Wednesday, November 9, 2011


The spasms of pain were gentle at first. The large muscles of the right side of my neck and shoulder would tense and then ease up. The pain radiated up my spine and ended in my right temple. I sat at the nursing station hunched over a desk with twenty charts sitting by my side. The chair was stuck on a low setting and I had to arch my back and shoulder to reach the desk. Apparently the environmental controls for the building had just two settings: hot and cold. Today it was hot.

I rushed to finish charting so I could drive home, feed the kids dinner, and get my son to his violin class. The pain in my head ebbed and flowed. Some moments severe, like when I turned my shoulders the wrong way, others bearable.

As I cleared the dinner plates, I could feel the nausea building. We hurried to the car and arrived just in time for the violin lesson. The squeaking of bow on string compounded the stress as my cell phone was abuzz with new admissions. As I walked outside to take a call, I perched the phone between my right shoulder and head. The jolt of pain lanced through my scalp and landed above my eye. I stepped into the cold air and took a few deep breaths.

By the time I arrived home, I was fidgeting with discomfort. My stomach was raw and bilious. I fumbled with the ibuprofen container and crawled into bed. I could hear my son and daughter screeching a floor below. My wife was vacuuming the floor.

As I laid in bed prostrate, I knew there was only one way to make the pain abate.


Without thinking, my mind began the process autonomously. I started with slow deep breaths as I tried to disassociate myself from the searing enemy. I mentally took stock of each muscle group and localized the pain. I concentrated first on neck and shoulders, then the intricate muscles of the face. I imagined the flexed, agitated, spindles as flaming red orbs.

As I had done so many times in the past, I completed the inventory and then started the process of relaxation. I isolated each inflamed muscle group. I systemically tightened and relaxed. All the while, I visualized the muscle fibers. I commanded them to let go of the tension.

My body swayed up and down rhythmically. My torso sunk into the bed below me. I finished the muscle work and moved on to my breathing. I felt as if a tight band had been released from my cranium. The nausea was gone.

As I tried to fight sleep, my mind drifted off to childhood.


I could hear my mom yelling frustratedly at my father behind the closed door.

But your the doctor, what is wrong with him.

We had been to some of the best clinics in the city. I had taken test after test. Xrays, cat scans, and blood work all came up negative. The pediatric neurologist was at a loss on how to cure my headaches.

My mom and dad were struggling. I complained daily of head pain. Some days were mild, others were severe. I was missing school on a regular basis. After months of failed attempts, my mother made an appointment for me to see a new type of doctor.

As the years pass, I can no longer remember his face, but his words stick with me. He wouldn't take any more tests or draw more blood. He simply wanted me to relax in his chair and listen.

We met weekly. He called his technique "self hypnosis". He explained that we have great power over our bodies if we know how to access it. This access is granted when we bring ourselves to a state of relaxation and visualize the changes we want to take place.

He gave me homework. Each day I sat in my room alone and practiced. At first I would lie flat in bed. But as I got better, I was able to do my relaxation exercises sitting up and with my eyes open.

Over the next few months my headaches disappeared. But more importantly, I learned a life skill. Although I no longer practice anymore, I return to biofeedback often. It has helped me with both physical and emotional pain. It has improved my performance academically as well as physically.

Biofeedback has centered me as a human being.


My voyage into medicine has been littered with positive role models and teachers. I have many people to thank for becoming the physician that I am today.

But the truth is, this amorphous man whose face I can no longer remember, taught me more about the human body then any gross anatomy professor.

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