Charlie Swinbourne: The joy of having my ears syringed

Posted on August 15, 2015

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As usual, I’d waited far too long to get my ears cleaned.

About a year ago (yes, a whole year), I went to get some new earmolds made, only to be told by the audiologist that there was too much wax in my ears.

So I booked myself in at my local GPs practice for an ear clean, then found, when I arrived, that I was supposed to have spent a week putting olive oil in my ears in order to soften them up.

So I went home again, with wax still in my ears. Then, nothing.

I carried on with my waxy ears and my old earmolds for a whole year, putting up with feedback from my hearing aids (due to the earmolds not fitting so well) and occasionally blocked ears as a result.

This state of affairs continued quite happily (mostly) until about a month ago, when I noticed that every time I went swimming, my ears seemed waterlogged afterwards.

I kept having to ‘pop’ them – like you do on an aircraft when it’s reached a high altitude.

One day, it got worse. When I tried to put my hearing aid back in after a swim, it actually hurt – like the earmold was pushing wax against my eardrum.

Thats when I realised it’d gone on long enough, and I accepted defeat.

I booked myself to see the nurse at my GP, then spent a week tipping olive oil in my ear (which often meant even more ‘popping’ afterwards).

Finally, the day came.

And what a revelation it was.

The last time I had them cleaned, I remember a metalic implement being used to scrape the wax out. It wasn’t too much fun. I got worried that the implement might stab my eardrum, and afterwards, my ears were sore inside.

Another time – this is a fonder memory – the nurse used a tiny vacuum to suck the wax out. That was pain-free.

This time, however, I felt a bit nervous when I saw this:

photo 1

It’s a water syringing machine.

I’ve had my ears syringed once before – when I was about 12. I remember a big tube of water being pressed down, pushing water into my ears. My head was turned on its side above a huge sink.

The pressure was quite something. It got the wax out, but I felt like my brain might have been compacted – never mind my poor little eardrums.

This time, the nurse explained that the old way was quite dangerous (why didn’t anyone say anything at the time?!) but using this machine, the water pressure was more controlled.

Before she could start, I had to hold one of these under my ear, to collect the water and the – ugh – wax.

photo 2

The nurse put the syringe to my ear, and suddenly, I felt water gushing in. It was painful at first, so the nurse turned the pressure down, then started again.

It sounded a bit like the sound of a drill against my ear, with the machine pressing water into my ear intermittently, like a pulse.

The water was warm – which was pleasant – but the pressure of it all brought non-emotional tears to my eyes.

The first ear cleared out straight away.

The second one needed two goes.

When it ended, in each ear I felt a sudden release, as the pressure dropped, the water drained, and suddenly, fresh air flowed into my ear canal again.

It felt fresh, breezy, and like I was suddenly free.

But then there was the grim bit.

Looking at what had been left behind.

(Warning – the next bit might make you feel a bit queasy. Read on at your own peril).

The nurse said she’d seen worse but when I looked at it, the wax – which was dark brown – looked like it was the same size as a miniature hearing aid.

It was exactly the same shape as my inner ear – almost like it was moulded to fit.

I touched it, and realised it was all hard, too.

I would describe it more, but maybe it’s best to leave it there and say it was simply disgusting.

I was tempted to put a photo on here, but my wife saw the picture and after seeing her reaction, I thought it might make this site self-combust.

In conclusion, I’m going to make sure I go back every year for a clean, now, rather than go through all that again.

And if you’re feeling a bit blocked up, I reckon you should too.

I couldn’t believe I’d spent a year with what looked like a small stone clogging up my ears.

There’s nothing like feeling fresh air in your ears after being blocked for so long.

By Charlie Swinbourne. Charlie is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned the films My SongComing Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

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