I retired to my bed last night happily replete with a full complement of senses, but awoke this morning to find myself decidedly monaural. Overnight, somebody had filled my ear canal with something that ‘swishes’ a lot as I move my head, before bricking it over. Consequently, I am totally deaf on one side and my whole head is filled with porridge.
The sensation of receiving all aural input from only one side is jarring enough, but to find, as I have, that such sound as you do receive is somehow amplified by a tinny megaphone inside the other side, is truly alarming. If I cover my good ear, I discover that I am, for all practical purposes, totally deaf. Yesterday I could hear a pin drop; today I would struggle with a nuclear bomb.
I felt myself gripped by panic: how could this happen so suddenly, without even the slightest indication of its imminence? Bizarrely, the sensation of deafness is not so disturbing as that of having a head full of blancmange, nor the sounds it makes as I move my head. Most puzzling of all is the discovery that the best way of masking the sensation that my ear has been stuffed with cotton-wool, is to actually stuff it with cotton-wool. (Please don’t linger here waiting for an explanation – I do not have one.) In the shower this morning, I had to cover my non-hearing tab, otherwise I felt like I was drowning.
Such was my otic disorientation that I was forced to visit the doctor’s surgery. This is not an action that I undertake lightly: in my experience it is only usually safe to do so when you are in the very rudest of health. During my walk to the health centre, I discovered a most unsettling aspect of the hearing impairment. I could hear cars on the road, but I had absolutely no idea from which direction they were heading. This made me feel very vulnerable. I am told that over time, the brain adapts. I very much hope that my own ears will not be out of service long enough to call upon my brain to adjust, but for now, I will have not the faintest idea of where the cry of ‘Look Out!’ is coming from. ‘Open Surgery’ unlocks its doors at 8am; appointments start at 8.30, on a first come, first served basis, to a maximum of fifty patients in total for the four doctors on duty. I arrived at 7.50 and found myself about sixtieth in the queue. Fortunately, there were some couples (it is a small village – there is little in the way of entertainment) so I managed to squeeze in and, having been ‘screened’ I was invited to sit in the waiting room until called.
I found a seat and prepared myself for the long wait, surreptitiously attempting to establish my position in the order of appointments. I was confident that I would be a couple of hours. Around me, most sat in silence, staring vacantly at the subtitles on the muted BBC News Channel, some whispered, a few chatted noisily, one or two compared their symptoms with those of a friend. It struck me that nobody looked particularly ill, faces were not drawn in pain, although laughter was, understandably, in short supply.
After half an hour of silent staring a door opened at the end of the room and a doctor appeared, shouting out a name. Behind me, somebody rose and was escorted to the consulting room. I was relieved to find that the surgery had begun. The relief was not to last. The next doctor to appear was a lady, by appearance some one hundred years older than myself. Her grey hair was scraped into a bun; she wore a high ruff-necked blouse, a tweed skirt and button-up ankle boots. Her lips moved, but I heard no sound. Behind me, somebody stirred and walked towards her. Obviously they had heard the beckoning voice. Once again I was gripped by panic. What if, on a subsequent visit to the waiting room, she was to call out my name? I would never know. She would curse me as a time-wasting burden on the Health Service and call out the next person on her list instead. I would remain, forlornly seated until the staff had all gone home.
Perhaps, I thought, I could read her lips. Metaphorically I slapped my own face. I had been semi-deaf for less than two hours; did I really expect myself to be able to build up a proficiency – even if only to spot my own name – in that time? I focussed on the TV and tried to read the lips of the newscaster. I was even less adept than the person doing the subtitles – although, to give myself some credit, I did at least divine that the newscaster had not actually greeted his first guest by saying ‘Good horn pig’. A fevered hour passed before I was eventually summoned by a male GP with a high-pitched voice that was mystifyingly audible through both my lugs. I thought I might go out and search for bats.
I am not good with doctors; when asked to explain my symptoms, I usually gibber. Sometimes I think I would find it easier to communicate through the medium of interpretive dance. Anyway, eventually we got there and he peered into my ear with his little torch.
‘Does it hurt?’ he asked.
‘Not at all.’
‘Strange,’ he said, ‘it’s very inflamed.’ I experienced the pain immediately.
I am fairly certain that you will not want all the grisly details, but just in case, the inflammation has blocked my ear and caused a slight perforation in my eardrum. It should, I am assured, clear in a couple of weeks and I will be able to hear again.
To be honest, the deficiency in my ability to hear, now that I know it to be temporary, is not as irksome as is the sensation of possessing an ear that does not quite belong to me. Not that I’d be without it, you understand. So thrown out was I by the unexpected turn of events this morning, that I forgot to put my contact lenses in. Fortunately I found an old pair of glasses in my bag and even more fortunately, although temporarily somewhat short of full fettle, I still have two ears to perch them on.
I took a physical for some life insurance. All they could give me was fire and theft. Milton Berle