Editor’s Note: This “How it Was” story is told by Aubrey Kagan. Although advances in medicine have not (thus far) managed to help Aubrey, this article made me think about how much medicine has changed since I was a lad. If anyone else has had experiences in this arena, please email me (max@CliveMaxfield.com) and I’ll post them as a “How it was” article…
My name is Aubrey and I am a nasal spray addict.
[Pause for support group response]
I have not used nasal spray for two years, three months, four days, seven hours and fifteen minutes.
As far back as I can remember I have suffered from Sinusitis. For the unafflicted, let me try and describe the condition. Simply put, you cannot breathe through your nose – at all. There is a sharp pain behind your eyes and varying degrees of pressure and pain where the eye socket meets the bridge of your nose and high on the cheeks beneath the eyes. After a day or two, the sinuses become infected with posle mild fever and mucous discharge; sometimes it’s like a heavy cold. This can go on for days if not weeks.
When I learned to skin dive, breathing through a snorkel proved no challenge at all. My dentist used to complain saying that my breathing was fogging up his mirror and wanted me to hang upside down before coming to visit, and that wasn’t even a remedy from a doctor. It didn’t work of course (he wasn’t a very good dentist either).
The first attempt at relief that I recall (this must have been 1956) was a nose-drop product called Argitone. Administered into the nostril by a dropper, this was a dark brown liquid. It must have given some relief because I used it a lot. The unfortunate side effect was every piece of bed linen and handkerchief that I used was stained with these big brown blotches. Another approach was inhalation – with my head covered with a towel, I would breathe in the steam from boiling water with a swirling layer of yellow Friar’s Balsam on top. The smell is forever imprinted on my brain.
When I was learning to swim at age 6 (1957) we learned by association that pool water would trigger an attack. So the solution was to stick Vaseline jelly up each nostril and then pinch them shut with a specially designed spring clamp. Getting water up my nose still causes sinusitis to this day, but pinch-nose did not prevent me getting an attack. Nevertheless, the doctor decided I was allergic to chlorine, so right through school I never participated in school activities (like physical education) that involved swimming, but instead had to go off to join other unfortunates in some other activity that the teacher chose to inflict on us. But I continued to suffer.
The doctors decided that a more humid climate and possibly seawater would be beneficial. They also discounted removing my tonsils and adenoids as being unrelated. At the time (1958) my mother took my sister and me for an extended holiday in Israel. Despite the humid climate and swimming in the ocean, of course I had another attack. Off I went to a specialist. This time he decided that a dry climate would be better for the condition, and oh by the way, I had a deviated septum.
Around the early sixties, my mother had heard of this guy using infra-red emissions for all kinds of complaints. The infra-red emitters were glass disks about 3” in diameter with heating elements inside them mounted on articulated arms. You would lie down on a table (I don’t think gurneys had been invented) and the pads were positioned above the cheeks. To a ten year old this was quite weird because the practitioner was a blind guy and he would feel all over your face in order to position the device. As to the efficacy of the treatment – all that happened was that I got hot.
Next was my personal favorite (as a story). All through those years, penicillin was the panacea for everything; I would take it 3-4 times a year at least. Apparently they thought more was better. The ENT we were consulting prescribed the KK (pronounced Kay Kay) treatment. You would lie on a table with you head tilted back and a yellow penicillin fluid was pumped in one nostril and flushed out the other. All through the treatment you had to say K K K K K ... very nasally to stop this smelly stuff going down your throat. To me it seemed like it would go on for hours, but in truth it was probably a few minutes. The smell would float around my senses for hours afterwards and the memory of it was infused into my brain forever.
Nose drops evolved to nasal spray, and by the time I went to study in Israel (in 1970) treatment was usually antibiotics, antihistamine and nasal spray. The nasal spray was GOOD. I seem to remember reading on the bottle that there was Hydrochloric Acid in it. It certainly felt like it, burning its way to a clear nose in seconds. Just the relief itself would be addictive, but of course the sinus membranes became used to it and it was impossible to stop using it.
When I moved to South Africa, I discovered an over-the-counter antihistamine that included codeine in its formulation and this provided some good relief, but the addiction cycle to nasal spray and frequent doses of penicillin persisted.
Aubrey "Then" (left) and "Now" (right)
I got married in 1976 and my mother-in-law insisted that I visit an ENT friend of hers who had a interest in allergies. An allergy test consists of daubing different allergens on your skin and then puncturing the skin and watching for a reaction. Well I showed up very positive to grass and Bermuda grass (why African veldt grass is called Bermuda is beyond me) and it turns out I wasn’t allergic to the chlorine in the pools, but the grass around them! It only took 25 years to find that out!
Desensitization is the supposed cure for an allergy. In this you have relatively large doses of the allergen injected frequently, slowly diminishing both. At the start I was having an injection once a week and the doctor was so conditioned that every time he saw me he went to the fridge to get the serum before I was shown into his surgery. In fact every time he saw my brother he went to the fridge as well. The desensitization went on for two years at least, but didn`t seem to do much. I even tried a naturopath with no success either (no big surprise there). Of course codeine became more regulated and I lost one of my control techniques. Nasal sprays became gentler but were still addictive.
Next, the doctors discovered The Next Best Thing called Beconase – a cortisone in the nasal spray administered in metered doses. I took this continuously for several years in the 80s. Perhaps there was some reduction in the frequency of complaint, but it didn't register in my mind. By 1988 the ENT I was consulting decided that what was happening was that every time the sinuses got inflamed, they swelled up and crashed into my (remember?) deviated septum and the only thing left he could offer was to straighten the septum. Well after the surgery my sinuses blocked so solid that I couldn’t get any relief from any product for more than a few hours, so the surgeon had to use a long probe (sorry to be so graphic) and stick down each nostril into the sinus cavity and suck the mucous out. It felt like my brain was being drawn out as well.
Eight or nine months after this I moved to Canada. Within the space of about 5 days my uvula (the blob hanging down at the back of your throat) grew about ¾”. This is extremely rare and I had doctor acquaintances begging to have a look-see. Worse than the novelty though is that it feels that there is a finger continuously down your throat. Although no one can say why it happened, I attribute it to the cortisone and the new allergens that I encountered in Toronto. I immediately gave up Beconase. Since the uvula is a mystery to medical science it was removed, although after the fact I can tell you that its purpose is to hold the throat pain genie in its bottle. When one of your kids (or grandkids) has their tonsils out, show LOTS of sympathy.
In the 90s the sinusitis evolved to include my throat swelling at every infection and so in addition to penicillin, I now got cortisone which worked well, but the doctors were loathe to prescribe it frequently. Fortunately after four or five years my throat stopped swelling. And then came the ultimate blow – I became allergic to penicillin!
To this day my sinusitis continues and – despite all the attempts to cure it – all the medical profession appears to be able to do is prescribe antibiotics, antihistamines and to tell me to stop taking nasal spray. I don’t know if the ancients were right in burying artefacts with the deceased for use in the afterlife, but when I go I want a bottle of Otrivin in the coffin with me!Click Here
to see other articles in this "How it was..."
series...Editor's Note: It would be great if you took the time to write down short stories of your own. I can help in the copy editing department, so you don’t need to worry about being “word perfect”. All you have to do is to email your offering to me at max@CliveMaxfield.com with
“How it was” in the subject line.I can post your article as “anonymous” if you wish. On the other hand, what would be really cool would be if you wanted to add a few words about yourself – and maybe even provide a couple of
“Then and Now” pictures showing yourself as a young engineer
("Then") and as the hero you've grown into
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