Notes From a College Student: The Power of Water


by By Amie Dahnke /

Posted on May 1, 2009 at 12:24 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:52 PM

About the Author

Track star Amie Dahnke is an English major at the University of Portland. She also holds the fastest Crystal Springs course time in UP history, and she became the first freshman since 1990 and the first Portland runner since 2000 to win the women's WCC individual championship. Her fastest 5k is 16:51; her fastest mile is 4:51.

There's no denying the destructive power of a wet spot in your socks. Once those comfortable and cottony safe-havens get wet, they no longer snuggle your tootsies. Instead, they become instruments of torture. I'll never forget the countless mornings I walked into the bathroom--after donning fresh socks--to brush my teeth, only to encounter the puddles of shower water my sister left behind on the linoleum floor. My whole body would cringe in anguish.

Some days, that wet spot would hit me with such force that I cried, actually cried (OK, I was a bit of a baby when I was younger, but that's neither here nor there). Regardless of the fact that I could simply go into my bedroom, open my overly stuffed top dresser drawer and have a fresh pair of socks in hand in moments, wet socks would ruin my day. The water, with all of its  evil, liquid power, didn't just spread through the cotton fibers of my socks, it seeped into my very soul.

With my history of hatred for wet socks, it's no surprise how aghast I was when I heard my acupuncturist's suggest at-home hydrotherapy treatment. Hydrotherapy is the practice of using hot and cold applications of wet stuff in various combinations and forms to stimulate the natural healing processes of the body. It's another way to get the qi (like "chee")--the innate healing force in Chinese medicine--moving. My qi, explained my acupuncturist, was at a road block: On top of having a bum hip, I was down and out with mono. That qi needed some major help flowing again.  

The torture--I mean treatment--she suggested is known oh-so-appealingly as the wet-sock treatment. The body, she explained, perceives the heat differential between cold socks and hot feet as an irritant, and responds by pulling the congested fluids from the upper respiratory passages down to the feet to warm up the socks...sort of like pore strips that pull up the icky, black gunk off your nose. I wasn't buying it.

"You want me to sleep wearing wet socks...willingly? No way."

But eventually I succumbed. If something that simple could help boost my wallowing immune system and make the mono go away faster, I was game. With my cotton socks swimming with ice cubes in my bathroom sink, I exfoliated my feet in steamy hot bath water. Looking into the mirror above my bathroom sink, I gave myself the "you can do it" look that athletes get before a big game. In one fell swoop (or maybe two or three fell swoops), my hand dove into the water, fished out the socks and forced them onto my innocent feet.

You know the feeling you get when you scrape your teeth against shaved ice--how your entire body erupts in goose bumps and chills? I experienced that feeling. And I cried, too. (Yes, I was a bit of a baby again last week. But never mind that.)

I freaking froze that night, shivering as I huddled in my bed underneath a comforter, a quilt and three fleece blankets--and it was July. I even wore a fleece hat, sweat pants and my boyfriend's large, fuzzy sweatshirt (which should have kept me warm just because it was his). It took forever to fall asleep. I spent the first hours cursing my acupuncturist. I couldn't see how the wet socks were helping my qi. It seemed as though the iceberg-cold water was infiltrating my qi, freezing it instead of pushing it to flow regularly through my body.

But then I woke up, magically, as though the world was bright and new. I slipped out of bed and saw my socks; I had totally forgotten about the treatment. Stretching as I hobbled in my zombie state toward my kitchen to get a drink of water, I realized that I felt different. I felt better. My glands, which had been so swollen that my neck looked like it belonged less to a runner and more to a football player, had reduced in size and tenderness. My spleen was still tender, but it wasn't swollen anymore. My head was clear of the mono-grogginess that had camped out for two whole weeks.

I want to say that "The Night of the Cold Socks" completely altered my disposition toward wet socks. It didn't. I still hate wet socks (and anyone who doesn't should probably get their head checked out). But when I took off those damn socks and chucked them into my laundry basket, I tossed out a prejudice and took up a new outlook on life: Sometimes the nastiest thing in the world can be exactly what you need.