Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Continued from the previous post

In the months before I went to Seattle I had been in the depths of despair, and I went to see a therapist for a little while. When I told her my decision to go see Dr. X, one comment she made stuck with me. She said, “Well, if you have been sick for six years you shouldn’t expect to get better in just a few months. I would think it would take quite some time to reverse what has been going on in your body.”

I don’t know if for other people it has been this way, but while I was the most sick, especially when I didn’t have a diagnosis or any way of making sense of it, I lived with the amorphous idea at the back of my mind that at any moment I would be cured quickly. It wasn’t something that I consciously expected, I certainly worked with doctors and gave them time to help me (I gave one acupuncturist a year before realizing I hadn’t made progress); it was just that it continued to seem so absolutely strange, so alien to me that I couldn’t get up and walk around, that the opposite of this state of affairs, i.e. a simple cure, seemed of course the most normal, natural thing in the world, like water running downhill.

So when this woman said to me it was only logical that it would take some time for me to get better, even with the best doctor, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. It did, however, bring me down to earth. I realized I had been secretly harboring a childish expectation, and it was time to put it to rest. I would go to Dr. X with an open mind, and I would give her time. I couldn’t expect instant miracles. The plan was for me to spend three months in Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle, getting as much medical care as I could before I returned to DC and continued with treatment I could do at home in DC.

My mother and I arrived at our first day eager and excited. When the appointment finally started, an hour and a half after it was scheduled, we weren’t disappointed. Before I arrived Dr. X had asked me to write out a medical history, starting from before my birth (was their anything while I was in the womb?), and she went over this in detail. She asked a myriad of questions about my illness now, and wrote up a list of tests she wanted me to get done right away. When I told her I was concerned I might still have parasites from my time in Mexico, she called a doctor at the University of Washington with expertise in that area, and asked him what test she should be running for me. These were added to the list.

As an osteopath (OD instead of MD), Dr. X believed the alignment of the bones had an effect on the health of the body, and vice-versa. After the medical history she did a twenty minute physical exam, with an assistant taking notes on the length of my legs, the minute torques in my hips, the tension in my neck and arms, etc. Before she was done she had her receptionist scheduling me to get orthodics and see a dentist to begin an elaborate process to correct a misalignment in my bite, which was causing me all sorts of TMJ-related headaches.*

By the end of that first appointment, I was hooked. No one had ever taken that kind of time with me, cared so much about my symptoms, or made that kind of effort to work with other doctors. When we left I was tired and very hungry—it was close three o’clock and we had arrived at the office at ten am—but I also excited and hopeful once again.

As we ate an extremely late lunch after the appointment, my mother and I talked over events. The most surprising thing had been that Dr. X was extremely overweight. (Just to round out the description, she also had short white hair and a friendly smile.) My mother said despite her weight, Dr. X gave the impression of being strong. I had to agree, she somehow didn’t look unhealthy, although we usually equate obesity with poor health in our society. When it comes to doctors, we expect them to at least look healthy. Perhaps it was Dr. X’s confidence and strength of character that kept us from judging her too quickly.

One thing was clear from our interactions with her: she was going to do things the way she thought was best, ad she didn’t really care what anyone else thought. Her medical practice was radically different from any other I had encountered, and it impressed me that she had the wherewithall to pull it off.

* These things turned out to be fabulous turned out to be fabulous. The dentist made a small appliance that fit over my teeth and was calibrated to make my bite line up in the position that would have my jaw, head and spine as relaxed as possible. My upper body had been locked with tension for years, but I felt the change as soon I started using it. It worked beautifully.

As for the orthodics, once I had them most of the aching in my legs went away. I still tired out very quickly, but I no longer had the immediate sensation when I stood up that my legs just couldn’t handle it. With both the dental appliance and the orthodics, the quality of my tiredness changed. This may not sound like much, but it was. My body was no longer a tense gridlock of aching muscles, day and night. I could actually rest, that is, lie down and feel a sense of peace, my whole being now hummed with the productive work of rest.

For anyone dealing with this kind of chronic fatigue, I suggest looking into orthodics. They are relatively inexpensive and insurance usually covers them. The appliance for my bite was not at all cheap, but worth it if you can afford it and are absolutely miserable with TMJ. This a world away from a normal night-guard any standard dentist will give you. The dentist I saw was Dr. Rhys Spoor.

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