Calvin Luther Martin, PhD
Aches & Pains Help, 5¢
I'm not a medical doctor. Neither was Lucy. Like her, I'm going to offer some 5¢ health advice. My sole credential being that I've had life-long asthma, years of bad back, and lately vertigo. I'm going to suggest how you might treat all 3 for relatively little money. Yeah, for peanuts.
Before I do, may I digress and playfully offer my 2¢ on medical doctors? (Full disclosure: I’m married to one.) Doctors are kind of like birthdays. You may be of the opinion that birthdays and doctors are swell. If you do, think again. Birthdays are the pitiless enforcers of that tyrant, Time (Chronos). “You’re getting older,” they rasp in the ear. (Stop having birthdays and — voila! — you escape the tyranny of Time. 🙂)
Whereas birthdays are slaves of time, doctors are slaves of the “S” word: “Sick.” They declare you “sick” or “not sick.” I don’t want to live according to the “sick” paradigm, just as I don’t wish to live according to the “age” paradigm. Deep within, I never define myself by the “S” word. I live outside its clammy reach. I’m always just “me,” and that’s always fine.
Hence, I refuse to medicalize my asthma, back pain, and (lately) vertigo. I will listen to a physician’s advice, yet refuse to become a “patient” or “sick.”
May I add that when I die someday it won’t be because I was sick. It’s all part of my journey and, by golly, I’m gonna enjoy every part of it
I treat mine for $46 (plus the cost of liquid albuterol).
I fix mine for free.
I treat my vertigo with a $600 machine.
Asthma (a sad story with a good ending)
When these inhalers (“blowers”) came out in the mid to late 1960s, they were a godsend. I was in college at the time. My parents had sent me to college in Southern California in part to relieve my chronic asthma. For decades, these things were effective and cheap — a few dollars.
This ended when the geniuses decided that the atmospheric ozone layer over the planet’s south pole was forming a hole, sort of like a donut hole. Aerosol propellants were one of the chief culprits, so the geniuses announced. The result was that inhalers were now made with something considered safe to earth’s ozone, albeit less effective for asthma.
Sometime around the time that pharmaceuticals ballooned into Big Pharma and insurance companies in collusion with lawyers and legislators hijacked medicine from physicians, turning hospitals and medical practice into Big Medicine — these inhalers became worthless. I believe it was a combination of cheesy propellant, cheesy albuterol (or its so-called equivalent), and sneakily filling the canister to less than full.
Kind of like a bag of potato chips. It’s called “cheating” the customer. It’s one thing to put fewer chips in a bag; it’s another to skimp on the quality and quantity of medicine in an inhaler. Adding insult to injury, these things now cost an arm and a leg. Big Pharma, of course, got away with it.
Some of you know all too well what I’m talking about. You are suffering. There are times when you feel like you’re choking to death. Me too.
Then I discovered this. Wow! A gift from the gods!
I was hunting around on Amazon.com one day and stumbled on this portable nebulizer (click here). Cost $45.99 + free shipping with Amazon Prime.
It delivers an exceptionally fine mist of albuterol mixed with saline solution. And it’s silent.
You will have to get a prescription from your doc for the albuterol and saline. Both are pretty cheap. The box of saline ampules (pink plastic in the photo, below) lasts a long time.
It contains a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and comes with a charger cable.
As I said, it’s a godsend.
Back (lower back pain)
Years ago I had a dreadful back experience, when I could barely walk or stand. No, not from a trauma injury. Mostly from sitting in lousy chairs, I think.
What fixed it was not surgery and not a chiropractor. (I went to a chiropractor—my wife and I were living in Santa Fe at the time—and he made it worse. I had to be virtually carried out of his office.)
What fixed it was back exercises and swimming laps. But mostly the back exercises, which I continue to do whenever my back acts up.
I know this sounds corny and perhaps even exaggerated, but I swear these exercises, done for 15 minutes twice a day, saved my back. Yes, they are boring. And at first, painful, so take it easy. It will take days and even weeks. For me, it worked and continues to work.
When people tell me they’re about to have surgery for chronic back pain, I recommend they first try these exercises. Only a fraction of them take my advice, I’ve discovered. (I have the impression that many prefer surgery, as if it’s a magic bullet. They’re wrong. It’s not.)
As we get older, many of us develop a balance problem. I’m told there are medicines one can take for this, yet I choose not to, since all meds have other effects (so-called side effects).
As we age, our vestibular organs don’t work as well as they did when we were younger. On the other hand, I am a migraineur (i.e., I get migraines, though without headaches), and migraineurs always have a problem with balance.
Vestibular organs? Three of them, in the inner ear: the cochlea with its semi-circular canals, the utricle, and the saccule. The latter two are referred to as the otolith organs, for they have minute bits of stone in them.
It turns out you can exercise the vestibular organs, believe it or not. How? Well, by getting on a swing and wildly swinging, throwing your head back and forth as you do. Yeah, just like this kid.
At first this may make you feel dizzy and even nauseous. In that event, don’t swing so exuberantly: take it easy. But keep practicing this, day after day, and you will lose the nausea and dizziness.
Rowing on this rowing machine performs the same function for me, as I swing my head from side to side.
When I first did this on the rowing machine, I wanted to puke. I slowed down, and by the second or third day I was fine.
I row for 20-30 minutes. There’s nothing better for loosening one’s muscles and joints and, as I say, giving the otolith organs some fun.
When I get up from a rowing session, I’m as steady as can be, for the rest of the day. No medicines, just rowing.
If you’re a swimmer, you can do the same thing at the Franklin Academy indoor pool or wherever else you swim.
I was a Masters swimmer years ago, yet I’m now too lazy to go to the Franklin Academy pool, even though my wife goes religiously during the winter months. (Nina was on the Yale swim-team. In summer, she swims in Adirondack ponds. If it’s cold, she wears a wetsuit.) For a lazy bum like me, the rowing machine is ideal.
There is something else about the rowing machine that’s also a vestibular effect: After using it, you will feel joy. Connected. A child of the universe, once more. My wife, the physician, tells me this is a little-understood vestibular function, yet very real.
Perhaps this is why as children we swing and romp and jump and twirl, and find it joyful. Perhaps this explains the Sufi (Middle Eastern) Whirling Dervishes. It’s a bubblebath for the heart.
In this spirit, I close with a poem by the 14th-century Persian poet, Hafiz (Hafez), rendered in modern idiom by Daniel Ladinsky.
Source: Hafiz (trans. Ladinsky), 14th-century Persian (Sufi) poet. In Daniel Ladinsky, trans., The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1999), p. 48.