The Desperate Patient … who finds her way

As an acupuncturist, I frequently get desperate phone calls, e-mails, and texts from patients that have exhausted every avenue trying to cure their affliction and in a last ditch, “what the hell effort,” have decided to give acupuncture a try. OY!! These patients tend to be my hardest cases, as they are frustrated, scared, angry, mistrusting, and downright exhausted from seeking help and getting none.

Sometimes their expectations are high — they want a miracle to occur and want to be healed in one to two treatments just like their friends, colleagues, or spouses. Other times their expectations are low — they are total non-believers in Chinese Medicine, but there are no other choices left for them to try but this “voodoo” medicine. Starting a relationship with either too much or too little trust and unrealistic expectations is a tough way to begin.

It is a hard road working with and educating the so-called “difficult-to-treat patients” that are most often discarded from the western medical community. These patients are sometimes labeled “crazy,” “difficult,” “non-compliant,” “not listening,” “too demanding,” ”hysterical,” or just plain “silly.” This may be so, but to get shuffled off to another expert while being left without answers and meaningful treatment plans seems unfair.

This is the very type patient that called me last year. The patient, Anita, was utterly distraught and very frightened about her health condition when we first spoke on the phone. She came for a consultation after getting my name from a very satisfied colleague.
Anita wanted to have a face-to-face meeting to discuss her health issues before committing to acupuncture or herbal treatment.

It was a fall day when Anita, a very sweet, pleasant, Caucasian, premenopausal woman of 49 years, came to my office for our first consultation. She was a professional, working in the financial sector for the past twenty-five years, and was surrounded by a supportive family and many friends. Her heritage was of Ecuadorian decent and her diet reflected this cultural background. Her primary care physician had been treating her for hypertension for the past five years. It was when her hypertension was no longer under control with her current medication that all the major problems begin to unfold. Her physician had recently placed Anita on another hypertensive medication that seemed to have caused a severe allergic reaction.

After several days on this new medication Anita developed facial pain in her left cheek, eye, and had pain radiating up to her forehead. She had the feeling of “fireworks” going off on the top of her head as well as a dull throbbing on the entire left side of her face twenty-four hours a day. She was light and heat sensitive and felt best in a cool dark room.

When we spoke, she covered the left side of her face with her hands and asked me to lower the shades in the sundrenched room. She could go to work and function, but had to wear a hat and dark glasses when going outside in the daylight. The constant “fireworks” and throbbing had left her exhausted and frightened.

Her many doctors: her primary care physician, endocrinologist, neurologist, and cardiologist, all deemed her healthy and able to continue on with the new hypertensive medication in addition to steroids and anti-inflammatory and sleep medications. Anita felt that she was over-medicated and decided to stop all medication.

It was then that I took pause. This was going to be tricky. I can’t condone someone not taking lifesaving medication, but I felt there was another approach that had not been addressed. Even though the primary care physician said that the new hypersensitive medication would not cause the facial/ trigeminal nerve inflammation, I had to disagree. It seemed such a clear cause and effect reaction, especially when she was getting some relief after going off the new hypertensive medication.

When delving further into Anita’s health history, her blood work revealed elevated triglycerides, high cholesterol, pre-diabetic blood sugar levels, and a high A1C level. She also was obese, weighing in at 198 on a 5”5 foot frame. That was causing strain on her muscular skeletal system as well as on all her organs of her body.

We discussed that her diet, sedentary lifestyle, and lack of vigorous exercise were the root causes of many of her medical issues. It was clear that if she continued down this path she would be placed on many more medications for treating diabetes and high cholestorol, as well as diuretics, hormone replacement drugs, steroids to control her facial nerve condition, and of course more hypertensive medication.

Even though Anita was one of the most conscientious patients when following the advice of her medical doctors, she was never given lifestyle advice, up until now. Her diet and exercise was the first issue at hand. She was so motivated to control her own health without drugs that she was eager to do whatever it took to become healthy.

We started with taking all dairy, white flour, and sugar out of her diet and we added in three to five servings of vegetables, two fruit servings of apples or berries, and thirty minute walks every day. She stopped eating all fast foods for lunch — no more Pizza Hut, Subway, and McDonald’s for her — now it was salad bars and soups for lunch. Her staple cultural diet of white rice, heavy meats, and surgery deserts where a thing of the past. She was eating lean proteins, quinoa, brown rice, healthy morning smoothies, and snacks of fruits and vegetables.

Her official Chinese Medicine diagnosis was “spleen qi vacuity with heart fire and uprising of liver heat,” not something that I would discuss with her primary care physician. She was treated with weekly acupuncture treatments for 3 months and when her blood pressure and facial pain were more under control, her treatments were then tapered down to every other week for the past year. Her treatments focused on reducing inflammation around her facial nerves, increasing her metabolic rate, regulating her thyroid and blood pressure, and reducing stress.

She was also treated with herbs and nutrition supplements. The formulas I used were Dan Shen Pian to improve her facial pain and circulation and Tian Ma Gou Tang Pian to help control her blood pressure. These combined treatments worked very well to improve her health crises.

I also had an arrangement with Anita that she was to see the office nurse for weekly blood pressure checkups and readings when she came to the office for her acupuncture treatments. Only if her blood pressure remained stable would I continue treating her while she was not taking western medications. I am not reckless with my patients’ health. This is all about integration of healthcare, not abandonment of all the advances of our modern day healthcare.

Anita’s motivation to be drug free propelled her into a new way of living. She is now in charge of her own health. Her weekly acupuncture treatments, herbal protocol, and exercise program enabled her to lose twenty-five pounds, control her blood pressure, and reduce her facial nerve pain to a barely noticeable level. She is still working on losing more weight and continues with her new healthy eating plan.

Anita and I have been working together for one year now and she continues to delight and surprise me with her dedication to continue on the path towards better health. At her annual checkup this past month, all her doctors were amazed at her improved blood work, blood pressure, reduction in facial pain, and her weight loss. She told me that when she told them that she was using herbs and acupuncture to control her facial pain and blood pressure, her doctors’ “mouths gapped wide open.”

Anita is still a work in progress, but aren’t we all? Taking personal responsibility is the reason Anita has had so much success towards improving her health and life, free of prescription drugs. If we all take responsibility of our own health, we might all be as healthy and successful as Anita — and I hope to continue to help people on their personal journeys to well-being.