Monday, September 27, 2010

No Way to Die - Austin

Ah the joy of a Fall walk, tangled vines ensnaring feet, golden-rod blooming, driving the allergy-alert into the red-zone. And bugs, inviting themselves, buzzing around nose, mouth and ears, crawling through hair, exploring the outer and inner surfaces of ears. It is the ones that sneak into the ear canal itself, while you are busy digging a cousin out of the corner of your eye, that really make your day.

"Write what you know," is an oft repeated challenge. But what language adequately describes the sensation of a bug crawling deep within the confines of a tiny dark tunnel on the side of your skull?

I am told there is no feeling within the brain itself -- so inform myself frequently that my headaches are not real. The logic of that argument is unassailable. Unfortunately, my headaches have never studied logic. Something crawling deep within the right side of this bony protuberance above my shoulders seems as logical. But. . . beastly burrowing bugs will find I am not without resources. A 30cc plastic syringe has flushed away many a wax plug through the years. (I seem to be a regular wax factory.) Water cannons work for riot control. Why not for bug patrol as well? A wax plug gave up the battle, but unfortunately no bug emerged.

Yet the irritation continued, day after day and week after week. I flushed repeatedly. I administered drops and oil. I debated going into emergency, but always things would improve for a few days. A full month of this culminated in two nights interrupted by a crawling sensation inside my head with frequent sharp piercings. Long flushing sessions in the middle of the night brought no relief. A call to the local medical clinic gave the earliest appointment five days away -- so feeling like this was an abuse of the system, I went to the emergency room of our local hospital.

The doctor was NOT impressed with my stoic endurance. He did NOT tell me I was wise to wait and see if it would clear on its own. He did NOT commend me for my self-medication efforts. He couldn't see a bug inside, but the inflammation of the ear canal showed a serious infection, with risks of complications. He sent me away with a lecture, a prescription, and a warning that things could "go sour."

Now I'm something of a word guy, and I'm not sure what a "sweet" infection would look like. But even if "sour" isn't the word I would have chosen, I have gained a deeper respect for all that it implies.

I managed to get the prescription ear-drops in once. My wife manged once. But the swelling had increased and closed the ear canal. By bedtime visible swelling had puffed up the side of my face. Instead of snuggling with my wife, I swallowed Tylenol and took an icepack to bed. Three am and 9:00 am saw Tylenol repeats, worse swelling and a guy who takes some pride in handling pain pretty well trying not to cry. Breakfast proved a challenge. The infection now included the hinge of my jaw. Opening my mouth wide enough for a bite sent stabbing pains through the side of my face. Biting with any force drove those pains deeper.

Two emergency visits in two days? I think one a year is too much. The same doctor repeated his lecture. I'm sure he gave wise advise, but with one ear swelled shut, a dull ache involving the right side of my face and frequent stabbing pains burning through my skull, he has probably had more attentive listeners. An hour on an IV drip in the emergency room should have turbo-charged the oral antibiotic I went home with. But the worst was yet to come. Tylenol became my companion, with the daily maximum dose sneaking up painfully fast.

Meals lose something when every bite feels like someone has stabbed a 16 gauge needle into the side of your face.

Did I say that an ear infection would not be my chosen way to die? I resist taking Tylenol or other pain medications. My wife has to practically force-feed me. A life-threatening allergy to Aspirin has made me paranoid about any pills. But I had taken the maximum recommended dose and did my best to tough out a few extra hours in the evening. Believe me, I watched the clock, waiting for my next "fix."

A movie distracted me for a couple of hours, but movies don't last forever. Tylenol, when the clock finally says a new 24-hour period has begun, does not bring instant relief. An hour after popping the latest pills, the pain had dulled enough that exhaustion from three days with little sleep gained a brief cease-fire. Again I took an ice-pack to bed. (I highly recommend wives over ice-packs. I'm sure my wife will be relieved to know.) Somewhere around 1:00 am the battle started again. I think the enemy used lances and spears, but with sadistic cruelty refused to strike a killing blow, just stabbing repeatedly. Tough macho guy that I am, I endured till 3:00 am before downing more pills.

How is it possible to fit a year's worth of pain into two hours? And how can you do it over something as stupid as an ear infection? Did I tell you that I wouldn't choose this as my preferred way to die?

Sunday breakfast -- the swelling looks and feels the same, although I can eat without wanting to cry over every bite. My ear remains swelled shut. If the pain doesn't include constant stabbing, it is not the feeling that makes me anxious to sit through a sermon. But -- I might as well be miserable at church as at home. (Isn't that a good enough reason to go?) My wife shakes her head at the foolishness of the guy she married and we head out to the car, me carrying an icepack again -- which I hold against the side of my face for most of the 15 minute drive.

By noon there seems to be hope that the tide is turning. By 5:00 pm there are moments when the ear canal actually opens, usually with a pop amplified as if my whole scull is an empty resonating chamber. Perhaps it is.

Ah, but as a writer I have something new in my arsenal. But I confess I prefer writing fiction to this reality.


Peter Black said...

What a terrible episode -- however well told it surely is! Commiseration doesn't cut it, I know. Over the years I've shattered both ear drums, and have endured considerable earache, but none of it would seem to come close to what you describe.
May you fully recover from this affliction -- and fast!
And keep writing with your usual great energy and effect.

Alanna said...

Well Dad, I'm slowly beginning to learn that you're incredibly good at hiding things and I'm pretty sure that during the middle of all this you were busy helping me with something and pretending you weren't dying. Here's a word of advice - if you're dying it's okay to tell your daughter that you can't help her out right at that moment. Don't worry - she'll understand. There will be plenty she can find for you to do once you've rejoined the land of the pain-free living. Glad you're feeling better now though...have I mentioned the broken bathroom sink???

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