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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Off the grid: Accidental discoveries in medicine

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

I thought maybe I was having a heart attack. I know they sneak up on women who least expect it, and as an ultra runner whose only real vice is an unbreakable swearing habit, the last thing I’d expect to have is a heart attack.

Sitting in the front of my car, hands trembling, heart thumping, lungs aching, it occurred to me that I was having an actual panic attack. I was fascinated. Nothing had happened, and here my body was acting like it was under siege.

This had been preceded by several days of increasing anxiety (another new experience). Those days were preceded by me playing Human Science Experiment in my kitchen with vitamins. It’s not the first time I’ve gotten myself into trouble with hippie sauce.

As any sane person would do when in the midst of a physiological phenomenon in which one’s autonomous nervous system goes haywire, I decided to run it off. I have long-perfected the art of cry-hiking and sob-running. Instead of some mild oxygen deprivation training, I found myself huddled on a dusty patch of trail, sucking wind like a broken church organ, tears streaming down my face.

If I couldn’t outrun it, perhaps I could outthink it. I’m a pragmatic woman after all. Nothing was really wrong. I just needed to refocus my mind.

I decided to play a game I’ve since named “Everything is a Catastrophe” in which I think of anything nice and make a colossal disaster of it in my mind.

My child’s smile: Oh no, the dentist referred her for an orthodontist appointment and I bet that isn’t covered by insurance and what kind of parent does not get her kid’s teeth perfectly straight and now I am going to go bankrupt for this cosmetic adjustment that is just another way the patriarchy oppresses women with sociocultural expectations of image and we’re all going to burn in hell for our vain, shallow pursuits!

By the time I made it back to my car, the world had burned in a hundred different ways. I tried other things: a pastry, a hot shower, a cup of tea, finally ending up on the table of an acupuncturist.

I don’t know a lot about Chinese medicine. To me, it’s like if Kung Fu had a medical branch. I was willing to try anything.

I flopped onto the table while she waxed poetic, the soft warmth of her voice alone was helpful. She tapped needles in here and there, a few in my head (I was sure I needed many more in there but appreciated her optimism), hands, arms, feet, legs. Then she slid a buzzer into my hand in case I needed anything and left me to stare at the ceiling.

I wondered if this is how voodoo dolls feel. I took deep breaths. I practiced one of the eight hundred mindfulness methods I’ve learned. I was even almost calm enough to close my eyes when I saw the spider on the ceiling.

Though a stoic woman, I am afraid of these things: tax debt, losing a leg and spiders. And this one was crawling toward the middle of the room, right above me.

“Hey little guy,” I telepathed in his direction. “Let’s just make an agreement. If you stay on the ceiling, I won’t leap off this table in a flailing of limbs and needles and hysterics.”

He paused, so I thought we had an understanding. Then he continued his creep toward a vent in the ceiling. I tried to warn him that the metal vent was far more slippery than the paint, then I promised myself I would not move if the spider fell.

The spider falling: If he falls onto me he will probably crawl over all parts of my exposed body and sneak under and into my clothes where he will surely lay spider eggs while biting me with those pincer teeth until I am paralyzed, and the acupuncturist will think it was her needles and never even know I was poisoned by a blood-thirsty venomous arachnid that I will become the parasitic host to, causing the next insect-borne pandemic of spider paralysis!

The doctor came in and asked if my anxiety was getting any better.

“There. Is. A. Spider. Above. Me.” I calmly stated.

It took her a moment to make out the spider, probably because it was the size of a chia seed. She went to fetch a broom, leaving me to use the powers of my mind to will the spider away from the vent above me. It steadily pursued its goal, and just as it came to the vent, it fell.

There is a special kind of gasp reserved for mortal fright. It’s not shrill or dramatic. It’s the quick suck of what is expected to be one’s last breath. I heard it once when a fireball engulfed my car on a highway for a moment. And I heard it when that spider plummeted toward my rigid, perforated body.

The spider caught himself mid-air. Oh! You conniving, sick little creatures!!! I lay there, frozen and certain my blood pressure alone was ejecting needles. He made his lazy way back up his thread.

The doctor returned to rescue me from both, calmly disposing of the spider and giving me a few more minutes to “enjoy treatment” while I catastrophized my bill, needles breaking off inside of me and bugs.

When I found myself back in the car, I noted my heart rate was normal again and my palms had stopped sweating. I declared the scientific experiment a success, not only because I would now be able to empathize with patients suffering anxiety, but also because I had discovered the antidote: Sheer terror.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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