Pumping Irony

Craig Cox, EL’s director of business operations and resident geezer, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

Posts Tagged hearing

Experience Life Magazine

I Hear Ya

I’m a great believer in the power of holistic medicine, alternative therapies like acupuncture, homeopathy and other approaches that treat the whole person rather than focusing on symptoms. But, I have to admit that sometimes conventional doctors really know what they’re doing.

For several weeks, I’ve been suffering from a frustrating loss of hearing. My ears felt plugged and nothing I tried would open them up. My acupuncturist stuck needles in them to no avail. The homeopathic remedy I took had no measurable effect. And I was beginning to think I would just have to go through life playing the annoying old man whose entire vocabulary revolves around the word, “Huh?”

Now, most people faced with this sort of problem would dial up their doctor and set up an appointment. No big deal. Let them figure out what’s up. But I’ve been of the opinion that Western medicine doesn’t have a lot of tools to offer besides pharmaceuticals and surgery, and I’m not keen on either one of those options. Something must be happening inside my body that’s causing me to lose my hearing, I figured. Some weird sinus congestion that’s causing some inflammation in my ear canal or maybe something connected to an overgrowth of candida albicans. These sorts of things defy Western medicine; they require a more subtle approach.

But at a certain point, even true believers like myself have to admit that the subtle approach isn’t working that well. So I eventually broke down and scheduled an appointment at a local clinic. I showed up in their waiting room on Friday afternoon with more than a little trepidation. After all, it’s been 14 years since I’d last set foot in a doctor’s office, and I didn’t really know what to expect. It felt like hostile territory.

Still, I signed the various forms and tried my best to reply to the questions posed by the receptionist without asking her to repeat herself too often. Then I took a seat and resigned myself to a long wait.

Only a few minutes had passed before a nurse called my name and led me into the doctor’s office, where she asked me several questions about my general health history (I’m still not sure whether one was “Do you use illegal drugs?” or “Have you used illegal drugs?” Either way, I figured, there was plausible deniability). Then she went off to find the doctor.

My physician turned out to be a nice young man of Indian descent who asked me several more questions before looking into my ears with his ear-o-scope, checking out my tonsils (still proudly in place) and feeling around under my jaw for some reason that I assumed was related to something glandular. Then he announced that Maria, the nurse, would clean my ears out.

“This procedure may cause some dizziness and pain,” he warned. “If so, just take some Tylenol and you should be fine.”

With that, he was gone, and I was left to ruminate on the various possible designs of a state-of-the-art ear-cleaning machine. Western medicine is highly attracted to large and complex technology, and I momentarily recalled the “artificial lungs” that were popular in my youth. I could imagine a large, but fashionably designed ear-cleaning helmet that might be lowered carefully over my head while a highly trained technician sitting behind a lead-lined wall flipped the switch that would send earwax-seeking neutrons on a search-and-destroy mission. It’s perfectly safe, as far as we know….

Before long, Nurse Maria returned with what appeared to be a quart-sized spray bottle connected to a narrow tube. The label on the bottle identified this piece of medical technology as “The Elephant Ear Wash.” It contained, according to Nurse Maria, “hydrosomethingorother in saline solution.” She repeated the doctor’s warning that this could make me dizzier than normal, instructed me to hold a small plastic receptacle beneath my right ear, stuck the tube into the useless organ and started pumping.

The solution flowed into my ear with a comforting whoosh sound and flowed back out with bits and pieces of wax in a sickly auburn-colored liquid that Nurse Maria deemed too “gross” for me to review. She went through a quart of the hydrosomethingorother, dabbed at the ear, and left to get a refill. I couldn’t tell if it had made any difference.

It wasn’t until she’d gone through another quart on my left ear that I began to notice a difference in the decibel level of the world. But it was subtle. I wasn’t completely sure until the doctor returned to check Nurse Maria’s work, consult his notes and turn to me with a grave look.

“Mr. Cox, you’re 60 years old,” he said, as if he’d just done the math.

“Yes,” I replied. “Yes I am.” My voice seemed slightly louder than I had remembered. I knew what was coming.

“There are some screenings we should . . .”

“Oh, I’m not really interested in those,” I piped in, hoping not to hurt his feelings. “I’ve done a lot of research and there are pros and cons.”

He smiled. “Yes, they’re a bit controversial.”

“Yeah. Really. I’m good. Thanks.”

“Would you like a tetanus shot?”

“Not really.”

He didn’t push it, and I didn’t deliver the lecture I’d prepared, complete with the results of randomized clinical studies and quotes from noted physicians. He shook my hand and told me a return visit would not be necessary.

I thanked him with what felt like genuine sincerity. Then I located Nurse Maria on my way back to the lobby and made a point to shake her hand. I was pretty sure I could hear again, but it wasn’t until I was back outside and pedaling my bike home that it really hit me. Springtime is really loud.

Experience Life Magazine

I’m All Ears

For several weeks now, I’ve been having some trouble with my hearing. My right ear feels full of gunk and my left one, though more clear, occasionally goes out on me. My acupuncturist has stuck needles in them on several occasions, but to no avail. My personal diagnosis is that I’ve got some weird sinus congestion going on that has migrated to my ear canals, and I figure it will clear up eventually on its own. Probably in the spring.

My Lovely Wife has been putting up with my hearing loss for years now, a product of the cicadas (AKA tinnitus) that took up residence in my ears a few years ago, so she’s become accustomed to repeating herself when she has something meaningful to say — which is most of the time. But some of my colleagues at work think I ought to go get fitted for a hearing aid.

That sort of mechanical solution isn’t really my cup of tea, but the suggestion has got me thinking that maybe I ought to look more seriously at the issue. It is possible, after all, that it’s not going to clear up all by itself in the spring. Maybe I should actually go to a doctor and have it checked out.

This is uncharted territory for me. I haven’t seen a conventional doctor about some health issue since I blew out my knee in 1998. I figure my semi-monthly trip to the acupuncturist keeps all my qi properly aligned and eating right and exercising generally keep me pretty healthy. Except for these ears.

Dr. Needle has suggested on more than one occasion that my cicada problem is probably related to a candida problem, which could be ameliorated by a couple weeks or so without any sugar. Of any kind. No fruits, no bread, no alcohol, no dark chocolate — even if it is organic and fair-trade. And I’m prepared to accept the fact that she’s probably, maybe, plausibly, pretty much correct about this.

But giving up fruit with my yogurt in the morning, or toast with my egg — not to mention a glass of wine with dinner — is not a decision to make lightly. I know it’s only for a few weeks, and I know it won’t kill me, but still . . . . It would require a certain amount of buy-in from MLW (“Hey, wanna detox together?!?”), and the kind of Spartan commitment to purity that does not come naturally to either of us.

So, I mentioned all this to MLW, who, true to form, went right into research mode. She checked out a few detox Web sites that may or may not have been reputable and suggested that perhaps we try something other than an all-out, no-sugar-at-all detox regimen. For one thing, she couldn’t imagine that it would be a good thing to avoid fresh fruit for a month. We could certainly moderate our wine intake and stay away from all refined sugars. From there, she went to several homeopathic sites and spent a couple of hours grilling me about symptoms and drilling down into the materia medica. The result: she suggested that maybe a little Pulsatilla might be helpful.

So, maybe I’ll skip the doctor’s office and see if this approach makes a difference. If it works, it will just be another example of how good things happen when I listen to my wife.