Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Witch Doctor"

I read on a friend's blog that she is suffering from a head cold with sinus congestion and is quite uncomfortable.  Poor thing!  She says its affecting her ears and she is having trouble hearing.  Oooooh, I sympathize.  I know how dreadful that can be.  How, you might ask?  Well, I  know through lots of  personal experience!

I have been plagued by sinus infections, upper respiratory infections, flu, and plain old colds my whole life. That in itself wouldn't be nearly so bad, but my ears and hearing are ALWAYS affected and its getting worse.  Its gotten to the point that when I get a bad one with enough head conjestion and discomfort, me head feels like it will explode and I become extremely close to total deafness.  Decongestants will help with breathing, but not with hearing!

When I was a kid, my head used to get so congested and plugged up that I was utterly miserable for days and days. The pressure in my sinuses and ears was so painful that I would cry. As colds went around, my sinuses were the first place any germ in the vicinity claimed as home. I hated not being able to hear out of either ear!  I feel like such an idiot repeating "I'm sorry, what did you say?" a hundred times a day. It was embarrassing. Even my family would forget and talk when they were turned away from me or they would mumble and I would have no idea what they said. It was awful. And I was sick a lot!

When I was a little girl my mom always took great care of me when I was sick.  But eventually it would get so bad and last so long, that she had to call the doctor.   Of course, this was back during the days when doctors still made house calls!  (Somewhat after penicillin, but waaaaay before the Polio Vaccine!)  

We lived in Chicago at the time and I remember that my pediatrician was Dr. Tigay.  She was a remarkable woman.  She had gone to medical school way back when that was a really unusual and difficult thing for a woman to do.  By the time I came along, there still weren't very many woman physicians in practice.  Nevertheless, she was an extremely committed and dedicated doctor.  So much so that she would take the bus or streetcar to our house at all hours whenever my mom would call her!!   I have no idea what age she was, but I thought she was ancient back then.  She was a lot older than my mom and her hair was all grey.   Of course, I only got sick in the winter time so that meant there she was, an older, grey haired woman doctor, all alone, on a streetcar, in the dead of winter in the cold and snow, with her medical bag to come to take care of me in the middle of the night!!  Someone like that today is beyond imagining!  The woman was a saint!

Anyway, Dr. Tigay would come and  examine me, listen to my lungs and chest.   (She was always worried about rheumatic fever.)  She'd prescribe some icky, disgusting, miserable, cherry-flavored, horrible tasting medicine and sometimes I got a shot and sometimes I didn't.  Then she'd get back on the streetcar and go home! 

She did her best, but there wasn't a thing she could do for my ears to help me hear better.  If there was an actual earache, she would have mom warm some baby oil (at least I think it was baby oil!), put a few drops in my ears, and stuff a small cotton ball in the ears to keep it from running back out!  That actually made it feel a little better for a while.  But in general, my ears wouldn't clear up till the cold or infection went away....sometimes not for 2 weeks or more!  I'd stay healthy for another couple of weeks and then get another cold and start the whole thing over again.  This went on from the time I was 3 1/2 till I was 7.  Then things began to get better because I finally had my tonsils/adenoids out and we moved to Florida!

I wasn't out of the woods as far as colds and infections and earaches where concerned.  They just didn't happen as often.  But the blocked up sinused kept making my hearing worse and worse with each cold. 

After we had moved to Florida, of course, we no longer had Dr. Tigay to come to take care of me.  Nonetheless, I kept needing to see a doctor in the hopes of figuring out something that would make it better!!

I'll never forget going to an ENT doc in a town that was about 30 miles away to try to get some relief. (I don't think such things as decongestants were available until I was in my late teens.) This doc had, well, what can I call it....an "interesting" technique that he tried on me a couple of times.

OK, picture this: I would sit in his exam chair, after the exam, he took a long rubber tube that he would put just inside one nostril. At the opposite end of the tube was a bulb shaped thing (picture a baby's nasal syringe). He gave me a small sip of water but told me not to swallow until he said to. He then blocked the other nostril so that I couldn't breathe thru my nose at all. Then he would say "swallow". When I swallowed, he would squeeze the bulb, forcing air from the bulb, thru the tube, into my nose, through my sinus passages and out the ear!! It was like 10,000 sticks of dynomite going off in my head!! I thought I was going to die! It hurt like hell, but I could HEAR!! I could hear, that is, until we were back in the car, heading home and the sinuses started to fill up and it was back to stone deaf by the time we got home!!  It was total a waste of time and money.

Sadly, nothing we ever tried made any difference.  The only thing that ever really changed was the length of time the colds took to go away.  That got a lot better with amoxycillin and decongestants.  Now they only last a bit over a week usually.  So its better.... marginally.

Thinking back on the ENT doc and his technique, it sounds like some sort of medieval torture device.  I've never heard of any other doc doing this.  Even though it happened decades ago,  I can still remember how awful it felt.  

Now, I'm pretty sure that my mom would have checked that he actually was a doctor with a diploma and everything.  I don't know that positively for a fact, but I'm pretty sure.  Nevertheless let me tell you, compared to my good old Dr. Tigay, this guy could have been a "witch doctor".  If someone told me that, I'd believe it!   Well, I would if I could hear it!!


  1. That sounds so painful (what the doctor did)!

    I've had a couple of ear infections in the last year. NOT FUN. That's awful that you've had to deal with so many, especially as a kid without the good meds that are available today.

  2. Geez... that technique sounds horrible!

    It sounds like you could have a food allergy if you have this problem a lot.

    I know that Dairy and gluten both make me congested. I stop eating them and my trouble goes away.

    Just a thought.

  3. Ear infections totally suck. I remember my first bout with sinusitis. I had just turned 30 (which seemed VERY old at the time!) and one day my teeth started hurting. Then my eyebrows started hurting. Being a drama queen, I was sure I had a fatal brain tumor. Turned out to be a sinus infection. The first of many.

    Hope you're feeling better soon.


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