Monday, May 29, 2006

Healing: Getting In Tune With Your Body

"I don't know what happened, Doc," a bewildered client will say, "all of a sudden bam! There was pain!"

How is it possible for a person to not know how he or she came to be so infirmed that walking is impossible? Patient after patient will come into the office in wonder at their own body malfunction. It is as if the problem is external to them, happening to them, not IN them.

Oftentimes, after a thorough history and a little time to contemplate it, a patient might say something like, "Do you think that the time I slipped on the ice and got knocked out did this?"--usually as the Doctor is walking out the door. As the patient takes in the Doctor's expression of "uh, yeah!", he or she will usually laugh. It sounds so silly once said out loud. Of course, this injury has to do with the pain!

Part of our job is to help people to get more attuned to the workings of their body-mind-spirit. Rather than minimize, ignore, bury and deny the pain and discomfort, we like people to recognize it for what it is: a helpful message from the body. Unfortunately, many people see the pain and discomfort as some sort of "beginning of the end", or a proof of old age or a confirmation of the fear that they will "die just like dad and my brother" or some other scary, unhelpful belief. These beliefs cause people to run away from help and sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They wait so long to address the messages that it is, indeed, their worst fear fulfilled: it's too late.

At the other end of the spectrum from Minimizers are Maximizers. These people have no concept of normal body variation. Every weird poop, every stray pain, every twinge of discomfort causes great angst and despair resulting in "overusage." For the less ethical practitioners these worriers can be a practice-building dream: these patients use the health care system to fill emotional needs not met elsewhere. This is particularily true among the elderly. My own Grandma, the picture of health at the ripe young age of 88, got misty-eyed because her "doctor really cared" and I retorted, "He sure does care. He cares for your excellent supplemental Health Insurance. That is for sure!" That comment was met with a withering look which I probably deserved. Arguing medical ethics with a lonely Grandma just isn't smart.

And in this day and age, there are also the Seekers. Why these people even visit a Doctor's office, I don't know. They already know it all, they simply seek confirmation. We all do this to one extent or another--chase opinions that confirm our own, reinforcing our super-smart self-view. This category of people, though, resists information that might conflict with their own beliefs. The latest scare-media article is brought in and gravely handed to the Doctor. No, they will not try that herb, no they don't think they should take that supplement, no they read about the acupuncture needle doing this or that, no, no, no. "I have been to ten doctors for this problem," they'll say, "and NO ONE COULD help me." Often, they leave the office, disgusted with the incompetence of the staff and Doctor. On down the road this person travels to torment the next unsuspecting practitioner. Rarely does this person follow any Doctor's treatment plan. Miffed at the inadequate results in two days of trying, they quit. They enjoy the quest. Getting healthy is another matter entirely.

Do you see yourself in these descriptions? Maybe a little bit? Some of us are natural hypochondriacs, some of us are stoic toughies who "suddenly drop dead", some of us enjoy complaining for it's own sake--almost everyone has health issues.

We usually absorb some sort of health belief system from our families. Perhaps you had a mom who was sick her whole life. Perhaps everyone was told to "stop crying and being a baby, and gut it up". Perhaps in your family the only way you got attention was by being sick. No matter what, that belief system affects how you view yourself today. It is a filter that can distort your own self view.

There is also the "I own it, I know it" bias. Since we all have bodies, we all can claim expertise in bodily functions. We have been observers for years, right? Well, maybe. Sometimes, though, what seems "normal" just happens to be what you, individually, experienced. It may be totally abnormal, in fact, and require further investigation and possibly lifestyle change.

So Doctors are put in uncomfortable situations at times. We must be willing to address a patient's belief system. I remember one time, my only treatment was to tell a patient, "There is nothing at all wrong with you. You are healthy and well." "Really?" she said, "Is that really true?" "Yes," I responded. "Most people are deathly ill compared to you, that's how healthy you are." And it was true. She was well, but had gotten into a very bad spot after being sick once. Thankfully, she accepted the truth of it and stopped acting sick.

A Doctor must also teach what is "normal" and "healthy". Analyzing a diet diary is particularily illuminating. The same person who says, "Yeah, I eat healthy" will later say they "drink only one six-pack a night. Could that be causing my liver problems?"

Once people know what is healthy and what is not, what is "normal" (and this is a very wide range, usually) and what is not normal, they can start to better guage their bodily activities. It is not normal, for example, to lose bladder function at the age of 60 and can indicate some very serious, but easily treatable, problems. But if you look at the advertisements for bladder dysfunction, you might think that everyone over the age of 50 pees their pants. They don't and medications aren't the answer most times.

A good doctor's goal is to help people listen to their bodies and respond to the signals they are getting. It is very interesting, as people get well and the layered problems unpeel and get removed, people are shocked at what they put up with for years. Once they start feeling great, they have no desire to fall back into the abyss of pain, dicomfort and difficulty. They become attuned with wellness instead of trying to ignore the static.

That's the goal: learn what it means to be healthy and whole and know when that wholeness is compromised and act quickly to fix it. Ultimately, the person in pain, must decide how to deal with it and the significance of that pain. That's the way it should be. It helps, though, to have the information to make informed choices. Knowing yourself can mean the difference between life and death.


Anonymous said...

I have had SI joint pains and sharp shooting pain down my buttock and legs for years and years now. Regular adjustments only help some. I have learned that certain things will trigger this problem. But sometimes it comes out of nowhere and I find myself limping and at times almost falling. I believe I injured myself lifting heavy books in my younger years. I am still very active but when it suddenly comes on it will bring me to a complete halt for a time.

Dr. Melissa said...

Sometimes straight adjustments won't help chronic back problems (sacrilage, I know!). Sometimes nutritional deficiencies or toxicities are problematic. For example, I had a friend whose mid-back went into spasm after eating McDonalds and driving four hours from home back to campus. To say that trip was stressful was an understatement. Adjustments really helped him, but avoiding the McDonalds and better managing his stress would have prevented the back pain. More sacrilage: probably, had he dealt better with the stress of his ex-wife (the cause of the car drive), he could have eaten the McDonalds without the back pain. Maybe. Of course, chronic McDonalds is a stress all its own.

Here is a heirarchy of treatment: go to the point of pain first and see if physical manipulation works (this includes manipulating the biochemistry through diet and detoxification). If not, explore the mind and spirit. The solution is usually there. A lot of those "pain outta nowhere" are really pains from somewhere, or something, or most likely, someone (usally ourself).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response! I'll continue to work on this since I am not getting younger and I need to get on top of this. It is scary when I am to the point of almost falling.