2016 October 7

I Get the Point

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Elliot relaxes while being jabbed with acupuncture needles

Following up from the previous update… The removal of Irinotecan has definitely improved my comfort level. Appetite and digestion are close to normal, and I'm putting weight back on again. All to the good.

Some things haven't changed—Thursday brought a familiar soreness to the tongue, although thankfully nowhere near as severe as last time around. Regular rinses with salt and/or baking soda in warm water, plus more Magic Mouthwash, should handle it.

The hiccups, on the other hand, continue to be brutal. Kicked off like clockwork late Tuesday, and persisted all throughout Wednesday and Thursday. I'm taking Thorazine (an antipsychotic medication!) to control “hiccups that do not improve following other measures” (Wikipedia), but I'm not convinced it's helping. In fact, the voices in my head are suggesting I stop taking it. (That's a joke. Really.)

Speaking of previous posts, however, my NCCIH colleague Irene commented with a link to a research study investigating Acupuncture Treatment for Persistent Hiccups in Patients with Cancer. Apart from being amenable to any possible cure, I've had an abiding curiosity about acupuncture ever since writing a paper on it for my high school chemistry class. So I decided to give it a whirl.

After perusing Yelp, I made an appointment with a highly rated, licensed practitioner. One thing I appreciated from his website was that it explained acupuncture in terms of both Chinese tradition and current scientific thinking. (I don't go in much for “meridians” and “qi”, but the amount of evidence supporting acupuncture's success relieving pain and other symptoms can't be ignored.) This impression was reinforced when I read the disclaimer notice in the waiting room—it featured a prominent warning that acupuncture and related practices should not be considered as replacements for conventional medical treatment. That's an important message, and I was glad to see it there.

At that point in the waiting room, I was in the thralls of a hiccup barrage that had already lasted 40 minutes. Sometimes I can quell them by eating or drinking, or holding my breath, but not this time. Still, it occurred to me that going in to treatment with hiccups would make it easier to evaluate the technique's success. 

The practitioner reviewed my history, and I shared the study results mentioned above. The study article listed some specific acupuncture points that seemed to be effective, and he carefully copied them down. Next, he brought out a device that basically resembled a circuit tester to check my “energy balances”. While I held one end of the circuit wire, the acupuncturist prodded each finger of my opposite hand, as well as numerous points on the opposite wrist, with the other end of the circuit wire. He then repeated the process with hands switched, and again checking each toe and my ankles.

Apparently most of my balances were good, although my spleen and gall bladder were out of balance. Possibly this is because I don't have a gall bladder anymore. At any rate, it was now time for the actual needling.

I lay down and prepared to be jabbed. From what I've heard, I wasn't expecting much pain. And in fact, I felt nothing as the first needle was placed… until the practitioner thwacked it with his finger. Not painful exactly, but definitely noticeable. More needles, more thwacks. One must've touched a nerve, because I felt a short, fiery jolt and twitched a bit. But it passed quickly, and that's when I realized something.

The hiccups were gone.

The practitioner was duly impressed, commenting that typical cases take longer. We finished the treatment, which involved me relaxing under a heat lamp with the needles in for about 15 minutes, then replacing the stomach and arm needles with a few in the back. I cautiously stood up—“cautiously” because standing up is what usually triggers an attack. Still nothing. Victory!

…for about 90 minutes. Then the hiccups returned, and kept coming back the rest of the night.

That was yesterday. Today has been happily hiccup-free, although whether that's from acupuncture remains an open question. It's been common for my hiccups to last only a few days after treatment, so who knows? Guess I'll give acupuncture another try or two before passing final judgment.

UPDATE: See the first segment of Breaking News for the final decision on use of acupuncture.