Author Archives: Quirky Quad

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

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Welcome Year of the Horse!

As I write, it is New Year’s Eve here in China, and what a massive national celebration it is.

The Lunar New Year, sometimes referred to as Spring Festival, is sort of like the Western world’s New Year + Christmas + Easter all rolled into one.

Mostly like Easter, I think, as this is a holiday of renewal + fresh starts for many.  Indeed, I’m really hoping the Lithium therapy brings me a fresh start this year without incessant pain.

In the largest annual human migration on earth, literally hundreds of millions of Chinese are all traveling at once today to visit family and friends.

So here in Kunming this afternoon we had a little celebration of our own at Tongren Hospital.

The weather is just beautiful right now … lovely spring days all this week, and even the trees here get dressed up for China’s Spring Festival!

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Trees Dress Up in Our Neighborhood

Our hospital celebration featured a homemade dumpling competition organised by Dr. Zhu and her staff.   Only in China!

Hey!  You think a quad cannot roll dumplings?  Feast at least your eyes on these puppies … I made 24 altogether!

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My Dumpling Production Line

Dr. Zhu was in great form today, even bringing along an entire case of excellent French wine for everyone to enjoy.

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Dumplings à la Française

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Mom Working Alongside Dr. Zhu

All the spinal cord patients + hospital nursing staff + senior rehab team members attended and pitched right in, rolling dumplings, cooking sweet sticky rice … and eating and eating … truly China’s favorite national pastime!

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Cooking in the SCI Rehab Center

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Yummy … Traditional Duck! (although I am a vegetarian)

Everyone had a really good time, and on my way out I was loaded down by Dr. Zhu with a weekend’s supply of extra dumplings … a lapful, actually!

And then I was back out into the sunshine with booming fireworks even so early in the day, with individual citizens setting miniature bonfires on public sidewalks, burning documents from the old year to usher in good fortune for the New Year.

So I wish my readers one and all great good health and prosperity in the Year of the Horse … Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Lithium – Round 2!

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This past weekend the effects of Lithium Toxicity seemed to be virtually gone, and Friday’s serum Lithium test results came back at 0.2 nmol/L.  That is apparently a sort of baseline for 95% of the population, because there is some Lithium in the food we eat and the water we drink.

Unfortunately, once the Lithium had cleared for me, my neuropathic pain flared with a vengeance, and I was frustrated that we hadn’t yet been able to give the China SCI Lithium protocol a fair try.

So on Sunday I decided to have another go!

This time, however, I followed my friend Dr. Susan Solman’s advice and started up with much smaller dosing.

Not that Susan has a view one way or the other on this protocol … but, if one is going to take Lithium Carbonate for whatever reason, she advocates serious caution and starting out with small doses until the balance between blood serum level vs. how you feel can be evaluated.

Indeed, Dr Zhu Hui has herself been intrigued by what happened to me and therefore investigated further within China.  Interestingly, Dr. Zhu found a study from Qiqihar Medical University that offers the same advice as did Susan Solman a couple weeks back.

Qiqihar Medical University

The actual China SCI Network protocol calls for starting off at 250mg three times daily, which obviously proved a disaster for me.  So on Sunday I started again with just 150mg three times daily.

And guess what?

Today, 72 hours later, my lab results came back at 0.7 nmol/L … nicely inside the bottom end of the therapeutic range of 0.6 – 1.2 nmol/L.

🙂

I am experiencing mild but tolerable nausea + occasional dizziness … but nothing I couldn’t handle for the 6 weeks of the protocol.

So we’ll see how this works out …

Meanwhile, on account of Lunar New Year holiday here in China that begins on January 31st this year, the Kunming Medical School lab will be closed until next week, but I’ll get another test just as soon as possible, perhaps as soon as next Monday.

Meanwhile, for readers who are not familiar with Chinese New Year, here’s a link to some information about this amazing holiday … which is a MUCH bigger deal than is New Year in Western countries.

 http://www.chinatravel.com/focus/chinese-new-year/traditional-customs.htm

Yesterday we had a surprise visit at our apartment, where Dr. Zhu arrived mid-afternoon with a five-strong delegation from the hospital to decorate both outdoors as well as inside!

Dr Who

Dr. Who?  Must be Dr. Zhu!

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Chief Neurosurgeon Dr. Liu

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How about this?  You like it?

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Mom pitched right in …

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Tongren Hospital Decorating Team

Sure can’t top Chinese hospitality!

🙂 🙂 🙂

 

Murphy Strikes Again!

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All About Murphy’s Law:   http://www.murphys-laws.com/

It’s Wednesday afternoon in China, and the latest blood serum Lithium lab test came back a few hours ago from our friends at the Kunming Medical School.

Monday’s level of 0.95 nmol/L has fallen to 0.26 today.

So toxic levels of Lithium in my blood have fallen quickly since I stopped taking Lithium Carbonate about 48 hours ago.

But the 24-hour nausea continues, to which today have been added severe abdominal pain and resultant Dysreflexia that has driven my neuropathic pain to Level 10!

😦

What’s this all about?

“Murphy”

More general blood tests from the Tongren Hospital today reveal a very high white cell count.  It seems I’ve contracted a severe UTI.  Online literature about Lithium therapy reveals a surprising finding that a fair number of patients contract UTIs after taking Lithium … for reasons unknown.

So I’ve been forced to my last resort against bad UTIs = Ciprofloxacin … a strong antibiotic that you don’t want to make a habit if using too often.  But this should kill off the UTI in just a few days.

From here forward, my strategy is to sit tight until the UTI clears along with the round-the-clock nausea that came on a few days after starting the Lithium protocol.

Once I feel much better, I’m thinking about giving Lithium another go, but this time starting off with 450 mg daily vs. the 750 mg with which I started a couple weeks ago.  Then I’ll see how I feel and what the lab numbers look like and proceed from there.

I wish I had better news to share today.

The main takeaway for other SCI survivors with serious neuropathic pain seems to be this:

If you would like to try the China SCI Lithium protocol to reduce or even eliminate neuropathic pain, then you may wish to consider starting off slowly and building serum Lithium levels into the bottom end of the recommended range of 0.6 – 1.2 nmol/L.  And remember, too:  clinical observations (about how you feel) trump lab tests.

Further, there are available online more than 100 years of medical accounts of the clinical use of Lithium, and it’s plain that sensitivity ranges considerably from patient to patient.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the potential dangers are such that for a couple of decades the medicinal use of Lithium was banned by the FDA in the United States, being legalised again in 1970.

Caveat emptor!

I’ve Poisoned Myself !!!

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I’m still in tough shape today and having to dictate this post to Dad, as I can no longer function well enough to use my computer.

Nonetheless, since yesterday I think we’ve pretty well figured out what has gone wrong + perhaps also what to do about it.

Before I go any further, both my Dad and I would like to acknowledge the invaluable advice we’ve received from Dr. Susan Solman in Miami.  Susan is a treasured family friend and also an experienced PhD pharmacologist who follows my blog + who wrote last night to highlight a number of issues we hadn’t fully considered.

We are indebted to Susan for her professional counsel + even more appreciative of her caring enough to contact us urgently.

Susan’s most important two points are:

Firstly, clinical observation always trumps lab results.  Or, as she put it …

“Practitioner will always treat the patient, not the lab data!”

From a detailed report on all of my symptoms, it is plain to Susan (as well as from the clinical literature) that I am suffering from what is known as Lithium Toxicity, which has potentially fatal consequences. Here’s a link if you’re interested in more details.

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/815523-overview

In other words, I’ve poisoned myself.

😦

Secondly, Susan advises that our strategy (explained in yesterday’s blog) of reducing my intake of Lithium Carbonate until my lab data fall to the low end of the recommended dosing range is both flawed + seriously dangerous.

The reason for this warning is rooted in pharmacokinetics, a field in which Susan has many years of working experience.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharmacokinetics

The bottom line turns out to be counterintuitive — that is, I could reduce my intake of Lithium Carbonate right away, but my blood serum Lithium levels could continue to rise for some time.

So … since I’m already deep into toxic territory, this would be needlessly tempting fate.  In other words … playing with fire … not clever!

Consequently, we decided to eliminate Lithium completely as of today and wait until I no longer manifest symptoms of toxicity before considering whether to get back on track with the protocol.

Since Lithium has a half life of about 24 hours, I probably won’t see improvement in symptoms until tomorrow at the earliest.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue to get frequent lab reports from the supportive Kunming Medical School team.

Today’s (Monday) lab results came in at 0.95 mEq/L … so almost identical to last Thursday’s 0.97 result.  And Wednesday is my next scheduled blood test.

Perhaps the ideal outcome would be that I end up symptom-free at a serum Lithium level of about 0.6 mEq/L that is the bottom end of the range thought to be therapeutically effective to alleviate SCI-associated neuropathic pain … which is why I’m going to all this trouble in the first place!

Anyway, we’ll see … much still to play for.

Lithium Week One – Not So Good

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Off to a rocky start, suffering round-the-clock nausea, vomiting, severe intestinal pain, diminished mental acuity + low energy.

😦
 

At the end of Week One of the China SCI Network Lithium protocol, my blood serum Lithium level tested at 0.97 mEq/L. This is toward the upper end of the recommended therapeutic dosage range of 0.6 to 1.2 mEq/L.

On the other hand, we have independently uncovered evidence that “patients abnormally sensitive to lithium may exhibit toxic signs at serum levels of 1.0 – 1.5 mEq L.”  So maybe I’m just in that “abnormally sensitive” subset of the population.

Anyway, presently I’m taking the initial recommended 750 mg daily dosage of Lithium Carbonate tablets in three doses of 300mg-150mg-300mg, respectively.

Problem is, logically we do not have any proof yet that my serum Lithium level was actually stable at 0.97 when the test was completed on Thursday.  This is because in the first week the serum Lithium level accelerated from baseline test @ 0.1 up to 0.97.

That is, the serum Lithium level may have reached 0.97 on, say, Day 4 and then stabilised … or the level might have been still accelerating through 0.97 on Day 7 when my blood was drawn + tested.

So tomorrow (Monday) morning we’re going to test again + I’ll post the results in a short blog update.

Meanwhile, test levels aside, the clinical picture is not good. I’m seriously ill and getting worse by the day. I can’t make it six weeks like this.

After we have the Monday test results, I’ll see if it helps to reduce dosage to get back into the lower end of the recommended therapeutic range.

And until we get this under control, I’m going to have my serum Lithium level tested every 72 hours.

New Year’s Resolutions and Pain Management Update

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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 …

https://chinaquaddiaries.org/2013/09/07/pain-management-take-1-lithium-carbonate-protocol/ 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:

China2011_Lithium_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!

 🙂

Christmas in Kunming

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Happy New Year!

I spent the Christmas holidays and New Year’s Eve with my parents, my sister Tiffany and her boyfriend Matthias at our apartment in Kunming.  We celebrate Christmas on the Christmas Eve, as do many Europeans because my Mom was born in Nuremberg, Germany.

Our family tradition is not to cook a large Christmas Eve meal but, rather, to enjoy a cold cut platter with smoked salmon, cream cheese, pickles, capers, onions, etc.  Sort of fancy finger food!

To our amazement, we were able to find all of our Christmas fixings in several international supermarkets located around Kunming.  The French retailer Carrefour, for example, have no less than four of their “hyperstores” located around Kunming.

As you can see from the photo below, my mother is quite an artist when it comes to making food look beautiful … not to mention delicious.

Christmas Eve Supper

While my mother and sister Tiffany were decorating our Christmas tree, our two local caregivers looked on in amazement and obvious delight, as they had never seen Christmas celebrated before.

Christmas Eve

Our apartment was decorated such that for an entire week no one would ever have known that we are presently living in China.  We even decorated the garden outside and had numerous Chinese neighbors admire our decorations, albeit they did appear slightly puzzled as they walked by.

Gone China We Have

Tiffany and I decked out in Chinese winter attire …. gifts received from our family’s assistant and now good friend, Wenjun Liao (“Jenny”)

We spent Christmas Day at the nearby Wyndham Grand Hotel, which was more elaborately decorated than I have seen most hotels in the United States. While the Chinese do not celebrate Christmas per se, this international holiday does offer them an extra occasion to go shopping!

We had a superb Thai meal in the Wyndham followed by several lattes at an independent local coffee shop.

Christmas Day Outing

About a month ago I mentioned in a blog post that I had been introduced by Dr. Zhu to Kopi Luwak coffee, also referred to as “Cat Poop Coffee.”  Coffee beans are fed to small catlike animals called Civets, which rather resemble small weasels, and they then proceed to “pass” the coffee beans through their system. The undigested coffee beans then go through a some kind of purification process!

This coffee is considered quite a delicacy and fetches an astonishing $3,000 per kilogram … that over $1,300 per U.S pound!   Indeed, this coffee has become so popular that Chinese entrepreneurs have started to open up dedicated coffee lounges that serve this coffee in any form imaginable.

So after our Christmas Day Thai lunch, we ventured over to one of these cafés and were all set to order a cup of the special coffee, but the asking price was a remarkable RMB 268 ($44.67) per cup, so we decided to stick with regular lattes, which I could see really pleased my Dad.

However, Tiffany and I had visited this café the prior week and purchased a box of less expensive pre-packaged coffee for him and my sister’s friend, Matthias, as a whimsical Christmas present.  So, several days later my Dad could find no excuse not to try the coffee!  I have to say he’s willing to try pretty much anything at least once.

Here’s a link to a funny story + video on the subject:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/16/cat-poop-coffee-taste-test-video_n_3605707.html

All in all I’ve passed a very pleasant Christmas with the family, notwithstanding still persistent high pain levels.

In my next post I will update you on my progress with reprogramming my brain and additional pain management strategies we’ll be exploring.

Here’s to wishing everyone a Happy New Year again!

Snow Day in Subtropical Kunming

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Snow in Kunming!

Last year while still living in Miami, I researched Kunming seasonal weather and was quite content with the prospect of winter temperatures averaging between 40°F to 50°F … to over 60°F on mostly sunny afternoons.

But Murphy Law seems to work pretty consistently for me, so it turns out I moved to Kunming on an anomalous year, and last week’s Tibetan cold front produced the coldest weather recorded since reliable airport records were first kept here in 1994.

Overnight temperatures have been around 28°F and we’ve had plug-in oil radiators running round the clock in our otherwise unheated apartment .

In the rehab gym at the Tongren Hospital, not to mention every other building in Kunming, there is no central heating nor space heaters, because people here are accustomed to moderate winters.  So the gym has been around 40°F during the daytime while I am working out. Needless to say, I put on multiple layers of clothing before wheeling about quarter of a mile to the hospital.

And next came snow … to “eternal spring” Kunming!

I woke up one morning last week to find our garden covered with about four inches of snow.  Having lived previously in The Bahamas and Miami, I had not seen snow in many years and certainly have never driven my wheelchair through snow.  As my caregivers and I set out for the gym a few days ago, sub-tropical Kunming was a winter wonderland.

XIAOLIN-ali

With Xiao Lin at 7 a.m. in our garden heading to the gym

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Kunming Winter Wonderland … early and later

Snow Yoga

Tiffany practicing yoga as as snowfall begins …

On my way to the hospital, I saw lots of children rolling around in the snow and building snowmen and throwing snowballs at one another.  Guess this is universal with kids.  And what a fine, slow-moving target I make!  Luckily, one snowball cleared my head by no more than an inch.

Other than the hospital gym being freezing cold while working out, what a lovely surprise have one day of snow, which promptly melted by the afternoon when the temperature soared above 50°.  After all, we’re in peak strawberry season here right now!

Christmas in China

Over the weekend, I went into the city center with my sister.  This was the first time I’ve been out since the pain became intolerable in August, so I think I must be making some progress with the new pain strategy I’ve mapped out with Dad.

Chinese Gingerbread House

With Tiffany at the Wyndam Hotel’s life-size gingerbread house!

I was amazed at how Christmas-festive all the stores looked, especially considering that the Chinese might seem to have little first-hand experience with Christmas.  Lovely decorations included a life-sized gingerbread house at the Wyndham Hotel, and in a department store traditional Christmas carols were being sung in both English and Chinese.  “Oh Come all Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” come off better in Chinese than one might imagine, especially when the singer is actually talented.

Closer to base, Dr. Zhu and the hospital staff made a commendable effort at decorating the gym with a little Christmas tree and presents underneath.  Suzanne Edwards and I were the lucky models to pose for the picture.

Ali_Suzzane

With fellow Tongren model Suzanne!

This year I will be spending Christmas with my Mom and Dad and sister Tiffany plus Tiffany’s boyfriend, Motts, who arrived early this morning from Raleigh, North Carolina.   And what a trip he had … Raleigh to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Bangkok and finally to Kunming, arriving at 5:30 this morning … 22 hours under way.  Tiffany went out to the airport this morning with our London Taxi to pick him up, and we’re really happy to have Motts with us.

We have actually put up a little Christmas tree in the house and plan on having smoked salmon instead of turkey for Christmas dinner.  I will post photos to the blog after Christmas.

Finally, but not at all the least … here’s to wishing my readers a memorable Christmas and Happy Holidays wherever you happen to be this year.

Reprogramming My Brain – Take 1

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My sister, Tiffany, arrived in Kunming yesterday for the holidays, and I could not be happier!

When the two of us are together you would never know that we are 30 and 32 years old … we revert immediately back to our childhood ways!

🙂

Tiffany is a professional yoga instructor, and she arrived in Kunming with a suitcase full of yoga toys for me. She’s planning on helping me work on quadriplegic yoga and roll me around in poses that will help alleviate the pain in my neck and shoulder.

Tiffany recently started a new yoga travel business …  www.wanderingspirityoga.com … where she travels around the world throughout the year hosting international yoga retreats. Yes, I admit, her adventures do make me a little jealous 🙂

This past week I have taken fresh new steps to addressing my pain issues, both my neuropathic pain and postsurgical neck pain.  These initiatives are based on discoveries made in recent months by my Dad as he drives himself relentlessly to find a way forward for me that does not involve use of pain-killer drugs.

I am beginning to learn how to reprogram the way that my brain interprets pain signals. I have believed for some while now that this is possible, but the initial practical challenge has been finding an actual clinical application to get started.

One new insight had led to another and yet another … Norman Doidge’s “The Brain That Changes Itself” led to Michael Merzenich’s leading neuroscience research and Dr. Merzenich’s recent book “Soft Wired” … and most recently to Les Fehmi’s “Dissolving Pain”.

After reading Dissolving Pain, I have started a journey through guided visualizations called Open Focus … www.openfocus.com.

Les Fehmi is the founding director of the Princeton Biofeedback Center in New Jersey. He is one of the real pioneers in the field of bio-and neuro- feedback.

http://www.princetonbiofeedback.com/

The concept behind Open Focus is called Flexible Attention, essentially willful control of movement from a narrow focus to a diffuse focus and back again … and this controlled shifting of attention (think of it as attention management) is at the heart of clinical application of the therapy.

Narrow-focus attention, also called narrow-objective focus, is how the vast majority of us pay attention most of the time to anything and everything, and not just visually but with all of our senses. For technically-minded readers,  narrow-objective focus is an emergency mode of paying attention that quickly and substantially increases brain EEG frequency.

As a result of common narrow-focus attention, most people tense muscles to prevent feelings from surfacing in both the mind and the body … and this muscle tensing ferquently creates new pain or exacerbates existing pain.   Almost everyone suffers from overuse of this chronic narrow-objective attention to some degree, predominantly due to emotional stress.

Open Focus Therapy offers a series of guided visualization recordings that help a patient gain power over pain by changing how you pay attention.

Over decades of basic research as well as clinical experience, Les Fehmi has proven that these kinds of attention exercises change the frequency of neuronal activity, which alters the experience of pain.  In other words, it turns out that the most significant factor at the root of pain is a hypersensitive and unstable brain.  Open Focus training engenders a more stable brain.

Dr. Fehmi illuminates an especially important insight called “Rigid Attention Theory” that explains the epidemic of chronic pain in our culture and the fact that much, if not most, of this pain has no detectable physical origin.

Neuropathic pain is a perfect example.  Narrow-focus attention causes people to avoid dealing with particular feelings and related pain issues, as a result of which our nervous system goes into over over-drive, creating muscle tension and blood flow disturbances, which in turn lead to manifestation of auxiliary pain.

Modern medicine has not historically acknowledged that the mind can so profoundly influence the body, and so physicians are not trained to pay close attention to the connection between pain and emotions.

Chronic pain sometimes has, of course,  a physical component and treating an injured muscle by stretching or with other medical interventions sometimes helps, at least temporarily.  Heck, I can get relief from neuropathic pain with morphine!

Unfortunately, treating only the body can leave behind a neural platform upon which the pain can and very often does rapidly rebuild itself. That’s what we see with neuropathic pain or with so-called phantom limb pain, for example.

So, how do I actually put any of this into practice?

Well, as I mentioned above, Dr. Fehmi has created a dozen or so 30 min. recordings for different pain issues. I listen to these 30 min. recordings twice a day and try to visualize what he is saying in order to change my narrow-focus attention so I can diffuse the pain. I suppose you could call it a form of meditation with the guidance of an instructor talking you through what to visualize.

So, there you have it … engaging with Open Focus training is my first step toward extensively reprogramming my brain.  I will keep you updated as I begin to take purposeful advantage my brain’s inherent plasticity … and as I start to re-draw my brain map, which presently harbors such a persistent and debilitating pain image.

This is challenging to explain, of course.  But in practice I sense it will get easier over time, and the prize — getting back working control of my life — seems to me worth all the trouble!

Shifting Focus (Part 2)

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I mentioned in my last blog post (Shifting Fcous – Part 1) that this month I have come to a major turning point in my life — one where I have decided that I’m going to elevate to top priority reducing my pain levels in order to create a “life space” where I can function productively.

Short of resorting to long-term use of drugs, which I am not prepared to do, this will mean working out how to re-draw the “brain map” that is keeping me in severe pain, as such maps do, for example, in what is known as phantom pain syndrome.

Readers interested in the science and clinical relevance of neuroplasticity might like to know about “Soft-Wired” … a new, non-technical book from field leader, Dr. Michael Merzenich.

http://www.soft-wired.com/

Thus I will now be using the Kunming rehab program as a platform for staying fit for the next couple years and devote the few good hours I have each day to study.

When not at the hospital rehab center, I have been constantly studying a subject known as “technical trading” of financial assets.  My ambition is to create out-sized wealth in support of neuroscience research.

Presently, I trade government bond futures, large cap equities and the foreign exchange cash market.  The methodology I use is based on complex geometry that reflects graphically what might be called the “animal spirits” of financial markets.

Used correctly, technical trading enables accurate anticipation of oncoming price changes without reference to news or fundamentals of any kind.

Focus on technical trading when I’m not at the gym is about the only activity that enables me to avoid thinking constantly about the pain.  Indeed, I view trading financial assets through a sort of libertarian prism, as being an activity that allows a skilled and disciplined individual more life flexibility that any other endeavor I’d discovered even before my accident.

Notwithstanding the complexity of the geometric patterns formed by price and time data, most successful traders consider consistent success to be 90% psychological.  Consequently, not only do I strive daily to refine the technical aspects of my work, but I’m also constantly striving to secure peace of mind and reducing the anger I often feel about the accident.

Many of the great traders, who’ve earned literally billions in a single career, say that their trading performance greatly improved after they learned to accept and understand a wide spectrum of their own emotions.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that once you can accept the reality of a bad experience (like breaking your neck!) and learn to detach specific negatively charged emotions from certain beliefs, then you can push those emotions into a neutral place and think more clearly about a lot of things … like anticipating accurately today tomorrow’s Treasury Bond price!   I reckon that if I can get that down cold, I’ll be able to fund an awful lot of research.

I know from talking with many of my new handicapped friends that it is quite common to hold onto the past and never truly find a “happy” place after the accident.

Frankly, I woke up one day this month and decided that it is just too exhausting being unhappy all the time.  I realized that if I spent more time working towards accepting my situation, then I could make a lot of progress in the coming year.

I realize this is an ongoing and, indeed, lifetime challenge that most spinal cord injury survivors go through on a daily basis. Of course, I also appreciate the fact that less than 100 years ago most of us would not have survived the accident in the first place!

On paper, this adjustment process reads a lot easier than it is actually accomplished in real life.  So I’ll need to keep beavering away for quite some time at resolving all my issues, but I have to accept that I will never be as I was before the accident, and so I am determined to find a new identity that squares with my new reality.

I have been reading a lot of books and studying different methodologies to get to grips with these psychological issues, so if some readers are interested in any of the systems I am pursuing, please feel free to e-mail me.

Finally, I’ve observed that a good many spinal cord injury survivors I have met seem to be constantly trying to prove themselves physically via extreme sports, such as quadriplegic rugby, basketball, etc.

While I admire greatly their courage and determination, I also think a lot about the effects of likely further injuries from these rough sports for handicapped people.  Maybe that’s because successful traders are cagey about assessing risk.

Meanwhile, I haven’t met too many handicapped people who want to prove themselves competitively with their uninjured brains — be that financially, educationally, psychologically, etc.

So I’m working on a career approach that takes advantage of my uninjured brain, which first I have to re-program to ditch the pain!