In early 1998 I was working as a lighting technician in the film industry. We were shooting a short drama about disaffected teenagers that involved long hours of being crammed into a small flat with almost continual smoking as signifier of their boredom. Tobacco combined with the winter humidity to provoke the asthma that had been with me on and off since childhood.
The characteristic pulmonary spasm and feeling as someone was sitting on my chest was a challengeas my job involved lifting heavy equipment in and out of the locations in which we were working. I saw the job through but on the Sunday morning, the day after we finished, I awoke feeling lethargic and struggling to breath. I was bundled into a taxi and taken to St Thomas A+E where the triaging nurse took one look at my blue lips and fast tracked me to be nebulised in a side bay whereby the equivalent of a whole Ventolin inhaler is given in one dose. I could breath again but it was decided that I should be admitted for observation as my oxygen saturation level had been dangerously low.
Over the following days I lay in a Victorian ward with a view onto Parliament and was medicated with further nebulisation, antibiotics and steroids. My lung function had quickly improved but I went along with the regime and was praised by the well-spoken consultant who eventually discharged me for being a ‘good patient’. This was era when the geriatric units had been integrated into the general wards and over the following days two elderly patients died in the beds next to me and were wheeled out in steel coffins. A middle aged women sat with patient dignity each evening after work with her unresponsive elderly father in bed opposite holding his hand.
There were also some patients who were clearly mentally disturbed and one in particular, panicked by one of the deaths, started running round the ward shouting “another one has croaked!” as if it was a conspiracy. He was calmly ordered to calm down by a duty nurse and told “it’ll come to us all.” A disturbed elderly woman whose spine was bent double swished around in her prink dressing gown seeming throughly amused by the situation in which we had all landed.
One night I woke up in the early hours and found her at the foot of my bed smiling with anticipation as if awaiting the punchline of a joke. As our eyes met she let out a manic laugh and scurried off into the gloom of the ward. I wondered what turns of events had brought my fellow patients into their current circumstance and pondered my own situation.
Laid up for several days, I had time to think. After I was informed that I would from now on have to continually use preventive steroidal inhalers as opposed to relieving inhalers taken when symptomatic, a fairly standard protocol in such presentations as mine, the thought occurred that the medical regime I was under, whilst quite possibly saving my life, didn’t have a handle on my condition. I was to be kept from mortal danger by medication but not able to move beyond my condition and a cure wasn’t even muted.
Once out of hospital, a friend who had an interest in alternative forms of medicine directed me to a cranial-sacral therapist who hovered her hands over me as I lay on a treatment couch and frowned. I also was introduced to a homeopath who at our first meeting told me that I was a textbook example of the ‘Tubercular’ constitutional’ picture. This was a very different way of looking at health from that which I had experienced in the conventional world of medicine with which I had been brought up and encouraged from childhood to hold in high regard. It spoke to me as an individual rather than a pathological condition and led me to discover unrecognised primal assumptions I had held regarding my own body and also my approach to life.
A journey began over the years that followed that incorporated homeopathy which helped me to see that I had been running on adrenaline for years, convinced that this is the most productive way to live. I followed a course of traditional Chinese medicine, cooking up bitter herbs which I drank morning and evening and receiving acupuncture to calm my overactive liver, heat from which had been affecting my lungs. I also began to see an osteopath who worked to correct the postural and mechanical issues that accompany asthma and can perpetuate the condition. I have been medication free since this time and alongside a profound and sustained shift in bodily health experience an awakening of my awareness of health matters in particular how our mind and beliefs influence our bodies, a cliche which contains a profound truth.
I continued to work in the film industry but encountered an early mid-life crisis as I realised that this wasn’t a path I foresaw myself following for the rest of my working days. I explored various options as to what I might do instead and the thought gradually dawned that I would like to learn more about and share the perspective on health that I had gained through my own journey. I explored the options and spoke to various acquaintances about what this might entail. Although feeling a strong debt and affinity towards TCM, I ultimately opted for the hands-on approach of osteopathy. I continued my lighting work and studied at the weekends, qualifying in 2006. I haven’t looked back though I wonder where my life might have taken me if I hadn’t been in that flat feeling my chest tighten through secondary smoking. Science enamoured skeptics dismiss anything beyond mainstream healthcare as quackery but I refuse to deny the evidence of my own senses. I feel that we arrive where we do in our own time and I wouldn’t preach my perspective regarding health at others but hope I present good example to my patients as well as helping them with my hands.
….more stories on their way