Pain is in the Ears of the Beholder ...

So, the week started off with a bang.

In my head.

I woke up Monday morning vomiting and dizzy, with a skull-crushing headache, feeling like my eyeballs and eardrums were the size of ping pong balls.  There was a strange bulge under my left eye socket.  

I didn't worry too much; most likely this was just another strain of Doha ''mysteriovirus" (strange reoccurrence and undiagnosable bout of lethargy, fatigue, burning eyes, soar throat, stuffy head, and coughing experienced several times a year by most if not all expats I know), but I figured it probably warranted a trip to my local GP nonetheless.

My GP's a lovely lady, very sensible when it comes to diagnosing and prescribing.  Never quick on the gun, always ready to explore all avenues, reserved in her treatment, but warm and open with her care.

She listened to my symptoms, examined me thoroughly, then took a look in my ears.  

''You've been in pain a long time,'' she said, looking me squarely in the eyes.

I could have hugged her right then and there for acknowledging my pain.  I'd been telling myself for weeks that the pressure and ringing in my ears would pass.

''Well, I've been dizzy and had itchy ears (I know, eughhhhh!!!) for quite a while,'' I answered.

She told me that from what she could see I had two perforated eardrums and a severe middle ear infection, obvious from the scarring and amount of liquid she could see through the otoscope.   She wouldn't prescribe any treatment she said, as I needed to see a specialist urgently for an expert consultation.

Such an amazing lady;  she personally walked me from the clinic to the private hospital annex, where she tried to get me seen immediately.  ''The earliest booking is in three days,'' was the reply.  

That was fine.  Doha's private hospitals are full these days what with an exploding population and a bevy of new health insurance schemes.  Three days didn't seem unreasonable.  At least I knew there was a solution in sight; that in itself was reassuring.  I went home and took some Panadol.

This afternoon, I left the office early for my appointment with the ENT specialist.  He didn't look up at me as I walked into his office.  He didn't look at me when he asked me my name.  Nor did he look at me when he asked me to describe my symptoms.  He stared vacantly at the computer screen on his desk, set at just the right angle to allow him to appear to be engaged in scholarly online research that would not allow him to freely converse or connect with a mere otorhinolaryngologically-challenged patient.  I kept my description down to under a minute.  He was obviously a very busy expert specialist doctor.  I didn't want to burden him with my petty 'exploding head' concerns.

He got up from his desk and asked me to sit in his big blue examination chair.  I got up.  I sat.  Very efficient clinical practice.  Very mechanical.  Absolutely devoid of any compassion or caring.  Spock would have approved.  (“If I seem insensitive to what you’re going through, Captain, understand – it’s the way I am.” - Spock, The Enemy Within, Episode 5, 1st Season).

He looked in my right ear, then in my left.  15 seconds.  He looked in my left nostril, then in my right.  Another 15 seconds.  He asked me to open my mouth and looked at my throat.  Didn't bother to get me to say ''aaaaaaagh''.  5 seconds.  

Walked back to his desk.  60 seconds (1 minute) total consultation time.  ''You're fine,'' he said.  

I think both ears popped simultaneously.  I swallowed.  ''But I'm in a lot of pain, and my doctor said there's obvious damage.''

''She's not the expert,'' he answered.  ''That's why she sent you to me.''

''But she said I have two busted eardrums, VISIBLE TO THE NAKED EYE,'' I said.  

''It happens all the time,'' he replied.  ''I see it every day in children.  Stop scratching and tugging at your ears.''

Me (not quite yet having processed that I've been slotted square into 'whiny baby' category):  ''But I'm dizzy all the time.  My head is blocked.  The sound in my head oscillates between the roar of the ocean and an agonising hissing.  Every once in a while there's a popping in my head.  When I wake up in the morning my eye sockets are bulging.  The itching wakes me up, and my ears are draining onto my pillow.''

Dr. Specialist Expert:  ''Yes, it's fine.  So stop scratching, take these 8 pills three times a day for one week, use these 3 nasal sprays twice a day for two weeks, and apply the Fucicort cream twice a day.  Come back and see me in one week.''

Me (silently, in my tinnitus-riddled head):  ''Let's lay our cards on the table, Doc.  This is all about the insurance.  I am nothing but a cash spewing hologram to you.''

Nothing but a flowery, blossoming cash tree ...

Me (out loud):  ''So is it an infection?  Fucicort's an antibiotic?''

Dr. Specialist Expert:  ''No, it's a moisturising cream.  It will relieve the itch and numb the pain.  But you have to stop scratching.  I'll see you in two weeks.  If it's not resolved, we can do tests, and try different medication.''

Me (really close to crying - it's my innate response to overwhelming anger):  ''But you just said I'm fine.  Now you're saying more tests.  And you're prescribing antibiotic cream.''

Dr. Specialist Expert:  ''No, it's not an antibiotic.  It's a hydrating cream.  It will moisturise your ears, make them soft, ease the itching.  Yes, you're fine.  Stop scratching.  Get your medicine at the pharmacy downstairs.  Come see me next week.''

About 4 minutes after walking into his office, I retraced my steps.  I consciously avoided tugging at my ringing ears as I walked back out the door.

I walked down to the pharmacy.  This part of the visit took about half an hour.  Obviously there are a lot of meds being doled out.

And the pharmacist gave me a literal grocery bag full of, among other things, THIS:

The Fucicort(R) the expert specialist told me wasn't an antibiotic ... truly confidence-building.

So what's the point of this post?   As is usually the case with me, not much, I guess.  Other than the realisation that incompetence and ignorance - blatant incompetence and ignorance - is a worldwide, class unspecific and un-racially profile-able phenomenon.  It's not like there aren't ignorant clinicians in the West, or like I was never told by a doctor in Canada that I was starving my unborn child because I had only put on 15 lbs into my 8th month of pregnancy.  There are doctors across the globe who have a gift for sending patients home in tears.

But more importantly, I gained a true and first-hand appreciation and understanding that compassion and caring - no matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter where you're from - can heal.  

My ears are ringing tonight because an ''expert specialist doctor'' wouldn't take the time to look at me or listen to me.  Because he wouldn't take the time to walk me through what might be happening inside my body, between my two ears.  Because he didn't acknowledge one single time the pain that I was feeling.  Because he didn't walk me through what he was seeing and what the path forward might be.  Because he didn't seem to think I was worthy of an explanation of where we were headed with a bagful of medicine.  Because he wouldn't take the time to care.  

But I'll go back to my GP, and she'll listen to me.  And when I tell her it hurts, she'll take my word for it, and we'll figure it out.  She won't disregard my pain, my concern, or my obvious scars.  I know, without a doubt, that she may not have all the answers, but that she won't stop until we've found them.  I know that she really wants me to feel better.  I know that she's confident I can be healed.

There really is a lesson for me in all of this.  Much like these doctors, I have the power to inspire and soothe, and I have the power to crush and belittle.  We all do.  We have to realise that taking the time to look, listen and hear can attune us to the pain of others.  And by that very reality, we can start to help others heal.  Both figuratively and literally.

I was reminded today of how important it is to truly listen.  Because sometimes, pain truly is in the ears of the beholder.  And it's only by listening that we can begin to understand and to make a difference.