The Thirst

To hustle the healing, I called an acupuncturist from an app.

Date Published: June 27, 2018

For weeks now, I have a thirst so dry it gets me out of bed at night. Tongue like sandpaper, I leave a glass of water on my nightstand so I can glug-glug the minute I wake up. The thing that worries me is that it’s past high summer. Thinking it’s an imbalance, I call an acupuncturist from an app.


The afternoon of my appointment, Dr. sends a few reminders. Drink at least 1 ½ liters of water starting this morning till 4pm and you will not be able to use water 5 hours after. No cold drinks, she adds. For your own good.


At home, at my 23rd floor apartment’s dining table, with something like a mahjong case stuffed with needles and Chinese incense, she starts by asking for my presenting symptoms.


I wake up in the middle of the night and in the morning so thirsty. Like I n-e-e-d to get water.


How much coffee do you drink? She asks. And alcohol, how often?


Coffee everyday, an espresso. Alcohol, thriiice.. I say, squinting. A week?


When was the last time?


Last night.


How much?


Maybe... two... glasses.


In history taking, I always leave something out by shame, or forgetting. The truth is I had been consuming various dehydrating liquors when I had ‘people’ over the night before: a bit o’ Johnnie. Hello, Nikka. Light my liver and call it arson.


For the next 48 hours, Dr. cautions: No sex; no sports. Don’t shower till 3pm. And when you do, get the water to a boil. Start with the feet.


I take one last shower, we move to my bedroom, and making me lie down, feet to pillows, she sticks a mix of modalities on my back: needles - 60 over the course of the session - along with these Hershey’s kisses shaped incense, big ones, called moxa, which she props on top of a receptacle, like a diffuser on the skin. Made from a Chinese herb called mugwort, they are alternated with the acupuncture needles, in aid of another alternative medicine procedure I had topped up with on the app called moxibustion. She eyes the smoke detector ominously mounted above my bed. Is that going to be OK, she says. I assure her the alarm is centralized, the guards will call if they see anything, no need to worry about activating the showers. She allows it. In a minute, she puts a dozen or so spears of the mugwort on my back and feet, which compared to the big Hershey’s kisses, burn down to a perfectly circular burn, like Jesus on the cross. Much like in acupuncture, they create points, but of heat, as they light all the way down to my skin. I am to tell her if they hurt but I brave it. Hot sauce. Lying on my belly, I pass out as their embers cough yellow stains on my back and ash on my sheets. When I come to, puffs of black smoke rise up like a chimney and Dr. offers to take a picture of it on my camera phone. Click. A scene from Dunkirk on my back.


I ask her, does this stimulate blood circulation?


It stimulates the body’s natural ability to heal itself, she says. Dr. has this swift way of dispensing with my beliefs. She studied to be a clinical psychologist.


She makes me lie with my face to the ceiling, at which point, the door swings open and our au pair sticks her head in to snicker at the needles on either side of my nose. An, did you know? Megamall is burning, she says.


It is only then when I hear the sirens wail.


For the last three hours, I flip over for more piercing and smoking; a rotisserie chicken trance. And then it’s warm soup, straight to sleep, no air conditioning, if I can help it. It is only after everything when Dr. shows me her license from the Department of Health, that I feel concerned that I didn’t ask for it before she got under my skin.


Stand up, look at yourself in the mirror. Dr. Said. I obey and walk over to my full-length to see my once sunken cheeks bouncy with sweat. Try to get at least 2 liters of water everyday, she reminds, before I book her a cab home to the other side of town.

That night I wake up with a start thinking I would like to puke but when I thrust my head over the toilet, only a burp comes out. My taste buds, however, are salivating. Small victory for the asphyxiating smell of forest fire that I end up having to exorcise with a UV light and fan for days later. The next morning, I can taste the sweet notes in water.