It is not often that Chanukah and Christmas fall out during the same week. The joyous celebrations can be felt in our homes and around our community regardless of one’s faith. Central Avenue is decked out in lights, and the Chabad chanukiyah seems to have grown even bigger in Cedarhurst Park this year! It is a wonderful time for family to celebrate and come together. I particularly enjoy the festive mood and excitement radiating in my office from people of different religions and various backgrounds.
There is also a certain amount of added stress as people are planning their holiday parties and spending more time with family. Most often we can’t wait for the holidays to arrive, but with the stress of gift-giving, we may actually be relieved when it has passed. It is important that we hold on to the main point of the holiday season and enjoy it in its entirety.
Chanukah is one of my own favorite holidays. Perhaps it is because I am not in the kitchen all week. Perhaps it is because even with the festivities, a basic routine schedule is maintained. Mostly, I think it is about the magic of the lights of the menorah. I have always been impressed with the story of how we come to celebrate Chanukah every year. It is the story of the great miracle that we have been taught from a young age that I find mirrors some things in my practice. It is the story of the miracle of light.
The oil that was used to light the Menorah in the Beit HaMikdash was desecrated. Only a tiny bit of oil was found. It was a pure miracle that allowed this minuscule amount of oil, which should have been enough for just one night, to grow and miraculously suffice for all eight days and nights of Chanukah.
The miracle of the light is something I often feel and think about when I am treating the most critically ill patients. It is something we all stand to learn from. The qi or energy that abounds in all of us is meant to flow freely throughout our bodies when we are in optimal health. But in addition to becoming stagnated by various stress triggers, it can also be used up.
The expression “burning the candle at both ends” is often used when referring to overworking, partying excessively, and not sleeping sufficiently. Such habits, as well as smoking, alcohol, and drug use, can deplete the qi, the essence of our energy and vitality that is essential for our survival.
There is something in Hebrew called a nitzotz. It is best explained as a spark. Much like the red embers that remain long after the fire has gone out, when you blow on it, the kindle can be relit and the flame can be brought back once again. This spark is just like the qi that is within us. Even in the most critically ill patients, there is still a tiny spark of qi remaining. Utilizing the amazing benefits of acupuncture, along with proper lifestyle changes, the spark can be relit and reawakened. The qi can be rekindled and wellness can once again be achieved.
At the beginning of the holiday, I was treating one of my regularly scheduled patients, who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The family is very supportive of her treatment. For complicated reasons, this patient is unable to tolerate any pharmaceutical medications. This creates difficulty for her team of doctors. She is, however, very responsive to acupuncture, and thus her family and medical team are fully on board.
She thoroughly enjoys and looks forward to her treatments. She is often dressed and ready at 6 a.m. for her appointment, and gets frustrated that it takes so long for her family to get to my office for her mid-afternoon weekly visit. While the illness advances and becomes more challenging, the changes noted immediately after the treatments are remarkable.
Most recently, her family reported her slipping further away. She is becoming trapped in her own body. She feels that she is a prisoner and has begun to become increasingly irate and have temper flare-ups. She can no longer be left on her own even for a few minutes, as she can be a danger to herself. She is lashing out at those around her when she lapses into being disoriented with time and place.
This is not who this woman is/was. She was an incredibly sweet and soft-spoken. She attended church weekly. She especially loved music, dancing, and socializing. I was fortunate to have met her early on, before her illness progressed, and I genuinely admired her. The recent decline has wreaked havoc on those who try so patiently to assist her. Alzheimer’s is very trying on the family and caregivers. It is devastating to watch someone you love slip away, not have recall or recognize you, become angry, etc., when outwardly they may appear physically well.
This week she came into my office with her head down. She shuffled in, kept her eyes focused on the ground, and barely grunted a hello. She exhibited signs of depression and in this case I can say that the shadow of my patient was barely recognizable. So, while normally I speak to a patient and take notes before inserting any needles, with her I did things in the reverse order. I got her on my table, checked her pulse, looked at her tongue, and begin inserting needles. I did things this way because with her, until I have some needles in place, I know that I am speaking to a shell of a person. Minutes after I insert needles on acupuncture points that are specific for memory and boosting mental clarity, it is as if another person is in my room.
This week I gave a stronger treatment to try and ground the patient and further support the mental clarity and clear the haze and funk she was in. She rested comfortably during her treatment and was humming to the background music when I checked on her. After the treatment, we were sitting in the waiting room together with the aide, having a typical conversation. My patient maintained eye contact with me the whole time. She was asking about my plans for Chanukah! She even complained about some of her Christmas plans and the stuffy members of her family.
We seemed to have lit a spark and kindled that light that had been almost out just a short while ago. Her aide used her phone and pulled up some Elvis music. The patient and I began dancing. She was literally twirling me around the room and working some great dance moves. We began filming it on my cell phone. Her daughter picked her up about ten minutes later and couldn’t believe the scene she walked into. I sent her the video clip so she could enjoy it. I hope she will look at it during the difficult times ahead and remember that it is still her loving mom buried deep in there. At times we need to rekindle that spark!
This was truly a highlight for me personally and professionally and a wonderful beginning of the holiday week all around.
Let us all embrace the holiday spirit. Awaken the spark that is within us for our physical and mental well-being. Enjoy the time with family and embrace the festivities. Try not to get too stressed out. Rekindle the serenity that is within you as you embark on a quest for a healthier life.