IT WAS early evening and the sun was just setting. The surface of the sea was perfectly still, the water wonderfully clear. I began to walk until the water came up to my chest. When I saw the pumice stone on the seabed, I held my nose and went down for it. But I did not realise how difficult it is to sink in salty water. I tried several times before I finally succeeded.

Next morning I woke, in the Turkish seaside village, with a funny right ear. Sounds were muffled, as though I had water in it. . Two days later I had gone completely deaf in the same ear. There was also a ringing noise. We all thought I still had water in it. Friends told me to jump up and down on my right foot and sleep on my right side. One woman rolled up a page from a magazine, stuck it in my ear and set it alight at the other end, expecting water to evaporate: it did not.

After three days of the relentless noise, I decided to see a local doctor. He peered into my ear with an auriscope and announced that the eardrum had been damaged, possibly as a result of the pressure changes during my dives. He referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist in the nearby resort of Bodrum.

The news was shocking. Although my eardrum was intact, I had suffered sudden hearing loss, technically known as nerve deafness; this meant something had gone wrong in the inner ear. I would have to be admitted to hospital immediately if I was to have any chance of regaining my hearing in that ear.

The specialist was certain the hearing loss had been caused by a blood clot in the artery and had nothing to do with the diving; it was just one of those things that happened out of the blue. The only treatment was vasodilators, drugs that would have to be given intravenously to open up the blood vessels. But there was no guarantee this would work.

Within a few hours I had started the journey to Istanbul, from where I would fly back to England the next day. I had decided that, on balance, the delay would be worth it, as I was bound to receive more sophisticated care in England.

The Royal Free Trust in London was the nearest hospital to my friends' home, where I would be staying. In the casualty department, a student nurse took down my details and the letter from the Turkish doctor. She told me not to eat or drink. I waited.

After three and a half hours I was still waiting. The casualty department's policy was to give priority to children, I was informed. By now it was late at night and there was a steady trickle of children arriving. After some angry exchanges with staff, I went home and called a GP.

He arrived two hours later, phoned the hospital and persuaded them to see me the next day. By now, the ringing noise was so loud that it was interfering with my already impaired hearing. I wanted to save my ear.

The next day I was seen by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) registrar. He had the most reassuring smile and the most polite manner. After listening to my story and seeing the results of a hearing test, which confirmed that I had lost almost all hearing in the right ear, he said: 'I'm afraid there's nothing we can do. You're not ill, you don't have to be in hospital.'

Devastated, I flooded him with questions. What about vasodilators? It was a dangerous treatment and in any case it was too late. What if it was not a clot but was caused by the diving? There was an operation that might help, but he did not think it was necessary. Nevertheless, he would arrange for me to be seen by the consultant the next day. Instead, I was seen by the same registrar. The consultant had ordered a CT (computed tomography) scan in case I had a tumour, and had prescribed steroids, but there was no need for him to examine me. I insisted.

When I finally got to see him he appeared to have nothing to ask and nothing to say. When I pressed him for some explanation, he suggested the diving was probably a 'red herring' and that the cause was a blood clot. Treatment for this was effective only in the first three days. What about blood tests? He did not respond directly but later ordered a series of tests. I was given an appointment for one week's time.

I spent the next two days trying to come to terms with my new world of asymmetrical sounds and the never-ending noise. I was doing pretty well - until I went to a concert. Tears rolled down my face as I realised I would never enjoy music as before.

Perhaps it was the sadness of this particular loss that spurred me on. The next day I decided to have just one more go. I turned up at University College Hospital casualty department, attached to the Middlesex Hospital. I told them my story, leaving out the experience with the Royal Free.

Within two hours I was installed in a bed in the ENT ward. This time, the system worked. The house officer asked the advice of the casualty registrar, who told her to contact the ENT registrar. The ENT registrar spent nearly an hour with me, even though he had been about to leave the hospital for the day. He telephoned his consultant, who agreed that I had to be admitted there and then.

I was told that mine was a relatively uncommon condition and it was difficult to know what had caused it. Vasodilators were unsuitable in my case. Instead I was given extra carbon dioxide for five minutes every hour to enlarge the artery, in case the cause had been a blood clot or a spasm.

On the other hand, it was possible that the pressure change during the dive had damaged the 'round window' just behind the eardrum; this might cause fluid to ooze from the inner ear to the middle ear. An operation would help to seal this, but there was also a chance it might heal by itself.

For this, I had to have strict bed rest. I was allowed out of bed only to use the toilet. I was given steroids to prevent any secondary inflammation and a drug to increase the blood circulation in the ear.

In the next few days my hearing steadily improved, and on the third day I was discharged. A week after I was admitted, I could hear normally and the noise had gone.

During my stay I also had a battery of tests. A scan using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), more expensive than a CT scan but more accurate, showed there was no tumour. Blood tests were all mercifully normal. The house officer had heard a 'murmur' when he had listened to my heart on admission. Next thing I knew, there was an ECG machine at my bedside to record the pattern of my heartbeats; and I was wheeled off for a chest X-ray. The results of both were also normal.

This is the sort of treatment that sends tremors through the bureaucrats in the reformed NHS. I must have cost my district health authority thousands of pounds, and some would no doubt argue that the tests were 'unnecessary'. I would have to disagree.

Later I contacted the consultant at the Royal Free to tell him I was writing about my experience and to give him a chance to respond. He would make only one comment: 'I feel that your feeling that you were inadequately treated is incorrect and my letter to your GP would show this to be the case.'

It is, I suppose, possible that my hearing would have returned to normal had I simply accepted what the Royal Free said. But the experience left me with uneasy feelings. I have learnt two lessons: never again to take my health for granted and never again to take the NHS for granted.

(Photograph omitted)

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