Seán Moncrieff: The nurse told me she’d never seen so much stuff come out of a human head

I’d been moving through the world sheathed in aural cotton wool; now I can hear what I was missing

It is, I know, pointing out the obvious to point that some things only become obvious when they are pointed out to you. Obviously.

I was at the GP for the second time trying to figure why I have a weird morning-only cough and sniffles — turns out I’m allergic to weather — but before he came to his diagnosis, he did all the usual let’s-make-sure-he’s-not-about-to-drop-dead tests. He listened to my back, got me to blow into what looked like the cardboard bit from a toilet roll and had a look in my ears.

“Oh,” he intoned. “There’s a bit of wax in there.”

Doctors are cunning masters of understatement: ‘bit’ meant Everest-sized chunks of hardened gunk wedged into each side my skull.

Just in case you’ve no experience with this sort of thing and have jumped to a harsh conclusion, I need to point out that I’m not a dirty person. I wash my ears, along with the rest of myself. My problem with wax, which I’ve had many times before, is that I have weird ear canal syndrome.

That’s probably not the medical term. Most ear canals dip down slightly to allow detritus to escape naturally. Mine, however, are rigidly horizontal, gradually trapping the goo and building up a barrier between me and exterior sound.

Which was screamingly obvious, once he’d pointed it out. I’d been moving through the world sheathed in aural cotton wool. I’d been engaging in all the usual listening-based activities, but without noticing that I had to turn the volume up slightly. Herself had to increase the number of times she said “are you listening to me?” But only slightly. Now I was aware of a slight pressure in my ears, and that my tinnitus had increased.

I have tinnitus because of Louis Walsh. During the height of his X-factor fame, a couple of the kids randomly bumped into him and said hello. They chatted for a while, during which he gave them his card and said if a parent rang his office, he’d arrange tickets to see Jedward.

The gig was mercifully short. I, and most of the other adults in attendance sat while the children stood to show their appreciation: which they did by dancing, but mostly screaming. A girl in the row behind parked herself by my right ear and bellowed for the entire performance.

In the days afterwards, I noticed a constant sound: rather like the whoosh you’d get from an old tube radio. Over time you get used to it. The brain learns to tune it out, and it’s only noticeable now if I’m particularly tired or my ears are blocked.

Now it felt like a storm was raging inside my head, so I was dispatched to the nurse to get my ears syringed. The word “syringe” is a bit of a misnomer: it’s more like having a garden hose attached to your lug that shoots in water until the wax falls out.

The wax put up quite a fight, but luckily the nurse was one of those people who wasn’t going to take any wax nonsense and who took great joy in her work. At times it felt like she was attempting to drill into my skull, yet as she cleared out each ear, she squealed with delight, proudly showing me the cup of brown goo she had managed to evacuate. She proclaimed that she’d never seen so much stuff come out of a human head.

For some hours afterwards, I was slightly disoriented as I noticed how much I had been missing: not sound, but all the telling details. Birdsong behind the traffic noise. Footsteps. Wind. Snatches of conversation. Most of the time we are too busy, but to take a moment to really look, and really listen, is a reminder of how extraordinarily vivid existence is; how miraculous. Yes, that too is pointing out the obvious. But perhaps it’s not always obvious enough.