Wednesday 30 October 2013

Lee’s Story – Part 5/7: Acceptance

I then took a holiday break so wasn't able to see Lee again for a couple of weeks, by which time things had taken a dramatic turn for the worse and he was now back in the Hospice.

Lee was on maximum pain relief and barely conscious by this time, and though he was unable to acknowledge those present around him, I know he would have recognised and taken comfort from the distinctive smell of the oil I used to massage his hands and feet, and he would have been familiar with the warmth and touch of my hands.

At this time, I could feel no pulses whatsoever, so I thought needling to be futile at this stage. His hands and feet were very swollen and bruised due to circulation failure and administration of warfarin to disperse a clot in an artery. It was clear to me that he was very close to the end of his life, and so I felt it enough to reassure those around him and to show them certain stress-relieving acupressure points that they could do for Lee.

I was very saddened to hear that Lee lost his fight for life in the early hours of the next morning. I did learn however, that his mother had indeed made the trip from the US, and they had spent some quality time together and hopefully were able to resolve the issue relating to Lee’s childhood.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Lee's Story - Part 4/7: Forgiveness

I continued to see Lee at home and he was in good spirits, though his breathing was once again becoming laboured. I was finally able to use moxa* again and he really benefited from its warming effect on a particularly nourishing point. Lee’s breathing eased significantly after treatment and I noticed that some warmth had finally returned to his hands.

He was able to talk lucidly and candidly, but was anxious because he had been tetchy with Nicki. He said he didn't want to be like that with her but didn't seem able to stop himself. I explained that his Guardian Element** was extremely out of balance and that anger and resentment were classic tell-tale signs. I also told him that it was typical of this Element to need a throng of people around them, and like a child, they were likely to feel abandoned when people didn't respond to their every beck and call. As it turned out, this was exactly how he had been feeling.

He told me that he had felt abandoned for most of his life, and he harboured a deep-seated anger and resentment towards his mother, relating to a particular incident in his childhood (he never told me exactly what it was). He had never broached the subject with his mother, and as she was now living in the US they hadn't seen each other for 15 years, but had spoken briefly every couple of months.

His mother was coming over to the UK in a couple of weeks time and he agreed that this was likely to be his last chance to talk about the issue and hopefully bring about some degree of resolution, acceptance and forgiveness. He also agreed that whilst it was easy to point fingers of blame, it was also possible to find the ability to understand and hopefully forgive.

There are times when a parent or carer is only able to give their limited best at any particular time, especially if they are struggling with their own emotional turmoil. Sometimes this may not feel nearly enough to satisfy the child’s emotional needs and he may be left wanting more, or wondering why it is that he doesn’t deserve more. Some may equate this feeling to that of being abandoned.

*moxa - a dried herb, mugwort, which is burned and used to warm points before needling

**Guardian Element – our dominant element (one of Fire, Earth, Metal, Water or Wood) which brings a particular emphasis or quality to our lives. The Guardian Element bears the brunt of any trauma and stress we may be experiencing, showing its distress by becoming out of balance and through physical and emotional signs. 

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Lee's Story - Part 3/7; Transition

When I next saw Lee I just couldn’t believe my eyes – what a transformation! He was sitting up in bed and was able to chat lucidly and freely. He said that the last treatment was amazing and he felt as though something had definitely shifted. His visitors later that evening all commented that they could see his old self was back again, something they hadn’t seen for a very long time. Lee told me that he felt very strong, in fact he used the words 'normal again', and he knew absolutely that this was not his time to go. 

I continued to visit Lee twice weekly in the Hospice and he seemed to be going from strength to strength, despite a major setback a couple of weeks previously. At that time, he had been doing very well indeed - he was no longer reliant upon oxygen, his breathing was normal, he had good pain control and had regained his appetite. In acupuncture terms, his pulses had regained their balance and I was treating him very minimally, purely on command points.

However, things went pear-shaped a couple of days later when his bowels appeared to be blocked – in an attempt to regain weight, he had been eating an enormous amount of food (2500 calories per day) but his bowels had stopped working (probably due to the morphine and other drugs) and nothing was getting through. He was once again in tremendous pain, had a stomach drain in situ, was nil by mouth and was scheduled to have ileostomy surgery. The pulse imbalance had returned with a vengeance, he was in very low spirits and did not feel up to any needling, so I treated him with acupressure instead.

A few days later, I received the message that Lee’s bowels had started to work again and that he had a reprieve from surgery - and when could I come to give him another treatment!  At my next visit, once again I was amazed at the difference in him – the pulse imbalance had disappeared again – in fact, the pulses were the most even to date. This time I performed a gentle ‘clearance’ treatment as before and finished by gently needling just four points.

Lee’s transformation was such that he was allowed to go home after a few weeks, although he continued with his chemotherapy as an outpatient. He told me that he felt the work we were doing together was extremely worthwhile and he really looked forward to his treatments. He said he felt very focussed and strong afterwards, and also relaxed and rested, but energised. Above all, he said that I was probably his only visitor who came without making any demands, physically or emotionally - for which he was immensely grateful.

This experience brings home to me how important it is to be aware of our own emotions and to maintain a balance, especially through difficult times, where words can be superfluous - a mere presence can be enough. It was certainly very humbling for me to see such a change occur with just the simplest of means and good intention.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Lee's Story - Part 2/7: Coincidence

It was shortly after my first encounter with Lee that I found myself on the train, returning from an Acupuncture Clincial Skills CPD day in London. I was reading a book written by my Tutor and came upon a very moving chapter describing her last few treatments of a patient with terminal cancer. This was a very poignant moment for me as it was whilst I was reading this that I received a text message from Nicki telling me of Lee’s diagnosis and asking whether I would be willing to treat him in hospital. I of course agreed, thankful for the strength and insight I had gained from reading of my Tutor’s experience.

When I was finally able to see Lee again, he was an in-patient at the Hospice.  I had mentally planned my treatment options, only to be told by the staff that I wasn't to put needles in his chest or back. He was barely able to talk because of the breathlessness, and his wrist pulses were completely out of balance. I contemplated a *re-balancing treatment but thought him to be too weak to tolerate too many needles, so in the end I needled two points in one foot only, which sent him off to sleep for half an hour or so. 

As an ex-asthmatic myself, I know how incredibly tense my back used to get during an attack and so I offered to gently massage his back, which he was very grateful for, and proceeded to massage neck, shoulders, arms, hands and feet for about an hour. He was visibly more relaxed afterwards and his breathing had become much less laboured, and so at this point I took my leave.

It was at this point that I felt forever indebted to my Tutor for instilling in me the courage to do less in order to do more, and to carry out my treatments with utmost humility. Sometimes it’s not about trying to make a patient better, it’s more about offering comfort and understanding, as gently and as calmly as possible.

*Re-balancing treatment – H/W imbalance – the sum total of energy in the right-hand pulses far outweighs that of the left-hand pulses, which show serious depletion. Often a sign of resignation in the patient. Can be caused by conflict or unhappiness in a relationship.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Lee's Story - Part 1/7: Movement

My good friend Nicki approached me on Lee’s behalf as she was at the end of her tether. Her partner, Lee, had been very unwell for several months and had been admitted to A&E on numerous occasions due to bouts of excruciating pain. Upon each admittance, he had been dosed up with morphine before being discharged a few hours later. The medics had been unable to come up with any specific diagnosis as preliminary tests had been inconclusive and blood tests had not shown up signs of any cancer markers.

Nicki asked me if I would be willing to treat Lee with Acupuncture, to which I agreed – they were both open to alternative therapies and were by now becoming increasingly frustrated with the apparent lack of progress via the conventional western medicine route.

When I saw Lee for the first time he was complaining of severe abdominal pain, had lost a huge amount of weight and was by now having difficulty breathing. He was unable to lie down and had been sleeping in an upright position for several weeks.

I decided that what Lee really needed first and foremost was for somebody to listen to what he had to say. He needed to be heard and understood – he also needed to get the treatment ball rolling as quickly as possible and to maintain momentum. It is at times like these that the wait for test results and follow-up appointments seems like an eternity, and the feeling of helplessness and lack of control can breed frustration, resentment and fear.

We therefore scheduled the first two treatments in very quick succession.  I spoke at length with Lee about his medical history and of events in his life, both past and present. I was able to carry out two simple *‘clearance’ procedures and also needled just two points bilaterally, with the intention of strengthening his constitution.

After the treatments, Lee said he felt relaxed and energised and went out for his first walk in months. He cancelled his third treatment as he was admitted into hospital for chest x-rays and investigations (finally), whereupon it emerged that he had a very aggressive form of lung cancer (secondary), with the primary suspected in the large intestine. He started chemotherapy there and then, but expressed a wish to carry on with his acupuncture treatments as soon as he was able.

The aim of Five Element Acupuncture is always to keep the treatments as simple as possible and to use as few needles as possible. Each needle carries a distinct message and it would be very easy to overwhelm a patient by over-zealous needling at this early stage.

*Clearance procedures – ID’s and AE drain - intended to enable the patient to let go of unwanted, negative emotions associated with past traumatic events. Can be a block to treatment and self-healing if left untreated.