'On day seven, exhausted by a week of jolting, I went to see a hypnotherapist'
Wednesday 09 August 1995
Until last week, I prided myself on being one of the world's greatest hiccup curers. If any sufferer came to me, I would fix them with a firm look and say: "Tell me when the next one is coming." The hiccup is an involuntary spasm of the diaphragm, so when you really concentrate, you cannot do one. Trying to predict the up moment of the next hic stops it every time. Except with my new breed of super-hics. They just keep on coming, about once every 5.3 seconds.
"Put a paper bag over your head and take deep breaths," advised one friend. "Take seven sips of iced water slowly from the wrong side of the glass," said another. "Bite your tongue until it hurts." "Don't eat for a day." "Drink a glass of water while holding a pencil between your teeth."
Everyone has a personal, guaranteed-to-work-every-time cure for hiccups. I have tried them all and can confirm that most do work - but only for half-an-hour or so. Then the wretched hiccups return and drinking more vinegar from the wrong side of the glass while standing on your head and whistling only increases the discomfort.
On day four I consulted a doctor. She was very sympathetic, and hoped they would soon go away. I have not been encouraged to proceed further along the path of conventional medicine after reading that severe cases of hiccups may be treated with Valium, and particularly bad cases may need surgery. There is a nerve to the diaphragm that may be crushed to eliminate the hiccup spasm. Crushing it also eliminates around 25 per cent of your breathing capability.
I sought consolation from those worse off than me. On a newspaper database, I found two cases of people who had suffered fatal heart attacks when given a fright by friends trying to cure them of hiccups. There was another report of a man whose defence to a charge of murder was that he had only been trying to cure an acquaintance of hiccups when he shot him through the head. Most depressing of all, there was an American who had had hiccups for 33 years and turned down an offer of a cure on the grounds that "when you've had them that long, you don't want to lose them".
I sought advice in great literature. In the entire works of Shakespeare, there is only a single hiccup - a parenthetical eructation in a speech by, appropriately enough, Sir Toby Belch. There is another hiccup in War and Peace, but neither the Bard nor Tolstoy offers a cure.
Hippocrates says that sneezing cures hiccups, but he does not mention, as I discovered, that a sneeze can also set off an attack. More detailed advice is to be found in Plato's Symposium, where the physician Erixymachus advises a hiccup-afflicted Aristophanes: "Hold your breath, and if after you have done so for some time the hiccup is no better, then gargle with a little water; and if it still continues, tickle your nose with something and sneeze; and if you sneeze once or twice, even the most violent hiccup is sure to go."
On day seven, exhausted by a week of constant jolting, I went to see a hypnotherapist, who had been recommended to me with glowing references. I was unimpressed by her hypnobabble about brain waves at 10.5 cycles a second aiding the healing process (holy eructations, Batman! That's almost 56 cycles per hiccup!) but thought that if her hypnotic skills could cure tics and phobias, then they'd have a good chance against my hiccups.
Except the devious little buggers were taking a break when I arrived for the treatment. So she sank me into a deep state of relaxation and told my subconscious to get its act together. I must say I felt very much better for the experience and it was followed by my longest hiccup-free period for a week. She even gave me a technique to chase them away for times when they threatened to return. But late in the evening, they sneaked up on me much worse than ever and nothing would banish them.
Yesterday, a chemist suggested Gripe Water which is, after all, what one gives babies with hiccups. The bottle advised 10ml for babies aged six months to one-year-old, but gave no dosage for a 47-year-old. Estimating my weight at about nine times that of an average baby, I swigged most of the bottle.
Two hours later, I vomited it all up, and I haven't hiccuped since. I can't recommend it as a cure, as I'm not convinced that they have gone for good. My next meal may be a good test. And just in case they return, the acupuncturist is coming round this evening. I suspect, however, that what my insides really need is a good plumber.
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