On an evening not long ago Katrin and I, regularly bound to our apartment beginning at Lloyd’s bedtime, received a rare visit from two friends who have no children of their own*. Over wine and guacamole they raved about a practice they’d recently discovered while on vacation called ear candling (aka auricular candling or coning). As I scooped some of the green, viscous dip onto a tortilla chip, they explained in detail how the process works. Ear candling, they’d learned, is a method of cleansing not only the ear, but the nasal passages and brain, of accumulated impurities. To do this you insert a wax cone into your outer ear canal, light it on fire, and allow the supposed low vacuum and heat to rid your head of all that ails it. “You can hear it working!” one friend said while the other nodded in enthusiastic confirmation. There’s a hissing sound that let’s you know it’s doing its job and, just as the candle removes residue dirt from your mind, the amorphous mass of extruded dross left behind removes any lingering doubt from your mind that it’s just another hoax. As I listened I continued stuffing goo-laden chips into my mouth, worried that if something weren’t going in, something might come out to end our precious social evening prematurely. Had they forgotten to pack their bullshit detectors before going on their trip? We let the infomercial play in its entirety, then changed channels by asking them how the snorkeling was in Mallorca and whether the water isn’t still too cold this time of year.
Normally a fairly skeptical bunch, many Germans seem to have a weakness for flim-flam panaceas and talismans, especially for those treatments associated with practically any and all aboriginal peoples. The rule seems to be: the more oppressed, abused and remote a people is, the more superior their healing arts vis-à-vis Western medicine. Wellness-Shops hawking miracle herbs, crystals, fêng shui accessories and dream catchers (of various sizes and plumage designed to entangle even the feistiest dreams) can be found in any neighborhood of the universally attuned and worldly-wise. This unguarded receptiveness to exotic remedies is extended to alternative medicines in general. In January an acquaintance hired me to coach him on his English pronunciation as he recorded his reading of local celeb Samuel Hahnemann’s Organon of Homoeopathic Medicine, the homeopath’s bible and some of the driest reading this side of the Congressional Record. My employer’s plan was to convert his recordings to a book-on-CD series, which, together with a dramatized documentary of Hahnemann’s life on DVD already in the editing stage, he would sell to an international market. “The German market has long been saturated with this stuff,” he said. “I want to spread the word!” Our regular meetings came to an abrupt end after only a few weeks, however, when the alternative entrepreneur, himself a strict practitioner of homeopathy, fell ill for a prolonged period. He hasn’t called since.
Whether manufactured in a pharma lab or concocted in a shaman’s fire pit, medicine is something I’ve always held back with a ten-foot pole. It’s not that I don’t get sick, though the occasions are rare, nor that I enjoy physical discomfort – I’m a bigger pantywaist than masculine dignity allows me to admit. My aversion to medicine stems from observing Americans’ childlike faith in cleverly marketed drugs and from an awareness of the notoriously symbiotic relationship between the pharmaceutical and medical industries (Ask your doctor about the blue pill a billboard in Atlanta once encouraged me to do). If a medication merely masks symptoms but doesn’t cure the illness, I’m usually not interested. If a sports car and trendy clothes don’t relieve me of my shallow personality, I’m still a jerk.
This week my head has been hosting a vindictive sinus infection. Now, I don’t say ‘sinus infection’ when I really mean a cold in the way many people say ‘migraine’ to mean ‘headache’, ‘miracle’ to mean ‘statistically improbable’ or ‘tragedy’ to mean ‘just dumb luck.’ What I mean with ‘sinus infection’ is that a steady stream of thin, toxic-green snot has been leaking from my nostrils for the last seven days while my eyes have felt like they’ve tripled in size and are being squeezed from their sockets by my orbital bones. I get them every few years when a seemingly harmless head cold decides to make itself comfortable and overstay its welcome. My approach in dealing with sinus infections is similar to how I cope with politicians, fashions or door-to-door soul savers: I wait until they go away. In some cases, as with politicians and soul savers – and some exceptionally persistent fashions like this and this – waiting doesn’t help, and the condition worsens. When I woke up Thursday morning with what felt like a pregnant whale wedged between my palate and brain, I realized this might take longer than I could stand. That evening when Katrin came home from work to find me slumped in a dining room chair, conscious but unresponsive, while Lloyd investigated the contents of the cutlery drawer, she suggested I try a Nasendusche – a “nose shower.” She explained the simple concept: you squirt warm salt water up your nose with a special syringe, and the water washes your sinuses, taking the impurities with it as it runs back out. It’s a very old technique, she said, and you can buy the contraption at any pharmacy. As she was telling me this, her head morphed from Chuck Norris to George Foreman before my half-shut eyes. “Couldn’t I just use one of the spare ear cones we’ve got lying around?” I asked, but she was already in the bathroom looking for the syringe. She came back out holding a designer turkey baster. “Here,” she handed me the object.
When I squeezed the rubber bulb a hiss of air swept my face. “How long have we had this thing?” I asked. “I don’t know,” Katrin answered. “A while. I’ve used it a few times.” “Did it work?” I asked her, eying the device askance. “Pretty well, I think,” she said. “So I just shoot water up my nose with this thing, and it’ll clean me out, huh?” “Generally speaking, yes. Saltwater, though.” “How much salt?” “I don’t know.” I went to the Internet. Technically, Nasendusche is the same principle using different equipment, so I had to find the English word. After typing in “clean infected nose with rubber bulb,” I came upon the term “nasal lavage” as well as an instructional video from the Mayo Clinic. My suspicions faded; suddenly the process took on a more respectable air. This wasn’t only endorsed by a German Apotheke, which will give refuge to homeopathic potions right next to the medicine, this was the Mayo Clinic. After watching the video I was ready. I added a small amount of salt to a liter of water, sucked it up into the rubber syringe, hung my head over the sink, stuck it in and squeeeeezed….
At first nothing seemed to be happening. Water was going into my nostril, but I couldn’t feel it going beyond the front door before it ran back out into the sink. I nudged the rubber tip in a bit deeper, adjusted the angle and…my skull was filling with isotonic solution! Like some capsized vessel pounded by a tidal wave a powerful surge of warm water caromed off a sinus wall splashing the roof and the far wall before resting in a pool on the cavity floor and then slipping back out to sea, taking the green, infected muck with it. I could feel it working. After just one shot things started to unclog. I repeated the process three more times. Finally, I could breathe through my nose! I went to bed thrilled that I’d be able to sleep with my mouth closed. The effects didn’t last, however, and when I woke up the next morning I was gasping for air through a parched throat once more with sinuses swollen like genetically manipulated tomatoes. That evening before bed I gave my nose another good squirt-down, but the relief was temporary. That was it. I gave up. This was the first sinus infection to defeat my tried-and-true wait-and-see method. And not even the nasal lavage – the closest I’ve ever come to witchcraft – was able to exorcise my nose demons. If I hope to get another good night’s sleep, if I want to end the senseless slaughter of so many boxes of tissues, it’s time I lay down my skepticism and admit to someone I have a problem.
Tomorrow I’m seeing the doctor.
*And never will as they have since broken up due to an extra-relationship dalliance. Because they were our only childless friend-couple in the city, their separation separated us permanently from the outside world after 7 pm.
This entry was posted on Monday, April 20th, 2009 at 14:12 and is filed under Chris, Germany, Science, Society, Splenetic, US. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.