It’s not a vacation. . .

By Mir
December 28, 2007

… until somebody ruptures an eardrum!

(What, your family doesn’t have that rule?)

Oh, I kid. No one has a ruptured eardrum. I just WISH I had a ruptured eardrum.

So, um, remember that cold I had? My cold that was getting better? My cold that suddenly sensed I was over a thousand miles from home and decided to morph into FORM OF: EAR WEASEL and commence throbbing and itching and generally making me wish for death? Yeah, that cold. I hate that cold.

Why yes, I DO believe that cold knows I’m away from home and also, you know, not generally a fan of the sensation of a creature trying to nibble its way to my brain via the ear canal. Because colds are bitches like that.

OTHER than this whole throbbing pain in half my head thing, I’m having a great time on this trip, you understand. And with enough advil and sudafed in my system I’m able to enjoy our surroundings and activities, or at least, I was, for a few days there.

By the time we got back from dinner with friends last night, Otto was asking me if I was okay (I think it was the way I spent the last hour there holding my cup of tea against my ear), and I had to admit that no, probably I wasn’t. We then had to ponder the best course of action, because while our HMO is annoying at best and abysmal at worst while we’re home, being a thousand miles away from our microscopic coverage area seemed like it might be a problem.

I sank down onto the couch to finish some work due today (no vacation for the wicked freelancer!), and Otto took charge. He dug out our insurance cards and called the member services center.

It was closed. Of course. Everyone knows you don’t get sick at NIGHT. Sheesh.

He then called the nurse hotline and gave the phone to me.

Nurse: Hello, my name is Perky and I am a licensed and registered nurse. Are you having a life-threatening medical emergency?
Me: No.
Nurse: What is the nature of your medical problem?
Me: Well, um, I think I have an ear infection, and we’re far from home and the member services line is closed and we don’t know what to do.
Nurse: Ma’am, I don’t know anything about your HMO’s rules and regulations. I am here for triage and intake.
Me: Okay, well, I’ve had a cold for a couple of weeks and now my ear has been throbbing for a couple of days.
Nurse: You probably need to be seen.
Me: Yes, well, I agree. But we’re a thousand miles from home. I need to know what I can do RIGHT NOW.
Nurse: I can’t really recommend anything, we’re not allowed to do that.
Me: Well, um, I’m taking advil, but is there anything else I can do…?
Nurse: Ma’am, I am not allowed to suggest any medication, whether prescription or over-the-counter. I can only do triage.
Me: Oh. Okay. So you can… tell me that my ear hurts?
Nurse: Yes ma’am.
Me: I already knew that.
Nurse: I’m sorry, ma’am.
Me: Yes.
Nurse: You could try microwaving a damp towel and laying on that. You may find the heat soothing.
Me: See? That was helpful. Thank you. I’ll try that.

Needless to say, I was feeling even more warm and fuzzy towards my HMO after that phone call. That’s money well-spent, right there. You call up and tell them your ear hurts and the LICENSED AND REGISTERED NURSE tells you that YOUR EAR HURTS. What a wonderful world we live in!

This morning I called the member services line and asked them what to do, and they told me I could go to the ER if necessary. I asked them if I could call my primary care doctor and beg for a prescription, and they said that sure, I could try that.

My new primary care doctor has only seen me a couple of times, so my hopes weren’t very high. But to my great surprise they called in drugs for me IMMEDIATELY, which simultaneously delights and terrifies me. (True, I doubt a lot of people are calling in with nefarious motives when requesting amoxicillin, but still.) The amusing part is that they want to see me as soon as possible (perfectly reasonable), but given that we won’t be home for another week, they’re happy to see me after that. And we all know that by then they’re just wanting my body in their office so that they can bill the insurance.

And that’s fair, I guess, because the doctor deserves the HMO’s money just as much as Perky the non-information-giving nurse.

Also, if this whole freelancing thing doesn’t work out for me, I’m thinking maybe I could go work for the nurse hotline. “Hello, this is Mir, I’m a blogger. Are you having a life-threatening emergency? No? Excellent. How can I help you? Wow, that sucks. Do you mind if I blog about this? Oh, I KNOW that’s not very helpful, but it’s all I’m allowed to do. Sorry! You could try laying on a hot towel while I mock you, though.”


  1. RuthWells

    Ouchies. I have the little rodents trying to nibble into my brain through my ear, as well. Heading back to bed momentarily, glad that I don’t have to deal with my health insurance long distance. :-/

  2. All Adither

    Around these parts we have nifty little offices for urgent care that is too minor for an ER. Sometimes they’re even clean and competently-staffed.

  3. Ei

    Ear infections are so horrible. My divorce was final on March 28th and my ear infection set in that afternoon and lasted three freakin’ weeks. I was truly pissed off at the universe for freeing me from one evil and stuffing another one inside of my head.

    I’m going to be laughing about that last line all day.

  4. Burgh Baby's Mom

    Y’know, taking some of the nurse hotline phone calls WOULD make for some very interesting blog fodder. You really ought to find out how you can get that gig. Obviously, no medical experience is required.

  5. MomCat

    Whiskey, honey and lemon is good. Won’t help the earache, but you care less.

  6. Patricia

    If you ran the Nurse/Blogging/Mocking line, I would actually call it. I’ve tried on SEVERAL occasions to use that line and it is exactly as you describe — doesn’t matter how good or bad the insurance seems to be either. The red tape/lawyers have those nurses bound in knots that they basically can tell you only what you tell them — which is useful. I keep wondering if you call them and say, “I’m bleeding from this gun shot wound,” if they would be able to suggest you go to the hospital or if they would mock you for not telling them you have a life threatening emergency.
    (Is it wrong that I’d really like you to have the Mir Blogger Hotline: We mock you openly and then blog about!)

  7. dad

    Just a second. I have to clean off the coffee I just snorted all over my computer screen so I can see what I’m thinking.
    Sorry you have an ear ache. They used to be the bane of my existence. Unfortunately, I never capitalized on their blogability. In the future, bag the pain and just make this stuff up.

    Please excuse my ending a sentence with a preposition.

  8. Kristy

    I’m so sorry you’re still sick! I had bronchitis last year while I was at the beach “on vacation”. It was horrible-I don’t even remember Christmas day b/c I think I just passed out on the couch. And, of course, the insurance company was closed and so were all the immediate care places. I ended up with an out-of-state ER visit on Dec. 26th…and the bills associated with that kept coming until at least April of this year. bah humbug!

    Seriously, I hope the drugs kick in soon and you get to feeling better!

  9. jp

    Mir’s Dad

    “I have to clean off the coffee I just snorted all over my computer screen so I can see what I’m thinking”

    Now I KNOW where Mir gets her sense of humnor from!!!


  10. Aimee

    Well that cold has a HELL of a nerve taking liberties with your ear like that without authorization. Hmph.

    Hope you feel better very soon!

  11. Kristi

    This icky sickness is relentless, I tell ya. Almost two months now, and I still have symptoms! I hope your prescription knocks it out for you!

  12. K

    You poor thing! We were in Atlanta visiting family for Xmas and I got a terrible cold too. Flying home was miserable. It’s no fun being sick whilst visiting in-laws. I hope you feel better soon!

    And, just curious, is *every* house in Atlanta enormous? Or is that just in the parts we saw? You could fit 3 of our house into one Atlanta house.

  13. Flea

    What is it with pain and being a thousand miles from home?!? My only real ear agony – probably like yours – was during a thousand mile road trip with just my kids. That whole warm damp towel thing is good and all, but antibiotics are better. Then this Christmas, 500 miles from home, the migraine from hell hit in full force. But it was still the best Christmas ever. :) I hope that even with the pain, you’re still having the best Christmas ever.

  14. Em

    I used to work for a “warm line” (a hotline for babies. Don’t want to burn any babies with an overheated line so it was just tepid). We were basically only allowed to tell people to call their pediatrician. We would sneak in little bits of advice mother to mother but as an official licensed and registered nurse, we assumed every caller was a)a manager trying to catch us giving real advice or b)someone whose child’s gas pains was actually apendecitis and would then sue our official licensed and registered butts for not sending them directly to the ER. They eventually stopped the warm line, someone decided it was a liability.

    I’m glad your doctor had the common sense to see you needed medicine. That would have been a LOOOONG car ride home. Listening to bickering is bad enough but listening to bickering with a weasel in your ear sound unbearable.

  15. heels

    Jeebus… I’ve had to call that damn nurse before. NOT HELPFUL. Not even a little bit. I found myself screaming at the end “I GET IT- YOU CAN’T RECOMMEND ANYTHING! Well, let me give YOU a recommendation!” Not pretty.

  16. Angel

    I spent most of my childhood plagued with ear infections. They are the worst! One thing that helped me was to warm up salt, put it in a paper lunch bag, wrap a towel around it and lay your ear on it. The warmth was soothing and the salt would draw out the “gunk.” I know – gross, but it really helped. Hope you recover quickly.

  17. saucygrrl

    I wonder if those nurses get combat pay. I mean, really, what the hell is that hotline good for except to be angry and yell at them, which if you ask me, hardly seems like it does anyone any good because heighted blood pressure usually doesn’t make any health situation any better.

    Poor girl. You’re hair looks awfully pretty today though…

  18. Contrary

    So. The nurse hotline exists only to tell you whether or not you need to go to the doctor.

    We’ve never used the nurse hotline on our insurance (which is the Best Insurance Ever. Seriously, when we present our card, office staff say things like ‘Oooh, that’s some good insurance right there!’. Also, I had a baby for free. Nada. Nothng. Zilch.).

    Now I’m tempted to call it next time I know one of us needs to see a doctor, just to see what happens.

  19. Beth

    Ouch, that sounds miserable! Thank God for a good doctor who was willing to be helpful!

    We’re getting ready to get on the road with family members in various stages of wellness/sickness. My big plan is to find out where all the Doc In A Box/Minute Clinic type places are along the way. It will cost us if we have to use one…but our insurance hotline is just as futile as yours and our docs probably wouldn’t be that helpful.

    Hope you feel better quickly!

  20. Wendy

    I wonder what she would have said if you told her the ear worms were in your ear and working their way to your brain. I guess you could have smoke them out with a bonfire next to your ear.

  21. Jenni-nifr

    Shhh!!! … Wait … I think I hear a small choir of angels singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus! You discovered the usefulness of those nurse lines. Dontya just feel warm and fuzy all over!

    I espeially love “… and decided to morph into FORM OF: EAR WEASEL …” your writing is so hilarious!

    Hope you feel better soon.

  22. ChristieNY

    You poor thing! I’ve read that warm olive oil on a cotton ball in your ear while lying down can ease the pain until the antibiotics can get to it…

    Feel better ASAP sweetie!

  23. Brandy

    Um, not to point out the obvious or anything, but a pain relief drop for ear-aches is available over the counter. I sincerly hope you feel better soon and I SO agree with you about the hot-lines. Totally useless.

  24. Jill

    Feel better soon!

  25. Chuck

    I’m still getting over the cold I had over Christmas. At its worst my ears were so congested even regular Sudafed (the kind you have to show your driver’s license to buy now) didn’t help. The lingering congestion is getting annoying, but fortunately, it appears to be almost over.

    Very nice of your doc to call in a prescription like that for you. I’m surprised there wasn’t some kind of medical clinic you could go to besides the ER to be seen while on the road, although those are scarce in some parts of the country.

  26. Daisy

    Are these transmissible over the Internet? Because I just took my teen — my 15-yr-old — in to the doc because his ear hurt and was manufacturing gallons of disgusting wax. Gee, Mir, I’m so sorry he sent it your way. Hope you’re better soon.

  27. Pretentious

    Your HMO doctor gets a chunk of money every month, whether he sees you or not. So I can see why he was happy to call in a prescription, and doesn’t really care when you come in after vacation.

  28. Leandra

    Oh, I had that several weeks ago. So sorry for you! Hope the amoxicillin kicks in quickly!

  29. kathy

    In the states can you go to a pharmacy and ask the pharmacy person for advice? Here in Mexico specific pharmacies are staffed by MDs and pharmacists are good to go for advice. We generally treat any infection with raw garlic and never treat the fever (but instead, allow it to do its work and kill off the germies) unless the kid is really miserable. So far, typhoid is the only thing we’ve contracted that the raw garlic hasn’t killed. Make sure you followup your abx with probotics so your gut will have some good bacteria. Hope you’re feeling better soon.

  30. kathy

    Also, the last time we were in the US, my 2nd born broke his arm. We went to an urgent care clinic and came out with a cast and X-rays to bring back home. The urgent care visit, x-rays and cast cost $292 in the SF Bay Area and I thought it was quite a bargain.

  31. Brigitte

    I want Contrary’s insurance plan.

  32. carrien

    Next time you could try warming some olive oil with a garlic clove in it and then put the warm, not hot, oil in your ear. You smell a bit like Italian food, but it almost always works. That’s what people with only catastrophic coverage do anyway. :)

    When that fails we resort to ear candling to draw out the infection, which also really works.

    And when that fails, we draw out the big guns and use colloidal silver which even killed an antibiotic resistant staff infection that the girl had last year, without causing scars. Which is good, ’cause it was all over her face. My friend whose baby had the same thing used the antibiotics and her little girl has tiny scars now where the infection was.

    You can put it in your ear.

  33. ImpostorMom

    Yuck, ear infections are awful.

    I too had the doc on call give us a prescription while discussing Boog’s hives over the phone. Interestingly enough she kept repeating “well I can’t diagnose him over the phone…” but then she gave me a script anyway. Didn’t ask to see him though. Luckily the hives were gone within a few days.

  34. Heather Cook

    Oh I’m sorry I didn’t come and read this sooner… I had ear infections for about 20 years and 3 surgeries… I could tell you all SORTS of little remedies while you are waiting for your HMO to pull it’s H out of its O.

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