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The Genesis of a Website
I started writing the material for these web pages while recuperating from the total hip replacement surgery I had in June 2003. The good news is that I am having a remarkable recovery, in part due to all the good preparation I did prior to surgery. Much credit must go also to my Turning Point Acupuncture staff, who have been treating me almost daily starting in the hospital!
Below, and in the links provided, I will tell my story for all who are curious about the details. But more than that, I will describe my experience from my unique perspective as a Western trained physician who has been committed to practicing alternative medicine in general, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in particular, for more than two decades. By exploring how my background informed my choice of this radical form of treatment, I hope to share some helpful lessons about dealing with both difficult major health care choices, as well as, the countless smaller ones we all make everyday.
At the heart of this exploration is the truth that making any of these decisions determines our quality of life. You will see that my affinity to Chinese medicine is precisely this characteristic: the practice of TCM, especially as applied to the special problems of urban living, can improve the enjoyment of daily living.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and my decision to have major surgery:
One of the compelling reasons I was drawn to practice TCM, despite having been trained in Western Medicine, is its focus on wellness and quality of life. Western Medicine is so often directed to diagnosing and treating a set of symptoms in an attempt to "fix" the problem. As such Western Medicine can be terrific in trauma and other emergency situations. TCM is about harmony and balance. Using acupuncture and herbs we balance the body's life force energy (Qi), cleanse and tone the internal organs and optimize fluids (blood, lymph, etc.). The end result is to potentiate the individual's health at any point in that person's life so that he/she can enjoy the highest quality of life. Our toxic urban environment and the difficult political climate we live in pose significant obstacles for optimal health. TCM is a wonderful tool to mitigate the forces that stand in the way of wellness.
The decision to have my hip replacement finally made sense to me when it became about improving the quality of my life. I had explored every possible avenue to avoid surgery, both out of fear and because as a healthy middle aged person, it is very likely that I will outlive my new hip. So delaying the surgery seemed reasonable. I had spent 5 years taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) daily to sustain mobility and decrease discomfort. I worried about the long-term consequences of medication and tolerated the digestive discomfort. Eventually I developed pain in my back and neck as compensation for my diseased hip, warning signs that I could no longer ignore what had to be done. Once it became clear that my hip pain had begun to substantially interfere with my day-to-day joy of living, I opted for surgery . I was not able to walk more than several blocks without pain and, most importantly, I could not longer express myself physically through dance or yoga.
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The Yin and Yang of Athletic Excellence
I have always pursued perfection in highly competitive fields. In these pursuits, despite my extensive knowledge of healing modalities, I did not listen to my body. I rarely got enough rest; I persisted in routinely doing what I had always done despite nagging injury (tendonitis, etc). I never honestly considered finding gentler ways to achieve the same goals. I used the knowledge I had to keep patching myself up to remain in the forefront of my chosen endeavor.
As I get older I have much more respect for the power of Yin energy in our life to promote radiant health. Being a Type A personality is all about Yang energy, the energy valued in our urban culture: doing, making, going, bigger, faster, harder, brighter, etc. But in TCM we know that if that is not balanced by Yin activity, i.e., rest, nourishment, contemplation, reflection, cooler, softer, etc., we get depleted and the body sustains injury. One example of this in our society is how many women in mid-life suffer menopausal symptoms. This is a reflection of a lack of balance in our lifestyle.
To develop this theme specifically about sports (dance) injury from a TCM point of view, we can look at two organ systems:
1. Liver
The liver is an organ system injured by stress. We can think of stress in two ways: emotionally, as in situations that elicit anger, resentment and frustration, and physically, as in the over-use of body parts. The liver rules the tendons and ligaments. Thus any stress to the liver organ system, can result in a disharmony that manifests as injuries like rotator cuff, tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, etc.
2. Kidney
The kidney organ system rules the bones. The kidney is depleted by exhaustion and fear (and other situations that produce a hyper-adrenalized state). tyler Pushing oneself to physical extremes is typical of the athlete in our culture. More is better is the axiom. In fact the reverse is often true. Over time a repeated injury to the kidney organ system can result in arthritis. This phenomenon is played out daily in the sports pages of the newspapers. Venus Williams played the Wimbledon final despite an abdominal strain and Tyler Hamilton (photo N.Y. Times 07.24.03) continued to race in the Tour De France with a broken collarbone. Our aging sports heroes (Joe Namath, Jack Nicklaus, etc.) are riddled with degenerative joint disease.
It has been a hard earned lesson for me but I know that all athletic people, regardless of age, need a proper diet, rest and bodywork treatment (to insure free flow of Qi and proper structural alignment going into activity). We can't just wear down our joints. Joint replacement surgery is a poor long-term solution. The prosthetic joint is never as good as the one God made, to quote my orthopedic surgeon! The prosthesis has a limited life span and the range of motion of the joint may be limited. I will never be able to put my feet in ballet's fifth position again. There are some activities that are discouraged with prosthetic joints, e.g. jumping. Not to mention the usual risks, infection, blood clots, etc., that attend major surgery.
So here are the current goals for my competitive, athletic self:
To have more balance in my life style, by which I mean to honor the Yin with rest, pranayama (yoga breathing exercises) and meditation. As I regain my physical mobility I hope to develop a healthy and joyful physical practice. One that sustains me and not vice versa!
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When Western Medicine is inevitable
Of course there are some circumstances, like my own, in which Western Medical intervention is vital and wholly recommended. Here are some examples:
I have a friend, a non-smoking, athletic woman in her late 30's who had a heart attack in a stressful situation. She was in cardiac intensive care and then cardiac rehab. She continues to take Western medication.
Another friend developed thyroid cancer and had to have the whole gland removed and is now on life-long thyroid replacement therapy.
And in my practice I have numerous HIV+ individuals on anti-viral medication, Cancer patients on chemotherapy, people with high cholesterol on lipid lowering meds (note: they all need to supplement with Co-enzyme Q 10) and others who have Insulin dependent diabetes.
The point I want to make is that in all these examples, the fact that Western treatment is necessary is a reason to intensify in the area of holistic health care. It is not an excuse to say "why bother?" Just because my holistic interventions did not save me from a hip replacement in the end does not mean I abandon the care of my other joints, nor indeed the new bionic one. On the contrary, I am doing everything I can think of to help my body heal and stay strong.
We need to support the body in its struggle for health at the energetic, cellular, nutritional and structural level by using the amazing health resources available to us in New York City. Even if we have to use Western medication or surgical procedures, the result of adding complementary modalities may mean we will have a better outcome, such as there will be fewer side effects from medication, more successful surgeries, less deterioration of other joints, less likelihood of another episode, that the body will be stronger to fight infection, etc.
As a practitioner of TCM I feel that it should be a critical component of everyone's health regime: The beauty of TCM is that it can be applied in most circumstances to help bring the body into balance and promote health.
If radiant health is a birthright, then we have the life long mission to support that gift in all the ways that we know and can afford.
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