It was April 1, 1998. A Wednesday. Just 4 days before what would have been my first Chinese martial arts tournament. I was innocently practicing my routine—one that I knew inside and out—when it happened. As I landed from my jump kick, I heard a pop, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor, bracing my swollen left knee and holding back the tears of pain.
I didn't know what had happened or what the pop was from, but I still had hope that I would be able to compete. I thought that maybe all I needed was a good night's rest and I would be fine in the morning...but I was wrong.
My knee became even more swollen overnight and every movement seemed to call at me with hot, sharp, paralyzing pain. I saw several doctors over the next few years, and eventually I learned that I had an "unhappy triad." Unfortunately, the only treatment options offered to me were physical therapy and surgery.
Though surgery seemed inevitable, I wondered if anything could expedite the healing process. A friend introduced me to a Chinese medicine and qigong therapist, and I was amazed by how much range-of-motion was restored in my knee even after just 1 treatment. Since then, I have been interested in nonconventional modalities of medicine and can't help but wonder how much more healing clinicians could offer if only Western medicine were more integrated with other medicines of the world.
In medical school and residency, we see a limited view of what medicine has to offer. In order to provide the best care to patients, shouldn't we at least be familiar with all aspects and modalities of the medical field? Patients regularly approach doctors with questions regarding complementary and alternative medicine, and too often, doctors are clueless or undermine the validity of those options. My frustration from witnessing and experiencing this fuels my desire to learn about other philosophies in medicine.
I am fortunate to have been part of a dual American Osteopathic Association and Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education accredited family medicine program in which I had the opportunity to refer my patients for osteopathic manipulation treatments. Working alongside doctors of osteopathy, I constantly asked my colleagues to teach me their techniques so that I could apply them to my own patients (and to myself!).
This exposure inspired me to pursue an elective with an osteopathic family physician, Dr. D. I realized how calloused my hands had become during medical training and, as I became familiar with the basic osteopathic exam and techniques, I slowly trained my hands to feel again. There was one particular patient encounter with Dr. D that changed and solidified my entire outlook on medicine. This patient was a long-time member of Dr. D's practice who had come in after falling down a flight of stairs to the basement, where she had hit her face against the concrete as she fell. Along with some dents and bruises, she continued to have pain on the right side of her face.
The patient's fixation on her facial pain evoked Dr. D to perform a "seated unwind," with which I assisted. As the treatment progressed, the patient came to assume the same position she had been in when she was raped many years previously. Simultaneously, the weather outside had changed dramatically, into a thunderous downpour of rain. I could feel the strong muscle energy that had been bottled up in the neurologic memory of the traumatic rape during which time the patient had been slapped repeatedly across the right side of her face. Suddenly, a connection was made and we all saw what existed below the surface. The patient was aware as her body relived the trauma of the attack and rape, but this time she was able to fight back.