On Saturday, July 30th my month-long stint as a day camp counselor ended; on Tuesday, September 6th my employment as an instructional assistant for the Beaverton School District resumes.
August is mine. So far, I’ve enjoyed the bright, clear, long lazy days, a well-timed apology for the oppressive marine layers that floated through most mornings in July. While agitated, cooped-up and lonely at times, I haven’t been bored. It definitely helps that my ears are now free of the dense nuggets of earwax that literally clogged them for the first weekend of the month, and then some. It was horrible: the pressure would ebb and deflate on occasion, but the dull ringing never ceased. Ultimately I had to seek professional intervention, and it took three medical assistants and a $20 co-pay to dislodge the soft amber chunks. That was Tuesday.
The week-and-a-half leading up to my trip to Urgent Care was rife with irritation. Since 7th graders have yet to develop empathy, my desperate pleas that they not talk over each other in my classroom went largely unheeded. I was that much shorter with them, but still managed to end camp on a strong note. As soon as I got home last Saturday, though, I realized the job was doing me a discrete, alimentary service by distracting me from the tremendous pressure in my right ear.
Last weekend was supposed to be my grand entrance into late summer, to freedom and endless fun and sun, but my condition became debilitating. Anything that would keep me out of the apartment and away from my precious-but-useless ear cleaning kit came to seem like a drag. I wanted to test myself, to make the best of my situation: that Monday, the first of the month, I drove out towards Astoria for a solo day at the coast. I wore my Eddie Bauer vest and everything.
But to no avail. I joined up with 101 North; bumper-to-bumper, through Seaside. Started banging the steering wheel. Already I’d been lamenting my own hubris, the pressure in my head tremendous, pulsing, why didn’t I just go down the street for a dilly bar instead?? I pulled off the highway into the lot of a small creekside county park. I’d packed a sandwich and a beer, so I took the cooler down to the creek bed with my small camp chair and ate my lunch, bereft and morose like a substitute teacher in an empty break room. I texted Oliviah, bemoaning, bemoaning.
But it was…okay. The veggies in my sandwich had softened up on the drive, making for a series of juicy-yet-crispy bites. The creek offered just enough eddying, useless noise, swirling in with the nearby trucks and cars. I walked upstream, soaking my hiking shoes, feeling satisfied that I brought my trusty Birken-crocs in typical overpacking fashion. It was a pretty drive. On the way back I eased into the tunnel traffic and the next day found myself back at Portland Urgent Care.
Back, as in my first visit was that Sunday. While I completed the registration papers, a raving woman had to escort herself out, wailing that Doctor Josh was stealing ATM numbers, and something about getting rabies at the Safeway. I decided this did not reflect poorly on the establishment, but that this lady was just super crazy. In the exam room, though, things weren’t all so successful: the ear lavage treatment felt alright but didn’t do much. “Doctor” Josh sent me back with a prescription slip for ear drops that I found out are over-the-counter. He looked a lot like Sideshow Bob, but with more of a slacker vibe, sitting across from me in a low chair with his long legs like a wishbone and puffs of curly hair flopping onto his shoulders, he asked me “are you sick?” then “are you sure?” then “are you a smoker?” Not wanting to do another co-pay, I decided to trust this guy.
On Tuesday the team came to bat, and the chunks were dislodged. That is, after 2 hours of having hot water surgically sprayed in my ear, and alternately lying on my side. I said “thank you.” A lot. When I receive medical services I like to think I’m this great, charming patient until I realize that women have been forced to stare into my gooey ear canal repeatedly and collect earwax-logged backwash in torrents.
Kim, Julie, then Michelle. Julie, the hardened vet, told me that I’d be amazed what kind of things grow in her husband’s ear, that there’s just a lot more hair. Cool! Kim could’ve been a little more assertive, I thought. Michelle, the youngest and cutest, was ultimately the victor. She had a rough touch that I admired. She proudly presented the dense, angular wad of wax floating in a red plastic box of tepid water – I said “gross!” then realized what she’d done for me. “Thanks.”
I left my book of poetry on the exam table. I like to think Michelle flipped through it in the four minutes it took me to remember and backtrack from the front seat of my car. I like to think she was coyly impressed, that the little laugh when she saw me again was laced with a kind of relief – I’m not just a patient but a person, a man who forgets things, who reads poetry, who laughs, in turn….
I’m not letting my ears get clogged again and it’s August, and I’m free at last.