Tag Archives: Healing

Healing Hands: Physical Therapy for function, mobility, and comfort

I  have discovered a unique, highly effective form of physical therapy that combines the best elements of personal training with muscular therapy. Valerie Ruccia Eagan has developed her own brand of physical therapy that uses hands-on techniques, core- strengthening, and flexibility-building exercises, as well as mind-body energetic work. Her method cuts to the root of physical pain and mobility problems to provide deep and lasting healing.

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Filed under Aging, chronic illness, Chronic Pain, Healing, Marfan Syndrome

Restoring Order to Post-Traumatic Stress

As the horror of April 15th recedes from the national news, we in Boston are still in shock from the senseless results of evil. It seems as if everyone in this city and surrounding areas is joined in a caring network of personal connections and we are all feeling a kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), similar to warfighters back from combat. Continue reading

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Filed under Healing, Health, mental health, Uncategorized

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

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

Stress and Disease: An Important Connection

I heard a fascinating radio interview today with Dr. Ester Sternberg, a rheumatologist, researcher, and author of “The Balance Within,” a book about the ways in which the brain, mind, and body interact.  I completely agree that our  minds, brains,and bodies are intimately connected: When the mind perceives something as stressful, a cascade of  hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are released. This is useful when you need to slam on your brakes to avoid a collision, but harmful if these hormones are not “switched off” when the stressful situation is over. Stress hormones flooding your body for days or weeks at a time depress your immune system, leaving you more open to disease. In the interview, Dr. Sternberg clearly explained the biochemistry underlying the connection between stress and disease.

All the more reason to practice yoga, Tai chi, and meditation and try to reduce the sources of stress in our lives! I must always add, of course, that if one is ill, it is important to recognize that certain diseases are simply beyond our control, and NOT to feel a sense of “failure” about somehow having the “wrong” state of mind. At the same time, there is always hope and the possibility of becoming whole, and living fully in every moment.

This is an excerpt from an article that Dr. Sternberg wrote on the subject with Philip W. Gold.

The brain and the immune system continuously signal each other, often along the same pathways, which may explain how state of mind influences health The belief that the mind plays an important role in physical illness goes back to the earliest days of medicine. From the time of the ancient Greeks to the beginning of the 20th century, it was generally accepted by both physician and patient that the mind can affect the course of illness, and it seemed natural to apply this concept in medical treatments of disease. After the discovery of antibiotics, a new assumption arose that treatment of infectious or inflammatory disease requires only the elimination of the foreign organism or agent that triggers the illness. In the rush to discover antibiotics and drugs that cure specific infections and diseases, the fact that the body’s own responses can influence susceptibility to disease and its course was largely ignored by medical researchers.

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Filed under Healing, Health, mental health, stress, Tai Chi, Uncategorized, Yoga

Diabetes – a Low-Energy Disease

There is more to diabetes than elevated blood sugars; fat metabolism plays an important role as well. Since there has been quite a bit of discussion on this blog about Type II diabetes, especially in relation to being overweight, I have asked integrative physician Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. to explain the approach she has used successfully with her patients. Here is her response:

Conventional medicine manages diabetes – but it doesn’t cure it The conventional view of diabetes mellitus is as a disease of too much sugar in the blood. The medications designed to help the disease consequently lower blood sugar levels – by different mechanisms.

More recent research seems to imply that diabetes is more than elevated blood sugars – fat metabolism seems heavily involved too. But from the patient’s perspective, it looks like diabetes is a disease of too much appetite: Diabetics are hungry all the time. Ten percent of Type II diabetes patients are not overweight – but ninety percent are. Diabetes could be called a disease of abdominal fat leading to abominable consequences. Its poetic name honey-sweet (urine) flow certainly does not evoke the horrible consequences of this disease: amputations of limbs, blindness, kidney failure and dialysis, impotence, cancer, depression – to name a few.

But even in the light of these abominable consequences patients don’t stop eating. Diabetes is a billion dollar business for physicians and the pharma industry – no wonder a cure has not been found yet. And the patients “just won’t listen” to dietary advice. Why do they keep eating? Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) used to say “Large dinners fill coffins” – yet Sebastian Kneipp himself was overweight and could not refrain from eating his beloved dumplings, clearly unable to heed his own advice.

I am always struck by how much diabetics suffer when I talk to them. They seem to suffer from a profound fatigue – and eating seems to help. At least for a short while. They eat for energy. People have to make a living, take care of a family – and they are in a race to eat so they can function.

It turns out that diabetes affects the mitochondria, the energy factory of the cells – and diabetes reduces the energy output of the mitochondria. It is as if diabetics stack wood around the mitochondrial stove until that stove – buried under fuel that can’t be used – is unable to function any longer. Paradoxically, all the food hinders proper metabolism, and each too-large meal leaves the patient weaker and sliding further down the precipice to diabetic diseases. All that stoked wood is a fire hazard: Any moment the little energy factory can blow up into a catastrophic illness like heart attack, stroke or infection.

The low energy of diabetics affects their physical as well as their mental abilities. Exhausted as they are, diabetics scramble to make it through their daily activities – they just can’t face going to the gym as well . Of course, exercise would use up some of the stacked fuel and reduce the fire hazard – but they can’t bring themselves to move. Period.

Diabetics have the odds stacked against them even beyond poor mitochondrial function. I can think of several other mechanisms that would explain why diabetics overeat: Studies have shown that overweight people have different bowel bacteria than slim people, which means that the bacteria are craving their food. I liken it to a computer virus: The bacteria send their cravings to the patient’s brain and, obediently, the patient grabs for another piece of unhealthy junk. Furthermore, the abdominal fat is of a different quality than fat of other body parts: Abdominal fat sends out hormonal messages to the brain – again asking for more food since the fat cells need to be fed in order to grow.

Another strike against overweight people is that the more you eat, the hungrier you get. In times of scarcity such a mechanism that helped people survive. In lean times, one was less hungry; in times of gluttony (say, a mammoth needed to be devoured) people had more appetite. Nowadays, when lean times never occur, the overweight just suffer from incredible hunger pangs – which are largely not acknowledged by the medical community but are chalked up to “lacking willpower.”

Then there are food cravings induced by food allergies. We do not really know why this is so, but there is no doubt in my mind that you crave exactly the food you should not eat because it makes you sick. People usually don’t crave carrots and apples – they crave cheese and Twinkies and chicken wings.
And the above are just the innate reasons why overweight people cannot stop eating. Now consider the reasons which stem from our modern food production: New molecules are so alien to our bodies (either by themselves or in unnatural combinations) that more people than ever are experiencing food allergies – and food cravings. High fructose corn syrup and overly processed milk proteins lead the list, but artificial colors, artificial dyes, preservatives and altogether newly designed molecules are not far behind.

And the food industry uses to its advantages the ingredients people have a hard time saying “No!” Fat, sugar, salt make any food more yummy, regardless of its real nutritional value – which is usually nil.

In conclusion, diabetes is a genetic disease so with the above odds keeping up the damaging weight, diabetics have only one chance: To force “unnatural” changes on themselves, against their inclination. For the time being, medicine is no help – the pill that takes away those too large appetites has not yet been invented. So, this needs to be done: Feel your belly right now. If it is bulging at all, you are overweight. Then take your strenuous path: Get off the chair, away from the computer or TV, and start moving. And every time you want to eat, “need” to eat, grab your fat and convince yourself that you won’t starve if you don’t eat this moment. Keep to a schedule (three big meals or five small – but never a bite after dinner because the night is repair time for the body) and find a friend to walk with you – or kayak or swim or dance! This is your only chance for good health.

-Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D. author: Healthy to 100 and Health 2 0

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Filed under diabetes, Healing, Health, weight loss

Cold Water for Babies?

Rose asks an interesting question about whether to use cold water for babies. Here is an answer from Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., my cold water expert and the author of Health 2 0:

Dear Rose,
Yes, you can apply cold water to babies. This is done in the tradition of European Natural Medicine to raise strong, robust children.
When my son was four months old, I started him. I filled his little pink tub with cold water, cradled the naked baby in my hands and very quickly dunked him in—but not his head. It took a second or so. For babies, the head always stays outside the water.
He took a deep gasp but never cried. He was so astonished about what had happened and so busy with thinking that he never had time to protest.
Can’t remember when I stopped it – but certainly I would not force a protesting toddler under cold water.
Now that our son is a young man, he follows the family tradition and ends each warm shower with a cold one, and he has become a healthy outdoorsman.

Tell us how your baby likes it!
Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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Filed under children's health, cold shower health benefits, Healing, Health, Uncategorized, Water

Weeds for Health: Live from Your Garden!

The summer solstice is a wonderful time to harvest nourishment from your garden. I caught up with herbal expert Alexa Fleckentein, M.D., just coming in from her garden with an armful of grapevines (vitis vitifera), considered a bad weed here in the Northeast. “I used to swear and mutter when I pulled them out,” says Dr. Alexa. “Now I delight: A study has shown that grape leaves are even higher than red wine in resveratrol, a phytoalexin known to prolong life and prevent cancer.” The Greeks have been making little dolmades from grape leaves—stuffed with rice, herbs and pine nuts – for thousands of years. Dr. Alexa’s cooking method is simpler: She adds the grape leaves to her vegetable stir-fry (recipes in her book), and freezes them to use all winter long. “Simple, cheap, and healthy,” she says.

If you live in the South, advises Dr. Alexa, you might substitute kudzu (pueraria montana). “Kudzu has some marvelous properties too,” she says. “It is high in vitamins A and C, and also contains calcium. It comes in handy as an anti-inflammatory food (and is a much better source of calcium than inflammatory dairy products). Everybody in the South complains about this obnoxious weed. How about eating it as a revenge?”

And when you are done with your stir-fry, enjoy Dr. Alexa’s famous Garden Tea, described in her book and in this article. “I throw all the other edible weeds in my garden—as well as many plants and flowers—into my daily Garden Tea, which is filled with the healing properties of Nature’s pharmacy,” says Dr. Alexa. “Everything that’s not poisonous can go in there – from kitchen herbs to dandelions, from rose petals to pine needles. But REALLY: You have to know what you are doing and what to avoid. One hundred percent!!” Details are in her book, but she strongly advises taking an herb course to be sure you know what NOT to include!

The first time I made Garden Tea, for example, I proudly threw in a hydrangea flower—it was so pretty! Then I called Dr. Alexa while it was steeping to check on whether this was OK to include. “Throw the whole tea away!” she commanded at once. “Hydrangea leaves and flowers are poisonous.” I was sad to see it go, but I head learned my lesson: When in doubt, throw it out!

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Filed under Cancer, Healing, Herbs

To fight—or not to fight. Is that the question?

Senator Kennedy’s recent diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor has sparked an animated debate in the Boston Globe among health columnists and letter writers: Should patients diagnosed with a deadly cancer be encouraged to fight their disease, or should they focus more on quality of life and the journey towards spiritual—if not physical—healing? The “fight” proponents use the vocabulary of warfare: “vanquishing” the cancer “enemy” with every available “weapon” in the “arsenal.” One problem with this approach is that if you fight and lose, there may be guilt: Perhaps you didn’t fight “hard” enough.

The advocates of acceptance and healing say control what you can, choose your doctors and your treatments wisely, but also choose to spend time and energy on family, relationships, meaningful work, and finding joy in every moment. As one letter writer said, “Cancer is a disease, not an enemy. It also presents a deep opportunity to learn. My quest is to live each day as fully and richly as I can, to enjoy all that I have, and all the beauty and meaning of this world.”

A contrasting view came from an oncology nurse, who wrote that the notion of “fighting to win,” is too narrow: “Perhaps one’s fight could mean mustering resources against an enemy – cancer. Or it could mean winning against symptoms, or against the urge to stay at home during treatment and not work. Or beating the maze of our healthcare system, and getting the treatment you need when you need it!”

Perhaps “to fight or not to fight” is the wrong question, since there is no universal approach to illness that is right for every person. Several years ago, when I recovered from my own health challenge, and wrote my first book filled with the stories of people who fought and prevailed against cancer, paralysis, pain and deadly diseases, I thought that fighting was the only acceptable way to deal with illness.

Now, I am not so sure. Marshalling every available medical, alternative, emotional and lifestyle resource does give us more of a chance to overcome illness and injury, and perhaps to discover the latest “silver bullet” in the arsenal. But at what cost? There is also a value to the inward journey for peace, and nurturing loving connections with others. How best to combine these approaches given the limitations of energy and time?

Once, I interviewed a wise rabbi about the ways in which he helps people deal with suffering and illness. He described a state of holding two simultaneous beliefs: The desire to become well and “vanquish” the disease; while at the same time accepting the possibility of—and preparing yourself and your loved ones for—a different outcome. This is clearly very hard to do: One must gather the inner strength and energy—as well as the time—to pursue treatments, seek medical options, eat well, and think positively. All while somehow recognizing and accepting that you may not succeed. No easy answers. I’m still thinking.

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Filed under Cancer, Healing, Health