having ones ears amputated, but never during infancy. It has been a ‘just in case’ type of reasoning. But if someone has had their ears cut off and later grows up and wishes that they had ears, there’s no way of ever putting them back. I even know of a few people who have experimented with a new ‘ear restoration’ operation. Some skin and cartilage can be grafted from other parts of the body to make a replacement ear. But it’s not a true ear and never will be. Most people look at me strange when I try to tell them about this. They just cannot comprehend why anyone would possibly want to have ears. Most people insist that it makes no difference either way, but I wonder, and I’ll always wonder what my children and I are missing.”

Just then I heard a baby cry. Mrs. Jugandels went into the other room to get her baby. She brought out a little baby girl who, instead of having holes and small scars on the sides of her head, had perfectly formed little round ears. “This is my latest achievement,” Mrs. Jugandels announced proudly. “Even with all the work and research I have done, it took a lot of courage and resolve to leave her ears in place. My husband would have rather had it done so she would look like the rest of the family. But he told me that if it upset me that much it didn’t have to be done. My in-laws are terribly worried about her. They are so afraid that she is going to feel so bad about herself when she grows up because she has these ‘funny-looking’ ears and is different from her family and most of her friends. But I’m going to spend a lot of time teaching her that her ears are something to be proud of and that she has something special that not everyone else has.

Mom and baby

“I know lots of other people around here that have kids with unamputated ears,” she went on. “So I think when she grows up, she is bound to know other people who also have their ears. I keep thinking positively that there is going to be a turn around in all this. The rates of ear amputation are declining in our country, in part due to my constant efforts to educate the public. It’s a lot of work for one person and I wish more people cared. But who knows? Maybe some day the kids without their ears may be the ones who will feel ‘different’ and the kids with their ears will feel normal. I strongly believe that the body is designed the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve lost some friends because of that. Around some people I’ve had to be quiet. But I truly believe that someday people will accept ears as a normal, natural part of the body and will look back on this practice in horror. Perhaps I will even be remembered for being right.”

by Rosemary Romberg (Wiener) – Peaceful Beginnings. Written to inspire others to think about foreskins and our country’s practice of foreskin amputation (commonly known as circumcision.)

First printing: 1985 (Updated for website: 2000, edited 2013)


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