As I prepare myself physically and mentally for an impending minor surgical procedure (nothing life-threatening, nothing to increase or decrease specific body parts, nothing I couldn’t discuss over cocktails in polite society), I look back at my journey to this point, the helpful advice received from friends and strangers, and the research into all of the options available to me. Then I smile and thank someone’s god for western medicine.
Before you get your yoga pants in a knot, allow me to continue.
I collect medical practitioners like kitchen appliances, and count among my handiest helpers chiropractors, acupuncturists, osteopaths and Rolfers, alongside ear, nose and throat and orthopedic doctors. I’ve had psychic readings from afar and visited gastroenterologists … for within. But my sigh of relief at western medicine stems from memories of my first brush with eastern medicine, a day I like to refer to as The Day My Black Heart Stood Still.
It happened some time ago, I can’t remember how long, but in memory it coincides with my being issued a Volvo station wagon, seven pairs of flip-flops, and a re-usable water bottle, representing the unofficial trifecta of Santa Cruz ideology: practicality, comfort and hydration, which places it around the time I moved here. Well-meaning friends were coercing me to try acupuncture. I suffered from chronic and annoying conditions that weren’t remedied by x-rays, prescription medication or repeated shrieking accusations that my doctor was clearly missing the obvious signs of early onset death. One can only argue with hippies and the persistently helpful for so long, so I gave in, made an appointment and within days found myself lying in wait in a vaguely Salv-Asian Army decorated room. (Oh, don’t write me a letter. Spend the time doing something constructive.)
Sweating through the thoughts that danced in my head as I prepared for that first experience with eastern medicine probably cured me of more ills than anything to follow. My mind raced from hopeful to fearful, from joy to shame, acceptance to panic. Maybe this would work! What if she could see into my black heart? Finally, someone who asked real questions! Could she tell I was lying about everything? If I fix this thing called qi, I’ll be OK! Holy crap, I’m going to drop through this floor straight to hell once her eastern-trained hands/eyes/spirit see into the abyss of my western-soaked soul! And mostly—Aha! That’s what that word is—Qi!
Knowing I had to play it cool and loose with this wise woman, I let her close the door all the way behind her, sit down and get the following five words out, “Hello, Kim. My name is …” before I blurted out, “Will you be able to see into my cold black heart, or will you be able to work around that?” I smiled after my verbal avalanche to relay my willingness to be labeled both “Pure Evil” as well as “Healed.” I wrung my hands and twisted my feet together, awaiting her judgment.
She laughed in such a relaxed, knowing manner that I was certain hundreds of people had asked her this before. Hundreds of other “little sh*ts,” as my aunt always called me, had trumpeted this warning, this confession, this apology and cry for help. This made me feel better. Until she answered, “No, I can’t see anything. You’re the first person who’s ever said that! That’s really funny!”
So of course we both laughed. Because of course I had been kidding. Of course. And she poked me with needles and rubbed my temples with lavender, and played lonely Native American panpipe music and I fell asleep.
When she was done with me, I did feel better, inside and out, and I continue to see her. And I still tell her funny jokes, like “Can you feel where I’m going to yell at my elderly parents later today?” And we laugh. And she keeps my secrets, and pokes me with needles. And she pretends, I assume like all good eastern medicine practitioners, that the true nature of her patient is not Death Race 2000 on pause. Right?
Maybe my secret is that I actually don’t have a black heart, or a cold dead soul, and maybe I should stop paying so many doctors to find what isn’t there. And the relief of western medicine? Well, aside from a hangover here and there, existential angst hasn’t played a role while getting my blood pressure taken. Perhaps I’m missing an opportunity?
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