Five Diagnoses for 2009

Meditating Wind no. 34

I don’t have any ill will towards 2009, even though it was probably the worst year of my life. Maybe I’m in denial. It could be old-fashioned short-term memory loss. I don’t know why, but I feel like I had as much fun as any other year. Even though I didn’t.

I spent most of the year in great pain. About half that time I spent as much time on my stomach as possible to take pressure off my spine and leg. Every morning it took me more than 15 minutes just to get out of bed and get acclimated to the pain. Putting on socks was the worst. Each one took me at least 5 excruciating minutes. And then I’d grimace through work and laid down during my breaks. I had to stop working out which was especially depressing since I had wrapped up a big chunk of my identity with a healthy strong body.

And even when I was on the ground, most of the time I couldn’t concentrate on reading, one of my favorite activities. Without T to bear the brunt of most of the housework, I couldn’t have survived.


I’m cured now. Actually, I’ve been ‘cured’ for the past 4 months. There’s no pain anywhere. But my back is quite tender in cold weather. The leg at times feels numb. Now, I really appreciate whenever I do little things like run across the street to avoid the traffic, or adroitly dodge the crowds, instead of gingerly hobbling slowly with my cane. Doing dishes, playing guitar, even kicking back on the couch. I’ll never take these for granted.

On my journey I dealt with 19 health practitioners. They included paramedics, radiologists, color therapists, and even one book author who I never met.  With so many healers, it’s surprising that I wasn’t given more than just 5 diagnoses. I thought it’d be interesting to list them here with their treatments and evaluate them in hindsight.


The Orthopedist.
Diagnosis. Sciatica from a herniated disc caused by trauma. I visited this doctor because he has a clinic in my neighborhood that specializes in pain. His diagnosis was based on what I’d told him: a bicycle accident and symptoms of numbness, stiffness and pain. He’d probably seen so many similar cases he didn’t bother to do much in the way of diagnostics. An x-ray and checking my range of movement. That was it.

Treatment. His treatment consisted of pills for the pain, pills to reduce the swelling, pills to help my stomach deal with the other pills and pills to help my liver deal with all the drugs going through my body. I also had a sticky plaster analgesic thingy that I put on my lower back that released some other drug. Also I went in for physical therapy which consisted of a traction device that warmed my back and stretched it to alleviate pressure on my back.

Effectiveness. This seemed to help for a while. But after a month the traction seemed to just stress my back rather than relax it. I also stopped taking the pills because the pain didn’t go away even at higher dosages.

The Acupuncturist.
Diagnosis. Liver stress from too much rich food, alcohol and lack of sleep. Unlike the orthopedist, I felt this acupuncturist actually had healing skills. He also had an unusual diagnostic style. His hands fluttered over my body to, I guess, read my energy, and he also read my pulse, Ayurvedic style. It sounds hokie yet he was a very down-to-earth guy, never preachy, saying things like, “it seems that you may have been eating a lot of fast food.” And that was it.

Treatment. Needles, of course. With heated suction cups, and electrical stimulus.

Effectiveness. I felt great during the treatment. But immediately after I got up from the treatment table, the pain was back. I did notice though, that I was more relaxed and felt lighter throughout the day. And that feeling of lightness lasted longer each time I went in for treatment.

The Pain Specialist
Diagnosis. Tension Myositis Syndrome. I’ve never met Dr. John E. Sarno. I only read one of his books called The Mindbody Prescription. His controversial thesis is that the epidemic of back pain is largely a social epidemic. The pain is real, but it is induced by the brain as a way to distract away from suppressed anger and stress. He presents research that shows low levels of oxygen sent to areas of the body which causes the pain. And he also points out that most people without any kind of back pain have herniated disks or other ‘abnormalities.’

Treatment. The treatment is two-fold. Just by recognizing the physiological relationship between the mind and the body is usually enough, according to him. He also recommends writing down on a daily basis all the things that make you angry or give you stress. These are often triggers for the pain.

Effectiveness. Apparently thousands have gone through his treatment program to great success at his NYU medical school clinic. His ideas resonated with me since I’d always had a very strong back so I needed an alternative explanation to the faulty disc theory. And the pain did get worse when I was in frustrating situations like crowded train stations. Just by being aware of these triggers, I found that the pain subsided. If anything, it alerted me to the healing powers of chilling out and self-reflection.

The Spine Specialist.
Diagnosis. Degenerative disc. It was amazing all the people who offered their help. Even strangers. An acquaintance of my father-in-law, when hearing of my condition, pulled a lot of strings to get me an appointment with a highly sought-after spine specialist. He not only spoke English very well, he also studied my CAT scans meticulously, explained in detail what he saw, and patiently explained all the treatments available.

Treatment. The most important thing this doctor did was talk me out of having surgery, or any kind of invasive treatment. His advice to me? Do nothing and rest. Take painkillers when the pain is unbearable. Don’t even think about trying to work out.

Effectiveness. I really didn’t have any choice but to do as he said. But because of his advice, I gave up trying and wanting to be my usual active self. Sometimes doing nothing and letting the body do its thing is the best treatment. It was just surprising to have an MD encourage this.

The Osteopathist/Color Therapist.
Diagnosis. Stomach chi and endocrine system blockages and imbalances. This was the most interesting of the health practitioners. Like the acupuncturist, the osteopath had real healing ability. (Or do they just have unusually warm hands?) I could definitely feel him redirecting energy around. He also used my responses to color to get information for the diagnosis. For instance, I told him I had been drawn to wearing green clothes lately and that meant my body was trying to stimulate the endocrine system.

Treatment. I only went to him twice but I left both times with a lot less pain. The treatment consisted mostly of energy work. It reminded me of Reiki. He talked a lot throughout in a conversational tone to find out what seemed to aggravate the pain, and gave me tips on how to meditate throughout the day. After the session, they had me lay down on a mattress that was filled with crystals and precious stones under the batting. I don’t know what the mechanics of this is but my body went into deep relaxation on this.

Effectiveness. I’m about equally skeptical about alternative medicine as I am to Western medicine. And I was wary of this treatment, though the healer came heavily recommended. All I know is that I had the most dramatic and immediate improvement after this treatment. There are some things in the world beyond any logical explanation and this is one of them.


In the end, recovering from the ordeal came down to a handful of things.

1. Stress and anger, bad.
2. Meditation and relaxation, good.
3. Sleep is not an option.
4. Let go of some things.
5. Seeking help is a healing act unto itself.
6. Being offered help is a healing act too.

I was humbled by all the friends and acquaintances who offered their services, everything from massage, chiropractic to aromatherapy. Even though I didn’t take up on most of their offers, just having it available to me was heartening. Thank you all of you! May 2010 be pain-free for everyone!

For a mathematical look at my adventures in pain, read The King of Pain. I also wrote about the lessons I learned in Pain=Compassion. And for my experiences using a cane around Tokyo, Raising Cane on the Train.  And hopefully that’s the last of this subject I’ll ever write.

4 thoughts on “Five Diagnoses for 2009”

  1. Wind, I’m glad to hear that you have healed. Interesting post. I share your dual skepticism about pillspillspillspillspills and the healing hands. I think the aspect of your blog that touched me most was the way you were reminded to be thankful for what you have–that is a lesson I need to learn (hopefully in less painful ways than you did). Thank you for sharing.

  2. We never truly understand pain till we get physical pain. I hope you’ll be fully recovered ready to bite in 2010 like a tiger!
    Keep on giving your interesting point of view and taking exquisite pictures

    Bonne année, bonne santé!

  3. Thanks for the kind words everyone. In many ways it was a good thing to happen to me. Wake up call. Reboot. Test of my character. Fascinating medical adventure. Whatever it was I came out of it hopefully a better person.

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