A Strange Thing Happened at the Acupuncturist

About fifteen years ago I was really struggling with my JRA. I had run out of options medication-wise and my inflammation rates were breaking records at my rheumatologist’s office. I was hanging on by a thread at work as an occupational therapist in a rehab hospital, secretly wrapping my knees, and icing them when I did paperwork. Things were not looking good.

I’ve always considered myself a realist.

I don’t like false hopes; I prefer brutal honesty. Even as a kid with JRA I made my Dad tell the doctors that I wanted to know everything they were going to do before they did it. When I would hear, “This won’t hurt a bit!” before I would get a needle stuck in my arm I would roll my eyes in disgust. So, as I was hanging on by a thread at work and in my daily life, I knew that I was going to be in a tough place for awhile.

Turns out I was right, things got much worse before they got better, and things stayed bad for way too long. But along with brutal honesty, I look for hope, regardless of the situation I find myself in. I’ve found that if you keep your eyes open, especially during times when all you want to do is pull the covers over your head and sleep for a very long time; you will find it. Often in the most unexpected places and through the most unexpected people.

One thing that I was dealing with at the time I was struggling at work was an unusual side effect of a medication. I developed a cyst just above my left ankle. It didn’t hurt unless I touched it, but it impeded my ability to wear the shoes that actually gave the support my feet needed. It was a bother, even though in the big picture of my life it was small potatoes.

My work environment was not a good one, I had been at the hospital for only two years but in that time the sniping and gossiping that went on were worse than Grey’s Anatomy. The team leader was a doctor whose hobby was to make fun of patients during our weekly meeting. When I had asked my doctor about the cyst he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I have no idea what that is,” and kept talking about my next knee aspiration since that was all he could offer besides high doses of steroids. When I broke down and asked the doctor at work he moved away in disgust and left. It was unsightly, I have to admit, but after that reaction, I decided I was on my own with this one.

Then I remembered my acupuncture doctor.

She was a kind, sweet, caring woman; a Chinese medical doctor who did acupuncture in the states because of licensure issues. She was a huge fount of knowledge and had helped me immensely with relaxing my body through all my daily pain. One day I was at her office and I said, “Can you look at my ankle? Is there anything that might help it?”  I was whistling in the dark, pretty sure that I’d get another funny look followed by a brush-off. But I also knew Dr. Li had already helped me immensely so it was possible that I wasn’t wasting my breath. As it happens, I wasn’t; instead a strange, yet beautiful thing happened.

Dr. Li looked at my ankle, made a sound that sounded like, “Hmph”, and went into the back room. She came out with a jar filled with a yellow-orange powder, took a piece of paper and poured some on. Then she folded the paper until the powder was securely wrapped up and told me, “Put this on your ankle tonight. Wrap it tightly and in the morning unwrap it. I don’t know if it will work, we will see.” “At least someone had an idea,” I thought. At least someone didn’t totally dismiss my discomfort and leave me alone with it. I had absolutely no expectation that this little powder would do anything at all; in fact, I expected it not to work.

I was wrong.

The next morning, I woke up, unwrapped my ankle and it was gone. Not just subsided a little; the cyst was completely gone. I yelled to my boyfriend, “Dennis, check this out!” He picked up my left ankle, then picked up my right ankle, and he said, “No way!” Dr. Li had done something miraculous. She had listened to me and tried to help, and in doing so she gave me so much more than an ankle without a huge, unsightly cyst.

Dr. Li had restored my hope. In myself, my body, and in people. Ever since that day, when I face things that seem hopeless I know that hope, and help, is still out there. I just have to keep asking.

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