When we were growing up, our family GP, Dr King always told us that the only thing we should insert into our ears was our elbow. When you’re an impressionable six year old, this kind of instruction can only result in strained necks and elbows. It didn’t take long for my brother and sister and me to discover that it’s actually impossible to try to manouever your own elbow into your ear, which is how we ended up pinning poor Jack down on the floor as we tried to insert our elbows into his ear.
When our mother came running into Jack’s bedroom to find out why he was screaming so lustily, she gave us all a good slap on the head and then went downstairs to the phone to call Dr King to yell at him.
“Don’t you know by now how literal my children are?” she told him, reminding him of the time he’d told Michelle, after she came to him complaining of stomach cramps, that she shouldn’t swallow her chewing gum in case a rubber tree started growing out of her head, a concept so utterly fascinating to my sister that she went straight home and ate and swallowed an entire packet of Wrigley’s.
“I’m just trying to stop them from using cotton buds to clean their ears, Mrs Hahn!” poor Dr King tried to explain.
Mother told him firmly that we had no cotton buds in the house and that our Nanny was quite capable of scooping out the debris in our ears with her trusty little metal ear scoop. Dr King was so horrified that, years later, when we visited him in a retirement village, he said he’d seriously considered calling the police.
“Imagine what would have happened if she’d accidentally punctured your ear-drums!” he said, his voice shaking.
All this came back to me recently when my flatmate Saffy came home with her head on one side, occasionally shaking it vigorously like a lop-sided dog.
Amanda looked at me and then back at Saffy.
“OK,” she sighed. “I’ll ask. What’s the matter?”
“I went swimming today and now my ears are blocked. I can’t hear a thing!” Saffy shouted.
“Have you tried using a cotton bud?” Amanda asked.
“My doctor says that the only thing I should ever put into my ear is my elbow!”
I dropped my magazine onto my lap and stared. “Oh my God, that’s what Dr King always used to tell us!”
Amanda frowned. “So how are you meant to clean your ears?”
“The ears clean themselves because the stuff will just naturally fall out,” I said and then repeated myself louder for Saffy’s benefit who complained that she hadn’t heard a word.
Amanda later told Sharyn that she’d never heard of anything more disgusting in her life. “Imagine, those two have been walking around the flat all this time and dropping the crap from their ears onto the floor and I’ve been walking on it!”
Sharyn looked perplexed. “Your ears got so much crap, meh?”
“Well, the water from the pool has to be blocked with something!” Amanda demanded. “Otherwise, it should just flow out, right?”
Anyway, Saffy went to the doctor. He peered into her ears with one of those ear stethoscopes and muttered, “Oh, it’s very impacted!”
“Am I going to go deaf?” Saffy yelled. “Will I have to learn sign language or to lip-read like Tom Cruise in ‘Mission: Impossible 2’”?
He told her to lie on her side and dripped some drops into her ear. Ten minutes later, he came back with a huge plastic syringe filled with warm water. While the nurse held a metal pan under Saffy’s head, he injected the water into the ear.
Later, back in the flat, Saffy held up a little bottle filled with liquid in which floated what looked like three enormous, genetically modified black peas. “This is what was in my ear!” she crowed.
For the second time that day, Amanda said, “That’s just disgusting!”, and walked away.
“It’s no wonder I couldn’t hear!” Saffy said, her eyes shining. “Imagine all this wax was blocking my ear! I can hear in stereo now!”
All I could think of was what Dr King would have to say about all this.
Saffy is now obsessed about what else she can have irrigated and it’s no surprise that her attention has fallen on her on-going battle with constipation. “Maybe I should go have my insides washed out! Maybe it’s blocked too!”
Amanda says that when she agreed to share a flat with Saffy, she never agreed to share this much.