Saturday, May 14, 2011

But enough about me

Okay, it's official. I got MRIs of my cervical and thoracic spine done and have ruptured discs in each section. I'd also bet money I've got one or more ruptured discs in my lumbar spine, but couldn't afford the additional scan.

Along these lines (affordability), I have to give a major thumbs-up to CP Advanced Imaging, 155 Canal St., New York, NY. They did my two MRIs (including report and copy on CD ROM) for 1/5 (one fifth) the price I was quoted by my local imaging services corporation. CP's facility and service were first-rate (including a manager who told me, correctly, "That was a bad decision" when I told her how I was injured), and a radiologist who read my scans and faxed me his report within 18 hours (on a Saturday morning, yet).

Anyway, I know more now than I did yesterday, and I know a lot more now than I did 10 months ago. Hopefully I will learn enough to get out of my mess and be able to help others get out of their messes.

Don't forget: CP Advanced Imaging, 155 Canal Street, New York City. Especially if you're an un-insured 50 year-old who makes bad decisions...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Summertime -- the Fire element

The first day of summer on the Chinese calendar this year is May 5. Summer is associated with the fire element, and represents the obvious height of yang qi in the seasons -- wood starting to grow is the beginning of yang movement, but the burning of wood is the absolute pinnacle of yang qi. Fire is about as yang as nature gets -- hot, moving, insubstantial, but very real and very powerful.

The emotion associated with the fire element is joy -- its negative attribute is anxiety. The organs associated with the fire element are the heart and small intestine, and uniquely among the five elements it has two "accessory" organs, the pericardium and the triple heater. As usual, the yang organ, or bowel, is seen to have fewer and less profound energetic properties than the yin organ. The small intestine is said to separate the pure from the impure, both in terms of nutrients in the gut and discrimination between different possibilities. The heart completes the process of making blood (which is begun by the spleen), and in one of the most mystical mechanisms of basic Chinese physiology, that blood fuels the heart to pump the blood around the body -- sort of like a perpetual motion machine. The spirit associated with the heart is the Shen, which is concerned with your destiny, fate or karma. The heart is called the Emperor, and traditionally wasn't treated directly, because you don't tell the Emperor what to do. In addition, how can anyone else know what your karma is or how to treat it?

In modern Chinese medicine the heart is treated directly at times, but I share the classical deference toward other people's hearts. I am more likely to explain the concept and pass along my observations about their specific heart status (deficient qi or blood, stagnant blood or phlegm obstruction, or possibly not being on their true path in life) than to actually treat the heart. I am also more likely to send someone to their doctor (or the emergency room) for heart issues than for any other category of imbalance I detect. Several of my patients had no symptoms, but on my direction saw their doctors and needed immediate heart surgery. Those patients are pretty much the reason that I first came to believe that Chinese pulse reading is a valid diagnostic technique.

The color of the fire element is red, its flavor is bitter (scorched) and fire foods are especially pit fruits and lettuces. Lettuce grows in a loose but convoluted and ascending way, like flames, and pit fruits grow around an essential core or heart (and tend to be red). Ironically, these fire foods tend to be cooling energetically, as is the bitter flavor associated with the fire element. Too much joy is as dangerous as too much grief or fear in the Chinese way of thinking.

The days are long in the summer, and summertime is a good time to stay up late and seek joy. However, it's also a time to avoid too much heat, to rest in the heat of high noon and beware of burning out. Spiritual paths begin in the summer for eager young graduates striking out open-hearted on their own for the first time, but they also end for burned-out grandfathers and grandmothers, slumping over their lawnmowers and gardens, their hearts worn out.

Each season has its pleasures; each season has its dangers. Navigating each season as gracefully as possible is the challenge and the reward of life.