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As promised, this week we’re going to continue with the commonly asked question of “How did you get into this?”  Which is probably my favorite question, but it takes a little while to answer it.  So get yourself a mug of tea and settle in.  We’re going all the way back to the mid nineties.

Once upon a time, as a high school student, I started getting interested in alternative medicine.  I’m not really sure where this interest cam from, although my parents’ distrust of medical doctors may have played a part.  Then again, my brother’s a nurse, so it could have gone either way I suppose.  Regardless, from a fairly early age I struggled to accept the “something hurts, take a pill” view of healing.  And as the obsessive-compulsive, overly passionate, eager reader nerd that I am, I dove into every book I could get my hands on about alternative methods of healing.  I read about ayurveda and reflexology.  I learned about nutritional deficiencies and acupuncture.  I read about yoga and macrobiotics.  And, because I was a pompous know-it-all I started lecturing everyone about whatever I’d learned that week.  My volleyball coach was obviously suffering from a vitamin C deficiency.  If only my friend with eczema would start eating flax seed all his problems would go away.  My own bruises were treated by applying vitamin E.  Of course, I didn’t stop eating flammin’ hot cheetos and drinking cherry coke every afternoon.  Do what I say, not what I do.  I’m sure I was a real joy to spend time with.

Anyway.  With the arrogance only a teenager can posses, I decided I would grow up to be the best doctor in the world.  I was also planning to be an astronaut (the first to visit Pluto) and the President.  When people told me I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be, I apparently took it to heart.  In my plan to be the best doctor in the world, I would then need to go not only to medical school, but to chiropractic school, and acupuncture school, and massage school, and ayurveda school, and aromatherapy school, and reiki school, and herbalism school, and homeopathy school…you get the picture.  I wanted to know all there was to know about every single modality of healing on the planet.  I also had the foresight and general practicality of a teenager, so it didn’t dawn on me that A) I’d be so far in debt by the time I was done with all that school that I’d never be able to get out of it, B) I’d be about 237 years old by the time I was done with all that school, and C) having spent all those years in school and zero years actually practicing anything I’d learned, I’d be the worst doctor in the world, instead of the best.

Regardless, as I entered my senior year of high school, this was the genius plan I was sticking to.  Then, I read this book about homeschooling, which doesn’t have much to do with the story except that it encouraged me to actually meet a chiropractor and see what this whole “holistic healing” thing was all about.  There was one chiropractor in the neighborhood and I rode my bike up there and walked in the door.  I just laid it all out.  “Hi, I want to be the best doctor in the world and I’m really interested in alternative medicine and could I maybe work here or follow you around or just hang out in the lobby once in a while?”  And the generous Dr. Reed said yes to all of the above, which seemed natural at the time, but seems pretty amazing in hindsight.  I started working there a few hours a week and in the process, I learned a little bit about insurance billing, a little bit about supplements, a little bit about homeopathy, and a medium bit about what it looked like behind the scenes at this particular chiropractor’s office.  Once in a while the doc would (with his patients’ permission) let me come into the treatment rooms with him where he would explain what he was doing and why.  I got my first (and many subsequent) adjustments and felt e-stim for the first time.  I loved it all and thought it was amazing, but I had a hard time picturing myself as a chiropractor.

So, I just kept going.  After graduation, I got a summer job to help pay for college.  In addition to my few hours a week with the chiropractor, I started working for the local acupuncturist.  Same story, different building.  I learned about moxa, and cupping, and that thing they do with the spoon…maybe gua-sha?  It’s been awhile.  I had needles stuck in my meridians and I washed the sheets.  Dr. Broderick was as wonderful as the chiropractor about bringing me into the treatment rooms with her (with her patients’ permission) and explaining what she was doing and why.  Once again, I loved it all, but couldn’t picture myself as an acupuncturist in the end.

I proceeded with the plan.  My parents helped move my freckled self 1000 miles west to Boulder, Colorado to attend CU as a physics major.  Not only did I love physics (nerd alert!), but I knew my chances of getting into med school were better with a physics degree than the more common biology or chemistry degrees.  I took all the standard freshman-year classes, then took a year off to establish residency for cheaper tuition, which, again, isn’t relevant, except that my friends were now a year ahead of me in school.  During that year, I worked for Dr. Duggan, another chiropractor as the entire billing department.  I dominated those insurance companies!  I didn’t let them get away with shortchanging us or our patients even one cent!  And I was so incredibly stressed out and exhausted that I was miserable.  But, here I also met and worked with Dr. Leach, who is to play a part in our story later on.  Back to school, where I took all the biology classes and labs.  I took chemistry and then fell in love with organic chemistry (I warned you earlier about my nerdiness).  I learned about quantum physics and multiplying matrices.  But there was a wrench hurtling toward my plans, unbeknownst to me.  See, my best friend, Elizabeth, was planning to go to med school, too and she did so, one year ahead of me.

And I watched (over the phone) in horror as my best friend became this studying machine.  We rarely talked ’cause she had to study.   And when we did talk, all she talked about was studying.  She had no time to sleep, let alone eat, or have friends, or go for hikes, or do any of the things I really valued in my life.  I started thinking long and hard about this whole “best doctor in the world” plan.  Was it worth it?  Was it really what I wanted?  Was this the best way to go about it?  Maybe it was fear.  Maybe it was coming to my senses.  Maybe it was both, but I decided going to med school wasn’t what I wanted after all.  Which is great, looking back, but it left me feeling a bit lost.  Now what?

Truth be told, now, I wandered.  For a long time.  I dropped out of college with 3 1/2 years done towards a physics degree.  People told me I’d regret it.  But 8 1/2 years later I’m still waiting for regret to set in.  I only wanted a physics degree to get me into med school and if I didn’t want to go to med school anymore I didn’t see the point in continuing to acquire debt and struggle through math problems that took 4 days each.  So I moved back to Chicago for a while.  I thought I was going to open a restaurant (’cause med school would be too much work, ha!).  I coached a volleyball team.  I waited tables.  I realized I hated the weather in Chicago and missed the Rockies.  I packed up my old Honda Civic and drove back to Denver.  I waited more tables.  I got a job working for Dr. Leach as a chiropractic assistant at his practice in Lafayette.  Once again I was doing insurance billing, along with taking x-rays and doing ultrasound.  For the first time ever, I heard of Rolfing!  A patient mentioned they were going to get Rolfed later in the week.  I asked Dr. Leach about it.  He told me it was like super-deep-and-painful-massage.  Yowza.  No thanks.

I started working on my own development.  I guess this is what happens when you’re 23 or 24.  You realize you can’t just drink your life away and maybe there’s more to it all.  I started learning about qi gong and meditation.  I saw a shaman and got a soul retrieval.  I quit my job with Dr. Leach to open a dance studio.  I realized how much work it would take to open a dance studio.  I remember sitting in Wahoo’s Fish Tacos while two guys at a table next to me discussed Rolfing.  I paid attention.  They talked about how super-intense and super-deep it was.  I was still on the no-thanks-train.

This theme of alternative-medicine-healer kept coming up.  I was interested in a lot of things, obviously, but healing was recurring.  I had dreams where I was told that my carreer would involve working with my hands.  I thought about massage therapy.  But it didn’t seem like it was “enough.”  I felt like massage made people feel good temporarily, but didn’t fix what caused the pain in the first place.  It might as well be ibuprofen for all I cared.  I started a gardening business.  I grew organic vegetables for people in their own yards.  When I say I wandered, I mean it.  Then, my very good friend Kate started getting Rolfed.  She signed up for the 10-series, to be exact.  And very early on in the process she said, “Theresa, I think you need to check this out.”  Um, no Kate, Rolfing hurts.  I’ll pass.  I have better things to spend my money on.  A few more sessions in and she wouldn’t let it go.  “Theresa, for real.  This is a modality that I think you’d really like.”  I’m not a masochist, but thanks.  A few months later, I got “Know Yourself” and “Honor Yourself” tattooed on my wrists.  I passed out from the pain and thought nothing of it, other than it was embarrassing.

We could continue, and we will, but this is getting a little long, even longer than I’d imagined.  So let’s take a break, shall we?  To be continued next week, I promise.

What is this ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’ everyone keeps talking about?

First, a little anatomy: You’ve got several long, spindly bones in your arms.  There’s the humerus (from shoulder to elbow), then the radius and ulna (parallel from elbow to wrist), then your metacarpals (between wrist and first knuckles), then your phalanges, which make up your fingers.  But right in the middle, with your radius and ulna above and your metacarpals below, you’ve got 8 small bones that aren’t long or spindly.  They’re called your carpals, they make up your wrist, and they’re more cubical, wedge-shaped, or spherical, depending on which one we’re talking about.  My favorite is the Pisiform, but I really like saying ‘Triquetrum.’  Any other anatomy nerds out there with a favorite carpal?  Sorry, back to the task at hand.

So I know what carpals are; what’s with the tunnel?  Well, the carpals form an arch.  If you put your right hand flat on the table in front of you, palm down, your carpals form two rows going from the thumb side of your wrist, up, over, and back down to the pinky side.  On the underside, there’s a ligament, called the transverse carpal ligament, that acts as the bow string to your carpal bow.  It pulls each end (pinky and thumb) toward the other, forming this nice little tunnel for nerves, arteries and veins, and muscle tendons to pass through on their way from your arm to your hand, and back again.

I get the tunnel.  What’s the syndrome?  If you hold your wrist straight (like you’re pointing at something far away) your carpal tunnel is very comfortable.  Plenty of room for everything inside to do what it needs to do.  If you curl your hand towards you (like you’re pointing at your own chest), there’s still lots of room.  Maybe even a little extra room.  If, on the other hand, you flex your wrist (Stop In The Name of Love style), your carpal tunnel gets flattened a bit, and everything inside (again, that’s nerves, arteries and veins, and muscle tendons) gets a bit squished; which is no big deal once in a while.  But if you’re doing it all day, every day (flexing your wrists to type is the most common culprit, but too many pushups or too much time on the mountain bike can cause strain as well), that adds up to some cranky wrists.  And that, my friend, is basically carpal tunnel syndrome:  cranky, over-flexed wrists.

What to do about it
Stop flexing your wrists so often, for one.  Go ahead, sing and dance along with Diana, it’s not a problem.  But take a look at your keyboard at work and at home; is there a way (with a pad or a different keyboard) that you can have your wrists in a more neutral (straight) position?  What about the way you drive?  Can your wrists be straighter as they meet the steering wheel?  There are push-up devices out there and some of them may help your wrists stay in a more tunnel-friendly spot.  You’ll have to find the one that works for you.

Curl your wrists after flexing for a while.  Maybe some of your wrist flexing is unavoidable.  If that’s the case, remember to open up that tunnel after all the squishing.  Just curl your wrists (pretend you’re a T-Rex for a while) and give those nerves and blood vessels some room to breathe.

If you’ve still got pain or numbness, seeking outside help may be the way to go.  There are lots of different options out there, as I’m sure you’ve seen and heard advertised.  Surprise, surprise, Rolfing can help.  There are splints that don’t let you flex.  There are surgeries that cut into the tunnel to open it up.  An ounce of prevention can go a long way when in comes to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but if you’re past that point, just make sure you do your homework before jumping into one route or another.