Monday, December 10, 2012

Witch doctor

I went in for another scan, this time from the base of my lungs down to my knees. There was a lot  of waiting, sitting in the reception area and staring at an aquarium full of fish, drinking a gallon of that thick, slightly sweet water that's loaded with chemical dye. And then I was taken back, and I changed into blue scrubs and they stuck me with needles and attached me to tubes. The technician was really very nice, he kept patting my arm to comfort me and I made him laugh easily. He let me take pictures of everything.

They covered me in lead and put me into a plastic machine that spun around and made a lot of noise. It looked like a time machine. Then they let the iodine into my veins, and it shot through me in two seconds and every part of my body, head to toes, felt like it was on fire. There was a pressure in my head that built and built and I thought I was going to burst into flames, and then it cooled. The machine spun around me, and then the nice guy was back to pull out the tubes and needles and let me free. "Good luck," he said, and touched me on the arm.

I got the results back later that day. The whole point was to spot the confused cells so the doctor could decide where to slice me open. But what they found was nothing. No cancer, no endometriosis. "It appears you're healthy," said the doctor over the phone, a little apologetic. "In chronic pain, but healthy. There's nothing to remove. So....we're done looking."

I credit those doctors for taking me seriously, for searching diligently for something physical. Now their work is done; they've packed up their bags and charts and miscalculated diagnoses and quietly left the stage. And now I'm opening door #2.

On Thursday I stood at the home of Jen Rice, a masseuse and cranial sacral therapist. She came with the highest recommendation from my friends- athletic, energetic Sockeye boys who call her a miracle worker, a witch doctor. My personal trainer gave me Jen's phone number. "Call her now." She said. "Tell her you know me."

Jen's house is in a quiet South Seattle neighborhood. Her yard is full of chickens and barking dogs. With very few words exchanged, I lay down on a massage table in a sparse room and she got to work. Her touch was gentle, extremely pinpointed and intentional. She would touch my right hip flexor and my whole left leg would give way, as if it were sighing. Sometimes it was like the sensation of sinking into hot water, other times it felt like a slab avalanche being released. "I'm just making space," she said. "You're going to walk out of here four inches taller."

The most amazing thing about this woman was that she knew things. About me. Without asking. She talked as she worked. "You're having trouble sleeping, aren't you? Do you have an older sister? I thought so. Do you get migraines?"

Everything she said was correct, until she paused, her two finger tips on my lower spine."Have you ever been in a car accident?"

"No," I told her. "I've had no major trauma at all." Because I'm lucky, I've been kept safe all my life, unlike my friends who've been churned into teeth when they hit a barn at 50 miles an hour. And worse.

She half laughed. "No trauma? That's not what I'm getting from you." She kept working, opening up spaces in my body I had no idea existed. She told me where she found anger, where she found anxiety. "Here's where it hurts, right? And sometimes right here, on the left side?"

"But how do you know?" I asked, fascinated. "What exactly do you feel?"

"It's just what my hands are telling me," she said easily. "It's instinct."

Finally she reached my neck. With one hand holding my cervical spine, she stopped talking for about a minute. Then she said, "Have you ever had hypothermia?"

I stopped breathing for a second. "Yes. I had a bad case. I was hospitalized for it."

She started to laugh, and I started laughing with her, at the absurdity of it. This is impossible.

"That's what your nervous system was telling me," she said, still laughing, "But it was so out there I almost didn't say anything. Tell me what happened."

The thing is, I'm sick of that story. I've told it so many times, always laughing, careless, completely removed. I've been flippant about the entire experience from the beginning. Sitting in the ER I made loud jokes as the surgeon studied my feet and shook his head, furious. I remember coming home from the hospital in a wheel chair as my family sat and stared at me, shell shocked. My mom was crying into my aunt's arms and my uncle said something, I forget what it was, and I rolled my eyes and said, "It wasn't that cold." And he yelled at me (my family does not yell) and he stormed out of the house. I adopted that glib attitude to keep the whole thing at arm's length. And I've never snapped out of it.

But this time, as I told her very briefly what had happened, it was different. My body started convulsing. I'd been lying very still and relaxed, and then I was shaking violently, body lurching up and down. My elbows were cracking down against the heated table. I was shivering hard. Jen reached out, unfazed, and put the blanket firmly over my arms."Yeah," she said, "that's what I thought."

And then up came everything else, just the barest details, the headlines, all coming forward as if they'd been waiting patiently to escape. I was very casual, almost questioning. I spoke like this: "I guess the boys who were raped at my academy made me sad, and I guess the years of suicide that followed made me sad, and I guess when the boy I loved so much was killed by a tree it was kind of sad and I think seeing sarah die of brain cancer scared me?"

But even as I spoke very calmly, my body was shook and shook helplessly. Not because I hadn't thought about these things, but because I hadn't let myself feel anything about them. Ever. I've stood at multiple funerals, arms crossed, foot tapping. Feeling nada. When another boy from the academy shot himself a little while ago, I said "hey look, another one." And then I went back to work. I didn't even tell anyone.

Jen kept silent, one hand under my neck. When I finally shut up and my body became still, she stepped back. She said, "That's enough for today."
High school. Me with two beloved teachers on the freeway in Louisiana, en route to Mexico 
I'm not suggesting that I'll be pain free from now on, that it was all just trauma I'd locked away in my nervous system and now it's gone, la de da. I don't know that, and I don't think it's that simple. What I am saying is there's some connection there, and I've never truly considered it before.

I drove away from her place that afternoon with one heavy thought:

I'm going to have to write about this stuff, aren't I. I'm going to have to shake off that jaded, irreverent teenage attitude I've copped all these years and actually write about it.

Oh crap.


Anonymous said...

breathtaking stuff.

Catherine said...

Wow! I have met energy worker like her and I have totally been were you are right now. It feels amazing and incredible and scary at the same time... We are so many layers of ourselves...

Kelsie said...

Let it go.

Marti said...

It's hard to let go. I know. I'm still working on it. I found your blog recently through another and Im enjoying it so far. Maybe one day I'll be able to write about my own trauma and truly let go.

Feel Better Yoga said...

It's wonderful that you've discovered how powerfully our emotions and experiences are held in our physical body and are working towards release. You've opened a door to finding the balance that is possible when we begin to understand that our thoughts impact us deeply. Yoga has a framework that describes these layers, they're called koshas. I'm so happy that you're on a path towards healing!

Anonymous said...

Or it's possible that since you booked ahead, the charlatan Googled your name and found your blog.

The Internet, especially social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs, are goldmines for those who would prey upon the gullible.

Melina said...


It's possible. And that attitude has probably protected you from traps in your lifetime, traps that I would trip and fall head over heals into.

But, as you may have gleaned from this blog, that type of caution is just not how I do things.

Anonymous said...
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Malia said...

Our bodies hold on to so much. Everything manifests itself physically. Keep rolling with it. Healing is tough when you've only been hiding. Love reading your blog. I found you through Dig and have been hooked since your meeting.

Sarah Koznek said...

I read this article in a print copy of Yoga Journal this morning, and thought of you:

It's about -Recapitulation-

Sarah Koznek said...

I read this article in a print copy of Yoga Journal this morning, and thought of you:

It's about -Recapitulation-

Lee Timmons said...

best post ever

ddawg said...

Yes, Lee. This one is up there.

Dylan Boyd said...

Yes, Lee. This one is up there.

Emily said...

thank you for sharing this.

Mary Thomas said...

I'm glad that you fall head over heels into those traps. Cynicism is a good shield from hurt but it's also an incredible shield from joy. It's okay to believe. Believing in itself is the magic, isn't it?

So glad you have unlocked a part of yourself. I'm just happy for you.

kitty edwards said...

Writing is good, talking is good. Many of us need to do more of all of that......we are all out here.