Big Pharma in my rearview mirror: healing with acupuncture
In hindsight, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised when, last October, less than 12 hours after I hobbled into Adam Moes’ acupuncture studio with a painfully sore middle back, I felt complete and total relief.
After all, wasn’t this the same man in whose hands I had placed my hope of helping me heal my torn knee meniscus so that I could run and cross-country ski again?
What follows is both a brief history of my successful journey with Adam as well as another milestone in my path toward what I call here alternative medicine, as opposed to the present hegemonic Big Med/Big Pharma complex.
Let’s be very clear about something from the start: this knee was NOT just going to heal on its own.
On March 28, 2013, I finished skiing on some paths in Lassen National Forest not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park. On the 90 minute drive home to Chico, my left knee started swelling up. I didn’t think too much of it, and the next day I went for a short run in Butte Creek Canyon, where I live.
Big mistake. I’m convinced that it was the run the day after the ski that really tore up my knee. From March 29th until May 10th, I experienced pretty much constant pain (and constant ibuprofen pill popping), especially when going up and down stairs or when carrying my bags to and from work. As I said, this thing did not show any sign of healing six weeks after the injury had occurred.
May 10, 2013 was the first day that I saw Adam, and it was the last day that I experienced serious pain in my knee. But I’m getting ahead of my story a little.
Cut it out or heal it?
As it happens, I had bigger fish to fry between March 29th and May 10th : In late April, I found out that my days of fathering children had not ended back in the mid 1990’s. I would be a father again—at 51. Such were my memories of that April: news of my partner’s pregnancy, an injured knee, oh, a painful root canal, and increased episodes of atrial fibrillation, a heart disorder.
Back to the knee: after weeks of no real improvement, I resolved that I would do something about it. I received a referral from my general practitioner on April 22. On April 24, I had X-rays, and on May 1st I had magnetic resonance images (MRIs) taken.
Meanwhile back in I-can’t-believe-this-baby-thing-is-actually-happening-again land, my partner and I had our first appointment with Deena Moes, whom we decided to sign on as our midwife. During that first meeting, as I sat in a new-daddy-again daze, I mentioned that I had been experiencing knee problems and that I was to see an orthopedic surgeon late that week, and that I was in pain and that I would be happy if he cut my knee to pieces if only I could run and ski again—or something like that. Deena very gently mentioned her husband’s acupuncture practice, and a few days later I contacted Adam and scheduled an appointment for later that week.
Looking at my calendar now, I can see that May 10, 2013 was a big one. For starters, I would go to a certain Dr. Watson, an orthopedist in Chico, CA. Later that day, I was to appear in couples counseling (surprise, surprise). After counseling, I was to have my first appointment with Adam Moes.
And my knee was in pain. It hurt to walk, remember.
I arrived at Dr. Watson’s office, waited a while in those awful stall-like waiting rooms that we all have come to accept as normal and okay. In walked an overweight man wearing what I have called the official uniform of Chico, California men over the age of 55 or so: a Tommy Bahama shirts with one of those tropical patterns that suggest you’re relaxing with other Americans in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
There are three things that you need to know about this appointment besides the Tommy Bahama shirt.
First, Watson told me exactly what exactly ailed me: a torn knee meniscus. Okay. Good to know.
Second—and I swear this happened—Dr. Watson at one point jabbed my knee right where it hurt, and, not being stoic, I winced and gasped at the pain that his lockerroom behavior caused. “See?” he snickered. “I knew exactly where it was.” Bravo, Watson. Bravo.
But the third thing that happened is the most important. You see, Dr. Watson told me that my knee would not heal and that I should undergo orthopedic surgery in which he would cut out that part of the meniscus that had torn.
Now, if he had told me that doing that would, one, take away the pain, and two, let me resume a life of skiing and running, I probably would have scheduled an appointment at once.
To his credit, though, Dr. Watson promised no such thing.
“So” I thought to myself. “You cut out a part of my body, and what do I get in return?”
But it was on to the therapist’s.
Then on to Adam’s
Here’s what you need to know about my first appointment with Adam.
First, after I had told Adam what my diagnosis was, and what Dr. Watson had told me, Adam stressed that “Your body CAN heal itself.”
Second, (and this point might get buried between points one and two, but I think it was crucial) Adam told me that complete healing would not happen overnight (although the cessation of the pain would!). I believe he said that my body would do 90% of its healing quite quickly, but it was the final 10% that was critical to really getting this meniscus fixed.
Third (the eye-popper), after my first treatment, on May 10, 2013, I never felt the kind of pain that makes one groan again. Never. One single treatment. Gone.
The summer my knee healed
I guess it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t bother with a follow-up appointment with the orthopedist.
From May 10th to October 9th 2013, the record shows that I received acupuncture treatment from Adam 19 times, typically once a week.
Early on, Adam convinced me of a couple of things. First of all, taking pain-killers like Ibuprofen was counterproductive because it allowed the body to wait for outside chemicals to address the situation instead of relying on its own resources. That was easy to stop because, as I told you, after my first treatment, I never had knee pain worthy of taking pain-killers anyway. The second thing was that I would supplement my diet with a custom mixture of Chinese herbs. Third, Adam exhorted me to adopt a low-acidic diet. I immediately cut my coffee intake by 50% and tried to offset higher acid-forming foods (meats, bread) with alkaline-forming foods (nuts, avocados).
It’s hard to overstate how well Adam took care of me during that time. Sometimes I saw him along with other patients during his “community acupuncture clinics.” At other times, he saw me in private sessions in which he would perform more extensive or complicated needlework directly on my knee.
The beauty of understatement
One of the greatest pleasures about doing healing with Adam is that doing the healing work IS pleasurable. In contrast to those awful waiting rooms, Adam’s clinic looks and feels like a cozy recreation room filled with soothing lights and textures—and the music: pleasant New Age vibrations together with Adam’s beloved George Winston. But the acupuncturist himself is the most comforting aspect of the entire experience. Like a lot of people, I rather loathe getting injections at the doctor’s or dentist’s office. I still do. Adam’s needling, on the other hand, is always gently administered. His manner is quiet, soothing and he is nimble and dexterous in both the insertion and removal of needles. There is another aspect about Adam that provides comfort. He is somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to talk. He is very pleasant, and even sociable, and is very willing to discuss and listen to all aspects of the healing work at hand, but he doesn’t talk to hear his own voice. He is mindful of the beauty of understatement, of silence. I think this is part of the healing experience and the message that he communicates, namely, that, “You, my patient, are the star here.” “I am merely assisting your body in healing itself.”
The healing continues
To return briefly to my knee meniscus story, I immediately formed protective scar tissue thanks to Adam’s first few treatments. He somberly stressed, however, that it was imperative to transform the scar tissue back into the differentiated tissue that is the meniscus.
And here the story takes a somewhat mysterious turn. I don’t know how one convinces the body to heal beyond mere scar tissue, but Adam knows that, in the long run, scar tissue ends up creating its own chronic pain issues, so we had to fight to transform the body’s quick fix bandage into what it was before.
I think I remember the treatment during which a good bit of this occurred. As it usually happens, and as happened that day, Adam put the needles in lightly. Very lightly, I thought. Still, the fact that that first poke is so easy helps get you to the appointment and relax at the outset. After about 15 or 20 minutes Adam comes in and usually sticks the needles in a little deeper—which he did this time. It was at this point, maybe in August sometime, that, minutes after he had put the needles in deeper, I had a close to out-of-body experience, a kind of ecstasy (= ex stasis), a kind of euphoria. It was during this time that I imagine, anyway, that a good bit of scar tissue transformed (back) into the meniscus cartilage.
My knee’s healing continued through the fall and even the winter. I stopped seeing Adam for knee treatments in October shortly before his wife, Deena assisted my partner’s birthing of our son Ashwynn.
My knee is 100% healed. I cannot tell the difference between my two knees anymore.
Addressing Atrial Fibrillation
Before it was torn knee cartilage, now it’s an irregular heartbeat—atrial fibrillation, to be more precise—that challenges me. However different the two health problems are, I am struck by what seems to me to be the inanity of what Big Med / Big Pharma offered me in both situations. The first cardiologist I saw recommended I get on statins before he even knew what my problem was. “You won’t find a cardiologist who doesn’t take statins,” he said. The second cardiologist was the one who, with the help of a heart monitor that I wore, at least gave me the diagnosis that I had “a-fib.” To his credit, he didn’t try to jam drugs down my throat, but, on the other hand, he really didn’t suggest any way for me to HEAL my heart. Apparently, there is no “cure” for atrial fibrillation in Big Med / Big Pharma’s handbook, but that doesn’t stop many cardiologists from trying to push rat poison a.k.a. blood anti-coagulants (e.g., Warfarin, Coumadin) on their patients because, apparently, there is an increased risk of stroke among a-fibbers. Again, I do not doubt that it is not a good thing to have a-fib: the heart flutters and does not pump blood efficiently. This can’t be a good thing. Besides, during an a-fib episode I am tired, irritable and often can’t do much more than sit and wait for it to pass. Ignoring the problem, then, is not an option. But neither is taking drugs which artificially thin my blood and can cause their own problems. I’ll leave it to the reader to wonder whether Big Pharma really cares about health and healing as long as they continue to sell their rat poison.
As my a-fib episodes became more frequent last October, I again sought out Adam to see whether the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that he practices offers a way out for me. So out came the needles and we have been going at it since then.
Again, the treatment does not consist of acupuncture alone. Herbs are in the mix, but, as was the case with my knee treatment, I also needed to reevaluate my diet and lifestyle. With the knee, I cut back on acid-forming foods, at least for the duration of that summer (and often carried on with those good habits, included, as I mentioned, a 50% reduction in my coffee intake). This time, with the heart issue, I finally had to confront the fact that my alcohol intake—from three to five glasses nightly, every night—was excessive. Adam’s support here was also strong and quiet. I clearly needed to do my share of the work for the acupuncture and herbs to take effect. And, I have to believe it was those three things that stopped the a-fib episodes by Thanksgiving (unfortunately, during the extended holiday season, I failed to see much of Adam, and although I had cut my alcohol intake to a glass or two a week, the a-fib episodes came roaring back without the acupuncture treatments. We are back on track again). While the focus has been on heart treatment the past several months, the magic back treatment that I mentioned in the very beginning of this posting occurred during this time as did a treatment when I asked Adam to focus on clearing out flulike symptoms that had a hard time leaving my body.
I count myself fortunate that I am walking this path, and that I have managed to avoid the misfortune that befalls those who put their trust in Big Med / Big Pharma and its slice-it-up / drug-it-up approach to “wellness” –if you can even use that word with those guys.