Ear Infections Abroad and Dealing with Them

A very slow waterslide in Pacific Harbor

My friend Alicia and I are on our own in Fiji now that my parents and sister have returned home. Lingering in Korotogo for one more night, we drank the overalcoholic local rum called Bounty (which gets more painful with each sip) and browsed two Fiji guidebooks for advice on SCUBA diving and lodging for cheapskates.

The next morning, after scraping a rough plan in the sand, we took a snazzy air conditioned bus from Korotogo to Pacific harbor with the idea that we would be doing some diving. Arriving late in the morning, we checked into the cheapest accommodation around, Tsulu apartments above the cultural center of town, and began a walking journey to the two nearby diving companies so we could compare prices.

I was worried about my ear, since I awoke that morning with a feeling of soreness in my left hand aural cavity. I just slept on it funny, I thought, but the problem persisted no matter the incident angle between skull and pillow. I expressed my concern with Alicia, saying “There is no way I am diving tomorrow if my ear is still hurting.” Diving is a game of pressure balance with your air-filled cavities, and so it is ill advised to head down unless your eyes and ears and mouth and nose are in good working order.

The featured dive in this area is the Beqa shark dive. Surrounding the nearby island of Beqa (Mbega), the reef is rich with many varieties of shark. The idea with the shark dive is to induce a feeding frenzy involving dozens of sharks and swim among them. Crazy right? Apparently the safety record is good, with only one report of a tiger shark bite, and another of a man losing much of the flesh on his hand. The spectacle apparently outweighs any risk, according to some folks we’ve talked to, and so the special dive persists and draws a premium.

The first dive shop we visited was stupid expensive. About US$150 for two sharky dives in a day (which is pricey for any dive anywhere). It was a long walk inland to reach it, and we found it surrounded by golf courses and a fine resort. Not for us! The second, a bit more casual, was a cheaper due to their reaction to our frowning faces of price tag consideration. We signed up. “Do you have anything for my ear?” They did not.

Determined to sort out my hearing woes and jump into a saturated shark solution, I asked around for a pharmacy, convinced that I needed some antibiotic ear drizzle, the likes of which I hadn’t used since I was my ears were relaxing to Raffy tapes. Now I had a clear goal for a spontaneous side trip: Get the ear juice!

The nearest chemist was in the nearby town of Navua. I split off and hopped a van headed that way and was deposited on the side of the highway. The next hour was spent zeroing in on the pharmacy by asking anyone who might have a clue. Making querys at the market, the police station, and two auto mechanics, I walked right past is twice before I found it, only to find that I needed a prescription. But hey, the doctor is right next door!

The doctor’s office was cramped but nearly vacant save for a young woman working the desk with medical school aspirations. Here I found second rate versions of all the same posters you see in any doctor’s lobby: dieting advice, anti-smoking, etcetera, though all with a Fijian flair. ‘Better performance,’ sexually or in rugby, seems to be the most important benefit of healthy habits.

The doctor, a tiny Indian woman in pink, confirmed my fears of a bacterial infection. “It is very inflamed, I can barely see your eardrum.”

“I figured.”

“Have you been diving?”

“Not yet. That is why I am here, to fix my ear before the shark dive tomorrow.”

“Oh no. No diving until five days.”

“Bah!”

So she prescribed my ear stuff. Combined with my Cipro and my ibuprophen, it should clear up by the end of the 5 day regimen. Next door I got the goods, bummed out my my condition, but elated at my accomplished mission and half glad not to blow a ton of money on a dive, even if it is the coolest one around. Overall I spent F$20 on the clinic visit, F$15 on the ear drugs, and a few bucks on bus fare. Not bad.

I call it 'Sunset Digger'...

Before returning home, I tried to walk through town all the way to the coast along the Navua River. I didn’t quite make it, but had a good time strolling and subjecting myself to too much solar radiation through suburban Fiji and meeting local tobacco dealers and boat builders. I think I waved or smiled or said “Bula” at least one hundred times to the ice cream-toting schoolkids and the people basking in their open doorways watching Bollywood films. I also scoffed at my own attempts to take artsy photos of rusted out machinery and misty hillsides.

So my ear hurts and my dive log has no new entries, but the incidental adventures came around as they always do, and provided me with enough Fijian fun. Plenty more where this came from.

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