Adventures in Alternative Medicine- Costa Rican Style

Sometimes our bodies simply rebel, forcing us to quit our usual abusive treatment of them and pay attention. At least that’s what mine did about six months ago. It all started with the wonderful inversion table Alan built me. I felt hanging upside down would correct the high right hip I’d lived with for years, a nursing injury from lifting patients in countless ICUs and ERs over a twenty year period. And it did that. One day I actually felt (and heard) the adjustment; old adhesions ripped apart and—shunk!—my hips were even.

But then back spasms started. It turned out that my upper body no longer knew what to do with even hips. All those years my left back compensated for the right high hip. The spasms got worse. Eventually, I began to have a sore left shoulder and pain radiating down my arm. At times it felt like someone pounding on the nerve with a ball peen hammer.

I went to Rahel, a physiotherapist in Puerto Viejo. She made good progress using ultrasound, TENS, digging at pressure points, and eventually the pain ceased. In July I traveled to Oregon to see family and then in September to Australia to see other family and had no pain on those long flights, something I never could do with that hip.

Then, a month ago the pain came back with a vengeance. I could not sit under a fan because it exacerbated the pain. The medial nerve was inflamed, any breeze on it made it feel like it was on fire, and my thumb, index, and middle finger had gone completely numb. I had nightmares of ending up like my grandmother who complained about “drafts” in the car if any of us cracked the window to get some fresh air. If she was with us, we traveled in stifling heat as she sat rigidly erect in the front seat, a scarf wrapped tightly around her neck.

By now the physiotherapy wasn’t working anymore. Rahel was concerned and wanted me to see a doctor. I think she thought I had something seriously wrong. Cancer. Something bad. It got to the point where I could no longer write at my computer. Reaching forward with the left arm caused incredible spasms in my armpit and upper arm. I was living on anti-inflamatories and eventually muscle relaxants. Boy, those are a trip. Talk about a preview of Alzheimer’s. I’d think of something I needed in the kitchen, walk 15 feet and then stand in stupefaction wondering why I was there. But, they allowed me to sleep, and I was desperate.

Finally I began searching the Internet for help. That is when I found Vicki Skinner’s blog. Vicki has done an inordinate amount of research into Costa Rica’s alternative medicine community. There I found licensed chiropractors, acupuncturists, not to mention a host of medical doctors one of whom, a dermatologist, Alan went to to have his skin lesions examined. There were lists of recommended practitioners and people’s comments about treatment they’d received. I made an appointment with a chiropractor in San Jose.

He had great referrals and practices out of a cave-like office just off Paseo Colon in downtown San Jose. His studio is lined with physiotherapy machines and aviaries with tropical birds. He ushered me into his office and after an all too brief interview adjusted my neck and spine. Then he led me into the big room, laid me down on workbench, and started a TENS machine on my neck and upper arm. I felt as though I’d entered T.C. Boyle’s The Road to Wellville. There were probably eight to ten people lying on benches, their feet propped up, and the whir of machines and screech of birds filled the air.

Occasionally he would pop his head out of the office where he was treating other patients and ask, “You okay?” to which I replied I was. I saw him twice and it helped a bit. Then we went back to Punta Uva, a long four-hour drive. Within days the pain was back. While I liked him, I did not think he really listened to me and what my issues were. My fingers were still numb and my shoulder still hurt.

I dug around in Vicki’s blog and found what sounded like the perfect practitioner, Eugene MacDonald. I was about to call for an appointment, when I found message on her blog from someone saying he had just died. The week before. Crap!

I thought I’d try acupuncture. Maybe I had an electrical problem. I called a Chinese practitioner who speaks only Mandarin and Spanish but figured I’d muddle through. I got a message machine and left a message. He has yet to call back. I forged ahead.

Next in line was a Canadian/ Costa Rican man named Daniel Frankson. The description of his services was short in Vicki’s blog but it also said no one had complained about him. I called. He answered and I briefly told him what was going on. I made an appointment.

Alan and I made the four-hour drive to San Jose a week ago Sunday to be at his office at ten Monday morning.

Kairos must have been in the air that day. Kairos (καιρός), according to the dictionary, is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment) and signifies a time in between, a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. I went into Frankson’s office open for anything, willing to try anything to fix me.

Frankson is a physically fit man, bald, and with piercing gray eyes. It’s hard to say how old he is. It doesn’t matter. He shook hands with Alan and invited me into his office to sit. He opened up a screen on his big desktop Mac. I glanced on his desk and noted he also had an iPad and an iPhone. I could tell we were going to get along just fine. He took my vital statistics, age, DOB, and then turned and said, “So, what’s the trouble?”

I gave him a complete rundown from the nursing injuries on to the present. Then I stood and said, “And, I think my left shoulder is lower than my right.”

“Yeah,” he said, “by about an inch and a half.”

It’s hard to describe in detail all of what happened in that first session. He adjusted my neck and spine, and he adjusted my shoulder and my shoulder blade, which were both “out.” Then he had me lie on a padded exam table. He raised my left arm and blocked it with his. “Keep pressure,” he said, and while pressing on my arm, he proceeded to touch places on my body with his other hand. When he placed his hand on where my right kidney would be my left arm went weak. I was unable to block the force of his arm. “Ah, kidneys,” he said. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my kidneys, but I also knew he was talking about Chinese medicine, not allopathic.

“So, what’s this about the kidneys?” I asked. He continued to probe around muttering to himself.

“You are the second daughter, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes. I have an older sister.”

“I thought so,” he said. “You are very strong–a warrior–but right now you are weak. All this is coming from the right side, the important side. In Chinese medicine the right side is controlled by the father. What’s going on with your father?” oh, God. Where to start?

For the next hour we talked. He is an extraordinary individual and told me things about myself only someone who has known me well could know. He needled me with acupuncture needles on my right side, points below the collarbone, forearms, palms of my hands, calves, little fingers, and a big toe. For the first time in years when I envisioned my right side as a color it glowed golden fiery rays instead of a dreary gray to black.

I saw him three times in the next three days and returned to Punta Uva. Since then my back has quit hurting. My shoulder still bothers me a little, but I am no longer frightened of it. I know now it will get better. I can now write at my computer, reaching forward does not cause spasms.

Objective changes, I peed like a race horse all day and lost maybe three pounds, making me feel much more energetic. My right eye, always droopy from a bout of Bells palsy when I was little, has popped open, the corresponding eyebrow is also raised to a normal height. Subjectively, I feel taller, stronger, and more spiritually aware. When I go out on a walk the world appears brighter and details pop out at me. The writer’s block is beginning to lift.

In short, I feel alive.

Published by SC Morgan

I grew up in Oregon and learned not everything is black and white. Now I live in the jungles of Costa Rica where the shades of gray cover the full spectrum. I shoot my mouth off on my blog, social media sites, and sometimes I get published. You can find my blog here:

3 thoughts on “Adventures in Alternative Medicine- Costa Rican Style

  1. What an adventure, and what a good outcome so far. It is amazing what someone can know about a person through their physical structure. My chiropractor doesn’t have the Chinese training, but he’s good. I don’t know what I’d have done over the years without such help as he gives.


  2. Sarita, I had no idea you were in so much pain. I am so happy that the acupuncturist was and is able to help. By the way, Chinese medicine has always fascinated me. I have several books about it. I think it’s time I start rereading them.


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