The young woman was desperate. She couldn’t extend her left wrist — couldn’t lift her left hand via the upward flexion of her wrist — and she’d not been able to lift it for over eight years now. She wore a brace to stabilize her wrist and forearm, though it hardly helped.
She’d been to more doctors than she could easily count, and every single one of them, without exception, had told her there was nothing wrong with her. Her wrist and arm, they said, appeared perfectly healthy. A few of these doctors had gone so far as to suggest that the problem was perhaps in her head. After eight years, a part of her was beginning to wonder if this were true. But the other part of her — the primary part, her self-aware and rational side — knew that something was wrong.
She’d tried a number of other treatment protocols as well: chiropractors, acupuncturists, physical therapists. Nothing had helped.
Nor had her injury (if it could even be called that) been precipitated by any one thing — or, at any rate, not that she could recall. No trauma or sickness had preceded it. There was no acute onset. Retrospectively, it seemed to her now a gradual weakening of her left wrist and her grip strength, a slight loss of sensation along her forearm, down into her hand, a certain localized tenderness in her wrist, combined with a low-level pain that worsened slightly at night – until one day she woke up and her left hand hung drooped, like a gooseneck, and she was powerless to exert her muscles in that simple upward wrist-flexion which would raise her hand.
Still, she was able to move her fingers and thumb, and so to that extent she maintained limited use of her left hand. Yet the floppy wrist was insurmountable, and insurmountably real.
Radiological exams and electrodiagnostics had found nothing.
She was perfectly healthy otherwise.
The pain, which was negligible, remained easy enough to bear. But the deadness in her wrist was not easy to bear, and becoming increasingly less so.
Finally, over eight years later, at a Family Medicine clinic in Fort Collins, Colorado, a physician’s assistant, who like the others before him could find nothing wrong with her and yet who was more sympathetic to her suffering and her frustration, had given her a doctor’s name: Dr. Abrahamson. The physician’s assistant told her that Dr. Abrahamson had a way of diagnosing conditions and arcane ailments, which other doctors were not able to diagnose.
What made Dr. Abrahamson different?
The answer, which the young woman was shortly to discover, surprised her.
I myself have experienced Dr. Abrahamson’s diagnostic excellence — it’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this introduction — and yet the true secret behind his ability to diagnose is not really a secret at all, and it’s certainly not what most people would guess. It’s more elementary — more principle than secret — and because of this, it’s more elegant, life-affirming, life-giving.
There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy, observed Mr. Nietzsche, sagely, and he is unquestionably correct.
The complexity of the human body is colossal, beyond measurement. And the thing above all others that makes the human body so complex is the fact that it’s perfectly integrated — indivisible and unified.
The word integrated, as Dr. Abrahamson discusses in Chapter 3 of this book, has a very specific meaning. Quoting from that chapter:
“The word itself is a derivative of the word integer, which means whole; a thing complete unto itself. Integrate, integrative, integral, integrity—they all come from the word integer and as such are rooted in the same basic concept: to make entire or to be a fundamental factor in forming completeness. The opposite of integrate is disintegrate.”
Consider for a moment that each adult human body consists of over 600 muscles and 206 bones. These muscles frequently work in pairs so that they can pull in different or opposite directions.
The human body also has 230 movable and semi-movable joints, and each one of us uses 200 muscles to take a single footstep.
Each human body contains eleven separate systems and then the immune system, which is a kind of integration of the other eleven.
The human brain houses approximately one-hundred billion neuron cells. Each neuron has branches, called dendrites, which connect to several thousand other neurons. Each dendrite also contains synapses, which serve as connectors and which signal one another in a sequential way. There are some one-hundred-and-fifty trillion synapses in each individual human brain. Signaling in the brain is done by means of chemicals and electricity. Like light, the brain is electric. The act of thinking directly affects the strength of the electric synapses, just as each individual experience also affects synaptic power. If brain activity ever ceases, it effectively means death to that human body. The individual human brain consumes fully twenty percent of each body’s metabolic energy use, and the brain is the organ that regulates the functioning of the entire body.
There is, I repeat, more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.
Thus it was in a state of desperation bordering on despair that the young woman, who had suffered for so many years with a wrist she couldn’t extend, showed up for her appointment with Dr. Abrahamson. Eight years experience had trained her not to get her hopes up.
Dr. Abrahamson listened to her closely for five minutes.
He then stood up and brought out his ultrasound machine. He performed a quick and painless sonogram on her left arm. What he saw on the sonogram confirmed what he already suspected, based upon the young woman’s description of her ailment: her radial nerve was trapped.
He told the young woman his recommendation for treatment, and she gave informed consent.
By means of an ultrasound-guided injection, Dr. Abrahamson flooded the entrapped nerve with saline. This was followed by a sluice of cortisone. In scarcely more than ten total minutes — after the young woman had suffered for over eight years, with her condition repeatedly going undiagnosed — she was all at once now able to freely raise her left hand and move it about as though nothing had ever been wrong. He’d freed the trapped nerve, and in so doing, he’d healed her wrist and hand. Her immediate reaction was a sort of saucer-eyed delight — a gleeful child’s delight mixed with astonishment and wonder. And then she broke into tears.
This is but one case example of hundreds if not thousands ending in this very way — which is to say, with happiness, healing, restored health.
Dr. Abrahamson, whom I have the pleasure of knowing and calling a friend, is far too modest to speak of his diagnostic brilliance. In fact, I think it’s likely that he’s not really aware of how exceptional his expertise is. Yet he’s certainly aware that what he does for his patients is much more than merely repairing physical glitches or bio-mechanical malfunctions. It is giving human beings their lives back, which, as anyone who’s ever suffered from and been cured of a chronic condition knows, has the power to bring you to tears — tears of joy — because physical well-being and quality-of-life are deeply and inextricably integrated. And that is why medicine is one of the most noble professions there is.
The real secret of Dr. Abrahamson’s diagnostic power is found in this fact: he listens to each patient, and because of this he hears what each patient is saying.
The good physician starts from the premise that what the patient is telling her or him is true — there is organic pathology.
This is what I meant by saying that the secret is no real secret after all. It’s more principle than secret, elementary and, because of this, elegant and life-affirming.
Listening is a silent skill, but it contains enormous power.
Dr. Abrahamson listens to his patients, and he believes what they tell him, and then he draws upon his storehouse of experience and asks himself, “What could be the cause of this?”
His knowledge of the human body; his understanding of it, its indivisibility, its perfect integrity; his skill in reading sonograms – trained to see things there that only a handful of physicians in the world can see — these skills and many others like them, invaluable as they are (and they are), remain secondary to the more fundamental skill he developed long ago, which is a skill more rarified and simpler at the same time. Because truly listening requires all of your attention. This is the real gift Dr. Abrahamson gives to his patients.