Sunday, March 10, 2013

In which I lose my hearing

About two weeks ago, I awoke to a lot of pain in my ear.  I thought to myself, "That's very painful.  I'll call the doctor."  I called and waited for the nice doctor to suppose that I had an ear infection that followed along after the cold I was getting over.  "Take ibuprofen and call your primary in the morning."

At 7 AM sharp, I called and got an appointment for later in the day.  Sure enough, I have a middle ear infection, or Otitis Media.  I also had a load of icky, colored stuff in my outer ear - notably with plenty of black in it.  Got that all cleaned up.  Over to the pharmacy I go to get the antibiotics.  "This will be over soon." I think to myself as I go back to work and take a big pill.

The ear still hurts, though not as much.  Nighttime, another pill. Morning, another one.  48 hours later, all symptoms are about the same.  Back to the primary, except he's out so I see a different fellow.

Another exam and a different antibiotic, and some drops that contain a steroid to help reduce the inflammation.  This was taking advantage of the perforation (hole) in the tympanic membrane, which was news to me.
At this point, we need a diagram.

Remember that the outer ear is open to the air, and the middle is open to your throat via the Eustachean tube, and the middle is filled with fluid inside the cochlea.  Tiny hairs inside the cochlea and semicircular canals are connected to nerves that tell the brain which way the head is positioned, whether it's moving and in what direction, and whether the stapes is vibrating against the little window (covered by a delicate membrane) that separates the inside of the cochlea from the middle ear.  That vibration, is the result of the ear drum (the tympanic membrane) pressing on the malleus bone, which pivots where it's attached and presses on the incus bone which pivots, and then presses on the stapes bone, which is connected to the incus by a tiny bit of cartilage.

That's how it works in a healthy ear.  In my ear - remember, this blog is all about me - the middle ear is inflamed and filled with goo (I imagine) that dampens the vibration of the tympanic membrane and the three wee bones.

Now 72 hours after I started the second antibiotic and kept instilling those drops, I was sure I should have been lots better.


It's Monday morning.  Still in a fair amount of pain, hearing getting poor on that side.  So I called the primary and they got me a referral to the ENT, or Ear Nose & Throat specialist, though when you get to the office it's called Ontology.  So the doctor takes one look in my ear and says, "You have a bad fungal infection." (Remember that black stuff?)  The doctor whizzes out my ear with holy water or something and a teeny tiny vacuum.  Now I can hear better!

"I'm going to apply this antifungal cream." GLOOOP, and now my ear is full of cream with fungicide and my hearing goes to about zero percent in that ear.  "Come back on Friday." He says in my good ear, and then he puts a cotton ball into what's left of the outer ear canal.  Now all I can hear when I speak is my voice conducted though my skull in that ear, and it getting normally to the other ear.  It's weird and disorienting.

Back at work I have a week filled with meetings, troubleshooting of problems with a completely out of control product line that I inherited from a recently terminated manager, and a million-dollar building expansion project.  I can't hear normally, what I can hear is distorted and confusing, and the continuation of the second course of antibiotics gives me tummy trouble and makes me itch badly enough to seek over-the-phone doctor advice and take Benadryl, which knocks me the fuck out.

Friday comes.  All week I have waited for the return visit to the Ontological doctor who filled my ear with goop.  I think the goop is all still there and continuing to cause my temporary half-deafness.  At 4 on Friday relief will come and I will be able to hear again!


The good doctor looks in my ear and tells me that MOST of the fungus is gone and he's going to clean up the rest.  The teeny tiny vacuum is once again employed for a vigorous Hoovering of the outer ear.  More inspection with a magnifier... "You still have a perforation."  and "I'm sorry to make you deaf again."  GLOOOOP.  This should all be normal again by Monday.  Not so bad, I can take it easy this weekend.

About 10 PM, my ear is hurting a lot and I decide it's time to sleep it off.  Fitfully, I make it through the night.  I'm miserable.  My ear seems to be DRAINING stuff.  Not to be too gross (thanks for reading this far) but it's pink and tan.  I call up the doctor's answering service so they can call me back.  (I've lost count by now.)  I talk to a doctor after some time.  I'm asked to go to Urgent Care because it's Saturday.

The doctor (this is the fourth I've seen in person) looks closely at my ear, hears my whole saga, apologizes a lot, goes off to talk to the Head Ontologist via phone, and returns to explain.  She calls me a gentleman in the second person.  Thanks.

Apparently, I still have a middle ear infection.  I have a third round of antibiotics (day 2 of at least 5).  Yesterday and this morning, it was still draining through the perforation in the eardrum. DRIP.  Yummy.  Tonight, it's stopped doing that, but the hearing is still way off in that ear.

I've always had good hearing, at least until last week.  I never really experienced what it's like to not really be able to hear.  It's disorienting, confusing, and humbling.  I feel isolated and embarrassed that I can't really hear.  I never understood what the hearing impaired go through.  Now I do; at least a little.

In a few days this will all clear up.  I won't soon forget it.