Bated Breath

updated 06/25/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/25/2001 01:00AM

Hic! He has stood on his head. He has grabbed his tongue for 60 seconds. He ate gobs of peanut butter and drank gallons of water. Did he swallow sugar? Yep. Massage his eyebrows? Sure. He even swigged a glass of pickle juice. "I've tried everything you can imagine," says Seth Dowell, 21, "and lots of things you can't."

And still the pharmacy technician from Salt Lake City can't shake a maddeningly persistent case of the hiccups. Ever since hurriedly eating a Subway veggie sandwich on his lunch break last Aug. 23, Dowell has hiccuped every 30 seconds or so, even in his sleep. His family doctor found no irregularities and prescribed a muscle relaxant, but the hiccups persisted.

After that, says Dowell, "everybody out there had a miracle cure." On Halloween his friends took him to a haunted house, in hopes of scaring the hiccups away. No luck. Next, one thoughtful buddy punched Dowell in the stomach, trying to shock his system. "Seth went down," says another pal, Nick Polevoy, 24. "But when he came up, he still had the hiccups."

Living with them hasn't been easy: They wake him up at night, embarrass him at work and put a crimp in his social life. "It's kind of hard to get dates because people think I've been drinking," says Dowell, who lives with his parents, Cindy and Thomas, and had to end one date early after his hiccups annoyed movie patrons. "He laughs about it," says Cindy, 49. "But it really does get him down sometimes."

Now under a neurologist's care, Dowell tries to stay positive. His hiccups got him on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, yielding a slew of new cure ideas. "At this point," he says, "I'm willing to try anything." He's just not holding his breath.

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