My sister-in-law saw something on
The 700 Club
that she thought might save me.
Normally, my salvation is a subject we don't broach, but she was thinking of my sinuses. She'd seen a demonstration of an ancient cure, from the Ayurvedic system of medicine native to the Indian subcontinent, relied on by yoga masters and mezzo-sopranos.
All hail the Neti Pot.
The phrase derives from Sanskrit and involves an Aladdin's lamp that one fills with warm salt water and pours through one nostril and out the other, cleansing the nasal passages and sinuses.
"That," my wife said, "is the most disgusting thing I've ever heard."
I'd had a brutal sore throat, one that made it hurt to breathe, let alone talk. Post-nasal drip drove me to decongestants, which have the unfortunate effect of either putting me to sleep or making me feel like a hamster on a wheel.
The Neti Pot involves nothing stronger than noniodized salt, and can be repeated as often as needed.
It was the homemade demonstration I saw on YouTube that sold me.
"Do you have sinus difficulties?" the young woman asks cheerfully. "If so, try the Neti Pot. It gently cleanses. And relieves pressure."
She wears a Jayhawks sweatshirt and looks like a kindly schoolteacher. She tilts her head and inserts a teapot spout into her right nostril, and like magic the solution starts streaming out her other nostril.
Then she switches sides, the whole time keeping her eyes and mouth open in an expression that reminded one YouTube commenter of a horror-flick mall zombie. "Ahhhh," she goes when it's done, "relief."
The experiment begins
I ran out to the drugstore that night. For about $10 I picked up something called Sinu-Cleanse, which includes a plastic pot and 30 packets of salt. I could barely get my jacket off fast enough.
After mixing the warm solution with a spoon, I kneeled by the bathroom sink and poked the spout into my left nostril, turning my head until it was nearly horizontal.
The first sensation I had reminded me of summers on Cape Cod, when I'd race into the water so fast I'd get a dinghy full of Nantucket Sound up my nose.
Waterboarding, the home edition.
But before I could gag or give up altogether, the saline started flowing out the other nostril, bringing with it a vast torrent of gunk that had been clogging my head.
Here, I should mention it's good to clear the nose into a tissue before starting in on the other side. Otherwise, wear a lobster bib.
By the time I was working the lamp into my right nostril I was over any apprehension. I'd mastered the mouth-breathing part. The solution flowed in and out, and when I'd cleaned up, I was able to inhale through my nose for the first time in several days.
"You're kidding," my wife said. On the contrary, I couldn't wait for the next Neti Pot treatment.
In the meantime, I began a little research. I found a piece on National Public Radio that reports the results of a small study at the University of Wisconsin, where Dr. David Rabago had recruited two groups of sinus sufferers. Half used a form of the Neti Pot daily. The others used nothing. The regular irrigators improved "a lot" - about 30 to 40 percent - compared with the control group.
Researchers weren't sure whether the treatment removes the allergens or the germs that cause infection.
I couldn't stop looking for videos. They got more and more surreal: A creepy-looking guy in a Red Sox hat in a grim apartment experiments with technique. A woman demonstrates a "Rhino horn" model. Frightening.
My favorite, though, was the guy who calls himself Drew. You can find him by searching for "How to Irrigate Your Nasal Passages."
As some funky lounge singer chirps, "I like to hear the rain come down, pitter-patter-pit," this bearded, bespectacled wiseguy empties the Neti Pot into his nose.
So far, so good.
Then he pours a cup of coffee into the device and empties that into his nose. Next comes single-barrel bourbon.