The Case of the Vanishing Ear Bud…

It was a perfectly normal Sunday afternoon at the gym.  I was rounding mile three on the elliptical machine, when all of sudden my MP3 Player jarred and dropped from the machine to the floor, bringing with it the ear-bud’s that had been in my ear, playing a mix of James Taylor and Janis Joplin while I got my workout in.

I got off the elliptical to pick up my electronics and noticed that the rubber piece from the left ear-bud was now missing. I assumed that it had come apart from the rest of the headphones, perhaps due to curious cats at home occasionally grabbing the ear-buds in their mouths and running through the house.  It was a plausible explanation.  I got back on the elliptical, finished my workout, and threw the ear-buds into the trash.  I showered, and drove home.

Ironically, I thought, this would not have happened if I had worn either the over-the-ear Bose noise-cancelling headphones, or the similar Sony headphones that I owned.  But ear-buds were light, and came with several sizes if rubber fittings to accommodate different ear sizes. The sounds was good, and up until now, use of them had been event-free.

“Are you missing an earbud?

On the way home, I noticed that my left ear seemed to have some kind of wax moving around in it.  Since this happens sometimes, and I have to irrigate my ears with Debrox, I thought nothing of it.  I arrived home, went upstairs into the bathroom, and irrigated both ears.  I was surprised that nothing came out of the left ear — while the right ears hosing down did produce some wax into the sink.

The left ear continued to feel like it had some kind of wax build-up. By the end of the week, my hearing was diminishing and the left ear was starting to hurt. I made an appointment with my doctor that Friday morning.

The doctor got out his ear scope with flashlight attached (not the technical name for it) and looked into my ear. “You’ve got an earwax blockage,” he said. “I am going to have Sarah (the nurse, who looks like she is about a hundred years old) take it out.”

A few minutes later Sarah came into the room with some wax-softening solution, a bowl and other equipment to get the wax from my ear.  Upon looking inside my ear Sarah pronounced her diagnosis: “This doesn’t look normal.  It’s blue.”

Try as she did, Sarah could not loosen what was in my ear.  She called the doctor back who instructed me to keep debrox in it all weekend and to come back Monday after the wax had softened.  I left the medical office with a huge bandage strapped to the side of my head and over my left ear.

By the end of the day, the pain in my left ear was intolerable. I called back to the doctor office to see if they would like to prescribe pain medication or antibiotics.  No. I was told to either go the emergency room, if the pain was bad enough. Or to come to the after-hours clinic that was held at the doctor office on Saturdays and Sundays.

I spent most of Saturday laying on my right side, with my left ear raised so the wax softener would stay in.  When I did get up to use the bathroom, I tried to see inside the left ear with the camera from my cellphone, trying to see whatever blue-colored alien object that Nurse Sarah had seen. At one point, I did think that I saw something — possibly a brain tumor, I suspected.  The doc had probably wanted to give me a final weekend without worry and would likely diagnose it when I returned to his office.

On Sunday morning, I called the after-hours clinic and made an appointment to be seen.  The ear was not getting better. My hearing was nearly gone on the left side, and the pain was becoming intolerable.

At the clinic, a different doctor was on duty, this time a tall brunette woman with a militant demeanor. She looked inside my ear with the same flashlight and said that I had a “big, huge black hunk of earwax” in my ear — and that she was going to pull it out.  I implored her to please do her work.  She started in with what looked like a set of tweezers and then stopped suddenly.

“Wait, this is strange,” she said.  “Are you missing an ear-bud?”

The doctor produced a white tissue with the rubber head from my broken ear-buds from a week earlier at the gym.  It had apparently been lodged within my inner ear for more than a week! It was black, not blue. But I could see that when bright light was aimed at it that it did glow a sort of coral hue.

I was mystified.  I had finished my workout and even taken a shower, and it had not felt like there was anything in my ear until I was driving home.  Apparently, this kind of thing happens a lot, at least according to some web research that I did.

A week later, hearing had returned, and I had a good story to tell that anyone that would listen about the danger of modern electronics on the middle-aged!

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