Volume 2 | Treating the Unknown

On day 3 of silence and the day after Christmas, I paid a visit to urgent care. They began treating me for otitis media (middle ear infection) using antibiotics (Amoxicillin). The primary inquiry from physicians was if I felt pain. Nope – none. No pain, no drainage/discharge, no nausea, no vertigo. According to the doctor, my right ear drum showed irritation. Although I was aware that not every symptom presents in every case, I felt that I had so few of them. There was a faint feeling of fullness, but my brain had trouble discerning if maybe this was just an emptiness since there was no longer the presence of sound. I also experienced¬†tinnitus, but having had hearing loss for 20 years, this was not new for me – it’s been present to varying degrees during that time. Interestingly enough, I didn’t leave feeling optimism or relief (physical, mental, or emotional). Something told me I’d be back.

The next several days focused on prescriptions and as many homeopathic remedies as I could access. As hard as I fought it, I was unable to stay away from Google. The rabbit hole of diagnoses, outlooks, other’s experiences, and opinions was explored thoroughly. This was when I began to experience nasal and post-nasal drainage with more pronounced tinnitus. Whether it was my symptoms arriving a little late to the party or all of the meds and the humidifier that I now had on blast 24/7 putting in work – I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

I slept when my brain allowed it.

4 days later, I was back at urgent care with no improvement. This time I left with a slightly stronger cocktail – antibiotics (Levofloxacin), steroids (Prednisone), and decongestant (Pseudoephedrine). I had never drank so much water in my life. My skin looked amazing. My hearing did not improve.

Back at it again. Happy New Year! January 4th was my return to urgent care. Doctors were completely perplexed. By this time, contact had already been made to schedule an appointment with a specialist, but the wait to see the ENT (ear-nose-throat; otolaryngologist) was about one month long. The urgent care physician suggested visiting the emergency room for a more immediate referral. It was a bit of a surreal moment, as there was an ambulance outside of the clinic at the time… and quite the commotion. Doctors, nurses, and a family were rushing around inside while the ambulance lights danced through the windows and lit up the night sky outside. Through my own tears, I wondered what was going on. My mom explained that there was a very sick baby in another room – screaming & crying. I could imagine what a jarring cue that’d be for others. For me, it was like a silent film.

I went home and tossed some stuff in a bag in case it’d be a long night. I’d soon realize this was my privilege. It was a bitterly cold winter night and I pulled up to an ER that was packed to the brink. They said the crowds were “worse than usual” and the wait time would be upwards of 11 hours. After having my vitals taken, I sat. Amongst such disarray, I was surprised there even was a seat. Despite my own needs, I remember wishing I had brought more with me… to share. The feeling that some who surrounded me were simply there to escape the extreme elements outside for the evening was unshakeable. My family and I eventually decided to leave and return in the morning with hopes of a shorter wait. My privilege.

I dragged back the next morning before dawn. (Bona fide night owl here.) The sun rose on a much emptier and cleaner ER. When I checked in, I was told I was about 4th “in line” for a room. It was downhill from there. For 3 hours, through weary eyes, I watched many more than 3 people admitted ahead of me. Not only those who came via ambulance (they’re a shoo-in, I get it) and those who were there when I arrived, but also patients who arrived “under their own power” just as I had.. after me. Already not known to be chipper in the morning, my irritation grew. As hour 4 began, I was through. I turned to my mom to see if she could go ask, essentially, “what the f—?” They spewed some excuse about rooms being full (were they full before you let those people ahead of me?) and I was done with Howard County General Hospital. So very done. Because, apparently, if you don’t present as having an understood immediate need, they’ll leave you in the waiting room to waste away. Or maybe they’d like you to sit long enough to spend bank rolls in the vending machine. Not sure. My mom filed a formal complaint about this and they sent a ‘so sorry for your inconvenience’ template letter that they pasted my name into. Next time I know to make a scene just to get some care for my health from the healthcare people.

This would not be the last time that I’d be challenged by this implicit bias.

Goodbye forever, Howard County General. (You suck.) Hello, Holy Cross. You are much nicer. Not only do they have a general ER, but also more of an urgent care center within their facility. I was directed there. Exhausted, I fell asleep on the exam table while waiting. My eyes opened in time for the familiar otoscope to be placed in my ear. What did they see? Nothing out of the ordinary; no redness, no nothing. I left with a referral to the ENT specialist with directions to come immediately…

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