It all started with my broken nose. But that in itself is a whole other story. Suffice it to say that I was not a well-liked young man as an adolescent. I was angry. I was depressed. I was insecure. And I had a big mouth. Several of my peers took me for a drive one evening and encouraged me to close my big mouth. The result was a broken nose.
Several days after the pummeling, the swelling went down, but my sinus passages were irrevocably damaged. I could hardly breathe through my nose at all. A couple of nights of dry mouth and split lips and I couldn’t take it anymore. My father ultimately led me to the terribly, restricting state that this story describes. He had been totting around a nose spray bottle for as long as I could remember. He suggested a little snort to open up the passages. “Go ahead Mark, squirt a little into each nostril and suck it up into your head,” he said with a far-away look in his eyes. I took the bottle he handed me, unscrewed the cap, inserted the nozzle, squeezed and sniffed at the same time in the same manner that I had seen my father do a thousand times before. Then I repeated the process for my other nostril.
Heaven! I could breathe! I could close my mouth and breathe! It was wonderful. For about eight hours. Then my sinuses began to revert to their formally restricted state.
As I recall it was near to three o’clock in the morning one school night when I woke up unable to suck air through my nose. I crept out of bed, turned on the hall light, quietly opened my father’s bedroom door and immediately spotted the nose spray bottle on the nightstand. It seemed to glow in the dark as the white bottle appeared on the nightstand like the spire of a castle, magically reflecting the light from the hall. I burgled in on two giant steps, grabbed the bottle, reversed my track and headed out into the hall. I gently closed his door without latching it. I unscrewed the cap, inserted the nozzle, and sprayed the life-giving mist into my sinuses once again. I could feel my sinuses relaxing and opening. In the quiet of the morning, I could almost hear them squeak like a rusty hinge on a big oak door. As soon as I could breathe again, I replaced the bottle on my father’s nightstand and headed back into bed.
I remember lying there on my back. A silly smile on my face as I breathed easily through my nose. I was hooked and I didn’t even know it.
The next morning I woke up refreshed and still breathing clear and unrestricted. I showered, dressed, and caught the school bus for my next day of school. I was a junior in High School. I had a pretty heavy load as I recall. I had this idea of getting all my hard and required courses out of my way the first three years of high school so that my Senior year would be easy. As a result I was taking Algebra II, Chemistry, and Biology II all in the same quarter. Needless to say, my schedule kept me busy and focused while in class. I paid no heed to my increasing sinus restriction until about two o’clock. Suddenly, walking out of chemistry class I realized I could barely breathe through my nose again. By the time school was out, my sinuses were closed as if concrete had been poured into them. I skipped the bus and decided to walk home through town. When I reached the local pharmacy, I slipped in the door and began looking for nose spray.
I was amazed to find that there were as many different brands of nose spray as there are cigarettes. There were long skinny bottles, short fat bottles, menthol, regular, and there was the old, reliable 4-way. That was my father’s brand. I grabbed the bottle and took it to the check stand. It cost me over two bucks. This was 1973. Two bucks was a lot of money when you consider a pack of smokes was only $.55! I paid the man and walked out onto the sidewalk.
Walking toward home in downtown Chesterton, I grappled with the box and brought out my first bottle of nose spray. I shook it and was happily greeted by the sloshing sound of a full bottle. Well, actually, the bottles are only about a quarter full for better misting of the medication. I tossed the empty box aside and twisted off the cap from the bottle. Suddenly, around the corner came a couple of girls from my school. I palmed the bottle and smiled as I passed them. Turning back to be sure they weren’t looking, I quickly took two hits of the nasal spray. I could immediately feel the pressure in my sinuses releasing and before long, cool fresh air was passing unrestricted through my nose. Life was good.
I walked most of the way home that afternoon. And my life reverted back to the normal grind of a seventeen year old: taking care of school tasks, dealing with my family at home, and looking forward to my interactions with my buddies on the weekends. Oh. And now I had a constant companion: My trusty bottle of nose spray.
Part Three: The Wet Spot
I remember how it first occurred to me that I might be in some trouble. After several weeks of using the nose spray I thought to read the directions on the bottle. The directions said that each application of the medication should clear your sinuses for up to six hours. And I got every bit of those six hours the first few days of my use. Then the time began to dwindle. Instead of once in the morning before school, once in the afternoon after school, and once at night, I found my sinuses closing like a burlesque curtain on a bad comic about every four hours.
No big deal…except at night. I would inevitably wake up around 2:00 am with my sinuses sealed and my mouth as dry as Hillary Clinton’s tit! This created another interesting dilemma: How do you sniff in the liquid if you can’t sniff at all. My solution was to lay on my back with my head tilted up, and carefully squirt a small stream into each nostril. Then I had to wait for the chemical to open my sinus like a strong acid might open a clogged bathroom drain. Then the breath would come and the smile would hit my face.
After several months, I was up to one bottle every three days. This was an expensive habit for a fifteen-year-old! Unconsciously I knew I was addicted. This was clear because I insisted to myself to keep this problem a secret. I kept my bottle in the front, right pocket of my skin-tight jeans. After each class in school (about every fifty-minutes), I would head for the bathroom where I locked myself in the stall, flushed the toilet, and sniffed in the sweet, nasal unlocking nectar into my nose. The sound was safely hidden by the flushing toilet. Then out I would go to my next class.
From time to time I would be low on nose juice and also low on cash. During these tragic moments I would pull an Al Mundy and slip into my dad’s room while he was asleep, grab his nose bottle, take it into the hall, pop off my nasal insert and squirt several teaspoons of his nose spray into my bottle. Tee hee hee. Nose spray stolen is twice as sweet as nose spray purchased!
I began to feel guilty going into the pharmacy to buy my stuff. I would fearfully look over my shoulder and pretend to be shopping as I would look at this brand, then this brand, then, as if I didn’t care one way or the other, I would grab my trusty 4-Way. I can still remember how good it felt to take that first sniff from a fresh bottle.
I was devastated the day the pharmacist came around the counter and told me that I should be very careful with “that stuff” because it was addicting. I assured him that I was only buying it for my father. After that incident I was more careful to try and use different stores if possible.
One day, it all came to a head. I had been using now for nearly the whole school year. I was in Chemistry class waiting to get out so I could get my fix. The bell rang and I jumped up. One of my buddies came up to me and said, “What did you do, piss yourself, Mark?”, he said as he looked down at my crotch. Suddenly I saw a large wet spot on my jeans creating a circle of moisture from the bottom of my pocket to the inside of my thigh. I trembled with anguish. I was not in anguish because I had humiliated myself in front of my friend and because he thought I had pissed myself. Rather, I was in anguish because my nose spray, my nasal nectar, my sinus salve was gone! And it was only first period!! I remember running into the bathroom in my favorite stall and trying to squeeze a few precious drops of that magical elixir out of my jeans. The best I could do was to dampen my fingers. I was bone dry and out of luck!
I struggled through the day without being able to breathe AT ALL through my nose. By the time I got home from school my lips were chapped and my eyes hurt from the pressure of my tightly sealed nasal passages. Thank goodness it was a Friday. Because I don’t think I would have had the strength and courage to begin the slow road to recovery if I had school the next day. But I stopped using nose spray. My sinuses continued to remain completely sealed for the remainder of the weekend. By Monday morning I could force a sliver of air through my left nostril, but my right was still sealed. For a moment I feared that my sinuses would fuse together and heal like a pierced ear hole without an earring inside. But the next day saw similar relief for my right nostril. All in all, it was two weeks before I could gather enough air through my nose to sustain my existence. And evenings were still the worse where, for some reason, the horizontal position would force my sinuses closed.
But I kicked the habit. And I kicked it for good.
This short story is dedicated to all the suffering addicts out there, be they in recovery or not. Do not despair. There is hope after nose spray. You CAN beat the beast and become the master of your own orifices once again. Do not give up hope. Just say NO to Nose spray!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
“Hello. My name is Mark…and I am addicted to nose spray.”
“I have been squirt-free for three years now…”
A somewhat humorous account of a seventeen-year-old’s grapple with nose-spray addiction…