The Irrigation – Bali, Indonesia
It was spring break and my wife and I were in Bali when my hearing began to fail. Okay, so it was only in one ear, but the condition was definitely getting worse. What could I do, blame the tropical heat, the humidity? We had flown a long way to enjoy those things, and I wasn’t quite ready to curse a foreign god.
Instead, I woke up each morning and snapped my fingers next to my ear. Wasn’t this how Beethoven went deaf? You put something off in hopes of it going away, until one day –suddenly, it seems– you’re biting down on a table to feel the vibrations. Our hotel was a nice enough place, but who wants to put someone else’s furniture in their mouth?
When this ear thing began, we were staying in an old granite hotel on the outskirts of Ubud, an artist community surrounded by volcanoes and rice paddies. It was mysterious and beautiful, but not the first place you’d associate with ‘urgent care.’ There was an honest-to-god Guru on staff at our hotel, but he only dabbled in chi blockages.
It was a rainy morning when I visited the in-house clinic at our massive beachfront hotel in Nusa Dua. The warm spaces and teakwood carvings in the lobby quickly faded after following the bellhop’s directions down a sterile hallway. I opened a metal door and met a girl wearing a blue velour jumpsuit. When I explained the problem she examined me with an ear scope, then took a pen and drew what looked like a cross section of a rabbit’s burrow on a notepad.
“This is your ear canal,” she said. Then she scribbled heavy marks over the entry way. The implication was that some terrible event, a landslide perhaps, had occurred. She showed me into the next room and had me lie down on a bed. There were fine black hairs on the pillow. I stiffened my neck and kind of hovered above it, pretending to be comfortable. The girl was about to drip some solution into my ear when the phone rang. With her back turned, I flipped the pillow over and relaxed.
She crammed a cotton ball into my ear to keep the drops in and told me to go back to my room, the doctor would be there shortly. The girl had mentioned something about an irrigation, which brought to mind the North Carolina tobacco fields my family would pass whenever we went, well, anywhere. I headed back to the room and watched sitcoms until they arrived.
The doctor was an attractive young woman in a white coat. I sat down and she draped a towel over my shoulder, pulled out the cotton ball, and looked through the ear scope. The assistant reached into a medical bag and pulled out a metal pan. It was one of those kidney-shaped deals, the kind a surgeon would keep handy for a bullet extraction. She filled it with warm water and poured in a clear solution. The doctor drew this into a small plastic syringe and squirted it into my ear a few times. Aside from being moist and deaf, nothing had changed. I was getting worried that the irrigation might not work, and then the doctor reached into her bag. That’s when I gasped.
I once lodged a chunk of Play-Doh into my nose so far that my mother had to call the pediatrician. Rather than face the tweezers, I was content with keeping the modeling compound in my nasal cavity forever. Forever took two days. That’s when the stuff melted out. This memory seemed kind of relevant now. The new syringe was made of steel and glass. About the size of a burrito, it sucked up the juice with one splendid pull. She aimed it into my ear and let it rip.
It was like taking a strong enema to the head, repeatedly. I felt something loosen, and imagined it was my eardrum. When the doctor finished, there was a strange popping in my ear, similar to a bowl of Rice Krispies. For the first time in days I could hear “snap, crackle, holy —-!”
Everyone was looking into the pan.
“Do you want to see it,” the doctor asked. See it? I was ready to name it.
The concoction looked like an apricot martini garnished with a critically injured prune. It was awesome. I could have stared at it for hours. In fact, I tried.
It’s funny how people can earn degrees and travel to far-flung countries, but at the end of the day, it’s our crude fascinations that show us who we are. I mean, who hasn’t popped a zit onto the mirror and thought, that was in my face a second ago.
Society says it’s a pleasure best enjoyed in private, but if we’re going to evolve as a society, etiquette must take a backseat to science. Imagine if the inventor of the colonoscopy never uttered the words “Let’s pop a camera up his ass,” or if breast-loving surgeons hadn’t asked “What can I do with ten pounds of silicone?” Once polished, we owe a debt of gratitude to these thoughts. Our world would be a dark, and relatively flat, place without them.
“So…can I throw it away now,” the doctor asked.
In spite of my overwhelming urge to reach into the pan and grab it, I let her flush the remains.
When my wife and I sat down to dinner that night, I could hear every word she said. It was wonderful. When the bill came, I tallied up the total and was surprised to see: For the same price, I had something medically removed from my head.