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Acute Injury: How to Heal Rapidly

This is a personal story highlighting the power of Chinese Medicine and meditative mind practice in treating injury. Since I'm lying with a bum ankle elevated rather than treating patients today, its a great opportunity to highlight injury treatment from the Eastern perspective. Also, the nature of pain is eternally fascinating; we have a lot to learn, and its time to evolve in our thinking about where pain comes from and how to handle it. When we can do this, it transforms our experience of life.

I'm reminded of a Chinese parable that I think of as the "we'll see" story. In short, its a series of events that goes something like this; a man gets a horse for his son and everyone says "oh how wonderful" and he says "we'll see." The son falls off the horse and breaks his leg, everyone says "oh how awful," and the man says "we'll see." Then the son can't go to war because of his leg and everyone says "oh how wonderful" and the man says "we'll see." And so on; the point being that no one event can truly be judged as good or bad; only time and a broader perspective will tell the how the story goes.

Running full-clip down Mount Philo yesterday, I was certainly thinking "oh how wonderful!" Until I found myself on the ground, having suddenly twisted an ankle, searing pain and swelling flooding in. So many lucky and unlucky parts of the story, but in summary, kind strangers got me off the trail and into my car where I could wait for a friend to come get me. While waiting, I was able to utilize the needles, herbs, and topical ointment I had in an emergency kit. Needles in the opposite ankle and wrist, and capsules of Yunnan Bai Yao to swallow. This is a formula with the primary herb "San Qi," known mostly to stop bleeding, but the formula also helps with inflammation, pain, circulation and trauma. The ointment, "Traumeel," is a homeopathic with the primary ingredient Arnica, applied topically to reduce pain, swelling and bruising.

Having done all I could do, I sat and waited, while the pain intensified. As I noticed I was sweating and holding my breath, I remembered what I experienced at my last Vipassana (10 day silent) meditation retreat; that I am no longer scared of pain. It is a sensation, nothing more or less, and its something that can be watched and noticed, in all of its intensity. When this has been practiced, felt all the way through to the other side, this tool can be called upon during times of acute pain. Immediately I felt better; pain no longer swallowing me up, just my body sending pain signals; rather than overwhelming, just noticing, even interesting!

After calming my body, anxious thoughts began to flood my mind about what this would mean for the rest of my summer, joy of exercise, ability to drive, see patients, and run a business. This is where the "hao la" (all is well) of Qigong practice (meditative movement), and research and experience with neural retraining ( came in. Basically, the brain doesn't know the difference between what is actually occurring and what you tell it is happening; so what you think about what is happening makes all the difference. So I immediately shifted my focus to all the wonderful parts of this story, and my surroundings; that I wasn't at the top when it happened, that it could have been so much worse, all the help I was getting, all the healers I have available to me, the beautiful day, etc.   A calmer mind means a calmer body, thus healing and repair is more easily and quickly available.

My friend took me immediately to an acupuncture treatment, and then to a friend and gifted practitioner, Sylas Navar. Sylas practices Tui Na, which is essentially Chinese Medical Massage. It is the tradition of bone-setters in China; basically, the doctors who put the martial artists back together after they beat each other up. He saw that my external malleolus (ankle bone) was a little out of place, so massaged the area and gave a gentle adjustment. Then covered my ankle in San Huang San, or "herbal ice." This poultice brings the swelling/inflammation down, without the constricting nature of actual ice, and also contains herbs to promote circulation, which is key to healing. Or as Sylas says "movement is life, ice is for dead people." He also gave me an internal Dit Dat Jow, a traditional formula for sprains/bruising/contusions.

After the acupuncture and treatment from Sylas, I was able to bear weight on my ankle. I went home and slept through the night, waking up with only mild swelling, aching and stiffness. No bruising, sharp pain, and no painkillers. Less than 24 hours later, I am ready to drive. Tomorrow, though probably still hobbling, I feel confident enough to go to work.

Am I disappointed and would I prefer that this didn't happen? Of course! But as a friend and I discussed upon returning from our annual visit back to Iowa, to spend time with our close community of family and friends of 30-some years, change is the fabric of life. Ironically, the one constant is the thing that always surprises us, and that we are consistently bucking against. I was reminded of this again just yesterday, before my lucky/unlucky incident. I ran into a patient I treated for fertility, who is about to give birth. This was just after hearing about another patient who is in the hospital with cancer metastases.

Whether its birth, death, or just an injury, perhaps we control even less than we imagine. But what can we control? We can be open to changing our thinking, and this changes everything. As my teacher Liu Ming says, "circumstances do not make your life." Certainly we hope for supportive circumstances and do all we can to work toward that type of life. But when change occurs, we can move with it, and this flow is what healing is all about. This is not esoteric, this is where the rubber hits the road. For instance, could you ever imagine a sprained ankle could heal without ice and Advil? Could you imagine such an injury providing gratitude for friends, healing, and an opportunity to slow down? And what about experiencing first-hand all the tools available for healing, through Chinese Medicine and working with the mind? Not too long ago, I certainly could not have imagined any of this. But as I lie here, drunk on the summer breeze, excited to continue sharing this knowledge and experience one step at a time, I couldn't feel more grateful for falling down a mountain yesterday!

If you'd like to know more about treatment of injury or anything else mentioned here, don't hesitate to contact me. In the meantime, I wish for you a joyful summer, full of movement and ease!