The surgeon looks through a microscope at the middle ear. What he sees —and what the rest of his surgical team see, on closed-circuit television—is a stirrup-shaped bone called the stapes. Because her stapes is covered with a bony growth, the patient, a 50-year-old housewife, cannot hear with that ear. The therapy: microsurgery, a delicate art that began as early as 1923, but which has only recently been mastered by resourceful surgeons.

At the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, Dr. Harold F. Schuknecht removes the stapes, being careful that his hooklike instrument does not damage its sensitive surroundings. He then...

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