I was married with two-school-age children when I woke up from routine surgery with the left side of my body paralyzed by a stroke, caused by a microscopic piece of tissue that had broken away and traveled through my blood vessels to my brain. I was told I would probably be an invalid for life, but this was not an option for me. I wanted my life back so I needed to recover.
Luckily, I am a medical writer, so I did research to find treatments outside of conventional medicine. By combining alternatives such as acupuncture, yoga, Tai chi, Alexander Technique, Pilates, and craniosacral therapy with my conventional physical therapy, I recovered completely. This experience inspired me to share in books and articles what I learned with others who may be facing the despair of a bad prognosis and the seeming hopelessness of illness or injury. In my research, I learned something about how we heal that I’d like to describe here:
Recently, a scholar and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (a medical system that originated 5,000 years ago in China) showed me a plant with a withering, yellow leaf. He is trained as a conventional orthopedic surgeon with additional certification in acupuncture and herbal medicine. After many years of practice, teaching and research, he has thought a great deal about how we heal, and he was trying to explain his views to me.
He pointed to the leaf and said, “What shall we do about this? We can perform surgery and cut it off, but if the plant is having a problem growing, this will not help. We can spray the surface of the plant with chemicals to kill any pests that may be attacking it, but that will not stop pests from returning. Or, we can nourish the soil in which the plant is growing, strengthening its roots and increasing the flow of water and nutrients throughout the stem, branches and leaves. This will help the plant become more resistant to pests and disease.”
If you have a broken bone, uncontrolled bleeding, a heart attack, a concussion, or some other acute problem, you want an ambulance, a hospital and all of the sophisticated technology of modern medicine and surgery. But what if you are living with chronic pain, a degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis, or ongoing conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or arthritis?
Modern medicine cannot yet cure such conditions. At best, your doctor can offer you medication—along with the attendant risk of side effects—as well as some advice about lifestyle modifications, or physical or occupational therapy. But what if we asked our doctors to do more? I believe we have the right to ask our doctors to see us as not merely a collection of symptoms, but as whole human beings with lives, relationships, hopes, and dreams.
We can ask our doctors not only to dispense opinions, advice, and medications, but also to help us strengthen and nourish our own potential to heal. This is what I did when I rejected the prognosis that I would be an invalid and asked my doctors to help me explore options and support me in my recovery. I recently wrote an article in the May issue of Prevention Magazine about two other women who did exactly the same thing. One recovered from “terminal” cancer, and the other from the disability of Crohn’s disease. We can “own our health,” recover from illness and become more resilient to disease and pain, not by rejecting our doctors but by joining with them as equal partners to search for the best treatments from all worlds of medicine.