Part 3: An Integrative Approach to Pain after a Motorcyle Accident

What is integrative medicine or integrative healthcare?

“It is a healing-oriented medicine that takes into account the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle,  emphasizes the therapeutic relationship, and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and complementary”  Andrew Weil  2011

Let me give you a personal example of an integrative approach to the treatment of pain that incorporated medical treatment, community support, energy healing, acupuncture, and nutritional therapy:

My husband was in a bad motorcycle accident in 2009, he fractured 9 ribs, had a partially collapsed lung, fractured both wrists, and his right ankle/fibula received the impact of the truck that turned into him as he was passing it.   He was in the trauma unit for 4 days.  His pain was so intense that every breath was painful, he was grateful that he received an automatic morphine drip that kept him in as much ease as possible that first night.  Our classical homeopath friend brought a remedy that first evening that helps with the shock of trauma, every time Alex got a drop, he would feel an immediate sense of relief.  The second day he was allowed to self medicate on that morphine drip, friends and family were calling and visiting, including our bass player who came with Get Well pictures drawn by his twin children whom we had known since age 2 and Alex was receiving Reiki from me whenever we had some alone time between all this tests, check ups, and hospital staff visits.

By the third day he was on oral opiate based medication and lots of prayers had come in from our community as word got out about his motorcycle accident.  That’s when I felt an obvious shift of not being alone, that I wasn’t the only one advocating for Alex not wanting surgery.  He had refused his chest being plated to stabilize his partially collapsed lung because he couldn’t imagine going straight into such major surgery the first night of his accident.  His lungs didn’t get worse the second day and Alex coughed and breathed deep as he was instructed to challenge his lungs to clear the fluid.  He refused surgery in both his wrists because the surgeon had never put pins into the wrists of a professional conga player so couldn’t give him any feedback on that and the worst that would happen if he didn’t get surgery was arthritis, to which we both told the surgeons that acupuncture could help prevent and treat that.

By the fourth day, Alex completed walking once around the hospital floor, it was like finishing a marathon! He nearly fainted from the effort of walking but he did it!  The attending surgeon that saw him walking back to the room this fourth day told him that according to his chest X-rays and the fluid in his lungs, he couldn’t see how he could be walking already. I was so frustrated by this point at the apparent push for surgery and lack of motivational support on their part that I retorted, “Doctor, are you treating the person or are you treating an X-ray?!”  To which he replied, “I’m treating the person.  We are going to discharge you today because there is nothing we can do for you anymore.  You are more susceptible to a bad infection if you stay longer”.  Though we are grateful the hospital has a good emergency unit and were thorough with their testing to make sure no rock was left unturned, it was a challenge to be there constantly asking questions and having to be his advocate.

The next challenge was coming home and figuring out how to best help him heal.  These were the key aspects Alex needed: 1) Immune support so his lungs wouldn’t get a respiratory infection as coughing caused excruciating pain with the fractured ribs, there was a risk that the fluid in his lungs could harbor a bacterial infection  2)  Energy and blood glucose support so that his blood circulation would be as efficient as possible and the nutrients would get to his organs, injured tissues, and bones and his adrenals could recuperate  3)  Emotional support from his community and family and filtering from world news or situations that caused anxiety  4) Making sure his pooping and peeing were effective to flush out the inflammation that was naturally occurring in his body to deal with the injuries

Our community of practitioner friends came together to bring him bone broth and food, gave him energy healing sessions, and he got acupuncture almost every day.  He took herbs for his lung trauma and to prevent the fluid from accumulating, supplements and homeopathic remedies to help with tissue, nerve, and bone healing, my mother came to help with cooking and bandaging as I had to start seeing clients after two weeks, Alex didn’t drink beer nor wine for over a month and ate an anti-inflammatory diet of lots of veggies, chicken soup, fish, and whole grains.   He would challenge his body every day to see how much it could move: he went from being happy for just being able to get up from a reclined massage table that he slept on, to being able to make it to the bathroom without me freaking out that he’d fall, to walking out to get the mail two-three weeks after his accident.  Each week my mother would invite him to Hong Kong Dim Sum and the outing would reflect for him how much he was improving.   His physical therapy didn’t start until one month after his accident, so this first month was crucial and I felt he and our community really did everything possible to help him heal quickly.  It also made a difference that he was physically active and ate well before the accident, so his heart was strong.  The attending surgeon at the trauma unit had told him:  “If he was two years older, and his heart wasn’t as strong, he would be in much worse shape.”

During this first month, he took the prescribed opiate painkiller and NSAIDS as well as herbs and homeopathics for pain that work differently from opiates.  What was fascinating for me to discover was that opiates mask the perception of pain, so it’s like the pain is still there but the brain doesn’t perceive it.  We found out that when his opiate pain drug was wearing out after lunch, I’d give him ear acupuncture and with the first point, ShenMen, he would immediately feel an overall relief in his pain levels “like a breath of fresh air”.  As the weeks progressed, his pain levels started to decrease and he was able to move more.  No one could coach us on how or when to get off the opiates, so I continued to treat his pain with acupuncture and herbs.  When he did stop the opiates, he went thru a night of intense anxiety withdrawal symptoms and insomnia that persisted afterwards.  He took one opiate pill a few weeks later after a long day of activity and performing and he felt so terrible that night that he never wanted to take one again.  The opiates had worked exactly how they were meant to work:  they eased the pain during the acute phase and the first few weeks of recovery and helped conserve his energy for the healing process but once the pain wasn’t as bad, they stopped working.  His recovery continued for several years with physical therapy he did on his own, massage, energy healing, acupuncture, and spiritual healing.

I hope this story has given you some insight to the possibilities of incorporating natural medicine with medical interventions.  Your acupuncturist, naturopath, Arvigo practitioner, energy healer, homeopath, herbalist, or functional nutritionist would be happy to help if you or someone you cared about were ever in a similar situation.

My next blog will present integrative treatment for chronic pain and conditions that slowly progressed internally rather than from an external accident.  We will be talking about how Chinese medicine, Arvigo mayan abdominal therapy, massage, nutrition, and energy healing play an important role.

Best wishes, Li-Lan

For more details on our community acupuncture model, visit our blog Acupuncture & Chronic Pain Part 2: The community acupuncture experience

To see a short video on the difference of using acupuncture for treating low back pain and medical treatment using pain medications, visit our blog Acupuncture & Chronic Pain Part 1: Experience the Difference

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