She Didn’t Have to Die

A close relative died suddenly last fall. She was a 79-year-old woman who was active, vigorous and full of life. She sold fine jewelry in a large department store, spending all day on her feet presiding over her adoring customers. She was clever, a voracious reader and had a wicked sense of humor. She died in her beautifully decorated apartment surrounded by the books she loved, the artwork and sculpture she had collected on her travels, and the Continue reading

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Filed under Aging, chronic illness, Health

H1N1 Protection: Simple Ways With Water

Here are some “water ways” to protect yourself from H1N1 and other forms of flu.  (As always, check with your doctor before doing anything that affects your body.)

First, the source: Dr Vinay Goyal MBBS, MD, DM 
is Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology
Neurosciences Centre at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Continue reading

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H1N1 Pandemic: Boost Your Immunity

The World Health Organization has determined the H1N1 outbreak is a pandemic.  That in itself is not a measure of the severity of the so-called “swine flu” – just of its dispersion now into Australia, too. I asked Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., to comment about ways to protect oneself. Here is her advice—which should, of course, never replace a consultation with  your doctor or health care professional. Always check before taking any over-the-counter or herbal supplements to make sure they are right for you. In addition, there are several ways  to use water, including saltwater rinses, to protect yourself from viruses, explained here.

So far, the swine flu has been mild – lethality does not even reach that of “normal” flu outbreaks which kill more than 30,000 people every year. The unfortunate people, who die, usually have underlying diseases which compromise their immune systems. The fear is that this flu might mutate like the 1918/19 flu did, and come down on us the second time around with a vengeance. Normally, mutations are such that the virus dies out–and it would be an extremely rare event that it would mutate into a much stronger strain. Nevertheless, that is the thinking behind taking the swine flu seriously now–mostly to observe it evolve (or perish).
Advice From Dr. Alexa (but always check with your doctor first)
Meanwhile, get enough sleep, take your herbs, eat plenty of vegetables, drink warm water and/or herbal teas. And it is never too late to start challenging your immune system with daily cold showers – unless you are already coming down with something.
Another anti-viral concoction I want to share with you is the Chinese Jian Qiao Jie Du Pian or Isatis 6, also called Honeysuckle-Forsythia Detoxifier. It might be a good idea to have some of those pills at hand when you get sick (get them from a reputable source). During the next H1N1 outbreak – or any seasonal viral disease that might come along.

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Managing Chronic Pain

Despite the media hype of books that promise to “banish your pain,” the reality is that chronic pain is just about impossible to extinguish, whether in “five simple steps,” “four quick weeks,” or whatever the latest tantalizing promises are. The truth, as you probably know if you have been experiencing chronic pain, is that the goals of controlling, managing and living  a satisfying life with pain are much more realistic. As both a person who lives with chronic pain and a medical writer, I have come across a useful website with a realistic, helpful approach to  chronic pain. Full disclosure: I have written some articles for this site, in consultation with several reputable medical professionals. In so doing, I have come to respect both the source of the information and the approach of the site. I have also learned a great deal.

The site is painAction.com, and here are some of the articles I wrote, although I recommend reading any others on topics that are of interest! The site covers back pain, migraine pain and cancer pain, and includes articles, lessons and interactive tools. The focus is on developing skills in self-management, gathering knowledge, medication safety, working with  health care professionals, communication and  emotional coping. Given my interest in integrative medicine, I am also pleased to report that there is information on alternative/complementary modalities to manage chronic pain.

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Healing the Soul: Shamanism and Psyche

Do you ever feel in the grip of anger, fear or sadness that are sometimes triggered by  seemingly trivial events? That perhaps well up in you from the depths of your childhood and are sometimes powerful enough to cause health problems related to stress and tension? Psychologist Ann Drake, PSy.D., opens her book, Healing of the Soul: Shamanism and Psyche (Revised edition,Busca Inc., NY. 2009) with a challenge to readers:

Join her in her struggle to understand mental and physical illness in new ways that lie outside of the Western way of understanding. She invites us to ponder existence from new and varied perspectives, to take what makes sense, validating it with our own internal wisdom, and, finally, to create our own meaning.

What are these new perspectives? They include seeing how energy, spirit, and psyche interface to create the unique psychological reality of each person. Drake is a scientifically trained practicing psychologist who has devoted her career to finding the connections between the conventional practice of psychotherapy and the ancient healing practices of Shamanism—which holds that the loss of part of one’s spiritual essence or soul, often happening as the result of childhood trauma, can result in psychological pain and even physical illness. For many years she has studied Shamanic practices with a Bomoh—an indigenous healer—in Borneo, bringing back new and deeper understanding and skills to add to her psychology practice.

While cognitive therapy focuses on the rational aspects of the mind, Shamanic healing enters a deeper, energy level. Describing powerful stories of healing the “inner worlds” of her clients, Drake says, “Many of us find ourselves stuck in images and feelings from childhood. These images and feelings create an energetic imprinting.  The hurtful, rageful words of a parent stick to a child’s energy field as if to Velcro, haunting the child [and persisting as the child grows into adulthood] with feelings of shame and inadequacy….” Blockages to the removal of this harmful energy persist in our habitual ways of thinking, says Drake. But Shamanic  work [which focuses on the flow of energy] can remove these blocks and restore the soul to wholeness and the body to health.

This book is an excellent introduction to the potential for deep healing and the alleviation of suffering by combining the science of psychology with the mysterious world of the soul.

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Stunning View of Pregnancy

Watch the astonishing development of the baby, week by week during pregnancy, through the remarkable “eyes” of ultrasound. Here is a a stunning collection of moving and still pictures of the growing baby in this new YouTube video based on the recently released Harvard Medical School book, Your Developing Baby.

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The Medical System Gave Up On Me

In 1995 I woke up from routine heart valve surgery with the left side of my body paralyzed from a stroke caused by the surgery itself: A tiny piece of tissue had broken away from the valve, traveled through blood vessels and lodged in my brain, blocking the flow of blood with its essential supply of oxygen to the neurons that controlled movement on my left side. I was 43 years old, married, with two young children.

If I had obediently followed the prescribed role of stroke patient in the world of conventional medicine, I would be an invalid in a wheelchair today. Instead, I am back at work as a medical journalist, paying taxes instead of collecting social security.

I recovered because “adapting” to my disability — which is what the insurance company doctor (who had never met me) told me to do after two months of occupational and physical therapy — was not an acceptable option for me. I didn’t want to buy shoes with Velcro, buttonhole fasteners or devices to hold a tomato steady so I could slice it. I didn’t want to walk with a cane or use a wheelchair in the airport. And I certainly didn’t want to spend valuable recovery time learning to use adaptive devices.

During my recovery, the health providers whom I found most helpful were those who recognized the devastation and despair that I felt as the result of this physical calamity. They saw me not just as a patient, but also as a wife, mother, writer and even amateur musician. In their understanding I found the encouragement, strength and hope that I needed to fight back to recovery.

The doctors I found least helpful were those who saw me not as a whole person, but rather as a “stroke patient:” These included the neurologists who shrugged and said “wait and see” when I told them that they must be wrong: I needed my left arm and I needed to be able to walk; and the heart surgeon who breezed into my hospital room just long enough to say, “Sorry you stroked, but heart-wise you’re fine.”

I quickly learned that while the advances of modern surgery can save your life, the conventional medical system — along with the insurers who pay for it — is not set up for full recovery.  The goal of the system was to get me out of the hospital or rehabilitation facility and send me home. What happened after that was up to me. The insurance company doctor (the one who never met me) told me that I had “plateaued,” which meant that while I had made progress in physical and occupational therapy, there would probably be no further improvement. I was at an impasse and additional intervention would be counterproductive (not to mention expensive).

As a patient, it feels as if the health insurers and many doctors want us to accept and “adapt” to our disabilities — whether we are recovering from a heart attack or stroke, suffering from chronic illness or pain or trying to manage the difficulties of growing older.  It is easier to prescribe pills and adaptive devices than to help us take responsibility for our bodies and our health.

I chose to fight my way back to recovery, and this is a tough thing to do for those of us who are accustomed to seeing our doctors as omniscient beings who control our health.  I learned about methods of healing outside of mainstream conventional medicine,including Traditional Chinese Medicine, chich has used acupuncture for thousands of years to treat stroke patients . Yoga, from the equally ancient Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine, gave me strength, balance and peace of mind. The Alexander Technique — a powerful system of movement education — taught me to use my body with less effort and reduced pain. Pilates exercise coaxed my weakened muscles back to work and craniosacral therapy restored my body’s natural rhythms.

I was fortunate: I had the will, the family support, the research skills and the financial means to pursue unconventional healing methods. Fighting the system is much harder for those who don’t have the money, the knowledge of alternative therapies or the emotional strength to keep up the lonely struggle for recovery.  Too often, such people live with pain, disability and despair.

Doctors must understand what illness means in the lives of their patients. They must use their positions, their authority and their words wisely. They have the power to heal, but they also have the potential to destroy hope and, along with it, the chance to recover.

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Filed under acupuncture, Alexander Technique, chronic illness, Chronic Pain, Doctors, Stories of Hope, stroke, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Strength and Serenity for Women With Cancer

In what appears to be a perfect union between Western academic medicine and complementary/alternative treatment, a Harvard Medical School oncologist is studying the use of acupuncture to help alleviate the symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment for women. Cancer specialist and surgeon Annekathryn Goodman, MD has added acupuncture certification to her many other credentials and now offers this complementary treatment to her patients undergoing cancer treatment at the Vincent Women’s Care Division of Massachusetts General Hospital.

“My personal vision is to create a center for women with cancer that I am calling ‘Strength and Serenity,’ says Dr. Goodman. “My goal is to use complementary modalities, particularly acupuncture, to alleviate the symptoms and side effects of cancer and its treatment that we have difficulty managing with Western medicine.” She has found the treatment helpful for alleviating neuropathy—pain or burning or numbness in hands and feet, as well as nausea from chemotherapy or radiation or from the cancer itself. “Sometimes I treat women before the chemo, which seems to lessen their suffering,” she says. “Acupuncture also seems to help people who are done with their therapy but still have side effects such as fatigue, depression and anxiety as well as neuropathy. So many people are on antidepressants to help them with their stress. Acupuncture seems to help alleviate symptoms.”

Since 2004, Dr. Goodman has been transforming a sterile  Mass General exam room into a tranquil environment for hour-long sessions of acupuncture, which uses tiny needles to stimulate energy or “qi” (pronounced “chi”) points on the body, based on 5,000-year-old methods from Traditional Chinese Medicine. She uses heat lamps to warm up the needles, replaces harsh fluorescent lights with softly glowing lamps, plays soothing music and adds bamboo shoots and fabrics as decoration. “My focus is to balance the patient’s energy, or life force,” says Dr. Goodman, “This treats the ‘root’ of the problem, which then helps to alleviate the ‘branch’ symptom, whether it is constipation, nausea, headache or depression.” (Please see How Do We Heal for more details of acupuncture.)

In a recent research collaboration among the Mass General Vincent Women’s Care Division, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Dana Farber Cancer Center, acupuncture was found to create a modest improvement in white blood cell counts among women undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer. (Cancer treatment tends to lower white blood cell counts, which compromises the immune system.) In a review of worldwide data about the use of acupuncture to alleviate side effects of cancer treatment, Dr. Goodman found that the evidence in support of acupuncture was “helpful but the data was mixed.” “It is hard to unify existing data in a scientific way,” she says. “But there is certainly interest around the world in studying the use of acupuncture to alleviate the suffering of cancer patients.” For her part, she hopes to continue the work of the Strength and Serenity Center to conduct education, research and clinical care not only about acupuncture, but also about other forms of complementary care for women with cancer.

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Filed under acupuncture, Cancer, depression, Healing, Health, Stories of Hope

Story of Hope: “All I wanted to do was hug my children.”

One Sunday morning in February 1997, Jacqueline Miller was standing on a  stool hanging curtains in her son’s room.  The last thing she remembers before she found herself covered in blood on the floor is beginning to get down off the stool.  “We figured out later that I must have lost my balance, “ she says.  “I had apparently hit my face — hard — on the corner of my son’s desk.”  The impact had severely injured her spinal cord in the area of her neck and she would need 150 stitches for the lacerations in her face.

Jackie’s spinal cord injury had transformed her in an instant from an outdoor enthusiast, scientist and mother of two young boys to someone who could not walk, turn a page or feed herself.  The prognosis was grim: Doctors told her that she would be permanently paralyzed below her waist, with minimal movement in her arms and hands.  “One of my doctors told me that the best recovery I could hope for was to be able to eventually shuffle 10 feet down the aisle — with a walker — at my son’s wedding,” says Jackie, adding quickly, “They were wrong.” When the extent of the traumatic injury finally sank in, Jackie was in shock and disbelieving.  “All I wanted to be able to do was hug my children,” she says.  “And I couldn’t even do that.”
Those who know Jackie best describe her resilience and determination, and these two qualities, along with her sense of humor, have helped her reclaim her life. She is back at work “more than” full-time and recently got back from a trip to Rome and Morocco with her husband. Her son called the donkey “Mom’s Moroccan wheelchair.” Read more of Jackie’s inspirational recovery here

— Here are pictures of Jackie on her trip; She had been told she would be  quadriplegic:

donkey-and-me6a-stroll-through-the-forum-with-huw-and-max-rolling1

Continue reading

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Filed under Chronic Pain, Healing, Stories of Hope, Uncategorized

FDA and the Cold Shower Remedy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has written that “It’s not chicken soup. Believe it or not, a much more unorthodox therapy of warm-and-cold showers has recently been proposed–though not proven–for the prevention of the common cold.” The article goes on to identify water therapy researcher Edzard Ernst, M.D., who wrote  about shower therapy: “An efficient, practical and inexpensive prophylaxis [preventive measure] against one of the most frequent (and ‘expensive’) diseases has been identified at last.” In a 1987 research study comparing a “cold shower”group with a control group for 6 months, Ernst found that the cold shower group’s colds were “significantly fewer, significantly milder, and slightly shorter.”

Well, even if not “proven” to the FDA’s satisfaction yet, cold showers are worth considering as flu season looms ever closer, and here is some research evidence. As noted before in this space, however, cold showers may not be for you if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or a circulation problem, so always check with your doctor first!

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Filed under cold shower health benefits, colds and flu, Health, Water