Like a Candle in the EarJanuary 10, 2010
I’m officially classified as deaf. Well in one ear anyway, which is about 90dB down from normal. That’s a lot. All I ‘hear’ from my left side is a high pitched hissing shriek that I have learned to ignore. Well, most of the time anyway. Two functioning ears are good, because they allow one to tell where sounds are coming from. I am an endless source of amusement for people who call to me from my left, because I hear their voice bouncing off walls to my right and I turn that way to look at … nothing. Warnings from homicidal motorcyclists blasting their horns are wasted on me, because the threat could be coming from any direction.
Worse, the brain distinguishes important sounds from background noise by processing input from two ears and discarding the clutter. I get it all, unfiltered and confusing. It means I can hear, but not understand. To those of you with two working ears, think of an ink drawing, the patterns exquisitely detailed, the colours and textures vibrant and alive – that’s normal hearing. Now think of it being left in the rain, with the details smearing until only a muddy shadow of the original meaning remains. That’s what I hear. Once I could not only hear a sparrow fart at 500 metres, but I could have told you what it had for breakfast. Those days are over – I turn around at squeaky motorbike brakes thinking someone is calling my name. And ignore those who do call me because I think they are motorbikes.
Learning Bahasa is torture as I try to hear, then duplicate the subtle schwas and soft k’s of the spoken language. Even English is getting to be beyond me, and is now getting me into dangerous situations. I was inspecting a rental villa recently, one still full of holidaying guests.
Me: (To one of the guests) “Enjoying yourself in Bali?”
Her: “Oh yes, the group here is great. We’re old women here, you know”
Me: (Thinking that they look pretty young to me) “You’re old?”
Her: (Aggrieved) “Old? Old? Who are you calling old?!”
Me: “Er, you said …”
Her: “I said, we’re all women here”
Some smoothing of ruffled feathers was required. I’m such a diplomat, but you have to be when you’re deaf …
Hearing loss can drive one into self-imposed social isolation. Perhaps that’s why, in a misguided attempt to do something positive, I did something really silly instead. I tried Ear Candling. This is a procedure offered at salons everywhere, and it claims to clean the ears of wax residue by, wait for it – sticking a hollow, burning candle into one’s ear. Supposedly the candle creates a suction which somehow vacuums the crud out of one’s ear. If I did this, maybe my hearing would improve, even a little? Naturally, being a tad skeptical, I researched the procedure thoroughly by consulting with Dr. Google. Unfortunately, I did the research after having the procedure done, which in hindsight, was a tad stupid.
So there I was, lying on my side, with a burning candle stuck in my ear, looking like a birthday cake for a one-year-old who had asked mum to bake a full-scale replica of a walrus. It was quiet and peaceful, (but of course, it was my dead ear) and despite knowing that I looked ludicrous, I was relaxed. I could feel a few warm drops trickling in my ear. Aha! It’s the ear wax dissolving, I thought. In fact, I found out later that it was the candle wax dripping in. Medically, that is considered to be a Bad Thing.
Then I turned over, and the process was repeated on my ‘good’ ear. Ye gods! The noise of cracking flames nearly made me jump off the table. In retrospect, I should have. The only time that you normally hear flames that loud is when your hair is on fire. My nose worked overtime to detect the aroma of singed hair – but nothing. I lay there tensely waiting to burst into flames, but fortunately cranial combustion did not occur.
Afterwards, the helpful staff showed me the remnants of the candle stubs, filled with a hideous waxy detritus which they claimed were the contents of my ‘contaminated’ ears, now supposedly sparkling clean. I left bemused, but relatively calm – until I did the research I should have done before. Apparently a lit, hollow candle doesn’t develop any suction, and can’t remove ear wax. Apparently the residue you are shown comes from the candle itself, not from your ears. Apparently, accidents where boiling wax runs down the candle into one’s ear canal are common, and there are even cases of eardrums being burnt completely through. The lessons here for me? I will research stuff before I commit to what could be a dangerous procedure. I will accept my disabilities and frailties and not look for whacko solutions, because there are no easy fixes – not for hearing loss anyway.
So watch out people, here I come. I’m the guy who will look the wrong way when called, and I will in all probability insult you because I didn’t really hear what you said. My conversations in crowded, noisy bars will be nonsensical. At least I’ll fit right in. And I will most likely run into you with my motorbike (yes, the girl’s bike) despite your loud and insistent beeping. You have been warned.