Monday, 19 February 2018

The Enormous Hearing Aid Dome

To understand my tale of unbridled joy achieved in the surgery of an ENT consultant, you should know that my hearing, or lack of it, is the bane of my life, and I suspect of the lives of many of those close to me, even though they're too nice to admit it. There's more about this in A Deaf Character.

It was January 2014 and a week after I'd been diagnosed with cancer, a week after that day on 27th December when I'd done a pretty comprehensive job of persuading myself I wasn't going to be told that news. No, I was going to be told that it was nothing more than a scare.

Yep, would you believe it? I heard it clear as a bell. Never for a moment did I think they'd said, 'You're a grade three dancer'. My second question – and every body's second question I suspect (after every body's first question: is it terminal?)  –  Do you know if it's spread? was met with one of the most difficult answers that those brilliant medical people have to give:

We Don't Know.

There was nothing to say that it had spread, but nobody could be sure at this stage. And then came the biggy: had I had any persistent pain anywhere else? We talked about my neck. Like every second person, it seems, I never learnt to sleep correctly as I have an ongoing, but pretty bearable, sore neck. But I'd had that forever, it couldn’t be related to cancer, surely?

He asked if it had been around for over a few months and I responded with a whoosh of relief that it been there for, oh, probably my entire adult life.

'But what about your earache?' Hubbie said.

You know, for the first time in three months, I hadn't noticed my earache. It took a cancer diagnosis to trump it, but for those glorious few moments, it had subsided.

Thankfully, very quickly, the consultant assured me as best he could that it would be extremely unusual for breast cancer to have travelled to my ear. 'However,' he said, as we hung in the air, waiting for the 'but', 'I really think we need to get to the bottom of this.' 

You see, I'd already had three separate lots of antibiotics as whenever anyone looked down my ear, they winced and said that there was a horrible infection in there. He didn’t want me fighting an infection when I was about to undergo an operation and then onto chemo. Thus I was referred to ENT.
I took solace in the breast cancer surgeon's optimism but the earache was unsolved and not reacting to antibiotics and it's hard when you're in bed at night, with only your tinnitus and the darkness, for your thoughts not to fly to secondary cancer in the brain.

The ENT specialist was lovely. I specifically remember him saying to me that he was going to do everything in his power to ensure I left his surgery with an answer because I had enough to worry about. I am a sucker for anybody taking responsibility away from me. I am the archetypal non-control freak. I like nothing better than somebody telling me I'm going to be alright. If they say that, I believe them.
He looked down my ear with a much more technical piece of apparatus than found at the GP surgery.

'Right,' he said. 'This might hurt.'

No problem. As far as I was concerned, nothing could hurt more than the current pain in my ears. Bring it on!

I can only describe the next few minutes as playing my own special role in the Enormous Turnip. The instrument inserted into my ear produced a sort of 'sucking' feeling. But as quickly as it started, this not entirely unpleasant sensation stopped.

'I'm changing to a smaller instrument,' he said. 'Are you aware you have very narrow ear canals?' I laughed. If I had a pound for every time anyone in the medical profession has told me about the diminutive nature of my ear canals, well, I wouldn't be an impoverished writer any more.

By the time we'd moved to the third reduced sized implement, the consultant had his foot wedged on my chair as the small but oh, so powerful instrument pulled and sucked at the inside of my very narrow ear canal. My head swayed. This was no longer pleasant. I thought I was going to be sick but every time he asked if I needed a break, I told him to carry on. There was clearly something in my ear and we needed to get it out. I started counting to ten and got to 73.

Just like the Enormous Turnip, it sprang out with a pop which literally – yep, literally - sent the consultant reeling backwards. 'Phew!' he said, in a delightfully understated fashion, 'That was a stubborn one.' He held up the offending item, a mixture of pride and mirth covering his perspiring face.

'Do you recognise this?' he asked, bearing the tip of my hearing aid, the 'dome' in the trade, the removable bit which covers the receptor and goes directly into the ear. I say, 'removable', but must clarify that it is only to be removed for cleaning once outside of the ear canal. 'It happens more often than you think,' he said, in a kind attempt to placate my embarrassed shame – I told you he was lovely – 'You don't remember it coming away in your ear, then?'

The thing is, I do remember the moment he was referring to. I remember sitting in front of my mirror looking at the dome-less hearing aid, convinced I'd already replaced the tip. I asked the hubbie to have a look down my ear using the torch on his iPhone (Love is…) But when he couldn't see anything, I put it down to the advancement of my years, replaced it with another from the box, and never gave it another thought.

Instantly, the hearing pain was gone. I had to do everything in my power not to jump up and hug and squeeze the audiologist with every ounce of my being, for removing the pain, but also the fear that my stage two and hopefully curable grade three, caught early, breast cancer could actually be the treatable, but currently not curable stage four.

The hubbie and I shared a bottle of champagne that night, and it will always make me smile that only seven days after diagnosis, waiting for my operation, waiting for chemo, we were celebrating with champagne. Such is the strange world of Cancerville. I also remember running out into the waiting room and throwing myself on my husband in the way I'd stopped myself doing to the fortunate consultant, as I told him as well as I could through hysterical laughter, that he'd never guess what it was but it wasn’t a brain tumour.

Thankfully, he has pretty goddamn perfect hearing so he knew what I meant. 

If you're interested in hearing loss, you may like to read: Run That By Me Again and The Bottom of the Swimming Pool. 


  1. I'll always have a soft spot for ENT surgeons having worked with some fabulous ones! Glad your story turned out well! A bit like the beginning of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

  2. Ahhh the fishhook and the pea! I had forgotten about that but once read, never forgotten!!! Alas, the extraction of the dome didn't give me back my hearing but it did instantly and completely remove the pain- happy days! Thanks for reading, Lindsay, lovely to hear from you x

  3. Great story with a happy ending, can't be bad. Only wish it could have restored your hearing as well but seems that is too greedy.

    1. I know, just imagine! I'd have been praying for foreign objects in the other ear, too!! Glad you enjoyed the story, thanks for the lovely comment :)


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