“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Part II, Day Three: Yin and Yang

Part I:  Yin

At Vermont Integrative Veterinary Associates Zoe relaxes and waits for Dr. Emily Bond to enter the room while I stare up at the chart of tongues wondering which one looks most like Zoe's.

Once, many years ago, long before Zoe came into my life, my chiropractor/herbalist looked at my cracked, coated tongue and told me I was a mess.  "No sugar, no alcohol, no fermented or processed anything for three months," she prescribed.  She also commanded that I walk outside every morning to move my stagnant qi [pronounced "chi"].  She said if I followed her instructions to the letter, and never cheated once, I'd feel much better.

I did exactly what she said, lost ten pounds, started sleeping better, and had more energy.  The slime on my tongue receded and the witchy crack closed up a lot.  My hair was shinier too, and less dry.  I came back for an appointment and my chiropractor was amazed.  "You didn't cheat at all?" she said.

"No, never."  I really hadn't.

I think she thought I was a weirdo for adhering to her rules so rigidly, but we agreed that I had never looked better.

I think it's fair to say that I'm open to alternative forms of healing.

The first time I went to an acupuncturist was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when I was 26, and I had to take a cab there because I couldn't walk--not even up and down the stairs of the tube.  I was in great pain because of chondromalacia patella: my right kneecap's cartilage was like a scratched-off Teflon pan.  All because I was too cheap to buy good running shoes, and then I ran my heart out on the roads of Boston to mend a broken heart.  As for the guy, I got over him pretty fast, but my knee was never the same afterwards.  My acupuncturist heated the needles, smoked me with moxa sticks that smelled deliciously like a cross between sage and pot, and after only one session I was able to walk the two miles home.  She made a convert of me, and later went on to help me with my gallbladder when a doctor thought I had stones.  She even tackled my PMS and mood swings almost enough for me to find a new boyfriend--but not quite.

But I don't hold out hope that acupuncture will cure Zoe of her cancer.  I'm always open for a miracle, and I pray to Dog every day that we will find one, but mostly I'm interested in quality of life.  I want to make sure that her immune system is as strong as it can be, and her gastrointestinal track gets every booster it can to handle all the hard-core drugs she's taking.

I want her to feel good.  That's the reason why Zoe and I are here.

You can't see the needles; they're as black as her fur
Dr. Emily Bond is a gentle soul.  Zoe and I take to her at once.  She comes into the room and sits down with Zoe on the floor, and just listens.  This woman listens with her whole self, not just her stethoscope.  It's apparent that she loves animals and loves what she does.  Zoe, who is a reserved dog, is instantly in love.  She leans her head against Dr. Bond.  She even gives her a kiss, which I don't get from Zoe unless there's food on my face.  And when the needles are in, Zoe relaxes into it so deeply she appears to be napping.

"Considering all the things going on, I would expect to hear weaker pulses," Dr. Bond, who asks me to call her Emily, says.  "She has quite a lot of qi.  She's strong.  Really strong."

I had to fill out a form, and one of the questions asked was whether my dog likes to sleep in a warm bed or if she's always on the lookout for somewhere cool.  Zoe is a hottie.  She pants easily and loves the cold.  Always has, even as a puppy in the pound.  She has never wanted to sleep with us in our bed because it's too hot to be around snugglers.  Winter is her favorite season.  She loves to roll in the snow.

"Zoe has too much yang," she says.  "Anyone who gets hot easily, and seeks the cool, has too much yang.  That means a yin deficiency.  We need to give her more yin."

(This sounds a lot like my husband, by the way, who sweats when he eats, turns red even when not embarrassed, and likes to turn our thermostat down to 55.  Now I know another reason why he and Zoe are kindred spirits.  I, myself, am neither too hot, nor too cold.  I'm lukewarm.)

Emily asks me about what Zoe has been eating, the main meats in her dog food.  Chicken and lamb, her two favorite meats, are only going to make her more yang, I'm warned.  Zoe needs turkey and fish.  Those foods are cooling.  Beef is neutral, so I can keep giving her that, in a pinch.  But the chicken broth my husband has been putting on her food to make it more interesting: that's a no.

Dr. Emily Bond is yin herself.  She doesn't talk a lot.  She listens.  She creates a space that others fill.  She seems wise beyond her years, and lets Zoe tell her the story, and waits for me to fill in the details.  We have a lot in common because she was an English major.  She loves literature; she even has been reading my blog just so she'll know Zoe well in advance and how to treat her best.  She has a soothing presence I can't describe, but Zoe picks up on it immediately.  Zoe trusts her completely, and I do too.  I know I will do everything she suggests even though we recently bought a giant bag of dog food.

Zoe's tongue, by the way, is too red, and has a little stagnant purple center.  "That's a sign of being too yang," she says.  "But it also shows she has a lot of emotion.  She feels a lot.  A lot.  She's very sensitive."

When she says that, I stare at Zoe's purple heart, that was given to her by her oncology team for bravery.  (That story is in the link above and right here.)

Zoe and I are reluctant to leave.  We feel a kinship with this young woman who has only been a vet since 2010.  She's the vet who always treats Milo for osteosarcoma, whom I wrote about yesterday.  I hope we will meet again.  Zoe has never taken to a vet quite so quickly.  This is almost a miracle in itself.

Part II: Yang

Four days later, we return.  This time Zoe runs up the ramp and gets to the door first, eager to enter.  How many dogs race their people to enter a vet's office?  Today we're working with Dr. Don Thompson, who started the practice, and is about my age, and will be seeing Zoe regularly now because--get this--he's from the North Country, where I live, and once a month he comes to my area to see his family and make house calls.

Are we lucky or what?  It feels like fate.

I used to say, about where we live, one of two things, depending on my mood:
1) Canton, New York is far from the known world.
2) All roads lead to Canton, New York.

Both are true, equally, even today.  It's a four-hour drive to this vet clinic, so coming here is not something I can do without a lot of planning.  And yet the senior vet here makes house calls.

Dr. Thompson is exuberant and warm.  He hugs instead of shaking hands.  The best part is what he's wearing: a bowling shirt in bright Hawaiian colors of dogs on motorcycles.  "Call me Don," he says.  It's a first name-only practice.  My students call me Natalia, so we're all alike in that way.

Dr. Thompson agrees that Zoe's tongue is very red.  And when he listens to her pulses, he's knocked out by them.  "She's got a really strong lung pulse," he says, which reassures me, since the bone cancer's "mets" are in her lungs.  "This dog has a strong will to live."  Just for good measure, he includes the "will to live" site in the places he puts in the needles.

Again, Zoe seems to feel every needle go in, tilts her head with wonder at the strange pulses and energy sensations, but she likes it.  She started the session up on his examining table but we carry her down to the floor where she can rest.

And while Zoe rests, Dr. Thompson--Don--holds forth.  I learn so much in our hour together.  About the five elements, how the "grandfather" of the area afflicted--where Zoe's tumor started on her leg--can be triggered to "discipline" the cancer, how tumors are started because of too much dampness in the body, among other things, and how Zoe can also eat rabbit, if she wants.  The very yang animals are the ones that move fast, and although rabbits run away quickly, they are also very shy, which is yin.

Coincidences abound.  Dr. Thompson went to St. Lawrence University, where I teach.  He goes through the list of his mentors and I tell him which ones are still around and haven't retired yet.  I explain that his teacher, Dr. David Hornung, who helped him get into medical/vet school, is one of the gentlemen of the morning gentlemen's walk that Zoe goes on daily, and so the circles are complete.  We agree that I'll invite his old mentor to the house for when he comes to give Zoe a treatment on April 14.

Zoe is facilitating a reunion between teacher and student.  I love this!

Don has lectured in China, and was recently asked to write a chapter for a textbook being authored by one of the foremost experts on traditional Chinese medicine for animals, a Chinese vet who now lives and practices and teaches in Florida.  We look at the map of China together and I try to remember all the places I went to on a trip led by David and my friend Anne, whom I mentioned on another post because she is starting a wonderful gardening blog.  (If you love gardening, go to the hyperlink on the left, or go to my home page and click on the blogroll blog with "cassidy hill garden" in it.)  I feel like we could talk away the rest of the afternoon and never run out of things to say.

As quiet as Emily is, Don is loquacious.  I like them both.  I feel, after the two visits, that Zoe has been treated to the full spectrum of yin and yang.

And I have too.  The two balance each other.

Afterwards, Zoe and I do run into Emily, who is helping a woman with her crated cat.  Zoe leans against her like they're old friends.

A couple Saturdays from now, Zoe will see Don at the door with his needles and herbs.  She'll bark, but probably not for long.  By now she's used to all the attention.  And besides, all roads do lead, by hook or by crook, to ours in Canton.

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