The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM.
A fungal infection in my left ear last spring left me pondering topics relevant to all would-be healers, such as:
• Dangers of self-treatment by healthcare professionals
• Appropriate use of opioids
• Procedural pain management
• Empirical versus culture-guided treatment.
How it all began
My problems had begun the previous fall. My left ear felt full, and my ear canal itched like mad and burned like fire.
Naturally, I decided to keep scratching and self-treat. The ear really isn’t that far away from the eye, so what could possibly go wrong?
After two rounds of oral antibiotics and Medrol Dosepaks, I had my answer: nearly everything.
I was just like all “those other people” who rub their eyes and use whatever eyedrops they can get their hands on, including Uncle Butch’s 5-year-old unidentifiable bottle of “allergy drops” with the faded, yellowing label.
After a bit, there was a break in the storm. It turns out it was just the eye of the hurricane.
Early one Sunday morning, I awoke to the most intense pain I had ever felt in my life. It not only seemed like someone was stabbing me with an icepick in my left ear but also heating it on a blacksmith’s anvil prior to insertion.
A pain scale of 0-10? Pshaw! Just like Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier volume knob in the 1984 cult classic mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, my pain went “up to 11.”
A few hours later, the physician assistant at the walk-in clinic looked into my ear with her otoscope and gasped, “Whoa!” (Students and residents: Don’t do that).
“I’m not sure what that is, but it’s pretty funky” (Students and residents: See above).
I looked at my Rxs: another oral antibiotic, plus, this time, the magic elixir—antibiotic/steroid combination eardrops. Wait a sec—where’s my pain med? If there was ever a time and place for the “good stuff,” this was it.
“Oh, we can’t do that here. You can just use ibuprofen and acetaminophen,” opined the MD without Satan’s red-hot poker sticking out of her left ear.
I had been swallowing fistfuls of both all night. “Can’t, or won’t?” I shot back.
That’s when I played the “I’m a doctor, too” card.
I understand the opioid crisis, I told her, but this was some serious acute pain!
You can check the records—I haven’t had any since my vitrectomy in 2012—and, if we healthcare professionals can’t treat a five-alarm fire with six or so measly Lortab 5/325s, then the pendulum was swinging too far in the other direction!
On my way out, I picked up my Rx for six Lortab 5/325s.
But it made me think about other patients in acute pain who don’t know the system as well as I do and who don’t have an “in” like me and what they must be experiencing.
Well, that course of treatment didn’t work either.