Monday, January 21, 2002

Pain Explained

Years and years ago I began experiencing a chronic condition wherein my head would be subjected to sharp stabbing pain, sometimes as frequently as every couple of minutes. I attributed it to a smack in the head I received from a swing when I was a wee tyke, on my way to the library with my parents in Washington, D.C. I've got a clear memory of feeling/hearing a tremendous thud, and vaguer memories of being lifted off my feet, followed by a buzzing silence and then my parents (and maybe my sister, I can't remember this at all) asking if I was okay.

When I was a teenager, my parents were having lunch in a restaurant with me, and noticed me wincing at irregular intervals. At that point I described the symptoms. Again, I can't really remember if I went to see a doctor at that time, but nothing much must have happened, as I continued to live with stabbing.

This condition comes and goes, and I've given it little notice because it never seemed to amount to anything (see above history, stretching back over the years). Finally I got fed up when I was wincing every couple of minutes and I went to see my current doctor, Dr. Selby. Less than five minutes into my explanation, he had his otoscope in my ear and was making significant noises. "Don" he asked knowingly, "were you ever a surfer?"

This came as a complete non sequitur. "No, never. I'm not even that fond of swimming." [which is another story...]

To cut to the chase, he detected that a bone in my ear canal was enlarged, causing wax to build up in the ear and place pressure on the trigeminal nerve. This condition is often observed in surfers, who are exposed to large volumes of cold water pounding into their ear canals. Hence the name of the condition, surfer's ear. I don't know how I got this extra growth of bone, but it may have something to do with me spending my youth merrily lacking a hat in the windy, wet, cold Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

A brief, painful session with what looked like a waterpick and the pain was gone! Shazzam! Dr. Selby got several brownie points that day. Combine that with his willingness to share excruciating details on every possible symptomatic regime, and he is a goldmine in General Practitioners.

So now I'm supposed to use ear drops (twice a day, four days in a row, flush with hot water on the fourth day) twice a year to avoid this condition. Trouble is that it doesn't follow a clock, and it crept up on me so that I was having nasty stabbing pain by Friday night. I didn't sleep more than two hours that evening. So I've begun the regimen, and should be done by Tuesday evening. The frequency of stabs has already gone down tremendously.

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