Not rich in cash, only ear wax: Neil Humphreys

SINGAPORE - While I was sitting in the doctor's office last week, I read that Singapore now has a record number of 21 billionaires.

The article seemed most proud of this statistic.

So I reacted appropriately by dancing around the waiting room singing: "Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man's world."

And the billionaires mentioned on the list were indeed all men. Abba really were onto something back in the 1970s.

The rather euphoric tone of the piece irritated me for two reasons.

First, another hike in COE prices was announced on the same day as the billionaires list without any trace of irony whatsoever, which means there is more chance of me owning a space shuttle than a car.

(A space shuttle would certainly have its uses in Singapore. Would I be able to fly over ERP gantries?)

And the second source of my irritation was my trip to the doctor. I was about to be hit with my second medical bill - in three days - for the same ailment.

There can be no other profession in existence where the practitioner says: "I'll see you in a couple of days for the service that I'm not going to carry out today and that way you can pay me twice."

Imagine a taxi driver pulling over to the kerb and giving you a quick examination before taking your money, then telling you he'll pick you up in three days.

That's exactly what my doctor did.

I had returned for my common embarrassing complaint. There was a blockage in a sensitive area.

It was in the ear, so don't get the wrong idea.

"I need to get my ear syringed, doctor," I said cheerily. "I produce more wax than a candle maker." He didn't laugh.

He nodded and examined my ear with that miniscule torchlight thingy. You can tell I never went to medical school.

"Yes, your ear is blocked with wax," he said. I could tell he had been to medical school.

"Come back and see me in a few days and I'll flush it out," he added.


The question wasn't rhetorical. I was deaf.

Ear wax doesn't impress ladies and it doesn't help hearing either. My right ear was entirely blocked. I couldn't hear anything on that side.

My wife had earlier instructed me to go to the doctor when I failed to hear her on a crowded bus.

I shouted at the doctor: "Look, you're going to have to speak up because MY EAR IS FULL OF WAX."

"You can come back in a few days and I'll remove the wax," the doctor repeated.

"But I'm here now."

"The wax is too hard. You need to soften it first with ear drops."

"But I can't hear anything in my right ear."

"Just listen with your left ear."


If I went to hospital with a broken leg, I'd like to think the surgeon wouldn't say: "Just use your other leg... Have you considered hopping? Go home and watch some YouTube clips of flamingos. They have really mastered the one leg thing."

But I had no choice. I had to come back in three days. The doctor owned an industrial-sized metallic syringe and I didn't.

And then I got the bill - a bill for the non-service. A bill for being told that I had a right ear full of wax, something I had already worked out for myself on account of being deaf.

I was not amused that I faced two consultation bills for one blocked ear, particularly on a day when we were popping champagne corks for our proud, ever increasing list of billionaires.

I bet the billionaires don't worry about a couple of medical bills. I bet the content of their ears couldn't fill a wax museum either.

Some guys have all the luck.

But I worry that our fixation with the rich in the media and all that "we've got more billionaires than last year, woo hoo," bragging is not a fair reflection of life on the ground.

No one in my doctor's surgery looked like a billionaire. (They didn't look like there was anything wrong with them either.)

Still, I returned three days later and suffered the syringe treatment.

(If you've never had your ears syringed, just picture a pneumatic drill shoved inside and half an ocean flushing through. I always expect to find Nemo's tail flapping outside my ear.)

Practically weeping as I opened my wallet, I paid a second consultation bill and thought about those 21 guys on the latest rich list.

For some reason, I hoped that one day I might bump into a billionaire, preferably as I'm holding an ear syringe.

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