Thursday, May 04, 2006

Heal Thyself

I have issues with Western medicine.

Don't worry - if you break your arm in my presence, I won't suggest an herb poultice and some acupuncture. (Although once the cast comes off, that wouldn't be a bad idea.) However, after my last visit to the physical therapist, I was reminded of the myopic tendencies of many of those I've dealt with in the medical profession.

A very brief summary of my knee's offense is that my IT band (the muscle that runs along the outside of the thigh) is a little too short, and has been since I hit that crazy growth spurt and attained 5'9" by the 7th grade. This made for some awkward Jr. High dances, especially since the boy I liked was 5'6". (My husband informs me that he was even shorter than that at that age, which would have made dancing with him either very awkward or "totally awesome", depending on who you talk to.)

Ahem. Anyway, the muscle couldn't keep up with my bone growth, and the disparity has been pulling my kneecap out of alignment ever since. (Slipping on ice and landing on my knee as a sister missionary didn't really help either, but that's another story for another blog.) During my teen years, I didn't realize what was going on with my knee because I was dealing with the origin of my issues with Western medicine:

When I was 12, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Over the course of my adolescence, I saw many doctors, and their treatment was heavy-duty pain killers and steroids. The result was a slight reduction in pain, and a major increase in weight gain, grogginess, and depression. Eventually I decided that I'd rather live with the pain than with a body full of drugs with scary side effects. Fortunately, my mom had been on a tireless quest for alternative methods of treatment, and, in the end, the things that brought me the most relief were acupuncture, massage, herbal supplements, and prayer. I continued to treat my symptoms the non-Western way until my early 20s, when the pain began to dissipate, and ultimately (Hallelujah!) disappear almost entirely. The doctors were amazed that I suffered no joint damage, and the only symptom I have now is that I get a little achy when a storm's coming in. (I can predict the weather! It's great at parties!)

So, back to my present issues with the West. My recent knee surgery was to get rid of damaged cartilage and de-tighten the IT band (my surgeon is excellent: he's a good Westie), and then it was off to physical therapy. Throughout the next few weeks, I made a little progress, but my muscle was still extremely tight, and I was worried. Each conversation with my PT went something like this:

"So my IT band is still really tight."

"Hmmm. It shouldn't be."

"Well, it is, though. What can I do?"

"Hmmm. Well, the IT band is a really hard muscle to stretch. Are you icing and taking your anti-inflammatory?"

"Yup. So how can I stretch my IT band?"

"Well, it's a really hard muscle to stretch. Keep icing and taking your anti-inflammatory."

She finally showed me one stretch, but subsequent visits proved frustrating and painful. Doing some tearful google research one night, I came upon my salvation: a slim volume entitled Yoga for Healthy Knees. Amazingly enough, ladies and gentlemen, there are many wonderful stretches for the IT band. Many. Wonderful. Stretches. Within the first week, I started noticing a major difference. Now, 2 months later, my leg feels happier than it has in years. Am I still icing and taking my anti-inflammatory? Well, I'm icing, and once in a while I pop a pill. Certainly the surgery has a lot to do with my knee's recovery, but it wouldn't be nearly as happy without the yoga.

So, while I'm definitely not in the Tom Cruisey camp of natural healing (heaven help Ms. Holmes if she gets post-partum depression), I do think that Western medicine's approach could do with a lot less treating the body as a battleground (and smothering symptoms with drugs), and a lot more exploration of the mind/body connection, seeking out the true sources of our ailments, and working with the body to heal itself. Also, more IT band stretches.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go snack on some seaweed and aloe vera juice.


c jane said...

Amen Emmie, well-written.

AzĂșcar said...

Western medicine and I are in a fight.