Dear Diary: I can hear clearly now the wax has gone

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

You know life has taken a turn for the mundane when the day’s most pressing engagement is arranging to have your wax-filled ears unblocked. And trust me, it’s not as easy to arrange as you might think.

Boots does ear irrigation for £50 a pop but after the website helpfully guides me through the steps to book an appointment in my local Hearingcare department, it then unhelpfully leaves me hanging on a page which says ‘Choose date & time for appointment: Ear Wax Removal’ but doesn’t offer any dates or times.

When I call the customer service number I’m left hanging again - long enough to make the bed, put the toast in the toaster, fire up the coffeemaker and wonder if ‘Hearingcare’ is all one word.

When I do get through I’m told they don’t do earwax removal at Boots in Croydon and that my nearest option is Boots in Bromley,. But I’d be a hypocrite for trekking to Bromley when I have a friend who lives there who I’ve managed to get out of visiting since March, luring him to my local pub instead because of my worries about crammed buses and trams where most commuters mistake face masks for chin straps.

Plus their earliest available appointment is more than a month hence, which puts me in mind of an old Bette Midler quip about how many adverts there were for colonic irrigation in LA Weekly. Her response: ‘Is this town that full of s***?’ Mine: ‘Is Bromley that blocked up?’

I recall hearing that Specsavers don’t only do eye tests, lenses and frames, they also do hearing tests and, I discover via specsavers.co.uk, they can shift pesky earwax too (and maybe if you ask nicely they’ll blow your nose and soothe your throat for an extra few quid?).

Interestingly, they have earwax as one word, as indeed does NHS.uk, whereas Boots thinks it is two words capitalised, which is as confusing as being able to hear well one minute, then there’s a loud ‘POP’ and my cochlea is as congested as Old Compton Street on the night London came out of that first full lockdown.

The Oxford-powered Lexico online dictionary also has it as one word, which is good enough for me and one up for Specsavers over Boots - even if they do charge a fiver more for their ‘No wax, no charge’ service, neither of their Croydon branches do online booking for said service and nobody is answering the phones. They’re probably busy stocking the shelves with Kylie’s eyewear range, which one can only hope is better than her rose wine. (Love you to bits Miss Minogue but ‘fresh, light and the perfect pink’ it most certainly isn’t.)

It seems few GP practices do earwax removal now, not since the dark days when they’d flood your ear with water at such high velocity that - at least as I remember it as a terrified kid - you feared it would rip through your eardrum and tsunami its way into your brain, turning you into the Elephant Man.

Previously when my wax has occasionally build up to blockage levels (a side effect of sleeping with ear plugs, I’m told) I’ve usually managed to shift it with olive oil drops and patience. The one time the process was taking much longer than usual I shelled out for a Hopi Candles session. The idea is that the heat from a burning flame loosens the wax and sucks it into the candle, although given the low lighting and ambient music I wasn’t sure if the practitioner was trying to clear my ears or cleanse my aura. Either way, it didn’t work. It weirded me out, he might just as well have been waving the candle in the wind for all the good it did, and I was left out of pocket and seemingly more aurally bunged-up than before.

Thank goodness then for good old local businesses. A tootle around Google reveals that there’s a company called Vivona Earcare a very short walk from where I live and not only are they doing both ears for £60 as a special offer, they can fit me in that very afternoon.

Times is hard, so any unexpected outlay has to be carefully considered these days, but the wax is harder so I book myself in. At 2pm, sitting in reception, I reason the blockage in my right ear has been getting steadily worse over the past couple of weeks and therefore it will be money well spent. I’m not sure about the left ear because a birth defect means it’s kinda inside-out so I can never hear as well on that side anyway.

A few minutes later Jennifer the audiologist comes to greet me like something out of a sci-fi film, sporting a mask that could probably filter out all the bad micro-organisms floating around on Mars and a see-through surgical-style gown that looks like PPE designed by Barbarella.

Leading me to the treatment room and seating me in a very comfy chair, she explains the procedure (it’s all about micro-suction), sticks a camera in my left ear (not a Kodak, obviously) that’s linked to an iPad and there’s no blockage - just a few strands of honey-coloured wax around the edges of a yuckily membraneous eardrum that, Jennifer tells me, is perfectly normal.

Not so the problematic right ear. In goes the camera to reveal what looks like a honeycomb covering the eardrum, mostly golden with a few very dark spots. I can’t see the critters that cultivated it but there’s a small gap on one side that the queen bee must have burrowed through on her way to cultivate a hive in someone else’s earhole, which explains why there’s at least some sound getting in.

Next, Jennifer affixes a slim metal prong to a plastic tube and, ensuring I’m comfortable, begins the suction process. It’s very loud and really quick, and less than five minutes later it’s all done. She shows me my now mostly-clear ear, with the usual few bits of wax framing the eardrum.

I learn that cerumen, as it’s medically called, is a natural substance produced by glands in the ear canal that cleans and protects it and keeps it lubricated. The dark bits are where it’s gotten mixed in with skin, dust and debris. Skin, dust and debris in your ears? Yuck but again perfectly normal, apparently.

When I get out of the chair my legs are as wobbly as my vertiginous friend Kevin’s whenever he’s in a tall building, but that’s only because my balance must have been out of whack and is righting itself again.

On the way to the shops, with my balance back to normal and the sweet sound of the traffic and the dulcet tones of a woman screaming into her phone ringing in my ears, my own phone goes. It’s Specsavers returning my call and no, they don’t do earwax removal. Well, they do but the nearest branch is in Bromley, but at least I get the message loud and crystal clear.

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