It is 8:30am on a Wednesday, and in a cold room at Gosford Private Hospital a photograph is taped to the wall.
Below it - and about two metres in front of it - an empty operating table stands in the middle of the room, not alone.
Surgical instruments are sterilised and counted by nurses. Two plastic surgeons scrub up. And the first patient for the day is soon pushed into the room.
With the help of some happy gas, they are soon blissfully unaware of the heart rate monitor beeping. They don’t notice the two pieces of sticky, clear plastic being placed over their eyelids to stop the Betadine - currently being wiped all over their face - from stinging.
Plastic surgeon Dr Gazi Hussain chats away with his assistant as he draws lines on the area they are about to ‘fix’ with a marker (or tattoo pen, as they like to call it).
And no, this isn’t a facelift. Or a nose job.
The photograph stuck to the wall shows a blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy - he’s a beautiful little boy -and if you look a little closer, his ears stick out more than most.
His left ear especially.
You wouldn’t notice straight away. His mum didn’t - she loves him the way he is - but two boys at kindergarten have. And now he wants his ears pinned back.
“They started off saying he had elf ears and then started calling him a monkey,” his mother tells The Weekly Online.
“And Ben’s* got really straight hair so there wasn’t anything we could do to cover them. Kids can be a bit cruel unfortunately.”
At six years old, Ben* is the youngest patient Dr Gazi will see today, by a couple of decades. The surgeon would prefer him to be a little older before undergoing Otoplasty (that’s the official name for the surgery), but Ben was so keen to have his ears pinned back, he persuaded his parents to let him go under the knife during school holidays.
It’s now 9am and Dr Gazi is injecting local anaesthetic around the tattoo marks on the back of Ben’s ear.
The skin bulges and the adrenalin in the anaesthetic slows the blood flow to those vessels. Dr Gazi then uses a diathermy pencil (which cuts the skin like a scalpel, but by burning through it) to follow the tattoo markings of a long oval shape behind the ear, cutting the skin inside the oval out. And the surgeons then work their way deeper into the tissue, slicing their way around the cartilage of the ear to expose it.
Sometimes they cut off part of the cartilage. But with Ben, they won’t.
Dr Gazi makes small, delicate slices into the cartilage instead. It now has a slight curve, and when they fold the skin of the ear back over it, and stitch the back of little Ben’s ear together again, it’s pulled back a little tighter. Dr Gazi fiddles with it a little, almost like a sculptor.
One ear down.
“You can argue that this a cosmetic operation,” says Dr Gazi.
“You have a child whose ears stick out and he’s teased at school. Maybe in years gone by, you would have just said to the kid ‘Ah, get on with life’. But now we’re able to fix it.
“I think for us – the line between cosmetic and reconstructive [surgery] is a bit blurred.
“You don’t have to do it, but if you can make the patient feel better about themselves, and it’s safe, who’s to say.”
It is now just past 11am and Ben is sitting slightly upright in another hospital bed, with his mum by his side.
His ears are wrapped up in a white bandage covering most of his blonde locks, and his blue eyes are peeping out underneath.
He’s rubbing them, and they – along with Ben - still look a little drowsy.
He might be tired, but is he is excited to take that bandage off?
As the six-year-old slowly nods his head a smile creeps onto his face.
Hell yes he is.
*Name has been changed