In which I go into detail about my ears. At length. You've been warned.
Shortly after I started work last year, and became blessedly insured once after nine months of no medical care (thank goodness none was needed. I guess I did have catastrophic insurance for a bit there), I was struck down with an ear infection. I've gotten ear infections consistently throughout my life, so much so that it was actually a bit of a shock to realize that the answer to a question I commonly received ("Ear infections? Don't most people stop having those when they're, like, two or something?") was, "Yes. Most people do."
Apparently, though, I had so many ear infections when I was little that my Eustachian tubes have some scarring and they are slightly narrower than is normal (which is already pretty darn narrow), so it's easier for fluid to get trapped in them and become infected.
So in early spring 2008, I found myself at the doctor's office on a Wednesday with a random physician explaining the pressure and pain behind my right eardrum. She looked at it and said that yes, it did have some extra fluid back there, but she didn't think it was an infection. She prescribed me a saltwater rinse and some nasal spray to help clear out my sinuses. I never really got the hang of the saltwater rinse.
About a day and a half later, my right eardrum ruptured. It never really occured to me that that was possible. But I woke up to intense pain and fluid dripping out of my ear and onto my pillow. Yes, your reaction here is correct: Ew. Ew, Ew, Ew. Ew.
Well, I thought, that's the end of that. Now the infection will clear up, but I'll make a doctor's appointment just in case.
I forget the chronology of things here, but about the next night I woke up writhing in pain because my other eardrum was about to rupture but hadn't yet. I'm not trying to be dramatic or sissy here, because on the one hand, "boo-hoo, your ear hurt." But dudes, it hurts a lot when part of your body is about to break from pressure. Before it finally ruptured I was yelling to distract myself from the pain.
So I marched back to the doctor after a day or two of sitting in my office trying to discreetly dab at my ears to tell the doctor, "Hi, remember me? The girl with no ear infection? Well, now I have no eardrums. So, thanks for that." But in a really nice, respectful way that would lead me to actually getting antibiotics this time.
The doctor, who is from India, then proceeds to tell me that I can stop acting like I know better because she went to medical school not once, but twice (in India and again in the U.S.) so she learned everything twice and is sick of people questioning her judgment. I was pretty taken aback--I mean, hello, there are things dripping out of my head. I didn't think racism was really part of the picture, but okay.
So she gives me antibiotics, but tells me the reason that this all happened is that I have allergies, which irritated my throat and led to the throat infection, which traveled up my tubes to my ears, and that's where it all started. So she scolds me for not knowing this (How? As you pointed out so helpfully, I'm not a doctor) and schools me in what I need to do from now on, and stresses again how she really doesn't like to over-medicate with antibiotics. At this point I'm like, sweet gravy, lady, what does a person have to do to need them?!
So, fast-forward two weeks, and I'm back in her office asking when I will hear again (and I start getting kind of emotional about it and crying, because two weeks without hearing is pretty frustrating), since my eardrums haven't healed, and she tells me it may be a few weeks more. Picture going to work and not being able to hear anyone when they talk to you--then add "have only been here eight weeks" to the mix. It was kind of an embarrassing start for me at my job.
The doctor refers me to an audiologist, who determines that the damage isn't permanent but that I should take more antibiotics to clear out any remaining fluid, because my hearing is equivalent to what you'd get wearing foam earplugs. You can imagine how "more antibiotics" went over with my other doctor.
Ear Infection '08: FAIL.
Moral of the story: I got a new doctor. And today, when I could tell I had another double ear infection and wanted to clear it up so I don't die on my flight to Wisconsin tomorrow, he took one look in one ear and went, "Ohhh boy. Yeah, you need antibiotics" and gave me a prescription, along with specific instructions for what to do to keep my ears from bursting when the plane lands. Plus, I hit my deductible for the year because of my hot pink mouth guard, so the Amoxicillin was free! I hope it clears up my accompanying pink eye. (Yes, I'm a pretty thing right now.)
Ear Infection '09: WIN!