Nine month report

I realized just a little while ago that it has been nine months since Paul’s surgery.

Last month, as I’m sure you noticed, we completely forgot to write up the eight month report. We were focused on other things, which I’d say was a positive sign. (OK, maybe not all sweetness and light, but positive none the less. Paul was dealing with a lot of fears about how things would go on the trip to Houston for my father’s 70th birthday party… but he did deal with them.)

Today was Paul’s 10th day in a row of eating by mouth. His diet is pretty monotonous: chocolate instant breakfast (with or without coffee), various juices, broth and nuts. (This weekend my diet has been monotonous, too; tonight was my fifth meal of turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, etc. in three days. I will note that this has been entirely my choice. Yum.) He says that, after “waking up” his swallowing in the morning, it seems to work better if he doesn’t think too hard about it. However, if he doesn’t think about it at all, he sometimes takes too large a swallow, and ends up coughing and/or clearing his throat a lot.

(Having Paul’s father and my parents here this week had made me aware of how accustomed I’ve become to a certain amount of this coughing and throat clearing. When Paul first started trying to swallow, I’d check to make sure he was OK whenever I heard him cough. Now I only do so when it sounds to me like he’s really struggling… and usually he’s fine. When Paul was taking the first couple of bites of squash soup for Thanksgiving dinner, and having a little trouble with the texture, our parents paused at every cough. I asked if he’d like me to thin the soup, and when he said no, I continued eating. I worried that perhaps I appeared unconcerned, but I know that having his every swallow and cough monitored doesn’t help to him relax and let his throat do its thing.)

During the past few days, Paul has alternated between taking his medications via the tube and by mouth. When taking them by mouth, he pulverizes them as for the tube, and mixes them with his morning IBP mocha or juice. He says that they add a somewhat bitter flavor, which is masked more effectively by the coffee in the mocha than by anything else. The evening meds are more complicated, as they include some oils that don’t easily disperse in water-based liquids. So it will still be a little while longer before the whole procedure is worked out, and he can have the tube removed. And, of course, Dr. Futran and speech pathologist Marie will probably have something to say about that, too.

As part of the Thanksgiving celebration on Thursday, Paul removed the poles for hanging enteral feeding bags from our living room sofa, his office, and our bed. He put away the pump, the poles, the bags, and cleared almost all of the paraphenalia for same off the dresser in our bedroom. With the exception of a few bottles of pills and the syringe used for putting meds in the tube, all things medical have been banished from our bedroom. And today we moved Paul’s beautiful cherry Morris chair out of our bedroom, and returned it to its proper place in the living room. Our bedroom looks like a bedroom again. For this, and the recent improvements that have made it possible, I am very thankful. As it is almost midnight, I’m going to join Paul for some sleep… which, for him, is already in progress. I’ll let him fill you in on acupuncture and more tomorrow.

Thanksgiving

Thanks giving started with my first thoughts yesterday morning.

1. I made it.

2. I’m waking up next to Kimberly.

There were many more after that, but those were plenty big enough.

The celebration day itself, while a far cry from my more typical full-bore feast day, was still quite wonderful and satisfying. My father drove up from Oregon, arriving on Tuesday, and I picked Kimberly’s parents up at the airport on Wednesday, so we had family to share the day with us. The weather was gray and wet, which made sitting inside by the fire all the better, and working in a warm kitchen quite cozy.

My menu consisted of turkey broth, winter squash and apple soup, and apple cider for dessert. I’d made the turkey broth myself, and did a fine job, if I do say so myself. It was quite tasty, and required no adjusting of the seasoning. Kimberly oversaw the preparation of the squash soup, including her first chance to drive our new wand blender. She approves.

The solid food eaters had the squash soup, turkey, cranberries, sweet potato, sauteed greens, gravy and other stuff I didn’t pay attention to. They seemed to like it.

Since I normally work really hard on Thanksgiving, I was somewhat looking forward to taking it easy this year. The compensation for not being able to eat all that food was that I wouldn’t have to cook it, either. This expectation led to me being quite bewildered when I found myself hard at work in the kitchen. Apparently, that same odd brain lesion that keeps Kimberly from being able to learn how to use the espresso maker also impairs her ability to prepare turkey for roasting. The human brain is fascinating, isn’t it? Since the plan was to use a “cooking bag”, a technology that only I have experience with, I altruistically stepped in.

I still got something of a break, since instead of a full bird we were only doing a turkey breast. That made cleaning, handling and prepping much easier. It also gave me the chance to use my favorite Thanksgiving toy, the dual-readout digital electronic probe thermometer, which shows both oven and meat temperatures and adheres magnetically to the outside of the oven. (I did just see a picture in a catalog of a similar device with a wireless display, so you can sit in the living room and check the bird’s temp, which is a near-perfect hybrid of kitchen-gadget lust with nerd-gadget lust. If only it connected with my computer via 802.11g, so I could graph the rise in temperature, and perfectly predict when it would be done. Maybe next year.)

I also somehow ended up making the gravy. I guess this is what comes of being in charge of these things for so long. I had a taste or two of it while cooking, to check the flavor, but didn’t end up trying to have any at the meal. I decided that the very thing gravy is designed to do, be somewhat thick and sticky, would be just the thing that would make it hard for me to swallow. I ended up thinning the squash soup with more broth for that reason, after having had trouble with it at first.

I flatter myself by believing the claims from the solid-food eaters that both the turkey and gravy came out well.

After the meal, and a bit of clean-up, we were all sitting around the living room quite happy, watching the fire and talking. I brought out the finally element of the Davis Thanksgiving tradition, the wafer-thin After Eight mints. I’m happy to report that the chocolate and mint filling dissolve quite well in the mouth, so that I can, with care, swallow them. And they are so high in calories that it was actually worth keeping track of how many I ate for my daily calorie total! My family was enthusiastic in supporting me, consuming their own mints so that I wouldn’t feel alone in my struggle.

Perhaps it was not surprising that no one hurried to get up and go take a walk, despite the break in the rain. In fact, it was a pretty early night for everyone. One of the more pleasant features of the day, although it may seem odd to some of my readers, was that the TV was off until mid-evening, leaving plenty of room for sociability, conversation, and warm, good-food-inspired silences. My dad and I did have a “nightcap” consisting of a good British mystery in the Inspector Lynley series on PBS. No football at all; no wonder I feel out of the American mainstream.

This morning has featured some of the typical day-after chores that are so much a part of the whole process that doing them is actually sort of soothing. Cleaning the last of few pans and dishes that had to sit overnight. Running the assorted dishtowels and so forth through the laundry. Restoring the various appliances and ingredients misplaced in the heat of battle to their proper positions. My dad clambered back into his truck for the drive back to Oregon, and drove off, carrying with him one of the Alexander McCall Smith books we’d been talking about over mints. The tentative schedule for today features taking the two architects in the family to shop for a replacement for the defunct light fixture in our front hall, a pleasantly modest bit of home-maintenance and tool-using, and, of course, left-overs.

Yum.

Giving Thanks

While the past year has been perhaps the most difficult of my life, I have much for which to be thankful. Most importantly, Paul is here with me. At the beginning of this year, we weren’t sure that he would live to see another Thanksgiving. My parents and Paul’s father joined us for Thanksgiving dinner this year. I’m so grateful that we were able to be together.

I first read the following poems while I was in college. They are two that come most often to mind when I feel an upswelling of gratitude for all the ways in which I have been and continue to be blessed.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things,

For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow,

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls, finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced, fold, fallow and plough,

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange,

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;

Praise him.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any-lifted from the no

of all nothing-human merely being

doubt unimaginably You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

-e. e. cummings

I hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving.

Four days and counting

For the past four days, Paul has not used the tube for food. What does this mean? No bags of liquid hanging on the poles by the bed or the sofa. No pump making {whirr-click-click} sounds all hours of the day and evening. No smell of bleach in the kitchen from cleaning the bags for reuse. Those, and the assuaging of the fears about the tube that Paul wrote about recently, are what I would describe as absent negatives.

There have also been, inversely, present positives. (This is sounding almost Rumsfeldian, isn’t it?) Paul has written about some of those as well. Yesterday was a small study in present positives. When we woke up, Paul made a latte for me, and an IBP mocha for himself. We hung out in bed, drinking our coffee, reading the Sunday New York Times, petting whichever cat came around to visit. Late morning, we got together with our friend Chris. In her new Prius, we motored quietly (the car, not us) over to the Ballard Farmers’ Market to pick up vegetables for Thanksgiving, then came back and chatted at our house. Paul and I sipped mugs of hot cider. In the early afternoon, we met our friend Nina at the local Cuban coffee place. We talked and laughed, we drank our coffee drinks, Nina and I split a sandwich.

This doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? It sounds like the sort of Sunday that any number of you (well, those without young children) might have had. But that’s the point. It felt like the first normal Sunday we’ve had since Paul’s surgery, almost nine months ago. I could happily get used to this kind of Sunday. In fact, I’m planning on it.

Day Two: Success!

I made it through a second day with no food via tube. 2140 calories. It’s amazing what you can do with milk, vitamin/sugar powder, juice, and a handful of fatty nutmeats.

This weekend I may cross the bridge of trying to figure out the medication question. I have two very small pills I might be able to swallow straight, but I’m leery of trying. The others I am planning to pulverize and mix with water as usual, but whether to try drinking them straight or mixed with something, and then what to mix them with, I don’t know. I expect they taste awful. This morning I took the easy out of putting them through the tube.

It’s definitely harder to swallow in the morning. I had quite a few coughs and other trouble getting started on this morning’s “mocha”. However, by the time I finished it, all was working smoothly. I guess the muscle coordination needs time to wake up.

Also on the list for this weekend is some experimentation with various types of semi-solids, in order to finalize my Thanksgiving menu. (I would be quite ectastic to have mashed potatoes, but I have a feeling they may still be beyond me. Thinned to potato gruel, perhaps? We’ll see.)

I’d be making that my next experimental goal anyway, even without Thanksgiving. Independence from the tube was my first target, for the reasons I wrote about last post. But there’s a long way to go still before I get my long-awaited hamburger.

The Mundane and the Sublime

The unannounced goal for the day was to get all of my daily calories and nutrition by mouth. I decided I’d leave the question about how to handle my various pills for a later time, and would just continue to use the tube for those. My calorie target for the day was 2000.

With this in mind, I didn’t have the bag of juice that I usually use to get me started in the morning. During the hellish period of finding something that would work with my stomach when pumped through a tube, I found that juice could be used to “prime the system.” Lately I’ve been hanging a bag first thing, which trickles in while I catch a little extra time in bed. But not today.

I got up and dealt with my morning pills as usual, crushing them, mixing them with water, and pushing them through the tube with a big syringe. Then it was off to the kitchen, where I mixed up a usual batch of my Instant Breakfast potion. It’s half a cup of milk, half a cup of evaporated milk, and Instant Breakfast powder. The evaporated milk gives it more calories, so I call this an Instant Breakfast Plus, or IBP. I also made some coffee to go with it.

Only this time I didn’t put it in a bag, bring it upstairs, fit the bag’s tubing into the pump, and hook up. Instead, I got down one of our Big Red Cups, and poured it all in there. A quick zap in the microwave, and voila! A simulated mocha, worth 365 calories and 1/4 of my MDR on many vitamins and minerals.

The Big Red Cup, a small glass of water and I retired to my office. As I spent time surfing the net and composing rants for my political blog, I would take sips from the cup, mostly swallowing easily. There was some coughing, and a bit of mess, but it went pretty smoothly. Occasionally I would sip from the water glass, to cut through the milky coating that an IBP can leave in the mouth. Before long, it was done!

That was the first hurdle. So far, morning is when I’ve had the most trouble swallowing. Later in the day I’m now pretty reliably getting through an 8oz IBP in under half an hour. So, even though it was a little bumpy, I got through it, and it still didn’t take as long as pumping it would have!

From there on, it was a matter of figuring out what more I could use, on what timing, to get to my 2000 calorie mark. I set a goal of three more IBPs (without the coffee extra), for a total of 1460, spread out so that the last would be a “before-bed hot cocoa”. I kept a small containers of nuts nearby all day, and would occasionally nibble. (Though in my case “nibbling” is a lengthier process, on a nut-by-nut basis, while the bits get gradually swallowed through repeated attempts, and the occasional sip of water.) By the end of the day, I’d done in 1/4 cup of cashews, and 1/4 cup of peanuts, for 200 and 170 calories, respectively.

In the mid-afternoon, I started work on a bottle of Odwalla’s “Mo’ Beta” juice. One of the upsides of using the bags is that I’ve been able to ignore the taste of the various juices I’ve been using, and make selections more on nutritive value and calories. But I actually like the Mo’ Beta taste, and it has always sat well in my stomach. I quickly polished of half the bottle, and put the rest aside, finishing it off a bit later. 280 calories.

In the early evening, I pulled out my secret weapon. A few days ago I stopped by the store for some spiced apple cider. Eight ounces in a mug, a quick trip to the microwave, and scant seconds later I was sipping away at a fragrant and tasty, not to mention quite autumnal, beverage. Not only did it provide a full range of positive reinforcement for my excellent swallowing performance, it got me another 120 calories.

If you are compulsive at addition, you may at this point have detected that I lost track of my count. I was still planning on my 365 calorie nighttime IBP. I didn’t actually need 120 more calories. I figured that out later. Meanwhile, I really did enjoy having some hot cider.

My final calorie count for the day was actually 2230, and while it was some work, it was not extremely difficult. It’s quite conceivable that I could repeat this, and while as a diet it would be quite monotonous, I could more than survive.

I really don’t need the damn tube to keep me alive anymore.

And this is where the mundane gains its more profound meaning. It doesn’t just free me from the time-sink of the pump and the bags, and the nuisance of scheduling feedings, and the longing for tastes, and the feel of something going down my throat, it also frees me from a host of other concerns.

For months, I’ve been carrying a fear of the tube getting damaged, a fear of it clogging up, and the horrible anticipation of getting it replaced. My memories of its insertion are among my worst hospital memories. (Drugged into semi-consciousness, in great pain from the gastric warfare the spacefood down the nose tube had wrought, abetted by the gas injected to assist the procedure, helplessly dazed witness to the struggles of the resident to place the tube correctly as he made me hold my body in absurd contortion – I never want to do that again. I’m serious. Really, really, serious.)

I’ve also had irrational fears of somehow dying from the tube being damaged. This is probably an echo of living with the Hickman catheter during the period of Paul vs. The Lymphoma Monster. That was actually an IV port, but it had a similar white tube with a fitting on the end, and it also emerged from my chest, only about six inches higher. This tube ran directly into one of the major blood vessels, requiring daily shots of anti-coagulant to keep it open, and painstaking injection protocol to keep from injecting an air bubble that would travel instantly to my brain and kill me. Had the Hickman been damaged, it would have started shooting my blood everywhere. You can see how I might have some stored up fears about it, which have been hovering around its cousin, my feeding tube, since March.

So this milestone is about much more than my long-awaited swallowing improvement, more free time, and ease of scheduling. It is a major, major step in my feelings of personal safety. That portion of the back of my mind that’s been standing on guard against damage, against clogs, against infections, can stand down. God, that’s a relief.

It’s also important for my sense of identity. I don’t need an artificial apparatus to keep me alive anymore. I’m able to survive on my own again. That other portion of the back of my mind that’s been whispering about being an invalid and being dependent can shut up. I get to stop feeling like a patient, mostly. (I’ll really stop when I don’t have this tube in me anymore, and there aren’t poles all over the house.)

I’ve already written about the fear of the “what if I can’t ever swallow again” possibility. As the months went by, that one was getting harder to avoid thinking about. Now it’s been replaced by its wimpier little brother, “what if all I’m ever able to eat is liquid”, which is pretty easy to laugh at given my recent progress, and the fact that, really, if push came to shove, I’d get by. As personal worry-demons go, compared to the ones I’ve dealt with in life, it’s pretty toothless.

Another degree of freedom.

I’ve finished another IBP while I’ve been writing this, my second today. (I’m going to see about two days in a row.) I realize that I’m much more relaxed, that it feels more like it’s just another part of my day, and not the focus anymore. It’s “eating”, it’s not “feeding”. It’s just something that happens during the day, not something I have to “do”, like a chore. I had a cup nearby, I drank from it while I wrote. Now it’s done. Such a normal thing to do, something one doesn’t even think about. Unless one has been where I’ve been for the last eight months, and then it seems both mundane and sublime, and sublime because it can once again be mundane.

Upcoming attraction

Coming tomorrow to the Paul vs. TSM on your very own Internet:

Read about Paul’s first day of no tube feeding!!!

Yes, that’s right! NO TUBE FEEDING!!!

Learn about the over 2000 calories that Paul ingested by mouth today!

…..How many calories were from cashews?

…..What kind of juice did Paul drink?

…..Was there coffee in those Instant Breakfasts?

Exclusively here! Tomorrow! In the inimitable words of our hero Paul! Be here!

I turned off that damn blinking text.

A New Life

It’s a cold, rainy night here in Seattle. The house is a bit drafty, and Kimberly is away at her weekly night class. I’ve got a log burning in the fireplace, and a warm beverage to drink, which makes things very cozy on a night like this.

What is surprising about the above picture?

I have a warm beverage to drink! I’m finally, after months of pining, again able to drink from a warm cup with enough ease and confidence that I can do it for relaxation, and all the emotional sustenance that comes with it. This is major progress that has happened very recently.

The beverage in this case is chicken broth, or, more properly, Herb-Ox Low Sodium “Chicken Broth” drink, which is even less like chicken broth than instant coffee is like coffee. Still, it’s yummy, and warm, and feels good going down. What’s really amazing is that I can now handle sips that are relatively normal in size. Considering that, not long ago, I was painstakingly measuring out portions of a demitasse spoon, this is like heaven. Each mouthful still takes a couple or three swallows, but I have enough control over everything that I can have that much fluid in my mouth without inhaling any. I’m not losing some down at the wrong moment, or breathing the wrong way. I’m actually, really, drinking. Like a normal person, more or less.

Even as recently as my last post, when I wrote about going to a cafe, I was having more trouble. Then I was working on my coffee, really working, more out of the stubborn desire to have had some coffee, and fulfill my longing to go to a cafe, order some coffee, and drink some, than real enjoyment. Each sip was small, and often associated with coughing and urgent use of a napkin. Now I’m in a whole different realm, and it feels really, really good.

Imagine the good feeling you get from having a good cup of coffee in the morning, a nice cup of tea, or a warm cocoa on a cold day. Imagine what it would be like if you hadn’t been able to have that at all for 8-1/2 months. Imagine not really knowing whether you ever would again. And then, you get it back. That’s the idea. The reality has been even worse, and is now even better, than you can imagine.

I haven’t made as much progress with more solid food. But I have made a significant change in my daily routine. In the last week, I’ve been trying to get my primary nutrition and calories by mouth, and to only use the bag for calories to fill out my daily requirement. I’ve done pretty well, because this drinking breakthrough has come with an attendant ability to swallow more in each session. Previously in a day I’ve been having 3 or 4 8oz cups of my Instant Breakfast concoction, slowly pumped in from a bag over 1 or 1-1/2 hours each. For the last few days, I’ve been able to drink these! Last night, I got through one in less than 1/2 hour! This is a huge win. I’ve also been successful at drinking some of the puree-rich juice that I’d been using by bag. I’ve been able to get between half and three-quarters of my daily calories that way, and more through eating nuts.

I’m hoping that sometime this next week, I’ll actually go a whole day without using my tube for food. That will be a very, very powerful milestone for me. It will mean freedom from dependence on this artificial contraption hanging out of my belly. It will be a sign that, someday, I really will be able to survive without the tube. I can’t tell you how profound that shift will be for my sense of security, identity, and self-worth. I’ll keep you posted.

Tomorrow morning is my next acupuncture appointment, with a new practitioner, Dr. Lu. I hope I like him, and can get set up with a program. The temporal relationship of my first treatment and my current drinking breakthrough has not escaped my notice, and while I’m not sure there is causality, I’m not ruling it out. I got my treatment on Monday, and by the weekend I was swallowing far better. Let’s see what Dr. Lu can do! Maybe I’ll be able to have more than turkey broth, gravy and squash soup for Thanksgiving! Not that I haven’t been working really hard this week at swallowing as much as I can – acupuncture doesn’t get all the credit.

OK, now it’s time for me to go enjoy the fire and work on a fourth Instant Breakfast drink. It makes a reasonable substitute for hot cocoa.

Cat bliss

Sergei adores Paul. His favorite spots are on top of some part of Paul’s body (usually legs or chest), holding onto Paul’s clothes (note extended claws), while Paul rubs on him. Serg likes to be patted and massaged vigorously. Tonight, I could hear his purring from across the room.

Some more news about Paul

In our last episode, our hero was about to return from Houston and get a flu shot. The returning from Houston went OK, except for the long delay due to bad weather in Houston. As a consolation, I got the new experience of seeing a lightning bolt out the window of a climbing airplane. It’s about as fun as you’d imagine, particularly when combined with the bouncing from turbulence.

Not surprisingly, by the time we got in late to dark and rainy Seattle, I decided I’d postpone the flu shot for a day.

So, Tuesday I got up bright and early to head over to the flu shot clinic. Because flu hits Puget Sound later than many places, Group Health hadn’t started giving out any shots before the shortage was announced, and they immediately restricted their supply to high-risk patients. They also decided to deliver them only at the pre-scheduled clinics, to save their doctors from being deluged with phone calls. The one on Tuesday was only the third opportunity in Seattle, and one of the first across their system, so I felt pretty confident of getting a shot. Still, I wanted to arrive early and beat the crowd.

I was smart. Though they were well prepared for large crowds, with ribbon-stanchions and security guards, and lots of clipboards pre-stocked with the forms, I breezed right in, filled out and signed my forms, and sat right down for a shot. I was in and out in 15 minutes! That dismissed a small, but very annoying, worry from the back of my mind.

Then I went over to my polling place to vent my displeasure at the administration for bungling the flu vaccine situation, and so much more. I think we know how that went, which somewhat explains my problems with posting this past week. I’m still working on coping with it. I’ve pretty much decided to stay and fight, but that didn’t stop me from just now reviewing the text of the 14th Amendment to see if it really does prevent succession. (I think it could easily be argued it doesn’t, if it’s viewed as a dissolution of the United States, rather than states leaving the United States. So a Czechoslovakia-type split could be legal. I think one side or the other would get fussy about wanting to keep the tanks and nukes, though, and then, watch out. And the picture of the hordes streaming each way before the India/Pakistan split gives me pause; all those midwestern Kerry supporters having to pick up and move to blue states wouldn’t be pretty.)

By Sunday I’d recovered enough to venture out to a nearby cafe. I’d arranged to meet a prospective coaching client, but what really makes it historic is that it was the first time I’d been in a cafe since the surgery. I actually ordered a coffee drink, and, over the next couple hours, carefully sipped up part of it! This was quite momentous, because for months I’ve wandered past Seattle’s many espresso vendors with a longing gaze, feeling outcast and ghostly, barred from my past life and condemned to wander coffee-less. I have now re-materialized in the mortal realm. (The drink was a “Yanqui”, which is the whimsical name this Cuban-inspired cafe uses for what other places call an “Americano”, which is espresso diluted with boiling water to regular coffee cup volume. This provides coffee with a yummier, stronger flavor than plain drip.)

Yesterday I had my first acupuncture treatment. That was quite a thing. Though it began with discovering a bit of bureaucratic snafu, the visit itself was quite good. I was visiting Bastyr, which is a school of Naturopathic Medicine here in Seattle. My appointment was for their Acupuncture Clinic, where students in the final stage of training work under the supervision of a licensed acupuncturist.

I’d chosen Bastyr because they have a good reputation locally. Seattle is a place where acupunturists are thick on the ground. The challenge isn’t finding one, it’s finding the right one. An embarrassment of riches. Bastyr became my choice because they could give me an appointment fast, and I felt they were reliable, so I could see what it was like. I’ll probably go for continued treatments with someone else.

I spent a long time reviewing my history with the senior of the two students, and then watched as he recapped it to his supervisor, with some additions from me. The supervisor, a comfortingly Chinese-looking woman with the last name Yang, asked me some more questions, and examined me, with the student duplicating her. This involved feeling my pulse in each wrist, and looking at my tongue. I realized I was in a different medical tradition when she commented to the student “I get “slippery” on this side,” and they discussed the difficulty of finding the third kind of pulse on my left wrist. The names of the pulses were to-me-nonsensical Chinese syllables. Ms. Yang told me that they could help me, but that it would be gradual and take a number of sessions. She said that, in addition to the swallowing, they would be working on my whole system, since this experience has left me worn down. I agreed.

They all left the room to discuss specific treatment, while I changed into a typical hospital gown, and lay on a typical hospital exam table. When they returned, the student took lots of time to show me how thin the needles were, and explain how they don’t hurt much, or at all. I guess there are many first-timers who are more apprehensive than me. I just wanted to get on with it!

I had needles stuck in both feet, both lower legs, my hands, and neck. When inserted correctly, the main sensation, if there was one, was a sort of dull, nonspecific “pressure”. Once or twice there was a sharp pain, but that was a sign that the needle needed adjustment, and quickly stopped once he got it right. I was surprised to notice that sometimes inserting a needle in another place would change the sensation at a previous site. That was my first indication that there was something actually going on.

Supervisor Yang was called back in to consult on how to handle the fact that a site on the bottom of my chin was right where my surgery scar is. They decided they could stick me a bit to the side, and angle the needle in to hit whatever it is they needed to hit. And so they did, leaving me with about 8-10 needles in. I don’t really know the exact number, since I wasn’t counting, and they really weren’t noticeable. As I lay there on the table, I did have a strange sensation, which I described as a “tide” washing through my body. It wasn’t dramatic or scary, but it didn’t feel like I was imagining it, either.

They came back after about 7 minutes, and started taking the needles out. I felt good. As I changed back into my clothes, I realized that I definitely felt different. I felt looser, and more energetic. It was very interesting. I left the office quite conscious of a feeling of being “altered”, that I felt somewhat “hepped up”. My muscles wanted to move, and I shook my shoulders, back and arms as I walked. On the drive home, and for some time after, I definitely felt like I’d taken a stimulant.

I can’t say I’m surprised, since I’d gone in figuring millions of Chinese over hundreds of years probably weren’t all imagining it, but it’s another thing entirely to have a visceral, physical experience of it, a dramatic change in the way I felt caused just by a few hair-thin needles. I did have the thought that, after so much time spent in the bowels of the Western medical system, it was really odd to be so ignorant of what was being done to me. Is this what less educated people experience when they go to the regular doctor: a bunch of nonsensical words, motions and treatments that don’t have any context, but seem to make you feel better? Weird.

I’m not noticing a change in my swallowing, but I wasn’t expecting to. But I do really think that there is a possibility that this technique will be able to get a handle on it, and the Western MDs have thrown up their hands. That’s very exciting, and I’m willing to let it take a while, as long as we’re working on it. I’ll keep you posted.