The Chinaman’s disease.

I’ve had a stuffed nose for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, Mum used to routinely remind me to breath through my nose. She used to say, “If you have your mouth open all the time, people will think you’ve down syndrome. They’ll think you’re mongoloid.”

Second sister called me a “gaping gold fish” and made onomatopoeic noises.

Such is how much I rely on my mouth for breathing that you’d be hard pressed to find more than 5 pictures of me with my mouth closed in my childhood album. Sometimes my nose isn’t just blocked, but produces blobs of mucous that flow down into my throat. It gets particularly bad after eating. Once I had such difficulty breathing post meal that F, who I mentioned in last Friday’s post, wondered if I was going to past out while driving her around. Yes, there have been a number of hairy moments arising from this, but I can assure you I’ve never passed out while driving, even if at times it appears I am trying to cough out a hairball through the nose.

I decided to do something about it when I moved to Brisbane. At F’s insistence, I booked myself in to see a well-known allergist. After a 5-month-long wait, my number was called. A bespectacled old chap, seemingly bored by my very presence, poked my arm with his arsenal of allergens, and pronounced, after a short wait, I have a mild dust allergy.

Perhaps sensing defeat in treating me – not that he really tried, as far as I’m concerned – he gave me a half-hearted lecture on an elimination diet I could try to pin-point my hypersensitivity. He said he can only run tests for known allergens. What I might have is a hypersensitivity to anything from food stuffs to chemicals in my environment. The upshot of this is I came out as clueless about the cause of my stuffed nose as I was when I went in.

F suggested I try a different allergist. Dreading another 5-month-wait for nothing, I went about life as usual, blowing out up to 10 tissues full of snot after each meal. My parents came from Malaysia for their annual visit and Dad, who suffers a similar predicament with his nose, said I might have inherited his sinuses. Since he had a spare bottle of prescription-only nasal spray, he gave me one to try.

“But you need to be monitored by an ENT for this,” he said. “Long-term use can be harmful. I have nasal scopes done every year at the hospital.”

Dad’s father and brother both had nasal cancer; one died from it, another suffered a fatal heart-attack before nasal cancer could claim him.

On my last trip back to Malaysia, mum and dad gifted me with 2 pairs of “special socks”. They look like regular thick socks except the pads have mineral-encapsulated micro pods stuck to them. Dad claims his nose is much better on the nights he wears them so I should give them a try.

Meanwhile, a mother from Amanda’s last school recommended I try washing out my sinuses with a Neti Pot, a small teapot-like contraption sold in most health-food stores. I gave it a go and for the first time in forever, the nose seemed under control; I could breathe reasonably well through my nose, the mountain of tissues post meal shrank to about a third or less. I improved so much, I postponed a trip to see my ENT friend in Sunnybank indefinitely.

Then HRH and I drove 9 days across country in our move west. During that time, the good ol’ Neti Pot was buried under so many of our belongings that I had no access to it. By the time I did, my nose was playing up again and a single wash wouldn’t work it’s sinus-clearing magic. I had to turn to the half-used bottle of prescription-only spray Dad left me. Except now, in addition to congestion, my sinuses were sore.

I took myself to see the GP across from where I live. He’s a nice, nearing-retirement, Aussie gentlemen who confessed that what I have is a “Chinaman’s disease.”

“I have only ever seen 1 case of nasal cancer in my entire career,” he said.

It’s a curious fact Chinese don’t get reproductive cancers as often as nose and throat cancers. Some have pointed to our diets and habit of consuming steaming hot food as a possible culprit. Anyhow, given my family history, it seemed only prudent to investigate the matter further so the GP ordered a CT scan for me.

“You’re a bit too young to be having cancer but we’ll check it out, just to be safe,” he said.

Ever since I caught wind of a former secondary school classmate with stage 4 lung cancer, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as too young. At 34 going on 35, vigilance isn’t just prudent, it’s necessary. I don’t want to die any time soon as I have a loving family and a lot else to live for.

I told a doctor-friend about the CT scan and she said, “What you need is a nasal scope. Sometimes Aussie doctors can’t even detect nasal cancer on a CT scan as they don’t see enough to know. Perhaps, they can’t take a biopsy with a CT scan.”

“Yes, but I already have an appointment,” I sighed. “We’ll see what the CT scan says.”

“The CT scan says you have no sinusitis but mildly bulky turbinates,” reported the GP a week later.

“What does that mean in English, doctor?” I asked.

The turbinates might be making more mucous than is desirable. It still doesn’t explain the pain you seem to have. How bad is the pain now on a scale of 1 to 10?”

“It’s a 2 out of 10. When I first came to you it was 7 out of 10.”

“And you’re still taking your antibiotics?”

“Yup. 2 tablets, 3 times a day. 2 puffs, 3 times a day.”

“You can stop the antibiotics.”

“But no cancer, right?”

“Not that I can see. I’m writing you a referral to a Chinese ENT who specialises in this Chinaman’s disease.”

And that, folks, is where we’re at. I’ve an appointment to see the Chinese ENT a month from now. HRH doesn’t approve of me taking this further – perhaps he’s in denial about my suffering (you have to have one leg in the ground before a surgeon thinks you warrant treatment) – but he’s asked me what I plan to do, even if the ENT can come up with a formal diagnosis.

“Do you want surgery?” he asked. “If he cuts your turbinates, you may lose some of your sense of smell. Food won’t taste the same anymore.”

“Are there no other options?”

“He might put you on medication but some will have serious side effects.”

AAARRRRRGGGGHHHH… More and more the Neti Pot is looking particularly alluring.