I spent a not particularly great few hours at Addenbrookes yesterday, Tuesday. I wasn’t in good humour, since it was pissing down with rain to start with, which is always dismaying even when you’re Lancashire born and bred. Just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean I have to like it, does it? And I had an early afternoon appointment. You know that means. ‘Byebye PM.’ It also blew the morning to smithereens, since I had to factor in delays because of the weather. I allowed an hour and three quarters for a 40 minute journey. Just as well, given the rain and that half of Cambridge is ripped up for road resurfacing. I only just made it on time, sweating slightly.
The Addenbrookes staff were ready for me, wheeled me in on the dot, and were their usual cheerful charming selves, doing their best to make me feel at ease. Before I got to see the ENT consultant about my vertigo, I had to undergo an audiometry test. Before that could be done, examination revealed a lot of wax in my auditory canals.
This isn’t unpleasant, but it is odd having your ears pressure washed. It’s mildly unsettling when the washer shows you a big hunk of earwax on the end of a fine spatula.
‘But I love earwax!’
Just as well if you spend all day mining the stuff for fun and profit.
Then the audiometry test itself. ‘I can tell you what you’re going to find here.’
‘Let’s not jump the gun, shall we?’
Headphones on, loads of random rumbles and squeaks and tweeting sounds.
‘Aceeeed!’ Satan forked the air. I couldn’t resist it.
The audiometrist shook her head.
‘Right. Tell me what you think,’ I said. ‘Some marked but not really serious loss of hearing on the left?’
‘Yes. But something odd I don’t understand. I need to talk to the consultant.’
I love keeping medics on their toes. They’ve pretty much been winging it since my cancer diagnosis. ‘Let’s keep him alive then we can work out what we do.’
I got to see the consultant and went through all the usual rigmarole, ‘Follow my finger without moving your head, look at my nose (at this point wrenching my head about like a chiropractor), Stand up, close your eyes, march on the spot…’ There was quite a lot more.
‘OK,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what’s going on here. It may be fluid behind the left-hand eardrum. Let’s get you a tymp test.’ This is a way of checking the flexibility of the eardrum. All proved normal there on the right, but my left eardrum is apparently ‘hypercompliant.’ I gather this is a bad thing. I must look it up.
‘Right, I’m stuck. All your problems seem to come from the loss of function of your left ear. Not just the deafness. Damage to the inner ear, which controls balance, is common with radiotherapy to the head*.’
Me. ‘OK, my guess is that left and right balance organs are having a turf war, with me in no-man’s-land. By the way, I’m not trying to do your job for you. When I worked in pharma we launched Buccastem, buccal prochlorperazine. I just picked up a lot with time.’
‘Yes. But it’s more complex, and you’re a smart guy, you know this. Medicine isn’t simple. It’s not only the inner ear. The brain juggles with ocular clues, positional information from your limbs. The mismatch between all the inputs confuses your brain, and the world goes into a spin. And you fall over. Or get sick. Or both.
‘I’m want to talk to the tymp guy again. And there are another couple of tests we can do, we’ll make an appointment for those. And I’ll talk to the physio team. There’s a vertigo physio rehab programme.’
That’s a niche market, eh?
Well, I’ll do pretty much anything a this point. On the upside, a very charming staffer talked to the receptionist/booking controller, and arranged for me to get notifications via email (‘We don’t usually do this, but hey.’) And a clever scheme called MyChart, where online you can access details of all the upcoming stuff.
Also on the upside, I got my bank statement this morning, and I am about two and a half grand up on what I had calculated.
*Nobody told me that beforehand.