Ear in Pain
It started on March 16 at 4:12. It came as Death knocking on my skull: knock knock knock.
Once again: knock knock knock. And again. It was a nuisance but it was not pain. Pain came
about two hours later and it hurt my left ear, my left eye, the teeth I have on the left side of
my mouth (three), and it went all the way down along my neck, following what I swear must be
of my main nerves. Knock knock knock
We had a name for it back in Bolivia: neuralgia. This pain has the same name in English too,
and for a moment I believed my luck had changed. I thought things would be easier.
So, with this hope, I held a tube of Lotrimin, usually used to kill fungus on my left foot, and
inserted a good deal of this cream into my ear.
I did this because six months before Lotrimin had worked on my right ear. This time it failed,
and the pain grew. By then I had heard the knock knock knock four hundred times. It was
eight o'clock and pain grew from the top of my head to my neck and down from there. It grew
so much that I held a q-tip and tried to get rid of the Lotrimin but that didn’t work either.
I looked around inside my medicine cabinet, new and old bottles, and could find nothing that I
imagined could help. So, by ten, I went to bed and tried to sleep. The pain was there. By
midnight I knew I was not going to sleep at all and by four I had this terrible nightmare (or
maybe it was just delirium) and woke up at five thirty as I usually do. The pain was there. Pain
and the knock knock knock.
I spent the next two days alone in my home because my wife was visiting our grandchild In
California. On Monday and Tuesday my hopes were on Wednesday, when I had an
appointment with my doctor at my HMO for a physical. I was at his door at ten, as I was told to
be. I waited until eleven, and I took it as best as I could. After all, what is another hour after
two days in pain and the knock knock knock?
When my doctor looked inside my ear we both found that he did not know what to do. He
looked inside my ear twice, he looked at me somewhat annoyed because this was not
supposed to happen on that Wednesday (it was to be a just a physical, after all) and he
showed me the palm of his hands as if to say “what can we do now?”
I told him what had happened with my right ear six months before and he held his computer
with both hands and did not stop until he found the same information I had on a piece of
paper and in front of his nose. Yes, that specialist had given me Lotrimin in drops. In drops,
mind you, not as a cream. “I'll do the same,” my doctor said, and he copied all seven lines of
instructions as they had been written by the specialist.
I looked at the new paper and said, “This won't work. I used Lotrimin as a cream on Monday
and the pain got worse.” He became impatient. “Do as I say,” he said. “It will help.” He looked
at his computer again. “I'll make a referral for you. You can see somebody at Otolaryngology.
Good bye.” He was in a hurry but I was not surprised. I have been a member of the same
HMO since 1983, you see, and I know they don't allow any doctor more than 15 minutes per
patient or client.
So I went down to Otolaryngology to ask for an appointment and I begged to see a specialist
right then and there. I was in pain and still with the knock knock knock.
I had forgotten that when dealing with my HMO you never ask in person for an appointment.
You must call, wait a couple of hours and, if lucky, you can ask a human being for the
appointment you need. If you are lucky, the doctor will see you in about two weeks. If you are
not lucky, the girl with the sweet voice will connect you with a dead line and your call with
finish with you listening (if you can) to Madonna's latest hit unless you hang the phone to
suffer in silence. That is what I did when I went back home.
On Thursday I spent another terrible bad night and I looked at my face in the mirror and my
eye looked terrible. Well, I decided, I'll go back and fight for my right to see a doctor. And so I
did. I drove for about an hour, I went to Otolaryngology and it seemed that the deaf person
there was not me but a girl with a zombie stare. I showed her my ID card and my papers, I told
her I was in terrible pain and I demanded to see a doctor. She was well trained. She looked
through me and asked, sweet as ever. Next?
I went down three floors and went to Emergency. I met another sweet girl with the same
zombie stare and she sent me back to Otolaryngology. She spoke fast because she saw I
was deaf, but I made her write what she was saying and now I have some papers to show how
they treated me. Only later, three days later, the question came to me: show those papers to
whom? The Supreme Court? Mr. Bush? The Head of the Catholic Church?
I left my HMO in pain and anger, but I knew what I should do.
I went to Inova Hospital. I walked inside and everybody was smiling at me, but everybody
forgot me for forty five minutes. I lay on a stretcher as if I had been brought from a car
accident. I was in pain and knock knock knock and nothing had changed since Sunday
I started to believe that the best I could do was to drive slowly and carefully back home and
finish a bottle of Bourbon I had bought seven years before. Then I would sleep, I told myself,
and just then and there a doctor came in, a black doctor looking like a black god and smiling
brightly and asking what seemed to be the trouble. I showed him my ear. By then it looked
bad indeed and I saw how bad it looked by looking at this doctor's face.
I told him my story about Lotrimin. He looked at my ear for a third time and said, No Lotrimin.
Lotrimin, no. No. Not at all. No Lotrimin at all. They speak like that because they often think I
am French. It is my accent, you see. I was not as wise as my wife, who speaks English like a
native. My bad. My business is reading English.
Anyhow, my good doctor left me on my stretcher and said he'd come back soon. He never
came back. A nice girl from India or Pakistan came in thirty minutes later and looked into my
ear, said nothing and left. A blond nurse, young and competent, came and went for about
fifteen minutes. Nobody came for about an hour. Then a lady, fat and efficient, made me take
two pills, a big one and a small one. I stood there after that, just looking at the wall like a
zombie. I needed some sleep, I believe. When this same lady came back she looked at me as
if she could not remember my face and finally let me go pointing to the door with a fat finger.
Well, I left Inova with three Rx’s and a bunch of papers that looked as if I was being sent to
Iraq. But I had these prescriptions and some hope. I also left with fifty dollars less and later
spent another fifty on my prescriptions. I was home at five. I took three pills and lay on my
bed. I wanted to sleep, really, but I heard it still: knock knock knock.
I spent Friday and Saturday with this knock knock knock and a nuisance of a pain thanks to
Vicodin. My very nice doctor said to take one each six hours, but what the hell. I take one
when I think I need one because I want to sleep. Tomorrow will be Sunday and my wife will be
back on Tuesday. Then she will call my HMO, spend two or three hours at the phone and get
me an appointment with a specialist.
This is a good doctor, I know. I like to go and see him. There's only one problem. By the time I
see him it will be the end of June. I might be dead by then, you know. I am seventy four. Well,
no matter. One way or the other, I'll get rid of this pain in my left ear. I have Vicodin and a
bottle of Bourbon.
Up to this point, I know that it was hard for you to follow my story because, and I’ll bet ten
bucks on this, you have been in the same situation with your HMO. Nothing in this story is
news to you. You know how these things go and you have suffered like me.
My question to you now is: why is it that I never found a story like this published anywhere
Think about buildings on fire: we all know buildings take minutes to turn into ashes because
they are made or pressed planks and paper, not bricks. How many people die every year
because of this well-known fact? I have never seen anybody saying things like these in the
Is this a nice way, a pleasant way to go to hell as a three hundred million bunch of know-
nothings-say-nothings? Is this why we claim for our right to bear arms? If we do not dare to fix
our HMOs, what in hell are we going to do with such arms?
I will not ask you anything else today because if I do, you'll ask what am I doing here and why
don't I go back where I came from. If I tell you why, you'll get angry and you will wish to
exercise your right to bear arms against me. I know. I know your type of heroes. So, let's just
call it quits.
Well, at least I tried. You cannot deny I tried.