Over the course of this year, I’d noticed that my hearing seemed to be gradually getting worse. The rate of deterioration seemed to pick up dramatically this summer, the past few weeks in particular. I was having trouble hearing people on the phone. I could no longer hear the low hum of the monster copier-fax-scanner-printer that sits immobile only feet from my desk at work. And if anyone standing behind me was trying to get my attention by calling my name, they’d eventually have to come up and tap my shoulder. Fearing the worst, but knowing better than to let a problem linger, I made an appointment with an ear specialist recommended by my boss.
I went to see Dr. T (and his women) on Tuesday. My nerves were calmed when I saw that the ground floor of his monolithic onyx office building on the east side was occupied by a Yankees Clubhouse store. As I was cutting it close to my appointment time, I didn’t have time to browse for merch.
Dr. T was one of many doctors at this practice. The large waiting room was pretty hopping for a summer weekday afternoon. While filling out some forms, a woman seated next to me tried to ask me a question. I must not have heard her the first two or three times she asked, because when I finally did look up at her, she had a look of disgust on her face. “Lady, don’t be insulted,” I wanted to say. “I’m here for the freakin’ ear doctor!”
Dr. T, an amiable fellow who appeared to be no more than three years my senior, took me back to one of the exam rooms and gave me ample time to sit alone and develop horrid worst-case scenarios in my mind. I’m sorry, sir, but it appears you have 60% hearing loss in both ears. Or, This seems to be a particularly aggressive infection. Why didn’t you see a doctor sooner? Or the classic pulse-raiser, Hmmm…I’ve never seen this before.
Just before the first beads of cold sweat could collect on my brow, Dr. T returned and asked me to describe my problem. He remained professionally stone-faced while I talked and then grabbed his combination hand-held microscope/flashlight and took a look inside my noggin. “Okay,” he said, “You have significant blockage.” “Blockage being…?” I asked. “Ear wax,” he said.
I was simultaneously relieved and disbelieving. “You’re telling me ear wax is the reason I can’t hear?” He nodded as he organized his workstation. As I thought that over, I quickly became repulsed. “You’re telling me there’s that much ear wax in there?” “I said it was significant,” he dead-panned.
He wasn’t concerned and told me that he could clear it up in just a few minutes. Just how the dentist clips that little paper bib on you, Dr. T put two mini-bibs on either one of my shoulders. This made me laugh. Then he opened the drawer of his workstation. I immediately stopped laughing. Laid out with care were a collection of long, narrow picks and tweezers. I resolved at that moment to look straight ahead at all times.
With appropriate delicacy, Dr. T began digging for gold in my left ear canal. After a minute or so, he proudly showed his discoveries to me in a gloved, open palm. “That’s it?” I asked, rather unimpressed. “No, that was the outer layer. I’m at the real problem area now.” I gripped the arm rest of the chair as he repeated the most infamous medical understatement: “You may experience some slight discomfort.”
To his credit, and perhaps to mine, I barely flinched as he worked a tiny pair of pliers into my skull. There was a moment of pressure and I heard Dr. T say, “In a few seconds, you should be able to hear just fine.” There was a pinch and then a pop. I could instantly hear everything around me. When I could tell Dr. T’s tiny tools were clear, I turned and looked at him, both grateful and astonished. Emboldened by my miraculous and instantaneous recovery, my eyes instantly went to his open palm.
Sitting in Dr. T’s hand was a solid object (and I know it was solid, because I touched it), the shape of but twice the size of an apple seed. It was one of four different colors, depending on which side of it you looked at. There may have been a hair or two growing out of it. Revulsion quickly gave way to pride. Yes, this nugget of dense biological refuse was making me legally deaf, but still…my body made it. The insides of my considerable dome were operating at such levels and with such chemical components as to produce naturally occurring concrete! Never mind putting Yankee Candle out of business, I could single-handedly (or dual-early) save America’s decaying infrastructure. I could become a Manhattan folk hero by walking the streets after winter, filling potholes with just a shake of my head. Would I enjoy constantly feeling like I had just gotten off of a transatlantic flight? No, but the gratitude of my fellow man would be enough compensation.
For the finishing touches, Dr. T then took an itty-bitty vacuum to my ear. I thought that this presented me with a great excuse for forgetting things at work. “Did you confirm the appointments for Progresso?” “I don’t remember any Progresso appointments.” “I gave them to you on Monday!” “And the doctor sucked part of my brain out of my head on Tuesday! Leave me alone!”
Before repeating the process on my right ear, Dr. T picked up another dentist-like tool and said, “I’m just going to blow a little air in your ear.” I wish I could say that I was quick-witted enough to have said, “But, Dr. T, I hardly know you!”, but the window of opportunity was small and I missed it.
After he removed a similarly impressive orb from the right side of my head, Dr. T offered a general test of my hearing. An associate of his gave me one of those classic high school hearing tests; only instead of simply sitting off to my side, he put me in this giant quiz show booth and sat out of sight outside of it. I was actually hoping that it doubled as a decompression chamber, because without all that gunk in my ears, everything was suddenly, jarringly loud. After bidding adieu to the miracle-working Dr. T, the first thing I encountered when I stepped out onto the street was a moving truck with a loose rear door, hurtling down 59th Street. I dropped to the ground with my arms wrapped around my head like some kind of lunatic.
I continued my auditory rebirth back in the office. I could hear the clicks of my mouse like tiny, high-pitched gun shots. The tapping of my keyboard was teeth-rattling. The groans of our lethargic copier rattled in my chest. It’s still taking some getting used to, but I imagine things will equalize in a few days. If my body had managed to cope at sub-optimal levels, it will soon learn to harness my bionic hearing. That’s what’s wonderful and awe-inspiring about the human body: it’s supremely adaptable. And positively gross.