I am a desperate woman. Allergies made me that way.
To combat my sinus headaches, I now go to an acupuncturist to poke little needles in my feet, arms and head. I’m paying a fortune (my insurance policy is too unelightened, too Western-medicine centric, to reimburse for acupuncture), but I’m feeling better.
But not better enough. On bad days, I continue to feel as if my head has been stuffed with cotton balls. I can’t think. I lose IQ points. Worst of all, when asked how I am, I begin to complain about my allergies. I swap long, whiny stories with other allergy victims; in Austin, the Allergy Capital of the Universe, there are a lot of us. I used to find these stories deeply boring. Now, I am enthralled by them.
Recently, I read about some kind of ancient Indian therapy. This fits. I like Indian food and I do yoga and I get acupuncture. What could be more perfect than yet another source of ancient Eastern wisdom?
I buy a Neti pot. It looks like a little teapot, with a spout. It’s dishwasher-proof, the insert says. On the promotional literature, I see a photo of a woman who’s using a Neti pot to pour saltwater into one nostril, which empties out the other. The woman looks quite happy and cheerful. She’s smiling as she pours. She probably has very clean nasal passages. She probably doesn’t have sinus headaches. She may not even pay someone to poke needles in her body. I want to be that smiling, sinus-free woman.
“I’m trying something new,” I tell my husband. “It’s better than complaining about my allergies all the time.”
He agrees, more or less, that yes, anything would be better than that.
I go into the bathroom and lock the door (the instructions say you will want to be near a sink or basin, since you’ll be leaking water and snot all over the place. For hygienic purposes and marital harmony, I won’t use the kitchen sink). I begin to pour. Salt water gushes into my nostrils and my throat. I begin to make choking and gagging noises. I turn on the overhead fan so my husband won’t hear.
Maybe 1/100th of the solution is gone. I begin to pour some more. I choke, I gag, I’m pretty sure I’m drowning. Is this what waterboarding is like?
I switch nostrils, trying to find my “good side.” It turns out, I don’t have a good side. I can drown equally well through either nostril. I have the feeling the Neti pot people wouldn’t want me in any of their promotional literature; I look like a facial contortionist, painted by Munch, as I pour and gag and wheeze.
Twenty minutes later — or maybe it’s 20 hours later — I finally stagger out of the bathroom. Behind me, the bathroom floor is flooded with saltwater. But I have finished my nasal irrigation. So I look like a drowned rodent? My sinuses are clear. I can breathe. I can talk about something other than my allergies. I am a functioning human being again.
If I don’t kill myself, if I don’t end up in a drowned heap on the bathroom floor, I may have cured my little allergy problem. I may not need to talk about my acute suffering, even if you beg me.
In the meantime, be careful when you come to our house. That might not be a teapot you’re picking up.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)