New Year’s Resolutions and Pain Management Update


I’ve spent the past few months reflecting on how to operate in the New Year such than in 12 months I could look back on a successful 2014.  This has meant thinking more critically than ever — and editing my own ideas to focus on those with highest possible payback.

Since I broke my neck 3 1/2 years ago, day-to-day life has gotten pretty complicated, dishing up more surprising twists and turns than a riding a roller coaster blindfolded.

One might think, or least I did, that when you break your neck it’s pretty much the worst thing that can happen and that life can only go up from there, right? 

Well,  right now I’m actually sitting here chuckling to myself about the astonishing cascade of secondary complications I have had over the last several years.  This is something I’m sure many, if not most, spinal cord injury patients are familiar with.

This time last year, for example, I was thinking “Great, I’m going to China, where I’m going to regain some motor function, going have surgery to fix my cyst and everything will be smooth sailing from there.” 

However, as regular readers know, I’ve hit roadblock after roadblock … broken leg, new scar tissue impinging on cervical nerves, increased neuropathic pain, etc.  In all the circumstances, I suppose I should be happy simply to have survived 2013!

Meanwhile, in recent months I’ve been laying a mental foundation for the New Year that is now upon us — although here in China maybe I get a month’s bonus because the Lunar New Year will not be celebrated until the end of January!

Either way, this year I am determined to achieve more positive results!  And I feel I’m  just that little bit wiser that I can make that happen here in Kunming.


In recent months I have posted blog entries explaining various pain management strategies, and I am presently in the process of implementing no less than three of these.  They include:

1.     Electro Acupuncture and Massage

a.      I have been working with my Japanese electro-acupuncturist, Ericko, for about two months.  Ericko has mostly focused on the new scar tissue that formed in my neck after triple laminectomy last May and that is now pressing against a cervical nerve.

While the main purpose of the surgery (removing the arachnoid cyst + related scar tissue) was a success, the neck pain remains very intense. This pain radiates down the right side of my neck, shoulder and arm pretty much around the clock and especially when I am sitting in my manual wheelchair. 

Ericko has been trying to soften the scar tissue around the cervical area while working on massaging my muscles, which have been seizing in serious knots that arise from always tensing my upper body to release some of the pain I feel in my neck.

2.     Lithium Protocol

a.      In one of my previous blogs … I outlined the details of  Dr. Wise Young’s Lithium Protocol for neuropathic pain.  The so-called Lithium protocol is based on a published trial.  Here is a paper on that trial:


The observation that high dose Lithium carbonate for 6 weeks can significantly reduce SCI-related neuropathic pain on a long term basis was incidental to the original purpose of the trial, which had to do with evaluation of whether Lithium could promote motor function recovery.  (No joy there.)

b.     Lithium appears to change the behavior of pain-related neurons, whether in the spinal cord or brain.  In other words, Lithium seems to erase the earlier pain memory imprint and changes neuronal circuitry in the brain in such a way as to perhaps permanently reduce neuropathic pain.  The most interesting (pain-related) thing about the China trial was that neuropathic pain relief continued for many months after the Lithium has been discontinued, so the Lithium was evidently not acting as a pain killer in the ordinary sense of the expression.

c.      In order to execute the Lithium protocol by myself, my blood serum levels need to be accurately tested for Lithium every single week, because if excessive Lithium builds up in your system it can cause very serious complications, including the stroke.  So, my Dad and I spent months working with the Kunming Medical School to obtain the special reagents needed to test the blood serum lithium levels. 

d.     I am happy to say the re-agents finally arrived last Wednesday, and so I started taking Lithium carbonate (750mg daily … 300-150-300) this past Friday and will continue to do so for six weeks, adjusting dosing according to how the blood tests turn out.  Once the Lithium builds up in my system, say in about three weeks, I’m thinking I might begin to notice  whether there is any relief from my currently high levels of neuropathic pain.

e.     I am presently on Day # 3 and will update you on a weekly basis as to my Lithium progress.  Blood test results come every Thursday. 

3.     Open-Focus

a.      This pain management approach involves practicing audio- guided visualizations every single day for about an hour in order to re-program the way my pain interprets pain signals.

b.     Neuroscience research has repeatedly demonstrated that pain is “simply” a set of electrical signals created by our brain … sometimes referred to as a pain map. Therefore, the idea here is that, with practice and hard work, virtually everyone is capable of training their brain to ignore the pain signals, just as athletes do when they train around the clock to become Olympians. 

c.      I have now been practicing Dr. Les Fehmi’s Open-Focus technique for about a month and a half. I have to say this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.

     Have you ever tried to sit still for 30 minutes-to-an-hour, fully conscious, and just not think about anything at all?  This must be harder than trying to climb Mount Everest! 

Obviously I am still a beginner, but when I am sitting there trying to meditate and listen to these guided visualizations, a million thoughts pop in and out of my mind at a dizzying pace. When I do manage to stop thinking, I wake up 15 minutes later only to realize that I’d fallen asleep!  

I have been reading that this is pretty normal for beginners, but I keep at it every single day and am determined to be one with my mind. On a related note, being able to sit quietly with my thoughts will, I believe, also help me to find a mental framework in which I am able to better accept the accident that landed me where I am right now. 

So that about covers it for my current pain management initiatives.

My family and I are determined to find a solution to this neuropathic pain problem, because I have come to the point where my desire to walk has greatly decreased, while my desire to have no pain — without resorting to regular drug use — is my highest priority.   No pain means I can “get a life” and I have good ideas about how to make a pain-free life seriously productive!

Winston Churchill once cracked:   “When you are going through hell, keep going!” 

 I am going as fast as I can!


4 responses »

  1. Hi Ali,
    The lithium arrived! This is wonderful news. I think 2014 WILL be better than the previous year, no doubt about it. The acupuncture sounds like it makes a lot of sense too. Hopefully these strategies together with the visualizations will work in synchro to kill the pain. Are you able to keep trading currency or are you fully occupied with the pain management? Say Hi to your Mum from me – all the BEST for 2014, Donna

  2. Fully focused as ever! Truly “inspirational”!!! Very, very much looking forward to seeing you again 17 Feb. Meanwhile our thoughts are with you. Lots of love. Liz

  3. Hi Ali,
    Another really well written blog. I am so pleased you have felt well enough to get out again. I’m keeping everything crossed for you that the lithium trial will prove useful for you. I very much hope that 2014 is a more successful year for you. Love, Tania.

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