Yesterday was surreal. Life after a stroke is often surreaI, but this one had a sort of Kafkaesque surrealism to it, and as readers of my book, The Shiny Guys would know, I like reading Kafka. But I don’t like living it, which is what happened yesterday.
I woke up with an earache and couldn't hear well. We couldn’t find any doctors who could see me, so I got a lift to the Emergency Room at the Alfred Hospital, which did seem a little melodramatic, but I was persuaded. It was 9.00am and the emergency room was completely deserted. I felt a bit pathetic, telling the triage nurse that I had a bad ear … I’m sure there were more important things they should be doing. She nodded. But since my stroke catastrophe of 2001 I’ve become vigilant about bits of my body that suddenly stop working for no reason. The nurse sent me to the waiting room and said I would probably be seen in about twenty minutes.
The room filled quickly. No one had arms hanging off or anything that looked horrendously painful. The people were mainly parents concerned about something icky that their kids had picked up, or elderly people who seemed to have wandered in, dazed after the punishing Melbourne heatwave of the past few days. My earache made it difficult for me to hear. After a number of other people were called, I asked the lady at the administration desk if my name had perhaps been called, since it was quite likely I wouldn’t have heard it. She wasn’t happy to be bothered by me. I can understand. She must get impatient people asking her the same sorts of questions again and again. She checked the computer and told me that no, my name had not been called.
Two hours later, I did get a chance to see a doctor. He was an enthusiastic young Indian man, and I told him what had happened. He asked if I was feeling pain I had to confess in all honesty that it was not unbearable pain, just irritation. He picked up a torch and looked in both my ears then told me that my problem was a wax buildup in my right ear that had become very slightly infected. I asked what I should do and he told me that I should go to another doctor, that it wasn’t appropriate for me to be here at the Alfred Hospital with an ear infection. He recommended a clinic – the Prahran Market Clinic – located at the other end of Commercial Road, where I would no doubt be able to find a doctor who would fix my ear. I mentioned that I was eager to have the problem fixed, because I was flying to Sydney in a few days to work on a new SBS TV show. I was looking forward to working as a script editor on it. He mentioned that my work must be very exciting and I told him I was sure his job was far more exciting than mine, at which he scoffed, not unpleasantly. ‘You think it’s exciting for me to be looking in your ear?’ He was aware of my stroke history since it was all on the computer in front of him. He reassured me that the blockage was a minor problem and any doctor would be able to syringe out the plug of wax that was causing all the trouble. I tried one more shot and told the endlessly polite Indian man that, since he was a doctor, perhaps he could have a go at syringing out the plug of wax? He asked his superior for a few items but was knocked back. My problem was really far too minimal for the Alfred. I should go to see a less important doctor. A final, desperate try: ‘But you’re a doctor,’ I said and added that I had waited four hours to see him. No, I still wasn’t sick enough to be helped. My malady was far too trivial. I must reiterate here that the doctor was charmingly polite and that everbody working at The Alfred was a little shell-shocked after the pressure they had been under in the preceding three days, where hundreds of people had been treated for heat stroke.
So I took the young doctor’s advice and walked down Commercial Road to the Prahran Market Clinic. It was probably a distance of only half a kilometre, but it’s the longest I’ve walked unattended since I had the stroke. I was careful to walk close to walls, just in case I might choose this somewhat inconvenient moment to pass out, since it’s happened before. I had my name and details on the little plastic bangle that the Alfred people had clipped to me. If I passed out I would do it in as safe a place as I could. Apart from the whole passing out thing, another gift of stroke recovery is that you rarely remember what day it is. It was Sunday, yet I believed it was Saturday and I found the Prahran Market Clinic closed. My bloody ear was driving me crazy. It wasn’t throbbing, or anything, it was just a bit sore and made me half deaf. So I hailed a cab back to my home in St Kilda. I visited one of our local chemists (Fitzroy Street has three, all the other storefronts are cafes.) The chemist recommended something called Cerumol: a solution that would loosen the wax. Then I asked him what I should do when the wax was soft enough to be expunged. He told me that I should see a doctor and not try anything myself, which might damage the ear.
And so, I’m typing this sniffy little post as I’m waiting for the St Kilda Men’s Health Centre to open so that I can, with any luck, snatch a missed appointment or even catch a doctor between appointments. After all, syringing the wax from my ear was apparently a simple and trivial operation. One that I was recommended not to do. I needed an expert; but not one who was too qualified.