Monday, April 5, 2010

Playing doctor.

My inner right ear hurts. It radiates down the right side of my throat and the whole right side of my head is sensitive, like when you have the flu, but only in that small area. I tell this to the doctor. She asks if I have a history of chronic ear infections. When I was child I got quite a few, but not as an adult. She asks if I've had a fever recently. No. Have I been swimming? No. Sore throat? Nope. Any rashes? Negative.

She checks my ear and says I have tiny ear canals. That's not symptomatic of anything, she's just letting me know. She checks my throat and asks if I've had my tonsils removed. I answer no and she checks again. This time she sees my tonsils and says that they too are smaller than the average. That's two remarks about the diminutiveness of body parts to which I've never given much consideration. I'm a little hurt.

Finally she says there's nothing wrong with me. But there is, I say: my ear and one whole side of my head hurt. She says that I might have shingles. She doesn't actually get this from a new look at anything on my person, it just seems to occur to her mid-conversation. A flash of inspiration. Shingles, out of nowhere. Am I sure I haven't had any rashes? Positive. But there's a red line across my forehead. I hold up the hat that I wore in. She gives a slightly abashed smile, but only retreats from the shingles speculation enough to open the field to viruses in general.

I might have some kind of virus, and it might show itself over the next few days. But it might not. Not that we have any idea what to look for besides symptoms of shingles, because we're not sure what it is. We're not even sure if there's anything. It could be (her words) transient ear pain. Just passing through.

This conversation is quickly becoming a contender for the single least informative exchange I've ever had in my life.

I think a shrug should be part of the doctor's repertoire. I realize that I shouldn't be annoyed by her inability to decipher the secrets of my aching scalp by looking into my tiny ear canals, but it's really hard when what I get is a litany of vaguely defined, barely explained possible diagnoses that amount to one big who-the-fuck-knows. She should just be allowed to shrug. And I should be prepared to take that as an answer.

But I suppose she's not allowed to do that, and I probably wouldn't be satisfied with it as an answer. So we drag this out for fifteen minutes and in the end I have no answers. My ear still hurts. I pay my $15 copay (a dollar a minute!) and go home. My roommate asks me what's wrong with my ear. I shrug.

image: Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

4 comments:

TB said...

Not to be the unhelpful hypochondriac, but maybe it's TMJ. When I developed TMJ it masqueraded as ear pain and I (drumroll) was studying for my exams. Apparently I was gnashing on my teeth while sleeping from all the stress. Not that sleep problems are anything you might have an issue with... : )

BJG. said...

I appreciate your humility, but that's a thousand times more helpful than anything the doctor told me. I'll look into it, thanks.

ali said...

"don't worry about it. just let it be until you need surgery. and you will need surgery."

that's about all the information i got from the uci doctor regarding several areas on my body that hurt.

Timothy Huynh said...

man, thats rough. You know what I find helps me when parts of my body hurt. Whiskey.

I wax nostalgic for those days when that seemed the solution to almost anything.