A Visit to the Doctor: Wax in the Ear
I am ordinarily a sedate guy, but on October 20, 2014, I was ready to wrestle down a doctor if he were to decline seeing me. At least this was what went through my mind.
Don’t all of us carry an iron side which we deploy should our soft side fail?
Okay, the ‘through my mind’ statement is not quite true; I divulged my confrontational intentions to my two secretaries who helped me make an appointment to consult an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician.
My ordeal began on a Wednesday morning after I stepped out from the shower, while reaching for a towel. ‘Water trapped in my ear which as always will run out in a minute,’ was my immediate conclusion.
I got it wrong. A day went by, and another day went by, and my left ear was still clogged. Then came the buzzing, the reverberation of echoes. There was no relenting. On day seven, my symptoms reached a crescendo.
Listening to patients’ hearts and lungs became nightmarishly difficult. A local band had set up shop in my ear canal.
Time, the healer of all ailments, had not come up with the goods. Debrox ear drops, bought at the nearby pharmacy store, left me with a stained suit as its solution dripped down from my ear and across my left shoulder.
At age 52 I have had my run-ins with infirmities, self-diagnosis and professional help. Two years ago I had gone to see an ophthalmologist about removing a tissue growth on the white part of my left eye, a ptyregium. When the nurse who registered me noted that I was a doctor, she chuckled, ‘Use the mirror, Doc, perform the surgery yourself.’
Remarks that we discard as jokes never leave; they only hibernate within sight of the senses, always ready to influence our actions.
Thinking about that remark now, almost two years later, I pulled out a flexible ear curette and began to excavate my left ear. Sheets of wax I never knew lived in there surrendered to my skills. ‘Yurk,’ I said, as I transferred the contents onto a white Kleenex and tossed them into the garbage.
But my ordeal did not abate. Unlike eyeballs, ear canals are not visible when facing the mirror. Both factors combined motivated me to call for help.
Owing to my busy schedule, which mostly consists of consulting with my own patients, I missed the aforementioned urgent appointment that I so much desired and deserved. So the next day, still feeling very entitled, after dropping off my teenage son at school I drove to the ENT office.
Considering that I had missed my previous appointment, my belligerence, though still burning, had tamed quite a bit.
Fortuitously, I showed up as soon as the office receptionist, an elderly lady, finished taking a seat behind her desk. ‘Do you have an appointment today?’ she asked. ‘Yesterday, but I missed it,’ I replied. Recollecting perhaps from my secretaries’ call, she asked rhetorically, ‘Are you a doctor?’ ‘Yes,’ said I.
She passed me a form in which I wrote down my complaints and answered a host of unrelated questions, including ‘What did your grandmother die of?’, a drag net of information which health professionals obsessively collect, and which contributes nothing to most patients’ present predicaments.
I took a seat and waited. Thomas Berger’s novel, ‘Who is Teddy Villanova?’ kept me company.
Let me be clear, the ENT doctor had not directly offended me by any means. The fact that we had not met before did not diminish my dislike for him, however. Haven’t all of us been conditioned since Genesis to search for other Adams on whom to hang our tribulations? Today, he was my Adam.
Viewing him as a target upon which I projected my predicament served as a vent that brought sanity to my disrupted routine, a life I have been running unperturbed for twenty years.
When I was on the last paragraph of the last chapter, the secretary indicated that the doctor was ready to see me. I went through and then turned left to a set room which the aide had indicated. My seat was a high brown chair that reminded me of a barber’s swivel chair, though narrower. I waited, and mulled.
The surprises of life surely keep all of us in constant vigilance. Suddenly a condition as mundane as wax in the ear had shot up to the top of my life’s medical battle, surpassing memory attrition, tortuous veins on the legs, graying of hair, facial festoons, impending baldness, wrinkling skin, backache and mental fatigue.
Two minutes more of waiting and my help was in. He looked middle-aged and struck me as agile and direct, as many surgeons are. He sat briefly, about a yard and half from me, on a foam padded stool with wheels. Then he jolted himself up.
‘What can I do for you?’ he asked, as most doctors are trained to do even though they have a prior knowledge of patients’ complaints, which they gleaned from completed forms.
‘Buzz in my left ear. When people talk, their voices reverberate as echoes in my left ear; not so much pain, but a dull, aching discomfort that runs from my left ear to the left side of the jaw,’ I said.
‘Sure,’ said he, ‘let “us” first take a look at the other ear, which is not hurting.’ ‘Us’ here meant that I, as a patient, had given him an implied consent to examine me on my behalf.
He shuffled his feet to instruments stored in multiple silver-colored bowls, selected one that was curved at the tip and used it in my right ear. He quickly came out with cylindrical shaped debris of consolidated wax, a good one and a half inches in length and half inch thick and tossed it on the draped table nearby.
He did it so swiftly that he sparked a twinge of envy in me, a confirmation of why I hated him before I even met him. He was too good to be authentic.
Stuck between bewilderment and paranoia, a cry of foul play occupied my silence. Did he have stacks of readymade wax hidden between his fingers? Had he pulled a trick on me, like the magician who pulls hidden rabbits out of a hat? I regretted not paying closer attention to him.
It is indeed in the moments of self-preoccupation that we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture in life’s lessons.
How come my primary doctor failed to warn me of my impending doom? But again, I should know better, for doctors gloss over obvious problems that patients fail to bring to their attention.
Then he went to work on my ailing left ear.
He pulled out more tortuous wax tucked in the crypt of my ear canal. Hot water was used to flush the remaining debris. Relief was instantaneous. Deafness cured, the drum beat in my left ear went away, and hearing was equilibrated on both ears.
Where I had failed, the ENT doctor had succeeded. A reminder to me that knowledge is in gradation, each stack uniquely possessed by a specific individual.
By Anselm Anyoha MD