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Adventures In Acupuncture

First, a little background...

If you're new here, or haven't read all the archived columns, then you probably don't know that I am virtually blind.  I was diagnosed two years ago with multiple sclerosis, after losing my sight entirely.

It happened one afternoon, when I had a sudden and overwhelming loss of energy, not unlike the onset of a bad flu.  I laid down for about five minutes, and when I opened my eyes, I was profoundly blind.  It was that fast.  By the next day, it had gone from white-out to completely black, except that I could detect certain high-contrast patterns in the lower part of my vision.  Strangely, light sources appeared more black that everything else, and LCD displays appeared to be glowing purple rectangles.

That began about a three month odyssey through multiple hospitals and nearly a dozen specialists.  I spent a week in the hospital (AINI here in Jakarta), where I was pumped full of powerful steroids.  After getting out, I continued on the steroids orally for another month. I had CAT scans and MRIs, only to find lesions on the optic nerves, called sclera, which were blocking the signals.

Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease in which the immune system, for no known reason, attacks the myellin sheath covering all the nerves in your body.  The attack leaves scar tissue, called sclera, that inhibits the nerves from tranferring information.  The disease usually hits the sensory nerves first, or at least those are the ones you notice the most.  The attack results in blindness, deafness, muscle spasms, loss of feeling in extremities, and a number of other fun things.  Eventually, it affects motor nerves and people are left in wheelchairs, unable to walk and with no sense of balance.

After six months in and out of different clinics and hospitals, I was told that there is nothing allopathic medicine can do, but offer medication that supposedly slows the progress of the disease while imparting many unsavory side effects.  Otherwise, if I had another attack, they could pump me full of steroids again and hope that I regain a little ground.

If I were living in America, that would probably be it.  Either swallow nasty pills for the rest of my life and hope I get a couple of extra years, or pray and hope.  But, I live in Asia, where there are far more options for my health care.

I started researching and using herbal treatments and vitamins, with some success here and there, but nothing stunning.  Then I came across the Pacific College of Asian Medicine, in California of all places.  They had several testimonials from people who had suffered from MS for 15 years or more, and they were jumping up and down (literally) after receiving acupuncture.  They had regained a good amount of eye-sight, sensation in their limbs and various other benefits.

Well, I thought, here I am a stone's throw from China.  Surely I can find good acupuncture here.  After asking around, the consensus was a clinic over by Old Town, not too far from my house.

So, all of this set-up is to introduce a weekly feature here on Sunday.  Today I had my first session and I intend to chronicle the progress and experience for the benefit of others who might be able to use the information.

The modality involves two hours a week in the clinic.  All of the information I have found says that it's best to combine the acupuncture with other modalities, so I am adding ginko biloba and skullcap to my vitamin regimen, which already includes vitamin C, D3, Calcium, Royal Jelly, and a good quality multi-vitamin.  By way of disclaimer, I am using the Nature's Bounty vitamins, since I know the national marketing director here in Indonesia.

I will attempt to accurately relay all benefits and side-effects that I feel.  The treatment will last about three months on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.  Each session last 30 minutes, with another 30 for set-up and clean-up.  Total cost per session is IDR 46,000 ($5.39), which includes a IDR 3,000 surcharge for using more than 8 needles.

As a starting point, I will describe the symptoms as they are now.  First, I am virtually 100% sight-loss in the right eye, and the left is something like wrapping a pair of amber Oakley's in fine gauze and smearing the center with Vaseline.  I also have no color vision in the center of field of view.  There is still some in the peripheral view of both eyes.  I have regular 'pins and needles' in my lower legs and intermittent muscle spasms in my lower legs and lower back.  There is little to no feeling at all in the middle three toes on both feet.  My ears ring almost constantly and my sense of balance is completely wonky.  On some days, and after eating certain foods, I get tremors in my hands.  Not bad, but bad enough.

After entering the clinic and registering, as usual, I was taken into the treatment area, which consisted of maybe 20 walled-off cubicles with draped entries.  The first order of business was to consult with the sin she, a small, middle-aged woman named Tjoe.  I described the symptoms, just as I did above.  She took my pulse and blood pressure, looked at my tongue and asked about appetite and bowel movements, as well as liver.  I explained I had no problems related to internal organs, just sensory and motor control.  She had never heard of multile sclerosis (it's very rare among Asians).

I was then taken to a cubicle, where I removed my shoes and laid on a padded table.  After a couple of minutes, the sin she came in and placed the needles: one on either side of the back of my neck just under the skull, one in front of each ear, one under each eye, one over each eye, one in each temple.  The placements corresponded to the locations of the primary facial nerves and the roots of the long thoracic nerves.  One needle was placed in the webbing between the thumb of forefinger of both hands.  Finally, one in the top of each foot.

The placement of the needles was somewhat uncomfortable, but not particularly painful.  I had rather interesting sensations that so far, I am at a loss to describe.  It was kind of a cross between a sever tickle and a twinge, if that makes any sense.  The ones in my hands and feet were almost unnoticed.  The one that hurt the most was the one in front of my left ear, which corresponded to a spot where I've had occasional pain for many years in the jaw joint.

At that point, the sin she left and her assistant came in.  She hooked a device to the needles in my face.  It produced electric pulses that caused my face muscles to flinch about ten times a minute.  After starting the treatment, she left and I laid there for about 30 minutes.

The sensation was slightly uncomfortable, particularly at the left jaw joint.  If I flaxed a certain muscle on that side, I got a quick jolt of pain, however, if I lay still and let my mind wander, it was almost pleasant.

I drifted off and before I knew it, the assistant had turned off the pulse device and was disconnecting the leads.  She then removed the needles and swabbed the points with alcohol, as was done when they were inserted.

When I opened my eyes, I immediately noticed that things were considerably brighter, as though more lights had been turned on.  As I got up from the table, I felt more balanced, stonger in my stance.  I had a slight headache that followed the 11th facial nerve up the left side of my face.  Strangely, I had a hard time focusing my eyes.  Things seemed blurry, or at least more than usual, even with my glasses.

I was told that when I got home, I was to rub the needle points 20 times each, and then press the heals of my hands directly in front of my ears and drum my fingers along the back of my back of my head for a few seconds, and then release quickly.

When I walked outside (my stride was much steadier), it seemed quite a bit brighter than before.  I also noticed right away that I could see the color yellow quite vividly, which I hadn't seen for two years.  I have been able to see saturated blues, but now I could discern different hues of blue.  I still can't see green at all, and I can barely see red in most cases.

By evening, my eyes were focusing again and I've been able to see details that I haven't seen before.  For example, when I looked at people's faces, they were blank except for dark spots where the eyes, nose and mouth were.  It made it quite difficult to recognize people unless they talked to me.  This evening, I can see quite a bit of detail in my wife's face and in those of my neighbors and friends, details I have never seen before.

The changes are very subtle, but if you haven't been able to see certain colors and details for two years, the small differences jump out like neon signs.  As I sit here writing, I notice that the muscle spasms in my legs have stopped, my lower back pain is gone, and the toes which haven't had any sensation for a long time feel very warm, though still a bit numb.

Because of my poor sense of balance and lack of feeling in my toes, I had developed a kind of 'old man' shuffle when I walked.  Tonight, I notice that I am walking normally and confidently, though I have the advantage of knowing my current surroundings very well.  The big test will be unfamiliar locations, which have been the most difficult for me.

I am quite impressed with the results after only one treatment.  There is still a long way to go, but I am encouraged.  The course of treatment will include one hour every Wednesday and Saturday for the next three months.  I will post results as I go every Sunday, for those who are interested.  If you or someone you know has issues with motor or neural function, then you may want to pay attention.  As I mentioned, I am combining the acupuncture with my usual vitamin regimen, plus ginko biloba and skullcap, which are recommended for brain and nerve function.  When i find a good source, i will add Goji berry, as well.

What will be most interesting to see is if alternative treatments offer hope, if not outright cures, where Western pill pushing fails.  As far as allopathic medicine, I was given no hope of recovery and only a chance of maintaining current condition through life-long pill popping.  Could it be that an ancient technique offers hope where none exists in 'modern' medicine?  Could it be that socialized medicine and Big Pharma don't want people cured, but rather addicted to life-long quackery?

Stay tuned...

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