Monthly Archives: July 2014

Kunming Walking Program Summing Up


Summing Up

In recent blog posts I have gone into considerable detail about various aspects of my experience in China — this because readers have repeatedly asked me for as much detail as possible.

Today I’m going to offer less detail-oriented readers a summing up of my 18-month experience here in Kunming.

  1. Surgery Outcome
  2. SCI Rehab Program
  3. Life in Kunming
  4. Remaining Pain Challenges

Successful Surgery

Without the spinal cord surgery on offer in Kunming, it seems likely that I would have by now been ventilator-dependent … or dead.

The ascending, rapidly-growing cyst inside my spinal cord was successfully removed in May 2013 at Tongren Hospital by chief neurosurgeon Dr. Liu Yansheng.

While the post-surgical pain management protocol used with me proved to be woefully inadequate, more recent Tongren patients confirm this serious problem has subsequently been corrected.

The Kunming SCI Rehab Program

It is possible to have mixed feelings about the so-called Kunming Walking Program, because expectations figure so importantly into anyone’s feelings.

I have seen no evidence that the Kunming SCI rehab program results in neurological motor function recovery in chronic SCI patients.

On the other hand, I have seen evidence that the Kunming SCI rehab program builds muscle mass and strength for even chronic patients who work hard at the program.

Improved muscle mass and tone, in turn, frequently lead to enhanced adaptive behavior that can mimic neurological recovery. I’ve treated this subject at considerable length in an earlier post, but for now let’s just sum up by noting that improvements in adaptive behaviour, while very useful to SCI survivors, are often mistakenly confused with motor function recovery.

On the other hand, here in Kunming I have quite frequently witnessed functional improvements with acute SCI patients. This may be on account of adaptive behavior or neurological recovery or some combination of the two. It is obviously impossible to assess how these acute patients would have recovered without the local rehab program.

Life in Kunming

Putting medical challenges to one side, life in Kunming has been very agreeable. And this is not just because of the delightful climate, rather also because the Chinese people here are just so genuinely nice.

My care-giving team (sisters-in-law in their late 30s from the Yunnan countryside) are wonderful to me, with qualities too numerous to recite in such a summary. Indeed, Shao-Lin and Shao-Yin are a major reason I’m still living here.

Yunnan Province is renowned both within China and internationally for the quality and variety of its “old China” tourist attractions, and our periodic overseas visitors have really enjoyed the regional tours we’ve organised for them.

My Pain Issues

Regular readers know that I have been greatly troubled by persistent high levels of neuropathic pain as well as allodynia, both of which pre-date my arrival in Kunming.

The more recent neck and right shoulder pain resulted from my surgery here. We now believe this was a knowable risk of which we had not been informed and that it resulted from stretching the intersection where the dorsal root ganglia (sensory) nerves enter the spinal cord. Expert international neurosurgical advice is that this pain may resolve itself over 1-3 years, but I do not see much evidence of that.

With respect to my debilitating neuropathic pain, my Dad has devoted much of the past year to getting up to speed with the neuroscience of pain. He joined the International Association for the Study of Pain ( and has relentlessly pursued both academic and clinical leads all over the globe.

We decided against the use of pain-killing (but mind-dulling) drugs except for very occasional one-time use of Tramadol.

And we concluded that the case for implanted electronic pain management devices has yet to be proven for SCI-related neuropathic pain.

What we have decided to focus on is hypnotherapy. The objective, over time, is to alter what we reckon to be my brain’s pain map, being similar that what is believed to result in the phenomenon known as “phantom pain syndrome.”

And I have already started to work with a renowned Chicago-based hypnotherapist, Dr. Stephen Kahn, former President of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (

Readers who may be interested in this subject would find helpful a small book entitled “Medical Hypnosis Primer – Clinical and Research Evidence” that is available from Amazon and offers an up-to-date, succinct overview of the field.

I am already benefitting from working with Dr. Kahn, even as I accept that it will take some while for us to bring my pain levels down on a consistent basis.


The surgical outcome speaks for itself. My ascending spinal cord cyst was already impacting my breathing by the time I came to China, where neurosurgeons have more hands-on experience opening spinal cords than anywhere else in the world. Today my breathing is fine again. So I can recommend Dr. Liu and his team.

My position on the Kunming Walking Program is that its potential value to an international SCI patient depends on expectations. For that reason, among others, I am neither an advocate nor an opponent of the program. As usual “the devil is in the details” … and for details readers will have to comb back through my earlier posts.

On balance, the Kunming experience has worked out well enough for me, notwithstanding my broken leg, chronic post surgical neck pain due to surgery and a few other unanticipated challenges! I suppose those are challenges to consider in and of themselves. And while vexing pain issues still impair my life quality, the neuropathic pain did not originate in China. I will note that living in China has been more manageable for me because I am able to speak the language, which helps with everyday life here in Kunming.

In my blogs moving forward I will be focusing on educational aspects of spinal cord injury, hypnosis, Nerve transplants, etc.



Taking a Few Days-Off Here in Kunming


It is been well over a year since I have taken more than a day off from the Kunming SCI program … that is, taking off time from rehab just for fun and not solely on account of pain or other medical issues.

So last week I decided to play hooky from the rehab program on account of my sister, Tiffany, having come all the way from Raleigh, North Carolina to visit me.

Jenny Liao, our trusted Kunming administrative assistant and now very good friend, made us a happy threesome.

So Tiffany, Jenny and I headed out into center city Kunming to do some shopping, have lunch together and to go explore generally.

Most of the pictures that accompany this post are pretty self-explanatory, but we did find our way in several little novelty shops with “Chinese characteristics” as the popular saying goes!

And, as you can see, we even discovered a local branch of the American Toys R’ Us. Great move on their part, as the Chinese are equally crazy about toys and about spoiling their really adorable children.

When we entered the big Toys R Us, you could see right away the sales staff were wondering what on earth we were doing there. Well, in short, we’d come to play!


When my sister comes to visit, it seems we always revert back to our teenage selves. Why not? Beats current reality by miles!


Jul03_2      Pic of Tiff (sister) and me out yesterday

Sisterly Love

 Jul03_3 Jul03_4

Chinese Shopping Plaza



Right in the middle of a shopping mall!



Boys will be boys? Well, girls will be girls …


Jul03_6    Jul03_5

Never too old to play Spiderman!



Jenny and Tiffany at “hide and seek”

Jul03_10 Jul03_9

Hehe … I couldn’t resist!

20140703_143311 20140703_143305

Middle of a shopping mall is a huge pool with goldfish.

… Where adults + children can go fishing!


Changing Topics … Fear of Dentists!

I mentioned in one of my previous blogs that a porcelain tooth inlay had fallen out about a month ago, and a local dentist actually came to my apartment to glue it back in … twice!

You really get one-on-one service here in Kunming, and my dentist even came over with his assistant late one night when I was in bed to help me out after the inlay came out a second time. I doubt you would find dental service like that anywhere else in the world.

Anyway, my dentist convinced me that it would be best to replace the inlay with a stronger traditional crown. I struggled for days with this decision, because I am quite terrified of going to the dentist and had never had a crown before.

Indeed, I am so terrified of any dentist that when I did decide to go ahead with the crown I had my sister hold my hand the whole time and sing me songs. No, I’m not kidding!

Dentist at the house

Home Dental Service

(Daytime Session)

 Bedside Dental Service

Again … at night in bed!


All Smiles in Dental Office

I know this is hard to believe, but I think I was less scared going into spinal surgery last year than I was over getting a crown fitted last week.

Cool as a cucumber I was when rolled into the Tongren Hospital operating room for my spinal cord surgery, but I had to take a pain killer (Tramadol) in order to feel slightly loopy to go to the dentist last week. I guess there’s something about that drilling sound in my head that rattles me psychologically every time.

Anyway, actually getting into the dentist and transferred into the dental chair was quite a challenge on its own right, even with Tiffany + Jenny + Shao-Lin + Shao-Yin all skillfully assisting.

We had to overcome multiple steps, narrow doorways and then there was the hurdle of actually transferring me into the dentist’s chair. As there were no lower side rails on the chair, we even had to tie my legs together so I didn’t fall out.



My young dentist is very skilled … quite a superstar in my book. What I did find rather hilarious was that at the end of the dentist’s ground floor office there is a huge glass window, so when I transferred into the dental chair passersby outside on the sidewalk could walk up to the glass and watch the procedure!

China … no problem … everyone’s very curious about many things!

Okay … that’s it for today.

Looking Ahead …

I’ll take the next few weeks to sum up thoughtfully the multiple Kunming Walking Program blogs I have written over the past two months in order to offer to prospective international participants the clearest possible picture based on my personal experience here.

Going forward, I am thinking about shifting my blog focus to be primarily educational and informative with respect to a wide range of SCI issues and challenges that I, in addition to many other SCI survivors, deal with on a regular basis.

I regularly receive e-mails from blog readers who have been reporting that from my blog they are frequently learning new things about spinal cord injury and suggesting they would welcome anything further I think would be of community interest.

So, while I may still do personal blog posts from time to time to keep you up-to-date with what’s going on with me in China, I hope to have a general practical focus on making this blog a useful SCI educational site.

If readers have any comments or particular suggestions on other issues I should focus on, please feel free to e-mail me directly ( or via my blog.