It wasn't love at first sight
To say I came to respect Oriental medicine's possibilities, and those of the homeopathic and holistic healing disciplines, reluctantly ... is quite an understatement. When I brushed against the idea of herbs, teas, massage, ingesting minute quantities of what amounts to poison in normal doses to correct ailments, and other such suggestions ... I figured these were concepts I could live much better without, thankyouverymuch.
And the idea of getting acupuncture needles stuck in me ... well, I was going to have to be in real bad shape before I fell for something like that. To my credit (small though it may be), I listened to practitioners talk about the supposed benefits of their various disciplines. I liked the theory of things that didn't involve surgery, staples, mutilation, horrible pharmaceutical side-effects ... and were mighty cost effective compared to conventional medicine.
But I just didn't think herbs and needles stood a chance in Hades to work. I'd also heard about supposed cancer cures from apricot pits that turned out to be a bust, and a use for coffee whose image you might not want to dwell on, and psychic surgery in the Philippines that involved chicken parts and sleight of hand.
I clumped all this stuff about natural healing in that category and went on my way. After all I'd been sound and healthy all my life. I didn't need to swallow weeds (or smoke them either) seeking more joy in my world. I wasn't that adventurous ... and I sure wasn't that desperate.
But then, you know ... Life
Then, on February 9, 1989, at about 10:30 in the morning, life, in that way it has ... happened to me. I had an accident that did horrible damage to the left side of my face. It wasn't something a suture or two was going to fix. The plastic surgeon who saw me in the hospital emergency room pronounced my case "challenging." Believe me, this is not a word you want to hear applied to yourself under such circumstances.
At the time, I had no idea what lay ahead of me in the years to come ... and maybe that was a blessing. The doctor sewed my face back together in three layers of stitching ... and I waited to get well.
Ever so gradually, cosmetic appearances began to settle into place, but I lived with pain so awful and unrelenting that just getting through each new day was an exhausting act of will. I wasn't going to die directly from this injury ... but nevertheless, I would say I qualified as being "in real bad shape."
Conventional drugs offered no relief -- because the nerves themselves were damaged and unresponsive, and the side-effects of conventional medications often added to my general malaise and overwhelming discomfort. Doctors talked about "pain management" ... which as far as I could tell was a tactful way of saying "learn to live with it."
The left side of my face burned constantly with that awful sensation of skin held against hot metal and any movement whatsoever from the motion of speaking to the slightest smile spread ghastly pain from below my eye to corner of my mouth as if acid had been sloshed there. After two years, I began to seriously consider whether I really wanted to live this way for another forty or so.
A neurologist I consulted, and whose personality clashed horribly with mine, seemed annoyed that I expected she could do something. She gave me a prescription for 20 tablets of dexamethasone, an anti-inflammant steroid, told me not to take more than one or two a week and "only on the really bad days," and suggested I look into acupuncture.
I felt like I'd just been told to go consult a witch-doctor.
It took me six more years to really consider that advice.
The beginning of hope
I might not have done it even then, but a Doctor of Oriental Medicine opened a small clinic in the same building where a friend of mine worked -- and I met her one afternoon. She seemed sane, intelligent, competent, and secure in her belief that what she did had value. I liked her personally. She wasn't disconcertingly foreign. She wasn't a flake. And my pain was still a relentless undercurrent of my every waking moment.
She was conveniently located. I didn't have to drive two hours to get to Albuquerque and back and rip the heart out of an entire day to see her. She was affordable -- less than half the cost of a doctor's office call. I was willing to "try anything" ... even acupuncture ... at this point. She said she thought she could help.
It wasn't a miracle ... the kind that makes crippled limbs strong and the blind suddenly able to see. But after more than seven years of virtually no improvement whatsoever ... by inches on a journey of many yards, starting with the very first visit, I began to improve.
Nerves fluttered and twitched after every visit and began to reconnect. Flexibility in the injury improved. Sensation improved. Lumps of solid, rubbery flesh below the skin near the scar lines of the wound and the surgery that followed began to break apart and dissolve into textures that once again felt soft and more natural. Best of all, I began to experience hours when the pain was not right at the forefront of my mind.
I could talk again; I could smile again ... and it didn't hurt all the time.
She began attaching electrodes to the acupuncture needles, stimulating and flexing muscles I'd spent years trying not to use ... and that accelerated the pace of improvement. I was finally, indeed, getting well. I saw her once a week for almost two years. I still go back from time to time. (And, yes, I ought to do it more regularly.)
At least it's a start
Things are not 100% normal. They may never be. But I experience weeks -- even months -- now that are virtually pain-free. I have occasional "bad days" instead of occasional "good hours." I am miles ahead of where I started ... and progress continues. Still slow ... but still discernible. And that beats the heck out of what Western medicine offered me -- way back then.
Being who I am, I began to read material on Oriental medicine with its contrasting philosophy of holistic integration, its view of the body as a unified structure -- so different from the Western view of the body as "separate parts." I was living the results of this "shift in consciousness" ... and it was better than the place I'd lived for the past seven years and counting.
So, being a writer and a teacher, I want to offer what I've learned ... and lived, in case you ever have a reason to consider this knowledge and need a different approach to your life. (It helps, I think, if you can learn from the experience of others -- instead of the way I do it.) And you have my heartfelt hope that you don't have to come at this along the same path I took ... to reach this point today.