Friday, February 27, 2009

How the Chinese doctor sees it

"It" being the sort of chaos I'm experiencing - especially the frustrated anger that had me wide awake at 3 a.m.

It is absolutely not hard to find things to be frustrated about in my life. Kidney function significantly worse, despite a lot of efforts and expense - and suddenly, the imminent threat of dialysis. Still limping with pain in the left foot, yet still suffering moodswings caused by the corticosteroid shots that were supposed to fix that flareup. (Still getting used to having significant arthritis.) Still anemic, and without what I need to monitor my own hemaglobin and give myself EPO shots. Can't see kidney doctor for over two more weeks. Forgot to do my PT exercises last night until I was in bed.

And all this chronic illness, and Tom's, is mostly invisible, not dramatic; when I go to church, someone usually tells me "You're looking good." I don't argue with them. So the recycle piles up in the garage while I rest the foot, and my car hasn't been cleaned in a year. I used to be able to do these trivial things myself, but with a low red blood count and a uremic burden, running the Roomba is too much effort. I know people who are dying, and courageously, so I usually try not to whine.

It was the stubborn pain in the foot, coupled with my decision to refuse more corticosteroids, that got me to make an emergency appointment with my acupuncturist yesterday. Dr. Wang fit me in at 8:30 this morning, and I had it all aced, dressed, checkbook in purse, out to car at 8:00 a.m. - and my car wouldn't even turn over. The battery is only a month old, but the lights had been left on. My little Civic chimes to remind me to turn them off but, I told myself, it isn't idiot-proof. By then, I was focused on my goal, and didn't even bother to get mad, just got in the van and backed it out, chewing up the lawn the way I do. The driveway is narrow, the van is large, I do my best.

I had started my morning writing in my journal about how I don't like to be told to look on the bright side. I can stand it if people want to falsify their own feelings, but I hate it when they try to get me to do it. So I didn't try to generate any positive thoughts about running my car battery down, just focused on the task and drove to the doctor's office, not getting in a wreck.

He listened to my recital, asked a few questions, gently palpated the foot. Then he said, "Which problem is bothering you most?"

I surprised myself by saying, "The anger." It had trumped the foot as I lay awake in the night contemplating the meanness of the dialysis nurse in charge of my care last time. I should have called her up before the licensing board, but I didn't have the energy.

He nodded. "Then we will concentrate on that."

As he applied the alcohol and then the needles, I said, "But it's all one, isn't it?" The idea of a holistic self is foundational in Chinese medicine, which makes it so different from the Western medicine with its specialists in pieces and parts and chemicals that haven't been adequately studied.

"Yes," he said, speaking clearly, because I had, of course, forgotten my hearing aids. He went on. "Spring is the time of wood, and wood opens the Liver, where anger is stored. So it is very easy to get angry right now."

This clicked in place for me as an interested student of medical systems. I knew that Wood is the creative energy. And I had already written two poems that morning, literally woke up with one going in my head.

"Too much wood," I said. "Is the antidote metal?" Yes.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is based on an elaborate theory of energies, and includes a theory of constitutions: we are made of combinations of five elements. Years ago I determined that I was a person who benefitted from the element metal when I felt scattered - which translates in daily life as structure, schedule, calm activities.

So here I am, much improved by the treatment and determined to make lists, meditate, and read unexciting things. It is working. I do not feel in nearly so much danger of sending out furious e-mails and initiating lawsuits. Though I like to think I might when I get organized.


  1. What a helpful post, and a wonderful blog. I am glad I found your blog! I hope that you feel better soon.

  2. I can't fit it in my head to study two traditions at once, but it's so interesting when the Ayurvedic and TCM traditions intersect so nicely. It's also the time of accumulation for Pitta dosha right now. All it takes is a spicey meal and whoosh goes the anger level. I'm going as green as I can...asparagus, curly endive, sprouts. Cool yoga, cool breathing...especially cool breathing. I don't have anything against western medicine per se except that if doesn't take into consideration the affects of time of day, time of life, time of year on a body and mind. I'm glad the TCM doc helped.

    I have the beginnings of a blog post in my head about the blogs of friends, but just haven't had a moment to compose it yet. I don't comment on your blog very often but I read it faithfully and it always makes me smile, or laugh, or nod in agreement, or just be amazed at the beauty of language in skillful hands.

  3. I found your blog from the kidney support list. I have been doing PD for 4 years now. I hope all is well for you. I really like reading your words.