All Things Being Equal


I woke up in LA feeling like the left side of my head was about to explode. [Ed – That totally sounds like the start of a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street. But no, drugs and alcohol were not involved. Nor was colossal financial fraud]. The pain was searing, starting from the base of the skull behind my ear and consuming a large patch that extended to my jaw and eye-socket.

It was about 6am; instead of waking my hypochondriac wife I thought it would be easier to deal with it alone, so I gingerly put on some clothes and ventured down to the hotel concierge. “I need a doctor, fast please.” She nodded slowly, her contorted face suggesting that I looked like something out of Dawn of the Dead.

“I’ll call one right away sir.”

I had no painkillers and no idea what the problem was. We’d had a few drinks the night before, but it hadn’t been one of those nights out. You know, one of those nights that you can’t remember but plenty of people are queuing at your front door the next day to remind you that you were walking down the street with your pants around your ankles and half a palm tree hanging out of your ear. No, it hadn’t been one of those. A lovely dinner, a couple of glasses of wine, that was it.

At first I thought a ninja must have entered our hotel room during the night, bludgeoned me with nunchucks and then quietly left without stealing anything. But the bathroom mirror didn’t back up the theory – although I looked like a bit of a freak with my face twisted in pain, there was no bruising, no blood, no obvious wounds. So I knew that it must have been serious. Like a brain tumour.

About an hour later the room phone rang, and the concierge advised that the doctor was on his way up. My wife was stirring and I gently woke her. I told her not to panic, that a doctor was coming up to look at my head. She quickly put some clothes on, looking a bit sleepy-confused.

The doctor arrived. Doctor Bob. He was in his late fifties, and looked like he’d just come from the golf course. Pleated shorts and a polo top. He gave me his card. I had a quick glance, and noticed that his office was in Beverly Hills. Holy shit, I thought, this will cost a fortune.

My wife was now fully awake and I could see panic setting in. Doctor Bob looked in my left ear. “Look at me,” he then said. He grabbed the lobe of my left ear, and yanked it down. I recoiled in agony. “Okay, what you have is an ear infection. Nothing to be worried about. It’s sometimes called Swimmer’s Ear.”

I noticed that my wife’s panic had eased. In fact, it seemed that she was now trying to hide a smirk. “It’s agonising,” I said, trying to make sure everyone in the room was suitably aware of how serious this actually was.

“Oh yes,” said Doctor Bob. “They can be very painful.”

I looked at my wife: See.

“But it’s nothing to worry about. I’m going to drop this antibiotic into your ear, and within about half an hour the pain will ease.”

“We’re supposed to be on a long-haul flight tomorrow.”

“That’s fine,” he said, “You can fly. Just remember to equalise regularly, especially on the descent.”

Doctor Bob headed back out to the golf course, leaving me with a prescription and a call-out fee of $500 that I prayed my travel insurance would cover.

“Swimmer’s Ear!” My wife burst out laughing the moment the doctor left. “My little nephew gets that all the time!”

So unfair. And my ear has never been the same since. After returning from that trip, the infection came back several times, but fortunately I always had my ear medicine on hand to avoid the onset of agonising pain.

I am now obsessive about equalising. I do it on planes, underwater, and at one-metre above sea level. I do it coming out of the shower, walking to work, reading a book, and on the toilet. I visited my local doctor to insist that there was something seriously wrong with my ear; after all, why were the infections continually coming back? He said there was nothing wrong with it, so I went for a second opinion. The next doctor said the same thing. I told him that when I clean my ears, I find an inordinate amount of wax in the left one.

“The one thing that doctors don’t like to hear is that you’re sticking things in your ear,” he said.

“But what about the wax?” I asked. “There’s tonnes of it in my left ear. It’s not normal.”

“Ear wax is normal, just stop cleaning your ears. The wax will come out naturally, as the skin in your ear canal grows out.”

So there was my future, right there. I’m sitting in an important meeting one day at work, and at a critical juncture in negotiations with senior management a large lump of yellow wax spontaneously drops onto my shoulder.

Nothing to worry about, indeed.


“Few writers can be as funny about total haplessness…” –Eric Levin

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