Editor’s Note: Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a lifelong Connecticut resident, avid reader and animal lover who has battled several chronic illnesses since her early twenties. We are pleased to add her to the National Pain Report.
Let’s face it…if you’ve been dealing with a serious injury or illness for any length of time, your faith in doctors has wavered. Many of us grow up believing that doctors can fix anything. This idea is only strengthened by the types of miracles we see on TV or in the news, of surgeries performed in the womb or incredibly rare diseases being treated. “Surely,” you think, “if medical professionals can tackle things like that, what I have is nothing.”
Yet the odds are your experience hasn’t been nearly that easy. Since initially being diagnosed, you’ve most likely been to numerous specialists and tried any number of medications. After my primary physician declared I had lupus and polymyositis in 2003, I traveled up and down the East Coast desperately seeking answers. I visited with doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and Yale-New Haven Hospital, plus hospitals in New York City and Boston. Each time, I was full of hope, waiting for their educated opinions. Each time, I drove home on the verge of tears. How could someone only in her early twenties have something none of these world renowned facilities knew how to fix?
After more than a decade, with a dozen specialists and perhaps thirty different prescription medications (doing who knows what to my insides) I started looking into alternative treatments. Sure, my rheumatologist scoffed; if he couldn’t write a prescription for it, he didn’t think it was worth bothering with. But I reasoned that some of these things, such as reiki or acupressure, have been around for thousands of years. How could that be, if there weren’t in fact something to them?
Over many months, I proceeded to try a number of things, open-minded to essentially anything if I thought it had the slightest potential to help. Some people thought that was a mistake. “It’ll just be a placebo effect,” they insisted. I wasn’t exactly averse to that. In my mind, if I started feeling better, I didn’t care what made it happen, real or imagined.
But despite my best efforts (and quite a large amount of time, cash and energy I didn’t have in the first place) nothing made a difference. First I visited a Chinese herbalist, who took pinches of mysterious-looking plants from various jars with labels I couldn’t read, concocting a remedy I was supposed to boil at home. The first time I tried, the black liquid filled my apartment with a stomach-churning stench. Nevertheless, I soldiered on, taking a sip. For once in my life, luck was on my side; I was at least standing near the kitchen sink when I started to projectile vomit.
I thought I might do better with an American woman, who also did herbal remedies but via capsule form. She listened carefully as I explained my symptoms and the history of my health problems, and then assigned me a few different bottles. After the month passed, I felt no different. The herbalist assured me we’d find the right combination for me; however, it was largely trial and error, and might take any length of time. Of course, I was paying dearly for each trial.
Next came a membership to a local therapeutic swimming pool. I hoped water therapy in a warm-water pool might be just the thing I needed. However, it also meant a number of things I didn’t need. It hadn’t occurred to me that a person with pain and mobility issues might have considerable issues with struggling in and out of a swimsuit in a public locker room. It also wasn’t the best idea, transitioning from warm water to regular room temperature when you have Raynaud’s syndrome.
I wasn’t daunted, however. Just like Western medications, there were still plenty of things I could try, so I didn’t think I should lose heart that quickly. So I proceeded to acupressure and then spinal analysis, neither of which made a blip. I moved on to acupuncture, which might have helped, had I continued. No matter how I tried, I simply could not get over the thought that there were needles in my scalp. (“You can keep them in a while longer, just go back to work with them,” the chiropractor suggested cheerfully. It was all I could do not to shriek.)
I had a co-worker who practiced reiki try a session on my aching wrists. I had a relative try faith healing. I had a few rounds with various “miracle” food items, such as apple cider vinegar. I had copper bracelets and other magnetic jewelry. In short, I went through a veritable whirlwind of alternative treatments, many of which I can’t even recall anymore. It wasn’t important. The bottom line was, nothing worked.
Yet I’m far from discouraged. Just because none of the treatments worked yet doesn’t mean one might not in the future. Everyone is different, in body, outlook, environment and scores of other factors. I refuse to give up, so long as there are still untried options. And neither should you! What difference does it make if a doctor, friend or family member doesn’t believe in it? If you’re in pain and in need of relief, there is no harm in trying…and certainly some possible help.
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