Actor Paul Orchard’s luck ran out soon after he played the part of Lucky in the movie Layer Cake alongside James Bond actor Daniel Craig. He underwent a medical procedure that, although successful, left him with interstitial cystitis, where the bladder becomes inflamed. He was in constant pain, unable to sleep, and even trips to the cinema or theatre with his wife and children became impossible.
Doctors at a specialist pain clinic prescribed Paul some powerful tricyclic antidepressants and the antiepileptic drug Neurontin (gabapentin) to short-circuit the messages from his inflamed bladder to the pain receptors.
But even this powerful cocktail had very little effect. “I was in constant pain. It was like being tortured. I couldn’t sleep and I had to go to the toilet every 45 minutes. The gave me a sense of relief for about 10 minutes before the pain started to build again.” Said Paul, 54, who lives in North London with his wife and four children.
Paul, who also featured in the children’s TV show Grange Hill, endured the pain for two years, but by the second year, any normal life had become almost impossible. He certainly couldn’t work and even mundane activities like taking the bus were difficult. “I’d get on a bus and then have to stop it suddenly and get off to relieve myself.”
He remembers a trip to the theatre with the family. “I’d bought the tickets and we were all looking forward to the show. I thought I would be fine, but I had a really bad attack, and we all had to leave in the middle of the performance”.
The doctors couldn’t work out why Paul had the problem. Unlike most cases of cystitis, which are caused by a bacterial infection that clears after a few days, usually after a course of antibiotics, interstitial cystitis doesn’t have a typical or recognised cause.
Endoscopy had revealed that Paul’s bladder had ulcerated and was bleeding, and later screenings showed that it was healing, yet the pain was persistent. “The doctors told me it was a little like a radio that had been kept on high volume. The pain messages were still being sent out.”
By the time, Paul was at his wit’s end, until a friend made a chance remark about trying acupuncture and an acupuncturist he knew, Amanda Banks. Amanda wasn’t an obvious choice; she had not yet qualified as an acupuncturist at the college of Naturopathic Medicine where she was studying.
But when Paul telephoned Amanda, he immediately recognized a kindred spirit. Perhaps the fact that she’d also suffered from cystitis, as had her grandmother, and could truly empathize with his suffering convinced him that Amada was the therapist for him.
Ironically, Amanda never used acupuncture to treat her own cystitis, which she endured for years, off and on, while bringing up her two children. “I just lived with it, and it would flare up now and then, usually when I was travelling,” she said. Her grandmother drank lemon water to treat her cystitis.
By this time, Paul was taking the most powerful painkillers possible and he doubted whether lemon water would do him much good. “I wanted to keep an open mind and, to be honest, I had nothing to lose,” he said.
When Paul made his first visit to Amanda’s Naturopathic Acupuncture Clinic, housed at the college of Naturopathic Medicine’s main centre near Oxford Street in Central London, Amanda was shocked by his appearance. Having endured two years of constant pain, she said he looked far older then his actual years. “I was also struck by how poor his diet was; he was certainly not eating three meals a day, but was just managing on an apple or banana.”
Paul explained that he is a vegetarian verging on veganism, and tends to eat only fruit for breakfast.
“Although acupuncture is used in a limited way in the West and is seen almost exclusively as a pain-reliever, the acupuncturist is actually looking to uncover and treat the root cause of any disease. As we see it, illness happens when the Meridians are out of kilter, and we realign them so that the body’s natural healing processes can start working,” Amanda explained.
When she assessed Paul, she said that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, he had manifestations of ‘Damp-Heat’, and had problem with his Spleen and Kidney Channels.
Amanda used both acupuncture and electroacupuncture on Paul. “She kept increasing the dose and was worried that she might be overdoing things, but the area had become so desensitized that I couldn’t feel anything at all,” said Paul.
But feel it or not, it had an immediate effect. “There was a marked improvement after the very first session.” said Paul, who estimated that pain levels had dropped around 30 per cent, a respite that lasted for four days after the session. “There was a lovely period of relative calm before the symptoms would start to return.”
Paul went to see Amanda every week and by April of last year, four months after the treatment had started, his pain score had dropped by 75 per cent, and the specialists in the pain clinic were so delighted with the improvement that they reduced his prescription drugs. “The pain clinic was never opposed to me using acupuncture; in fact, they recommended it and I think they may well have got around it for me. I suppose I just accelerated the process.”
Amanda had also recommended changes to his sparse diet. Fruit was replaced by spelt porridge served with honey, and he started eating sweet potato and black kidney beans.
“I gave him some recipes to try out,” she said. Chocolate, caffeine, tomatoes and hot spicy foods were all eliminated. For exercise, she recommended that he try Oigong, the Chinese discipline that incorporates body movement, breathing and intention.
“Amanda was amazing throughout the process. She would go off and research something, and she’d tell me about it the following week,” said Paul.
Paul kept on seeing improvements. He was able to watch his wife complete the London marathon last year, which involved him standing for hours without the chance of a toilet break, and went on holiday for the first time in years that summer.
Finally, last autumn, Paul stopped all medication. I had one or two flare-ups over the months, but I’ve essentially been pain-free for a while now. I cannot begin to express the significant impact that acupuncture has had on me. It’s funny: I was reading the newspaper at home the other day and there seemed to be something missing, and I suddenly realized I couldn’t feel any pain.”
For Amanda, Paul’s case has been “immensely rewarding, especially with a client who is so willing to change”.
Paul may not have known he had become the subject of her dissertation and, needless to say, she passed with flying colours. Today she is a fully qualified acupuncturist and works out of two clinics.
Paul still visits Amanda at her London clinic once every five weeks or so, not so much because he has to but because he likes to.
Article appeared inWhat Doctors Don’t Tell You - January 2015.
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