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It all started with a little congestion in my ear.
I first noticed it while snorkeling off Rasfari Island with our friends on Slow Flight. We were looking for the manta ray cleaning station that was supposedly in this area. I didn’t feel the pain until I tried to dive down and discovered my ear wouldn’t clear quite right. We’d been snorkeling a lot lately, even if the coral was mostly dead.
I didn’t pressurize for the rest of the snorkel, resting my ear, and the congestion went away.
Then we stayed four nights at Himmafushi, a surf spot near the capital of Male. We picked up our friends Eze and Gina for their visit with us. The weather was windy and choppy, so we didn’t snorkel much, but the congestion came back a few days in. What was going on with my ear?
We sailed over to Maagaa Island in the Ari Atoll, and snorkeling was back on the table. With our guests onboard, we were spending a lot of time in the water. I wasn’t diving down, but my pain was becoming more constant. Now the issue was constant, and extremely painful when I pressed on the tragus.
We had internet, but the nearest health care facility was a day sail away. I pulled out our offshore medical kit, only to find that the batteries in our otoscope had corroded. Lesson learned, store the otoscope without the batteries in it! Researching on the internet led me to believe that I had an ear infection, and just like when I got sick in Indonesia, I self-medicated with antibiotics.
The next day we were heading to Dhangethi anyway, which has a health center. Gina and Eze accompanied me to see the doctor – what fun on their vacation, right?
When we walked in the Health Center was empty – no one at the desk and no one answered our calls. We wandered through until we found, way in the back, in a small detached building, the pharmacy, staffed with two ladies. They made a phone call and led me back to the front – the receptionist had stepped away for a few minutes, and the doctor was seeing a patient.
I filled out a small amount of paperwork and had to explain that I wasn’t staying in a guesthouse but on a sailboat. Then, the doctor was ready to see me. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name, but he was a friendly doctor from India with excellent English and a good bedside manner. He inspected my ear, poked and prodded the outside for a bit, and asked me questions.
He said he thought it was a fungal infection, and we should go to the treatment room so he could remove the fungal build up and expose the tissue so that it could heal properly.
“That sounds painful.”
“A little bit,” he said. “But your ear needs to heal.”
I laid down on the table, and with the aid of a nurse, he used a small tool to remove the layer of build up. The doctor looked at the tissue.
“That’s not what I was expecting,” he said. “See this? It’s supposed to look like cheese. I think this is the body of a dead bug.”
It’s ok if you are grossed out now. I am too.
We were not able to determine what kind of bug had died in my ear; it could have been a variety of things – maybe a crab or shrimp while swimming?
The doctor removed as much of the infection as he could, but he said my ear was too irritated to clean more without causing bleeding or possible damage. He wrote five prescriptions: antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anti-congestion, and two vitamins.
I paid about $30 USD for everything and went back into the health center two days later. Already, there was an amazing improvement in my ear. I no longer had pain, though I was still congested.
This time, the doctor did a saline flush in my ear several times, trying to get the remaining gunk out. Then he used the same tool to carefully pick out some remanents. David was with me this time and got a very up close and personal view of the gunk in my ear!
I was back to 100% in a few more days. I always find it an interesting experience to receive medical care in other countries, and I hope you found it interesting too!