Overcoming the mildest of disabilities

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was deaf, but now I hear.
I had ear surgery.

When I was ten, my doctor told me that I was 60% deaf.

At least that’s what I think he said; I couldn’t really hear him very well.

The news didn’t come as a particular surprise to me. After all, for the preceding month I had struggled to make sense of what my teachers were saying.

I remember sitting on the floor during a one-hour seminar in the school’s main hall. One of the more softly-spoken teachers was giving an important presentation that afternoon about an upcoming assignment.

If this makes sense to you, then congratulations; you now know more than me.

Over the course of that sixty-minute briefing, all I heard was a brief joke about whales. In my discussions with classmates over the subsequent lunch break it turned out that I was the only person who heard the whale joke.

And that’s when I knew I needed to see a doctor.

Given the amount of times I’ve had to see my ear, nose and throat specialists since that day, I should be able to describe my medical condition in great detail.

In reality, though, my knowledge is embarrassingly vague.

All I know is that, at some point in my childhood, a waxy build-up of gunk took refuge in my ear canal. In order to remove it, my doctor inserted a miniscule tube – colloquially known as a “wallacean” grommet – into my middle ear to filter out the infection.

This description, of course, exceeds the boundaries of dinner-time conversation. As such I prefer to tell people that I have “glue ear”. It’s short, sweet and rarely invites further questions.

(As I have only just discovered – via a much-belated Google enquiry – the scientific name for this condition is otitis media with effusion. By the sounds of it, my engagement with the media took place long before I began my undergraduate degree.)

While four out of five kids experience an ear infection of such a nature, I was a late bloomer. Indeed, the fact that I endured this over the ages of 10 – 20 is quite an anomaly. I guess you could say I’m quite proud to be that anomaly. After all, this extremely mild disability only occasionally held me back from enjoying the fruits of life.

My glue ear hardships have been niggling more than anything else. Over the past ten years I’ve gone in for seven separate ear operations, four times to have grommets inserted and three to have them removed.

On a more practical level, though, having glue ear has denied me from experiencing infrequent moments of joy. While my friends went diving off mountain edges and swimming with dolphins I was left paddling in the shallow end, careful not to splash water in my ears.

At times, friends – and foes alike – tempted me to follow their suit. But time after time I had to reiterate that I had an ear condition. Upon their further persuasive efforts, I would have to remind them my doctor had earned a medical degree, and they had no such qualification.

My water-safety prohibition, after all, came from strict doctor’s orders. Apparently ear deluge could have spelled disaster; a single drop of water able to make its way through my grommet and into my ear drum could have left me with permanent ear damage.

Thankfully such a fate never eventuated. Or at least if it did, it had more to do with the drum lessons I took up when I was eleven than any mischievous swimming pool behaviour.

The other drawback of the condition is quite private and personal. It takes place whenever I’m naked.

While most Joe-Blows can jump into the shower with ease, my pre-bathing routine is protracted and frustrating. It involves moulding two pieces of blu-tack (or, as I like to call, “glue-tack”) into bean-like shapes and then inserting one into each ear.

As you can imagine, these sticky stationary devices start to smell after a few showers. In other words, if you ever help me move out of home don’t try to sniff around while taking down my wall posters.

On a more positive note, my ear condition hasn’t been all bad news. Rather, it has give me valuable impunity against numerous violent splash attacks. Even with a pair of blu-stick balls curled up in my ear and a red street fighter-like band around my forehead, I have always able to excuse myself from water fights.

Note the lack of earplugs

Some might argue that my inability to participate in such fights has made me a killjoy. But few arguments were ever communicated to me effectively. After all, with my level of ear armour, I was effectively a deaf Asian ninja. Every insult I deflected with pure silence.

For the past five years, my specialists have constantly told me I’ve been on the brink of repair. Yet month after month I’ve returned to the doctor’s clinic with high hopes, only to be shut down by the inevitable news that “you’re not ready yet”.

On Tuesday, though, this long-term irritation finally came to an end, when my doctor informed me that both my ears were as clean as a whistle.

Having gone under the knife for the seventh time just a few weeks earlier I half-expected this announcement. Nevertheless it was still relieving to receive this discharge straight from the horse’s mouth.

I duly celebrated that night by showering naked. It was a joyous moment; you should have been there.

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