She was referring to my recent visit to the OK Oriental Health and Beauty Centre where I subjected my broken self to the Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment of ‘cupping.’ In that instant, I would have paid anyone $10,000 to make me feel good again.
Two days before that visit I took a colossal wipe-out while running. I mean, I belly-flopped onto the sidewalk and somehow created a giant goose egg on my shin. I saw stars, and really, knocked myself silly. But, I picked myself up, wiped the slush off my spandex and the tears from my cheeks and carried on. My pride hurt more than anything.
That afternoon I was meeting a friend for coffee at Rooster, a groovy latte joint with a stellar view of Riverdale and the Toronto skyline in all its tall and twinkly glory. I was happy for the distraction. Michelle and I drank lattes. We gabbed, laughed, gossiped. We wanted to gab longer and bought another coffee—this time a bold roast. I felt like I had conch shells held up to both my ears, but was enjoying Michelle’s company. I figured I was just hungry and buzzed on coffee beans. After we parted ways and I began walking home, the nausea hit me like a slap in the face. I blamed it on the coffee. It was after 5 and I’d only had a bagel, a banana and a ginger cookie (that, just to qualify, was as big as a frisbee).
I felt sleepy, but I blamed that on going to bed at 3:30 a.m. But when I went to bed before midnight that night, surely something was wrong with me. That was the first indicator. I ping-ponged back and forth between chills and sweats. I thought I had wet the bed a few times because I was sweating like a bear on a unicycle in front of a sell-out circus crowd.
When all else fails, I know sleep is the cure-all. But I couldn’t sleep. This also flicked on a high alert switch. I routinely sleep like the dead and I couldn’t find one comfortable position because my head had become a jackhammer. My brain took off at breakneck speeds imagining all the horrible hypochondriac-type things that were wrong with me. I did the meningitis test on myself, being well-versed in this after my meningitis scare in Africa. I ruled out the African Tick Fever that I was diagnosed with at that time for obvious reasons, but the meningitis/tick fever symptoms were remarkably similar.
Did I coincidentally pick up H1N1 when I fell? Or worse, the super virus H1N3? I started cursing all the coughing, sneezing clients I had massaged that week. My goose-egged shin throbbed, but that was the least of my worries. What was the expiry date on those free-range eggs I had scrambled the night before? Wait. Maybe it was the kielbasa I picked at while waiting for those eggs to scramble. Did I have salmonella?
I had no drugs to take—a 5 a.m. rummage came up with three Malarone (anti-malaria pills), six oregano oil capsules (that totally give you pizza breath in the morning), and mystery anti-histamine pills that could be good for 12 or 24 hours, daytime or nighttime. It would be a gamble.
I called work the morning after the belly flop, citing my growing list of symptoms and declaring that I might die at the workplace if I had to massage that day. I genuinely had a seized up body from my You Tube viral-video-worthy wipe-out, but, there was something else too. I felt like barfing. I joked that I had morning sickness. They wondered if it would be gone for my afternoon shift? No.
I skulked to and fro from my bed to my favourite supine position in front of the gas fireplace. I had the flames and fan on level six. I had no desire for coffee. Or anything for that matter. At 4:30 I managed a bowl of oatmeal and felt extremely geriatric and dramatic as I rested between mouthfuls.
And to make a long blog short, when I forced myself to work the following day I had our clinic athletic therapist give my shin a once-over. I complained of all the other issues I had and Mara asked, “Did you ever consider that you might have a concussion from the fall?”
Hell no. I was thinking meningitis, unknown pregnancy, H1N3, tainted salami, a recurrence of the E. Coli infection I had just weeks before—not a concussion.
Mara insisted on no running, no booze and definitely no sex. Life as I knew it came to a screeching halt, much like the screeching halt I came to on the pavement with my body. “Remember Liam Neeson’s wife? Natasha Richardson? She died of a slow bleed on her brain when she fell on the ski hill.”
The slow bleed thought didn’t help my psychological mindset. I failed Mara’s balance test miserably and was a bit slow on my naming of the months of the year, backwards. I asked her not to question me about who the prime minister was, because I didn’t even know that answer before I fell.
My chiropractor upgraded me to a whiplash and a lumbar hyperextension injury. That’s when you know you’re a fast runner, when you actually give yourself whiplash coming to a complete stop.
In my quest to feel some normalcy in my life without whiskey, running or sex, I found solace in the OK Oriental Health and Beauty Centre. I drag myself to the centre when I’m feeling weary, forlorn or slightly jaded by the physical sacrifice of a career in massage therapy. I always feel as though a miracle has unfolded at some point during the shiatsu or reflexology treatment. I never know what to expect and I’ve had everything from a suprise breast massage, a baby oil hair massage which left me with a bird’s nest on top of my head, to being straddled, to having my ass cupped.
They play Chinese covers of North American love songs by Richard Marx and Simon & Garfunkel. They insist that I take pocketfuls of mystery flavour hard candies that even some hard candy sucking grandmother would refuse after one try. The walls are a light cotton candy pink and it’s as warm as Florida inside. It’s my Chinese bliss.
Tim, a shiatsu master, insisted that I try cupping, once he established that I hadn’t “lifted heavy goods” and that I had instead, “fallen on hard stone.” He shook a finger at me for not wearing “two pants” (long johns) because I had “cold wind inside my shoulder” and “water on my spine.”
Neither of these things sounded good, but surely cupping would make them better. The ancient practice involves using glass cups of different sizes to create an acupressure application. Some practitioners use flames and alcohol, Tim used a device that manually induced a suction to create an air-tight seal between the cup and the skin on my back. The suction pulls the skin into the cup, resulting in a very brilliant, very instant, eggplant purple welt. But in turn, it also draws stagnant blood and lymph into the cup, to help improve qi flow. And my qi was killing me.
I had several cups on my back at once, and felt like I was in a pain threshold contest. The suctioning of your skin into these cups feels like a husky older cousin pinning you down and pinching the life out of you. As more cups get added, the tighter your skin feels on your back. Like you can’t take a deep breath—there’s just no room for your rib cage to expand.
After four minutes, the cups came off one by one. Tim smoothed his hand over each welted and screaming area, which felt like a severe case of rug burn. I had heartbeats in 12 different spots on my back.
Would I do it again?
Yes, I would, and I did.
Would I tape a hot dog bun soaked in milk to my ass because someone said it would lure a tapeworm out? Yep, did that in ‘96. Would I lick a 9-volt battery because someone said it would electrocute intestinal parasites? Yep, did that. Would I drink a Slovakian tea that tasted like subway handrails and leather furniture polish? Sure. Would I cover an insect bite with Vaseline and duct tape and wait five hours before the mango worm suffocated and then squeeze it out? Of course.
Anything to make my qi feel better when I can’t use my usual vices.
Chinese cover of “I’ll Be Right Here Waiting For You”– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozwbvEu3Qkk