Liam Farrell: The merry-go-round of nuns and ear wax

When I was a young lad in Ireland, our patient list included an enclosed convent - they were good payers, the church has plenty of money.

Enclosed convents were serious institutions; not only were the nuns not allowed out, but visitors were not allowed in, and especially not male visitors. There were some notable exceptions to this policy: priests, undertakers and doctors - doctors are not considered sexual creatures, more something between a mutant and an alien.

One of the purposes of our monthly visits - apart from the most important, unwritten one, of providing some small relief from the unbearable ennui of spiritual life - was to syringe Sister Eucharia's ears.

Sister Eucharia had suffered heroically from waxy ears through all the years of her vocation, and the only thing which made it tolerable was getting them syringed regularly.

On my first visit, I was only a little surprised to find that Sister Eucharia had her very own personal ear syringe. I duly inspected her ears, which were as immaculate as the rest of her; not a drop of ear wax, not even a smudge, take all the ear wax in the world and get rid of it, that's how much ear wax there was.

Young and inexperienced as I was, I knew that pronouncing that her ears were miraculously wax-free would not be well received; it would be like telling her a pet had been run over. Deprived of something to complain about, how would she pass the days?

So I made the appropriate tutting noise and solemnly proceeded with the syringing.

'Now, doesn't that feel better,' I said.

'Oh much, much better,' said Sister Eucharia, cocking her head, 'I can hear so much more clearly now. Can I see it?'

'I beg your pardon?' I said.

'Can I see it?'

'See what?' I could tell where this was going, so I stonewalled, edging stealthily towards the sink.

'The wax.'

'Oh, the wax, omigosh, it's too late, look, I've already tipped it down the sink.'

Her look of disappointment led me to overcompensate.

'But, let me tell you, it was a whopper, big as a whale, I've never seen anything like it.'

'Then perhaps you should do it again,' she said enthusiastically.

- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at

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