Needles in My Nose

Ron Karpinski 2008


The thought would never have occurred to me my own, not in a hundred years; but, due to the vagaries of life and a strong-willed wife, the deed is done.  I have survived acupuncture.

Acupuncture involves the ancient Chinese practice of piercing the human body with needles in seeking to remedy pain or disease.  Oddly, Voodoo involves a similar ritual, sticking needles into a doll in the likeness of an enemy, in an attempt to harm or kill him, a disturbing dichotomy.

Apprehension might very well have been the reason I dragged my feet for so long, resisting a first step into the dark occult world of alternative medicine; but the scenario also had to run its natural course, according to script, as the wife quietly dispensed sage advice that her husband steadfastly ignored, until he ran out of excuses and finally admitted that her idea had merit.

In defense of myself, I am just an average stubborn male, a product of my generation and particular experiences in life; educated well enough to comprehend the Merck Manual; and possessing a rudimentary grasp of human anatomy.  As a military man, I lean toward the conservative side of issues, embrace the status quo, and place my faith in the pharmaceutical and surgical approach to healing advocated by the mainstream health care industry.

Irmi, my wife of seventeen years, is European by birth and extremely open-minded.  When confronted with a problem that defies traditional therapy, she doesn't hesitate to look elsewhere.

Problems?  We don't have any problems.  Our marriage is rock solid, each day a veritable paradise on earth.  Well, the days are heavenly, at least.  The nights are another story.

At night, Irmi's husband snores.  He also sniffles, flat on his back in bed, fighting for air.  Long ago, a doctor diagnosed him with a "permanent sinus occlusion," as well as a deviated septum.  Two separate operations, ten years apart, failed utterly to correct the situation.

Over the years, Ron has learned to live with his breathing issues.  It takes a while for him to fall asleep at night, but, once he drifts off, he usually slumbers undisturbed.  Unfortunately, his wife does not, and she is desperate for a solution, any remedy that will reverse the passage of time and restore her husband -- and his recalcitrant schnozzle -- back to the man she married.

Many women complain about their husband's snoring.  It wakes them in the middle of the night, and, while he remains blissfully unaware, she tosses and turns, unable to regain sleep.  Often, she retaliates by pushing him until he, too, is awake.  Nothing good can come from this.

For reasons known only to the keeper of the cosmos, men tend to snore more loudly as they age beyond the half century mark.  No wonder so many older couples retreat to separate bedrooms later in life.  Recently, Irmi has been pondering that possibility herself, reluctantly.

Neither of us wants that to happen.  We can't imagine life without cuddling, snuggling, and playing footsy under the covers of our shared marriage bed.  After several years of gentle nudging, however, imperturbable Irmi has run out of patience -- and has called for action.

Irmi has been seeing an acupuncturist on the side for nearly two years now.  When asked, she will tell you that it is for "tension release" and "cleansing and revitalizing" internal organs according to the seasons of the Chinese calendar.  She claims that it really works; and what works for her, female logic dictates, must also bring relief to her husband and his ailing nose.

All else having failed, Irmi put her size six foot down and unilaterally set up an appointment with a local acupuncturist, not for herself but rather for me; and no amount of pleading, sulking, stomping, kicking or cussing -- antics that usually work -- could get her to change her mind. 

An acupuncturist in Switzerland?  Okay, it's possible.  The country is dotted with Chinese restaurants, run by authentic Asian immigrants, so, it is conceivable that one of them might have managed to squeeze a venerable uncle or grandfather through customs and set him up in business here, practicing his mysterious craft downtown in a secluded back alley walk-up.

As my date with destiny drew near, anxiety rose to an almost intolerable level, higher than any previous time in my life, greater even than the days leading up to the high school prom I didn't attend.  Fighting so much nervous tension, I probably did need an acupuncturist.

Late in the afternoon on the fateful day, I drove to a nearby village and stopped in front of the address written on a small piece of paper Irmi had handed me, still having no idea what lay ahead.  Wait, that's not entirely true.  For nearly a week prior, my new acupuncturist had been visiting me in a recurring dream -- as a kindly old, withered and wiry Chinese gentleman garbed in long flowing silk robes, with a wispy gray beard and drooping Fu Manchu mustache.

I parked the car, mounted a flight of stairs, and paused before a nondescript wooden door.  Before I could knock, it swung slowly on its hinges, and there stood the Chinaman from my dream, smiling, exactly as before.  Then, in a swirling mist, he metamorphosed into a tall and attractive dark-haired Swiss woman in her late forties, smartly attired in a stylish black pantsuit.

The interior of the office had a distinct Oriental flair, with a large ornately carved wooden chest of drawers against the far wall, a small desk in a corner, and a standard examination table in the middle.  Burning candles and exotic objects of art graced narrow shelves and small side tables.  A framed diploma hung on one wall, exalting academic excellence at an arcane institute of higher learning in Nanjing or Qingdao or some other such place in far off China.

The woman introduced herself as "Gaby" and invited me to sit in a chair next to the desk.  The next hour passed in collegial conversation, as she recited detailed questions from a lengthy list in her lap, and I answered as honestly as possible; honest being a relative term, as many particulars from my private life require significant sanitizing prior to public disclosure.

A few of her queries delved uncomfortably deep, even for this mature man of the world.  For example, the woman wanted to know the approximate length, girth, general appearance and consistency of the end product from a daily bodily function, the particulars of which, quite frankly, are of no interest to me and not regularly scrutinized.  I had to strain to remember.

No medical doctor had ever asked so many questions about specific pains or sensations that might or might not have presented themselves before and after certain activities; how hot or cold my extremities felt at different times of day; and which diseases and injuries had befallen me from childhood onward.  Three times, Gaby ordered me to stick my tongue out while she stared at it intently and scribbled indecipherable notes in the margins of the list on her desk.

Then we stood, and Gaby asked me to remove my shirt, shoes and socks and please recline on the examination table.  This request sounded reasonable enough, familiar from visits to the family doctor, and I managed to assume the correct position, lying flat on my back, staring at the ceiling.  She rolled my pant legs halfway up and placed pillows beneath my head and knees.

Satisfied with my state of comfort, Gaby busied herself about the task of swabbing selected points on my person with what appeared to be rubbing alcohol; although, with the esoteric arts, one can never be certain.  Working just beyond my line of sight, she could easily have been using tung oil.  Surprisingly, my pulse had dropped to normal, all fear and trepidation gone.

Still hunched over the end of the table and out of my sight, Gaby kept up a constant stream of chatter, no doubt in an effort to keep me at ease.  Her hand groped my left ankle, and a dull object pressed against the top of my foot.  Then something probed near my Achilles tendon.

Each time she inserted a needle, it caused a slightly different sensation.  Never did it feel like metal.  Usually, my brain registered only a dull pressure and the belated realization that an object of unknown size, shape and origin had surreptitiously entered the body without a trace of pain.  Twice, stray nerve endings did herald brief stings, but those abated almost immediately.

As Gaby worked, I guessed at the number of needles.  This may not seem important to a woman, but men are bred to exercise total control of their immediate environment; and, if they are not the actual person in charge, they act like it.  Also, there is the issue of bragging rights.

At my request, Gaby counted three needles near each ankle; one in each shin; two in the stomach; four in each hand; one in my forehead right between the eyes; and four in my nose.  Well, not inside the nostrils themselves but rather two on each side of the nose poking inward.

According to Gaby's math, that added up to a grand total of twenty-three sharpened quills now planted in my supine form.  Until someone proves otherwise, this is the new world record.

Below the neckline, the treatment had proceeded flawlessly.  Unfortunately, yours truly is sensitive to pokes in the face, so everything above the neck caused problems.  The two needles jutting out from either side of my nose looked like three-inch cat whiskers and obscured my vision.  This unnerved my nerves of steel, and my eyes slammed shut for the duration.

One of the punctures on the left side itched, and a few tears fell from my right eye.  All four needles still stung slightly, annoyingly, like a mild form of, yeah, Chinese torture; but I might have caused the discomfort myself, subconsciously fighting the notion of needles in my nose.

The examination table radiated a soothing heat through its leather surface.  Gaby draped a sheet over my torso and legs, dimmed the lights, and left the room.  Eyes still closed, I lay alone in the darkened chamber, drifting on a sea of jumbled thoughts, trying to ignore the needles.

After twenty minutes, one of the needles on the left side of my nose popped out, as if the surrounding skin had contracted from within and sent it flying.  Shortly thereafter, one of the needles in my left hand exited in a similar manner.  By the time Gaby reentered the room, a full one third of the needles had departed by their own volition.  She quickly removed the rest.

*          *          *          *          *

As an aside, what about blood?  This had been a concern beforehand.  According to myth, acupuncture is bloodless and painless; but the word "acupuncture" itself defies this claim. 

"Acu" is a prefix relating to sharpness.  Puncture, well, that's self-explanatory.  So how can any human being sustain multiple stab wounds through several layers of skin and not bleed?  

The truth is, I did bleed.  One drop formed on my forehead, and my right shin bled onto the sheet below, a stain the size of a nickel.  Gaby daubed both areas, and the red disappeared.

*          *          *          *          *

Almost immediately after Gaby removed the final needle, my sinuses began discharging.  She handed me a box of facial tissues, and I sat up on the table, blowing my nose.

Gaby stood across the room, smiling, while I dangled my legs over the edge, taking long deep breaths.  Was it my imagination, or had my breathing actually improved somewhat?

Indeed, it had.  I left Gaby shortly after six p.m. and drove home.  For the rest of that evening, my sinuses remained clear, and I breathed easily.  That night, I slept like a baby.

More importantly, Irmi did, too.  The next morning, she smothered me with kisses.

*          *          *          *          *

Acupuncture, believe it or not, works.  Oh, I still turn to the established medical community first for the treatment of illness, disease, and trauma; but acupuncture, like chiropractic or homeopathic medicine, can be, for people like myself, a viable and credible alternative.

My next appointment is two weeks from today.  I'll learn to deal with the needles in my nose.

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