Most of us are aware of the value of group support. Through our community networks, family structure, and perhaps a best friend or two, we find a way to share the burdens and joys of our lives. Where I’m from, it’s commonly said, “Many hands make light work” — and as a little girl I saw this adage demonstrated repeatedly in my community.
Our Amish neighbors could raise an entire, hand-made barn in a day. A long day at that – but the women and children were integral to the whole process. Some did the cooking or served food and kept the water jugs filled; younger kids could be seen ferrying lightweight trash to piles for its re-use or re-purposing… everyone helped, and the task was made light.
Similarly, my grandmother was part of a quilting circle, where women gabbed as they worked together on someone’s personal quilt, making the tedium of tiny stitches more joyous through the exchange of stories. A month or so later, I’d see them busy at work on another woman’s quilt. As I got older, there were many situations that taught me the value of sharing the load, of helping others ’till they could help themselves — and of receiving support too, when it was time to do that. I became a beekeeper, and saw for myself the ultimate example of group harmony — as well as what happens when the natural cohesiveness of the hive is lost through disease or disaster.
Lately, I’ve been seeing the spirit of teamwork showing up more and more in my clinic. Small social groups have combined resources to help the “weakest link” in a circle of hearts get some targeted care with me. Normally, this occurs because someone in the circle has experienced positive changes through my style of care, and wants similar benefits to reach others they care about. Most typically, one friend refers me to another. But lately, I’ve seen examples that go beyond that — where friends are actually pooling material resources, or doing the driving, or watching the kids to enable someone to see me. That strong encouragement — and if it’s needed, a bit of material support — can be a critical element in determining who withers away with chronic disease or debility, and who finds a way to regain health and remain part of the circle.
Here’s a wonderful example: Betty is a vivacious woman in her late 60’s who lives simply and relies on Medicare for most of her health needs. One of her key social connections is being part of what she calls the “Six Pack” — a group of 6 women who enjoy getting together once a week or so, to explore local art galleries or enjoy a leisurely hike — and usually end the day at a restaurant’s happy hour. But Betty was struggling to participate: she’d had a knee replacement 9 months prior, and the physical therapy prescription ended before she was 100% well. Home exercising hadn’t been able to overcome a tendency to swell in that leg, and occasionally she had spasms in her foot at night. Her sleep was starting to become erratic, and she felt irritable and a bit depressed. Few things had ever kept her from enjoying life with her friends — but she didn’t know exactly what more she could do. Her physiatrist (rehabilitative physician) assured her it would just “take time.” She had tried one massage, but wasn’t certain more would help, as her problems were becoming more painfully complex. Although she didn’t like to complain, she had bowed out of enough Six Pack activities to cause her friends worry.
One of those friends had been a client of mine in the past – and she asked Betty if she’d ever considered Chinese Medicine. “No, she said — I don’t know where to start with that, or whether it would help. And furthermore, I’m not sure I can bear the extra expense.” Of course, she had no idea what the cost would be — but in her heart, she knew she needed to do something! She’d heard some nice things about Acupuncture, but didn’t know anything about the broader field of Chinese Medicine, or what to expect comprehensive care would be like from a Licensed Acupuncturist.
Her friend, convinced that I could probably help, called to share some specifics about the knee replacement and how active a woman Betty had been. I was able to confirm the friend’s hunch that I could help, and estimated the initial costs for her. “It’s not so much that Betty doesn’t have any money — it’s that she’s not sure what the care you give is like, and how restorative it can be. I’ve explained it to her – but she needs to experience it. So we just want to get her started. Once she begins to see progress and feels better, she’ll be able to take it from there.”
Five of the Six Pack chipped in $100 each — and with that “encouragement” – or maybe it was more of a dare – Betty made an appointment for an Initial Evaluation, and began treatment the same week. I discovered during the Intake that she had some prior circulatory problems, and that lingering blood stasis around the artificial knee was the cause of swelling and cramping in her legs. After 2 treatment sessions and a Chinese herbal prescription to alleviate blood stasis, she came in smiling for session 3. “I went for the longest walk I’ve done since my knee replacement,” she said. “Let’s get this thing to 100%!”
As her leg felt better, she noticed that her sleep was much improved – better than in a long time – but also that her occasional heart palpitations in the evening disappeared. She didn’t have to get up to urinate at night any more – and her back felt stronger. “I thought I was coming for my knee – and all these other little issues have improved. How do you do that??”
I take delight in educating my patients about how Chinese Medicine/Acupuncture provides a different way of diagnosing and treating the body, compared to Western medicine. So I had already begun teaching Betty how it worked, and why it was preferable long-term to treat in this holistic manner. Moreover, I could help her understand why conventional therapy on her knee alone would not have produced all of the benefits she’d begun to experience: better sleep, stronger urinary function, warmer feet, the disappearance of leg cramps and worrisome palpitations… And once she’d used the Six Pack contributions, she recognized the value of this approach, and had the confidence and commitment to continue periodic care on her own. In due time, we identified and dealt with two more chronic problems, as her knee continued to heal.
In fact, she said to me on the 6th visit: “You know, Sara (youngest of the Six Pack) really has lots of problems with her digestion. When we go out to eat, there are times she talks about how picky she needs to be, or she’ll pay for it later. I think it stems from last year, when her brother died. She’s had lots of emotional stress. Could you help someone like her, with that?”
“Absolutely,” I said, smiling. For this is how it goes. I see it as a form of natural selection. What is proto-adaptive and produces positive results will, over time, be selected, replicated, and eventually mainstreamed. Right now, there are so many people who don’t know who or what will help them heal their chronic complaints, improve their metabolic and immune functions, help them respond differently to stress — and this creates the inertia of just waiting…
Everyone yearns for someone they can turn to with their jumble of unwanted symptoms, and find solutions to achieve better health. Gradually, people are discovering that comprehensive Chinese Medicine care can make a difference, and should become part of the health care landscape in our country. Heaven knows, our health statistics call for it!
Recently, I saw a picture of the Six Pack – back in action, all smiling together. “What a gift they gave me,” said Betty. “And now that I’m back on top, I plan to chip in on Sara’s care, too. I want us all to be around, smiling like that – for a long time.”