Stroke (CVA): from Wind Strike to Insightby Hyoun Bae on 12/11/18
Stroke (CVA): from Wind Strike to Insight
Many of us have viewed Jill Bolte Taylor’s viral TED talk “My Stroke of Insight.” We’ve also witnessed the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass, in his genuine discussion of how he was unprepared for death, urging baby boomers to take a more serious look at age-related diseases.
Stroke is a medical condition that is close to home – one that I have had success in treating, but also has influenced me personally, taking the lives of individuals that influenced my life and work.
In the U.S., some 800,000 individuals have a stroke or cerebral vascular accident, annually. Fortunately, as a leading cause of death, its moving lower down on the ladder – due to stroke awareness and prevention.
For many, stroke is a wake up call. One can have a silent infraction or transient ischemic attack. In other cases, classical symptoms may arise such as dizziness, headache or motor impairment.
From her opening, Jill Bolte Taylor speaks of hemorrhaging – hemorrhagic stroke being one of the two major categories – where an artery leaks or ruptures, as opposed to an artery being blocked, such as with a thrombotic stroke. She also speaks beautifully of her intent toward recovery, wherein a blood clot was removed.
Bolte Taylor discusses some of these signs and symptoms lucidly, with the fading perception of a keen scientist. Her acuity and attention to the process of stroke onset and of hemispheric differences in perception and cognition was a clarion call to the way we live our lives, inhabit our bodies and the social world.
Chinese medicine has treated stroke and its sequelae for thousands of years. Nowadays, especially in China, there are extensive neurobiologically-based and traditional medicine approaches for both acute and chronic/post-stroke care where large patient loads receive the benefit of integrative treatment.
In classical Chinese medicine herbs and acupuncture are employed in emergency conditions, and the understanding that has shaped over two millenia is hardly overshadowed by some of the lifesaving surgical interventions and drugs we now have. Acupuncture can assist even in the most crucial, acute stages of stroke onset.
With stroke, timing and dosage as well appropriate intervention, can mean day and night, in terms of outcome.
Stroke can cause dementia, anxiety, inability to swallow or speak, cause motor weakness and impairment, and impact our memory. It can utterly change our lives and those of our loved ones, as there is often a cost of care and a stroke can also dramatically shift our cognition.
Acupuncture alone can assist in recovery. I know this well firsthand. We now have medications such as Alteplase – the gold standard – and surgical interventions can be administered for hemorrhagic conditions. Acupuncture can create dramatic possibilities, which can be followed with OT, PT or speech therapy.
Moreso, our attention has been focused on prevention. High blood pressure, diabetes, weight, smoking – these, along with other risk factors of age, ethnicity and gender are the context for prevention.
Chinese medicine used to examine environmental influences or interaction. How is this wind penetrating the body, and effecting the brain and the channels of the extremities (causing weakness, balance issues, motor impairment, spasticity and atrophy)? The sequelae of stroke are formulated in terms of a number of discrete presentations, and modern doctors have further differentiated how to effectively treat stroke at every stage.
In more recent eras, blood circulation in the brain was a concept integrated into modern Chinese medicine. TCM has included emotion regulation and lifestyle/behavioral regimens into the fold of stroke prevention.
The esteemed medical thinker, Ye Tian Shi offered to Chinese medicine the notion that this wind – instigating stroke onset was not from without, but was a pathomechanism influencing circulation in the brain, and was precipitated by the state of our qi and blood.
In particular, Chinese thinkers have mentioned the zheng qi – also known as the “upright qi” – underlying our health status and immunity, which can be depleted, setting the stage for stroke.
Jill Bolte Taylor and Ram Dass both speak of stroke as providing insight. Bolte Taylor, uniquely conveys her drifting in the “beautiful space of la-la land” as a reprieve from stress and interaction with the sensory world of information and energy, that our nervous systems register and how it taught her about brain function. Ram Dass has shared over the decade(s) of the reckoning of “being stroked,” as a message to prepare for ageing and death, in our culture.
Both of these marvelous iterations of stroke experience speak to me about shen, or what we translate as ‘spirit’, and the relation to our embodied life, made possible by our brain and nervous system.
Stroke has taught me about relationality, consciousness and connection and about how precious and fleeting this life is.
Like the magical people who have come into my life and been whisked away, stroke touches all of us in an uncontrollable way, mirroring love.
Bolte Taylor ends her talk with a question about choice – not only about prevention and management of stroke – but also about issues of fear, distance, and other left-hemisphere dominance, and rather about connection and our raison d’etre.