So, my medication-free excursion was extremely short lived (as in “a single day” short lived). After that humiliating and upsetting appointment with the herbalist, I went back the following day to have my pulse taken (as I was too “upset” for him to get an accurate reading the day prior, due to him being a big bully). He greeted me when I entered and informed me to sit for a while so he could take my pulse when I was calm. I could feel my pulse throughout my body and kept thinking “You have to calm down so he can take your pulse.” “Just calm down.” I coached myself through calming breaths, I looked out the window at the trees and green plants, tried guided imagery, etc., the whole time nervous that he was going to turn me away yet again.
I feel like I should give a bit of background on my herbal experience with colitis. It began back around 2003 or 2004 when I was living in Kyoto, Japan and had a bad flare up of colitis (I was diagnosed in 1998). I tried the western meds and they were unsuccessful and I continually got worse (this was probably the time I had the sedative free colonoscopy that was most likely only a partial sigmoidoscopy- more details in my Sept. 3rd entry). My best friend in Japan recommended a Chinese herbalist who was very well known and respected in Japan. I was able to land an appointment with him through knowing someone who worked with him. He was very kind and caring. He looked at my tongue and fingernails and asked me a bunch of questions about symptoms, etc. He then wrote up a list of herbs (dragon’s tail being one of them, supposedly treats depression that can be linked to flare ups) and I went to what looked like the magic wand shop in Harry Potter where they took out drawers as far up as the ceiling and made packets of herbs for me. After drinking those nasty tasting concoctions 3 times a day for a couple weeks, I started feeling better. The herbalist adjusted the herbs according to my symptoms and within 1 ½ to 2 months I was symptom free. I remained symptom free for about 2 years and then (back in the states), following a nasty break-up, I had another flare-up. Determined to try a more natural remedy, I sought out herbalists and acupuncturists but unfortunately I got continually worse until I had to go to the hospital for an emergency blood transfusion (the doctor said I could have had a heart attack due to the amount of blood I’d lost). So I was back on prednisone and the whole nine yards again. (as a side note: if looking for an herbalist, get several opinions and look for someone reputable. Here in the states anyone and there mother can call themselves an herbalist as there is no FDA regulation or anything)
Here’s a piece of art I created depicting my blood transfusion (titled: “Mama never said there’d be days like this”)
Now to present day: I am well, as well as I’ve ever been. I’m married, in a healthy, caring supportive relationship, I’m 34 years old and I want to have healthy kids that I can give birth to and breastfeed. I’m concerned about these meds (primarily the immunosuppressant, Imuran, that is a type C medication basically meaning it can be harmful to the fetus but definitely I cannot breastfeed) so I decided to go the herbal route again. I started seeing an herbalist in southern California that was very helpful and kind and seemingly very knowledgeable but the drive to socal every other week (I live in San Jose) and the fundamentalist Christian views made the treatment a bit of hard pill to swallow. So when I found out about this current herbalist in San Jose (literally a couple miles from my home), I was thrilled.
So, back to my story of yesterday’s experience. I eventually was calm enough or had at least sat there long enough for the herbalist to take my pulse. While taking my pulse, he touched my foot (I was wearing flip flops) and noted that my feet were cold. He inquired whether I always had cold feet. I told him that I thought it probably happened often. He asked me if I just “thought” it happened or did it actually happen often. Unsure (as I haven’t kept track of my feet temperature lately), I responded with a more emphatic “often” and nodded my head to assure him I knew what I was talking about. He shook his head, “not good” and went on to tell me that I was internally weak. I had strong muscles he assured me (the first time I think he has ever somewhat complimented me) but was internally weak. He said that I would not be able to get good enough at Iyengar yoga quick enough to have the needed benefits and he recommended I do Qigong. He told me about the classes that he taught at his clinic in the evenings. I nodded and agreed that I would like to try that evening. He looked at me, as if surprised I was trying or perhaps hesitant to allow me to try. Honestly, I can’t gage how this guy feels about me. Half the time I feel like he is just trying to chase me away and doesn’t want to treat me (I started seeing him over 2 months ago and each time he turns me away and tells me I need to come back another time for some reason or another- I have to try some herbs to see if I can handle their bad taste, I have to come back because my pulse it too high, I have to come back because I need a colonoscopy, etc). After a brief hesitation he agreed I should come to both Qigong classes that evening. On my way out, I confirmed with the herbalist that it was, in fact, okay for me to stop my medications (as I had the day prior per his recommendation, though I didn’t mention this to him) and he said I should “definitely not” stop my medication yet as he did not yet have his herbs. I left, confused…
When my husband came home, I told him about Qigong class (I had already looked up several videos online in anticipation, I was sure the herbalist was going to criticize me for something so I figured I’d at least learn as much as possible so I could be a little more prepared). Turns out my husband had been interested in Qigong a while back (before we met) and had a video about it. He agreed he’d like to go with me (to support and try to give the herbalist another chance to redeem himself as a living, breathing human with a human heart). We watched and tried out a section of the video and then got ready to go to the class. I was anxious upon going to the class, I just knew the herbalist was going to note something I had done wrong again. When we got out of our car, we could see the herbalist in the second floor window of his clinic, look at us. We could see his eyes staring intently at us despite being back-lit by his room. My husband put it best when he described it as the scene from “Psycho” where the silhouette of Norman Bates dressed as his mother peers eerily out the window.
Inside the dojo, the herbalist came downstairs to “greet” us by saying that I hadn’t told him my husband was coming and than he hadn’t anticipated my husband coming and that next time I should tell him if I plan to bring my husband (I knew I was going to do something he was disapproving of, I just didn’t think I would do it before even beginning the class). He then told one of the students to lead the warm-up for us but instructed her not to explain any of the movements to us and for us not to ask any questions. We followed the movements, gritting our teeth, making faces from right to left, rolling our eyes, swinging our arms, etc. I thought maybe no one was supposed to talk and this was his reasoning for instructing her not to explain anything to us or for us to refrain from asking questions but, after the warm up, the woman chatted it up with another women in the room about the weather. The herbalist then came down and taught the entire class in Vietnamese and, throughout the class, gave individual instruction to every student but us. There was another new student in his class (his new secretary). He criticized her for having her belt be too loose and then instructed her (only her) to stand in horse stance (imagine a very low squat with your feet very far apart) for one minute while the rest of the class rested.
My husband and I both took the initiative to also join the girl (possibly to prove we could do it, that we were worthy of his teaching and attention). The girl collapsed after 20 seconds. The herbalist turned to her and told her to get up and do it again. At her protest that it was too hard, he said it had nothing to do with her body but her mind and her mind was weak. My husband and I did it successfully. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was sweating profusely. The herbalist didn’t even look our way. On our way out I made a point to thank him for the class. He nodded politely at me. My husband later told me that the herbalist had ignored him the entire class and even turned his head the other way when my husband walked past him to leave the dojo.
Back home, we discussed our feelings about the incidents we had experienced over the last couple days. Despite feeling completely rejected and disrespected, my husband assured me that he would support my decision if I chose to stay with this herbalist (because of his reputation as a great herbal doctor) but that we should explore other options as well. I am so lucky to have such an understanding and reasonable partner. It is next to impossible to successfully deal with this illness in an unhealthy or unsupportive relationship.
Today, I called the acupuncturist who had recommended me to the herbalist to recount my experience over the last two months. She apologized that I was having such an experience and advised me not to return. She is in the process of trying to find me someone else to help out and has offered some of her own herbs as well.
I believe I will stop treatment (if you can even call it that as he has not treated me for anything yet) with this herbalist and look elsewhere. Ideally, my herbalist will become a part of my life. I’m looking for someone who can help me off my meds and into a healthy pregnancy, someone who understands that it is human to have apprehension and fear in taking a huge leap of faith on a stranger and stop medication, someone who is caring, loving and a healer. I am still determined that I will find a way…