Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Not long ago.

Ear, oil on card, 14 x 15 cm

Not long ago, shortly on my return from the Pantanal in Brazil, where I had been sent by VEM engineering to discuss the possible creation of a giant plant for the manufacture of domestic appliances,  I began to have in one of my ears the sound of a constant scratching sound, much like the sound of a knife scraping against a ceramic plate. These symptoms went on for several weeks, and I resolved to see my doctor.

He conducted the obvious examination: peering into my ear with a special eyeglass. But, finding nothing,  he began to ask me questions about my home and work life before cutting me off abruptly: “Stress.”  . He scribbled  a note. “Give this to your employer. Take a week. Go to the seaside.”

So in three minutes I was back on the pavement, and the next day wondering listlessly along a dull Eastbourne promenade, a paperback apathetic in one pocket, the scraping sound in one ear, the waves crashing in the other.

A week later I was back in the surgery demanding further consultations: he sent me onto an Audiologist, down near Paddington station, and I found myself in a tiny room at the end of a filthy corridor in which elderly, often obese patients quietly rotted like forgotten vegetables in a provincial corner shop. 

I was instructed to lie on a couch by a nurse, and a fantastical machine made a scan of my ear region. With amazing speed the results were printed out and I was ushered into an even smaller room behind: Andreas Andreopoulos, Consultant.

This was a small man, evidently Greek, filled with enthusiasm for my case. He spoke with great emphasis on particular words, as if treats to be savoured.

“Tell me all about yourself, please, where have you been?”, cocking his head to one side like a cat.
“Well I went to the seaside”, I began. “Yes the seaside- I read that here.  But before? Perhaps you were in the Congo, Borneo, somewhere tropical? More interesting?”

 I told him about my visit to the Pantanal, and the plans for the giant factory and how we would soon be able to produce sufficient vacuum cleaners to hoover the entire Amazon rainforest.

“That is wonderful. Progress. We Greeks,” he continued, with a somewhat philosophical expression, “how would you say, we laid the foundations of civilisation. Now it is the turn of the new countries. The future is always with youth, is it not?”

He looked down to the scans on his desk: “ We do not often get such interesting cases.”

“Look!” He beamed, indicating with a pen on the scan. “It is like this. There is a fly, a burrowing fly, found only in tropical regions. It loves dark places. Look! It fly into your ear! An see...” He indicated a channel deep in my ear. “It began here, and now!” - he jabbed with his pen, at an area that had been marked with a thick red marker- “It has got all the way here!” It was a point someway inside my cranium. “ It is making a little home! Home sweet home!

He began giggling.

“We will cut it out. Not to worry. We will cut it out on… ” - he consulted a computer screen- “Thursday!” And he began laughing again. 

“I am sure this is all very amusing”, I said.

“Oh, you will be fine,” he said dismissively, but then his merry expression fell with unusual speed to one of utter despondency.

“Be cheerful. There is a sickness, there is a cure! It could be worse, look at me, I am shrinking.”

He stood up, and I could see how his clothes fell in great swags like theatre curtains, his trousers bagging round his shoes, and how he had rolled up the sleeves of his white coat.

“Every year I have to buy new clothes, a complete set. It is ridiculous. Humiliating. My wife won’t even go to the shops with me. She is ashamed. It is shameful.  Of course she is ashamed. The nurses make jokes. I hear them laughing on the other side” He nodded to the door. “They pretend to care but I hear their laughter when the door close.”

And he fell into silence.

The surgery came, I convalesced and left the hospital: the scratching sound was no more. 

And I didn`t see the consultant for a year after that.

 I was walking down Wimpole Street with my new girlfriend- a tall slim woman with a phd in Astro Chemistry from Harvard, and an ex-model for la Perla. We were so very much in love that even strolling aimlessly hand in hand was a joy. A tender sun sent shimmers to the spring trees as we walked.

 A figure hurried towards us: at first I thought it a child, albeit one oddly dressed in a white coat. But it was the consultant. 

I caught his face: "Doctor!" He stopped.  "This is Alessia. This is the wonderful doctor I told you about!" She bent to shake his hand, but he ignored it. “ are well I see. I am so glad for you!”

And he off he toddled, somewhere towards Portland Street.