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Animal Parts & Pinto Beans

How do you feel about drinking a medicinal herbal tea? Do animal parts bother you? These are the questions that D, my superhero acupuncturist, asked me today. I’m game for the tea (which doesn’t actually have tea in it, but is a bunch of herbs steeped in water), but animal parts?

While some patients may prefer to not know which animals they’re partaking in, all I could think of was fuzzy kittens. Not that I really think kittens are used in Chinese herbs, but it was the worst thing I could think of. So D told me that the “animal parts” are scorpions and centipedes.

Conceptually, I can do bugs. D’s concocting a custom blend to treat my specific ailments, so we’ll see how willing I am when I have the tea in hand.

On to more common foods… I ate a pinto bean burrito with no ill effects! I hope, hope, hope that this is at least one bean that’s not a headache trigger food. Maybe I can be a lacto-ovo-pinto bean vegetarian.

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“You’re Gonna Be So High”

Saturday was a warm and sunny day at Vegoose, the music festival where we spent the weekend. Although everyone around me was standing and dancing, I laid in the grassy field outside of Las Vegas with my eyes closed, soaking up vitamin D.

I’d been a good patient and remembered to take my Chinese herbs with me to take throughout the day. I needed two doses of four of each of two kinds of herbs. Space in the backpack was at a premium so I crammed all 16 gel caps into an Advil bottle.

I realized my fatal mistake when I remembered to take my first dose — the two different pills are almost identical. To sort them into the two required doses, I had to sniff them all, looking for the ones with the stronger scent.

After a few minutes of this, a friend leaned down to tell me that everyone one around us was staring, trying to figure out what kind of cool new drug I was taking. My hands shaking, as they always do, signaled to onlookers that I was desperate for my fix.

I threw back all eight pills at once and a man said, “You’re gonna be so high.” Little did he know that less headache pain was the only high the herbs could offer.

Lying back on the grass, I couldn’t stop smiling. Everyone around us thought that I was on a massive dose of some mind-altering drug. And there was no way I could convince them otherwise. (“No, really, it’s medicinal Chinese herbs.” Who’d believe that?)

I laugh now imagining the stories told to friends about the drugged-out woman at the Raconteurs show.

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Afterglow Diminished

The glow of Tuesday’s wonderful acupuncture session dimmed after yesterday’s appointment. I went in feeling great, walked out feeling OK but a little foggy, and two hours later was hit with a bad headache. Even worse, I was visited by another migraine in the night and it was accompanied by dizziness.

It’s not like I expected acupuncture to be a miracle treatment (’cause I no longer believe in those), but it was still a letdown. It sucks that what looked so promising on Tuesday was such a disappointment on Wednesday.

It’s funny though. I am disappointed, but not devastated. I’ve accepted that I may never have a headache-free day again. I go into any treatment knowing that the odds are against me. (Don’t be too quick to label me pessimistic. It’s that I recognize the limitations of treatments and accept whatever the outcome may be. Really.) My hopes weren’t too high to begin with.

But now that I’ve glimpsed my former energetic, clear-thinking self, I want her back. Having the goal just out of reach and it’s success out of my control is frustrating. It’s exciting too because now I know that my body still holds the possibility.

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Something About February

For the last three Februaries, I’ve been inspired to consider new ways to manage my CDH and migraine. Maybe it’s that this month usually gives a reprieve from the rain. After two months in hiding, a visit from sunshine and blue skies inspire people throughout the city. (You may think I’m being melodramatic, but it’s hard to believe until you see it.)

This year I’m revisiting naturopathic medicine. After trying numerous treatments with no success, I had stopped considering this option. Then I realized that conventional medicine hasn’t done much better. It’s taken a while to get here because I’m rooted in the beliefs of Western medicine. I’m more open to the idea now that I’m no longer seeking something to rid me of pain. It feels more like an adventure, not a desperate attempt for relief.

Next Thursday I have a 90-minute long first visit, where I’ll meet with a care team. We’ll formulate a plan for my treatment — which could include dietary changes, supplements, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, homeopathy and biofeedback — and decide what happens next.

Studies of acupuncture and other complementary therapies indicate that the treatments themselves don’t seem to help much, but that patients feel better because they receive personal attention from caring providers. Even if it’s a sort of placebo effect, I’m fine with anything that makes me feel better or more relaxed.

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Understanding Acupuncture on Western Medicine’s Terms

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture uses needles inserted at specific points in the body to redirect one’s qi, or energy flow, when it is out of balance and causing illness. Western medicine’s view is that acupuncture seems to be effective for certain ailments, but there’s no consensus on theories of how it works.

However it works, medical studies indicate that acupuncture is most effective for nausea and pain. Sounds good, huh?

The LA Times recently published an article describing traditional and modern views of acupuncture and some of the current medical ideas and beliefs about it. It’s a fascinating read that’s not too long. I’m too tired to summarize it accurately, but trust me that it’s worth a look.

[9/21/06: This article is no longer available. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine provides similar information.]