One damn thing after another

As I noted the other day, I spent all Saturday morning fixing a problem with our submission form. I then went shopping for some party supplies, and then spent the rest of the day dealing with my ear.

I've been sleeping with earplugs for years, and--probably as a result--every six months or so my ears start to feel a little clogged, so I use this "ear irrigator" bulb I got at a drugstore to wash them out. Every couple of years, they get really clogged and I need to get a doctor to wash them out, using a professional doctor ear irrigation tool.

I used the home irrigator bulb last Wednesday. Thursday, the skin all around the outer entrance to my ear canal was a little painful to the touch.

Friday it was worse, but I had made plans to work at Mary Anne and Kevin's place, so I ignored it rather than going in to see a doctor. I figured that it would get better on its own; on the rare occasions when I do go see a doctor about anything, they almost always say "Leave it alone and it'll get better on its own."

Saturday morning the ear was a lot worse. What made me finally decide to seek medical attention was that chewing had become painful.

So after I fixed the SH submission form and went shopping, I went off to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation's urgent care center. I'd been there a couple of times before, and knew to expect multi-hour waits.

I think I waited for about two hours; then the nurse called my name, and took my blood pressure and pulse and info, and then sent me back to the waiting room because all their rooms were full.

After another 45 minutes or so, a doctor looked at my ear. She said there was an infection, and wrote me a prescription for antibiotic ear drops and an oral antibiotic, and told me to go to a particular 24-hour Walgreens because it was after 6 on a Saturday by this point. She also told me that if the ear got worse on Sunday, I should come back, because if the ear canal swelled up until it closed, then the antibiotic couldn't get through. Then she repeated it for emphasis: it was important that if things got worse, I come back on Sunday, not even waiting 'til Monday.

I drove to the recommended Walgreens, and waited something like 45-60 minutes for the prescription to be filled (after the counter guy estimated 20 minutes).

Saturday night I should have done the house cleanup that I hadn't had time to do all day, but I was too stressed and tired. I think I got started on some of it, but I forget.

Sunday morning, the ear was worse.

It was not a lot worse, but it was a little worse. I woke up around 6, feeling like the pain had spread further out from my ear. Eventually took some Advil and went back to sleep, but when I woke up again, it still hurt. Chewing was really painful. I waffled for a long time about what to do. But the urgent care center website was showing a half-hour wait, so I finally decided it was worth the time to go in.

I waited about 45 minutes to be seen by a nurse, and then I sat in the examination room for another 45 minutes before the doctor showed up. He took a 10-second look in my ear and said the canal wasn't blocked. Then he said (approximately) "You've only been taking the antibiotics for less than 24 hours? Then you should just wait. Give it time."

I wish the first doctor had told me that.

(I should note that, as far as I know, I've never taken antibiotics before. I know about them, but I don't have any clear sense of how long to expect them to take to start having a noticeable effect.)

Anyway. All told, the Sunday morning visit probably only took two hours. But it was two hours I could ill afford that day. We did eventually get the house clean and more or less ready before most of the party guests arrived that evening, but it was a long day. (More about the party another time.)

Monday morning, I wasn't feeling much better, and I'd developed a stuffed-up nose as well. I decided to attend my morning meeting at work, and got as far as about 20 yards from the building where the meeting was, and then I started coughing. And I thought to myself: "I'm sick. Why am I here?" And I turned around and went home.

The nose and cough cleared up later in the day, but this morning my ear isn't noticeably better. This is all giving me a lot of sympathy for kids who get ear infections. No fun.

To add to the difficulty, the doctor said I shouldn't wear earplugs during this period. So this morning the loud trucks at 6-something a.m. woke me up, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I finally turned up the white noise generator to loud enough to drown out the trucks, and managed to doze a little longer, but eventually gave up.

Just a couple months ago, I was thinking how nice it was that, despite a fair bit of stress and traveling, I hadn't gotten significantly sick in a long time. After the past three weeks of being some form of unhealthy most of the time, I'm ready to be done. But the antibiotics have another week left to go.

Whine, grumble, complain. More on other topics soon, I hope.

4 Responses to “One damn thing after another”

  1. Matthew

    To my Brother-in-Earwax,

    I have often wondered
    Why the Great Master of the Universe,
    After he had created the innumerable stars
    and planets
    and comets
    and other space debris
    And set them in convoluted motion,
    After he had chosen one lonely planet out of millions of galaxies,
    And infused it with life,
    After he had allowed that life to thrive and evolve for millions of years,
    And after he had allowed one lifeform to evolve both a cerebral cortex and an opposable thumb,
    After giving this lifeform the great gifts of Love and Thought and Ambition,
    After doing all thus,
    Why would the Great Master of the Universe then choose to Afflict his lifeform
    With ears that produce wax in season like the floods of the Nile.

    Perhaps the Ineffable, Nameless One, after listening to the prayers, the requests, the complaints, the curses, and the whining of these life forms for thousands of years, perhaps he thought it would be nice to have a break now and then, to not have to listen any longer. And perhaps he recognized that I, your humble servant, was not so different than He, in that I have children who complain, and curse, and whine, and who do not listen or pay attention or remember where they have put their clothes and who Cry Out with Wailing and Thrashing and Gnashing of Teeth when asked to put away their toys. And perhaps he recognized that you also are like He in that you have writers upon writers who cannot seem to read, or understand, or remember the carefully crafted submission guidelines that you have made available to them in many guises. And perhaps the Great God has chosen to take pity on us and has caused us to become deaf. For even I, myself, after a long day of listening to the pleadings and plaints of my children, I have not so minded being deaf to their entreaties.

    But being a mere mortal, conjoined in marriage with another mere mortal and not any mere mortal but one who wishes and expects to be heard on occasion, I have been forced to see remedies – oils and potions and candling. I have even tried your “ear irrigator”, a device better known to me as The Dark Implement Of The Exquisite Heebie-Jeebies. And yet, to no avail.

    Eventually, I made the acquaintance of a Noble Physician who, though exceedingly busy due to her great Skill and Compassion, allows me a few moments once a year. We retire to a private room where my screams cannot be heard and my body rendered immobile with thongs of leather fashioned from salted ox hide. Then, with a very teeny-tiny, eensy-weensy pick and shovel, she removes the congealed effluence of my Eutaschian tubes. As this effluence is tenacious beyond belief (in the original Romance meaning of the word), this process is an Affliction and a Plague and a Nuisance-Beyond-Compare.

    And yet, after she has flayed the living and delicate epidural tissue from inside my ear canal, I unfailingly pay this kind Physician in silver for the peace her ministrations brings to my household. For a day or two afterwards, the inside of head is quite delicate and sore and itchy, and I have often longed for one of those tiny bamboo back scratchers, re-fashioned in an anatomically-impossible curvature, so that it might scratch the far side of my ear drum as a pleasing and soothing sensation in my misery. But that passes, and once more I am able to hear the joyous and lilting ululations of my tribe.

    This cycle might have continued for the rest of my life, but I have found a cure, or if not a cure, at least a means to thwart my overactive ceruminous apocrine gland. And I write to you, a Fellow Sufferer with Pebbles in His Head, to ease your torment. It is simply thus.

    Every morning (or evening or whenever it is your custom), when you step into the shower, before you ablute any other portion of your sacred body, tilt you right ear at a perpendicular angle to the aqueous lines of force ejecting from your shower head, so that the rushing jet of water reaches as far as possible into your ear canal. You must hold to that very position for ten full seconds, as though you were Atlas and all of humanity depended upon on your stillness. I find it useful to count to ten in Mesopotamian, as it is a language I do not speak and it forces me to count slowly. Then I repeat this ritual with the other ear.

    I do not know why this method differs significantly from The Dark Implement Of The Exquisite Heebie Jeebies, but ever since I have subscribed to this regimen, my Kind Physician has been unable to find any substance accreting to my ear canal whatsoever and has since let her expensive instruments rust.

    May my small wisdom, offered in true brotherhood, ease your discomfort.

  2. Will

    (1) When I was Very Young, I had a most horrible earsache. Perhaps this was because I had grown tired of listening to Mother, but the reason she took me to the doctor late one evening instead of the next morning was that she had grown tired of listening to me.

    The doctor (not my regular pediatrician; just whichever doctor from the clinic was working that evening) looked in my ears and said without hesitation “Whoa! I’m gonna need a Roto Rooter for this”.

    I had no idea what he was talking about, but I remember my mother taking great offense at what she considered to be awful bedside manner. (Looking back, I think this episode is hilarious.) My dim recollection is that he pulled out large chunks with a Gentle Hook On A Stick and the matter was resolved in under ten minutes.

    (2) Just after graduating from Swarthmore, my hearing started disappearing. Over a period of about three days it almost completely went away. I was terrified–had I really gone deaf? Why, o why, had I taken Structure of Navajo rather than Structure of American Sign Language??? I had never stopped to consider that the odds of my going deaf were rather greater than the odds of my moving to Arizona. One should always consider these things.

    I didn’t have a local doctor yet. I called the campus health center and realized to my horror that I couldn’t hear well enough on the phone to understand anything. I drove over there, and they wrote down a recommended doctor in Chester. I think they called to make an appointment for me when I pointed out that I could not.

    This doctor was extraordinarily friendly, and didn’t mention the need for a Roto Rooter at all. (Or perhaps my ears were beyond Roto Rooting by that point.) But nor did he pull out the Gentle Hook On A Stick. Instead, he went over to a corner cabinet in the office and pulled out an old metal pail and the largest syringe I’ve ever seen, of gleaming stainless steel. These looked like Medical Implements Of The 19th Century–I was amazed to see them in an examination room at Chester Hospital. (Are they in every examination room, and we just never see them? What other Ancient Implements lie quietly in the cabinetry in wait of their time of greatest need?)

    He filled the syringe with tap water, told me to cock my head to the left and hold the bucket under my right ear, and with tremendous force he flushed out my ear–the entire ten-inch-long, two-inch diameter syringe emptied in under five seconds.

    I thought for sure the water would come streaming out of my left ear, the pressure was so great in my head. Was I holding the bucket under the wrong ear? My fears were unnecessary. The bucket filled, and the doctor reached in and pulled out a single chunk of earwax and hair the size of (unsurprisingly) an earplug. Then the other ear the same way.

    I have this vague sense he didn’t even charge me for this, but so overwhelmed was I with the sensation of hearing that my memories from that point forward are only of that glorious feeling and no other.

    (3) Thank you, Brother-in-Earwax Matthew. And best wishes, Brother-in-Earwax Jed.

  3. Nao

    Oh my brethren-in-earwax,

    Upon the advice of a doctor, I use one of those little blue bulbs to squirt hydrogen peroxide into my ears about once a month. I let it sit and bubble (a strange sensation indeed) with my head tilted to one side until it stops bubbling, whereupon I let it drain. Quite effective.

    This prevents me from repeating a similar experience to that of Brother Will’s, given that I have an extra-deep bend in my ear canal which collects wax.

    Also, I can avoid close encounters with Super Soakers.

    Jed, I hope you complete your recovery speedily.

    Your sister in suffering,

  4. Jay Hartman

    I hope your ear is improving. Here’s a “pollyanna factor” for you regarding your wait times to see a doc sat the urgent care clinic: A woman in Southern California died while waiting for care in an ER a few months ago. People watching her die called 911, but the 911 operator said he couldn’t help. A video later showed a janitor cleaning around her as she writhed on the floor in pain.


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