Book reviews

Book Review: Mysteries of the Ear

Title: Mysteries of the Ear

Author: Dr. Nadia Volf

Published: 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 183 (French version)

Availability: French and English versions on amazon

Reviewed by : Rebekah Le Magny

I am going to begin this review by describing the path that led me to it.  Why, you may wonder, do my book reviews always contain a lengthy part about me?  Well, I believe that you may be more inclined appreciate the book if you can relate to parts of my story.  Also, I may have just a teeny problem with narcissism, but hey, narcissism has recently become the new cool.  Today, narcissist tendencies, coupled with delusional, racist, misogynist, paranoid ravings may just get you the nomination of a major political party.  I won’t say which political party either here or on social media or in any conversation because I fear that my conversations are being recorded by mini spy drones hovering outside my window and will be released on Wikileaks.  Luckily, I am not prone to racism, misogyny or paranoia (those drones are real, dammit) nor do I have presidential aspirations.

I had been struggling with some on and off again sciatic pain from a moody piriformis for some time, moodiness exacerbated by a hypermobile and shifty pelvis.  I more or less manage to keep the problem at bay, but it is always lurking around the corner (like the spy drones).  I had been feeling that a trip to the osteo was in order because my pelvis was “off” but decided to go for my weekly run regardless.  To make a long story short, I ended up with sciatic pain on both sides, and a disturbing numb feeling on my inner thigh and ankle.  Thus began a delightful month filled with visits to various medical professionals (osteo, gp, rheumatologist and neurologist), rest (major facebook scrolling), with the occasional Pilates lesson (luckily most French leave the city during the summer months) and the heating up of food in the microwave, I mean cooking, for my kids.   I decided finally to see an acupuncturist.  On the same morning, one of my Pilates students mentioned a documentary he had seen about an amazing Russian acupuncturist who had moved to France, graduated at the top of her class in medical school and France and who had just released a book…Nadia something.

Later that afternoon, I discovered that my acupuncturist, who is also an osteopath and a general practitioner, primarily practices auriculotherapy, a form of acupuncture that involves placing needles in the outer ear, or auricle.  Technically, auriculotherapy refers to the stimulation of the ear, and the use of needles is called auricular acupuncture.  Auriculotherapy is used both to diagnose and to heal. Let me interrupt myself by saying that at the time, I sort of believed vaguely in acupuncture, but was not one hundred percent convinced.  Mainly my attitude was – what the hell, it can’t hurt.  After listening to my history, the acupuncturist told me that she is going to poke around my ear a bit.  Poke away, I told her confidently, – I have had four kids; I have a high tolerance for pain.  Poke away she did.  It felt like nothing, until…Holy f—!!!  What was this fresh hell?  She swore to me that she was barely applying any pressure, but that the point on my ear corresponding to a trouble area in the body was highly sensitive.  Once she found the point, she inserted a small needle and the pain I the ear eventually subsided. The needles hurt more going in than when I had undergone traditional acupuncture.  The doctor proceeded to examine my ears and place a multitude of needles in each.  What astounded me was that the points on the ears into which she inserted needles corresponded exactly to the parts of my body that were giving me grief, psoas- lumbar spine, pelvis, buttocks, intestines.   I had so many needles in me (she also placed them in the body) that I looked like a porcupine. The doctor also told me that I had a disk bulge that was pressing on the sciatic nerve.  I realized that she was right.  The sciatic twinge that I had was not from the piriformis (I couldn’t get rid of it with stretching and massage like I usually did.  After thirty minutes, then the doctor replaced the needles with a tiny bandage with a miniscule needle attached, instructing me to leave them in for a few weeks.  I was truly flabbergasted that my ear provided such an accurate map of the rest of my body.

Once home, I immediately went on amazon and ordered The Mysteries of the Ear and Acupuncture for Dummies by Nadia Volf, both of which I noticed on my acupuncturist’s bookshelf.  A few of the amazon reviews of Mysteries of the Ear criticized the book’s style, likening it to a magazine article.  I actually appreciated that quality – no fuzzy woo woo, but no Ph.D required to understand it.  The book is an easy read; despite the 180 pages, I went through it in an hour.   Not a typical how-to manual, it is something of a mashup between an autobiography, a history book and a manual, written in very large font of various sizes, similar to, yes, a magazine article.  Volf learned auriculotherapy from a Russian doctor named Maria, who learned the technique in China.  Maria saved the life of Volf’s father using auriculotherapy after traditional methods failed (both her parents were in the medical profession).  Intrigued, Volf implored Maria to let her work in her office, first as a cleaner/helper, then later as an apprentice.  Volf later went to medical school in Russia, where she graduated at the top of her class.  She also graduated at the top of her class in medical school in France.  The book includes a brief history of auriculotherapy, interspersed with some interesting personal anecdotes.  For example, Volf managed to gain an audience with the Minister of Higher Education after noticing a young women grimacing in pain at the Ministry.  The woman turned out to be the Minister’s mistress. After Volf miraculously eliminated the woman’s excruciating migraine and the Minister’s allergy symptoms with her needles, the Minister agreed to include acupuncture as part of the sixth year medical school curriculum of sixth year medical students.  Volf also saved her father’s eyesight after top doctors in France declared that nothing could be done; she convinced her father to let her pierce his ear on the part of the earlobe that corresponds to the eyes.  Other notable stories include famous athletes, dancers, the Russian space program and a KGB general.

The second part of the book is the how-to part.  It contains a picture of an ear that is numbered from one to thirty-nine, each number corresponding to a part of the body.  Finding the right point is surprisingly simple.  The shape of the ear corresponds to that of an upside down fetus and the auriculotherapy points match accordingly.  The points corresponding to the face and sensory organs are on bottom of the earlobe and the top of the ear contains the points corresponding to the feet and ankles.  The lumbar spine, sacrum and hip are somewhere in the middle.  The last part of the book contains a glossary enumerating some common problems and the points on the auricle to stimulate.  Although the use of acupuncture needles is probably the most effective way to use the technique, pressing on the spot with one’s fingers or something sharper can also be effective.

I felt better and better following my visit (I also had a follow-up two weeks later), and excitedly described my experience to everyone who wanted to listen, as well as a few who didn’t.  My close friend, who is from Vietnam, complained of neck pain during a visit.  I pulled out my book and she enthusiastically “lent me her ear”.  I used the wooden tip of a paintbrush to poke her ear.  Sure enough, she felt pain at the site corresponding to the neck.  She applied pressure to this point for a few minutes and convincingly proclaimed that she felt better.  Of course, she may just be a good actress.  I used this method a few more times and successfully headed off a migraine without needing an advil and also managed to rid myself of a stiff neck.  I also cured my seven-year old daughter’s hiccups, but she refuses to let me touch her ear now, because she found my poking and pressing to be painful.  My family complained about the gleam in my eye and my rush to find a pointy object whenever they had some kind of pain.  After exhausting all other remedies, my husband finally agreed to let me approach his ear to alleviate his bronchitis symptoms.  While his ear was indeed painful at the site corresponding to the lungs, his suffering was not lessened and he rushed to the doctor the following day, whereupon he was promptly hospitalized for six weeks due to heart failure from a defective left ventricle.  So, it is in fact not surprising that my auriculotherapy efforts were a thorough failure.  He is doing much better, thank you.  Happily, modern medicine is available when ancient holistic methods are not enough.

I recommend this book to those of you interested in alternative medicine.  It is an interesting and amusing read.  I am not convinced that a book on the subject needs to be very sophisticated.  I have used the how-to part several times and sometimes consult a chart that I found on the Internet with little pictures instead of numbers on the auriculotherapy chart.  I find that massaging the area has great benefits; however, for bigger or chronic problems, I head to the auriculotherapist and her needles.