creative writing

Living with Mono

Ain’t it odd how one takes one’s own good health so much for granted? It’s only when things start to go awry that one’s fallibilities are brought into sharp focus.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a bit of a hypochondriac, fearing the absolute worst whenever even the smallest, most trivial thing befalls me. Ask anyone close to me and they’ll cheerfully confirm this. Is this an affliction that tends to affect the male of the species more than the female? Most of the hypochondriacs that I’ve discussed this with have been blokes. My wife, Nina is almost the polar opposite – her mantra of ‘there’s no point in worrying about something until there’s something to worry about‘ certainly rings true.

I’m writing this piece whilst I’m on holiday in Greece. Regular readers of this blog probably think I spend a lot of time out here, but in actual fact, we’re here just once a year; twice if I’m very fortunate. Actually, it’s only whilst on holiday that I seem to find any spare time to sit and write these thrilling articles. When I’m at home in the UK, there seems to be always something else that’s far more important to spend time on. That’s the way it goes, I guess.

Anyway, as is my wont, I’m digressing.  When I was over here about two years ago, I wrote a piece on my love of swimming and snorkelling. Time in the water has pretty much been the highlight of this holiday, too. However, my enjoyment of being in the azure Agean seas have been cruelly curtailed by something that has blighted me since I was about 8 years old.

It’s the rather un-glamorous subject of earwax.

Those of you who are still persevering with this article will more than likely take for granted one of our most important senses; hearing. As a musician (of sorts), of the five senses (six, if you’re into the paranormal and suchlike), being able to hear properly is a pretty damned important one.

Since the age of eight, when I first complained of slight hearing loss to my Mum, I’ve had to have my ears regularly syringed. To the uninitiated, this involves around a week of treating both ear canals to regular, liberal doses of slightly warmed olive oil, or, if you’re fresh out of olive oil and are more chemically inclined, hydrogen peroxide. Most people’s ear canals are lubricated automatically; their ear wax is of a damp and oily nature. Mine ain’t. It’s dry, flaky shit and, as a consequence, tends to get trapped deep in the orifice of my lug’oles.

Over time, this gradually accumulates and ultimately blocks the ear canal. The upper frequencies of my hearing start to become impaired. The tinnitus I suffer with becomes far more noticeable during periods of relative silence.

I’m a silly sod, though. I know that when I go swimming, I need to have clear ears, ‘cos otherwise the water pressure when I dive underwater during my pleasurable snorkelling expeditions tends to drive what ear wax I have further into the depths of my ear canal, rendering me, well, erm, deaf.

And that’s precisely the situation that I find myself in whilst I hammer away on my laptop keyboard. It’s decidedly un-nerving, not to mention extremely disorientating.

Thing is, once you start having your ears syringed, you have to keep having them syringed. The body tends to become lazy and reliant on others to sort out this tiresome issue. Certainly, as I’ve got older, the more frequently I seem to need to undergo the procedure. It’s a bloody nuisance.

I won’t go into too much detail here, as some of you might be about to eat.

Maybe you’d prefer not to read about my fascination with bodily functions at all – in which case I suggest you skip the remainder of this paragraph and join me at the start of the next one… but I remember with a degree of grisly relish the memory of the sheer amount of detritus that was forcibly ejected from my ear cavities when I first had them syringed, waay back in 1975. The nurse was going to throw the offending muck away, but as a kid, I was keen to see what the cause of my temporary deafness looked like. Two, huge lumps of gack floated in the basin; I couldn’t believe that this amount of shit had been housed in such small orifices!

Anyway, moving swiftly on… let’s face it; there’s little point in getting all doom and gloom about this.

Let’s look on the bright side! That old adage ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ springs to mind when I recall the sensation of having just had my ears freshly cleaned… the incredible sensation upon leaving the doctor’s surgery of being able to hear again in full, amazing spectro-quadrophonic sound! You can literally hear a fucking pin drop. One minute, your hearing is akin to being submerged underwater; just about able to make out lower-frequencies. The next, everything is as bright as a proverbial button! It’s an amazing sensation.

It’s a sensation that I’m already looking forward to. Presently, approximately 35% of my hearing remains intact. My remaining ‘good ear’ was plaguing me prior to our departure on holiday; I was considering getting both ears ‘sorted’ before the flight out to Greece.

Now, though, after telephoning to make an appointment with the nurse at my local doctor’s surgery back in the UK, it transpires that I’ll have to wait at least three whole weeks until I can hear properly again. I’m hoping that in the meantime, I’ll get that glorious ‘popping’ sensation when air pressure, or something similar, clears the offending ear canal sufficiently for me to have a temporary glimpse back into the wonderful world of stereo. What’s really frustrating is that before I left for our holiday, I had the seeds of a really excellent new composition on the go, and I’ve been itching to get back to the studio to carry on where I left off… hey ho, shit happens. I’ll just have to be patient; a trait that doesn’t come easily to us Bickertons..

Again, though, I marvel at the human anatomy and the intricacies of the brain that enable one to compensate when things do happen to go ‘wrong’. A few days ago, when I first developed this, erm, for want of a better word, ‘disability’, my balance was wonky and I felt slightly sick. Now, my brain has obviously worked out what the issues are, and has assimilated how to make the situation more bearable. In actual fact, it’s true that when your senses don’t do what they’re supposed to, what remains works overtime. This is certainly the case at the moment.

It also makes you very appreciative and thankful when everything finally gets back to normal. Here’s to the the indefatigable human spirit!!

*Oh, and just in case you’re wondering why I’ve chosen the sleeve for Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’ as the background for this blog, it’s actually a close-up of someone’s ear, taken underwater… As a massive fan of this album, it took me a good long while to realise what it was.

Have you ever spotted it?

Anyway, getting back to whatever the point of this rambling monologue was supposed to be… yes, I’m 50.

The day itself was celebrated in truly middle-aged aplomb. My Dad had popped down from Yorkshire the previous night, and we’d spent the evening listening to some ‘serious’ classical music and imbibing some single malt whiskies. As a result of this, I was nursing a slightly vague, but nonetheless generally agreeable headspace, A leisurely breakfast ensued, and then, because of a sense of needing something to do to occupy the day as it stretched ahead of us, I made a typically impulsive decision to drive up to Gaydon to visit the Britsh Motoring Museum. There’s even some photographic evidence of this – see above for a picture of me with my first car – an Austin Allegro!

I’ve been driving past the signpost for this museum on the M40 for literally years, so, embracing my middle-aged status with abandon, Nina, my Dad and I drove for just over an hour to have a look at old cars and have a good ‘nostalgic wallow’. I have to admit that it was a great afternoon out, and I’d like to think I’d have enjoyed it equally as much had I visited the place 25 years previously. Even Nina enjoyed it. At least, that’s what she told me.

So, my party. What to do..?

In terms of celebrating this milestone [millstone?], I was torn between doing something momentous, or slipping quietly into the shadows and letting it slide past with a minimum of fuss. Both of these options appeal to my sensibilities, but having witnessed most of my closest friends opt for the latter, I thought I’d buck the trend and set about sending out a load of invitations to a select group of friends that, due to life getting in the way, I simply don’t see enough of.

It requires a catalyst to bring a large group of people together, and traditionally, I have been that catalyst. This seems like an opportune time to celebrate, so I’m dusting off the vintage soundsystem, selecting some choice vinyl, taking over a favourite pub for one night and filling it with people that I like very much.

Because if I didn’t, then I know that I’d regret it.

12th October 2018

Just in case you’re interested, we arrived back from Greece last last night.

I was hoping that the air pressure in the plane would at least alleviate some of the issues that I’ve written about, but unusually, there was no improvement at all. Needless to say, I booked myself an appointment with the doctor as early as possible today, and after a thorough examination, it appears that I have a rather inflamed eardrum, Whilst there’s a slight build up of crap in the ear, the doctor could see my ear canal and reported that it was looking ‘rather angry’.

Mercifully, I’ve never suffered from this kind of condition before. I’ve been put on an antibiotic that I have to spray into the affected ear three times a day for the next week.

Hopefully I’ll start to hear some improvement in the next few days.

The tinnitus is driving me MAD.

17th October 2018

So, five days elapsed. Even after using the prescribed antibiotics, there was still no improvement – at all. It was time to get a 2nd opinion.

Fortunately, one of the [many] perks that I enjoy from my dayjob is private medical cover – a perk that should never be underestimated. I rang around and managed to get an appointment with an ENT [ear, nose, throat] specialist within 48 hours. To give you some idea of the shape of our beleaguered health service, an NHS appointment would have meant me seeing someone in 10 weeks time.

Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase; my hearing is once again, intact. The specialist had a good look around and it turns out the the diagnosis from my GP was completely wrong. Whilst she had told me that I had inflammation and angry redness on my eardrum, the ENT doctor couldn’t find any infection at all. This raises a rather worrying question – how much should one actually trust the word of one’s doctor? Discuss…

The actual issue turned out to be a rather large lump of wax that was actually pressing directly onto the eardrum, rendering me deaf. Rather than using the traditional method of wax removal; syringing, I was introduced to the ‘vacuum cleaner’, where the offending wax is actually sucked out of the ear canal. There was a lot of whooshing and cracking, then, as if by magic, I was able to hear all of those high frequencies again, in glorious binaural stereo. I literally almost cried at the relief! My hypochondria had convinced me that I was suffering from some more permanent affliction.

My ‘good’ ear was also cleaned out, and, after the procedure, it’s become evident that there’s definitely some kind of imbalance – I can hear far more out of the ear that’s been affected. I’m off for audiology tests next Monday so I’ll find out more then.

But hey – what a completely blessed relief.