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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Working At Advanced Magnetic Research Insitute

Many moons ago, I  visited a massage therapist named Mike.* To this day, no amount of brain wracking will allow my mind to remember just how or when or even where I met this man. He was a good therapist and a kind person. However, this story isn’t about him. It is about the randomness of letting a new person in and how that one action can change the course of your life. I don’t know if you believe in destiny. I don’t even know if I believe in destiny, but the longer I live, the more I want to believe there is indeed something to that whole idea.
It was a beautiful day and I was at Mike’s for my weekly massage. As we sat in his living room looking out the door at his flower garden, we discussed our health, our goals, our relationships and just life in general, I mentioned to him that I needed a decent part time job. My knee was giving me hell and I simply couldn’t do a job where I had to stand for hours. He told me that he had started working a part time job some months before and was pretty certain that they needed one more person. As he talked about the place I quickly became intrigued. 
It was called AMRI—short for Advanced Magnetic Research Institute—and it would turn out to be one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve endured in my life and I’ve lived through some weird shit. The job was 3rd shift and required no standing or hard work. He described the only requirements as making sure the "patients” stayed safely in their rooms at night under their magnet, cleaning the communal kitchen after meals, answering any calls, making sure the laundry stayed caught up and keeping the doors locked at all times for safety. That seemed easy enough. I would even be allowed to sleep in the facility overnight while on duty so I asked him to put in a good word for me, got directions and in the next couple of days, I drove out there to apply for the job.
“They are very strange people though,” he warned me.
“What do you mean?” I was curious.
“They are very religious and they expect everyone else to be as well.”
“Oh, that,” I chuckled at him. “I was raised like that. This will be cake.”
The first thing I noticed about the place was its extremely rural location. It took me almost an hour to get there and it was only one county over. Their long driveway was easy to miss on that endless country road. It wound its way up through the canopy of woods, seemingly into nowhere, until suddenly an odd looking, yet interesting building appeared. It had two floors, but if you didn’t know beforehand that there was a basement you would never see it as it was in the back and extremely private. The basement, by the way, was where the job was. Next, I observed the windows. They were ceiling to floor all the way around and very large. Even the basement walls were mostly glass windows in the living area and in all the patient rooms. Before I saw the small woman sitting on the sofa, I wondered about all those windows at night. Would it be like a horror movie? Would I look up one night to see a creepy face looking in at me?
“Hello! Come in!” the lady on the sofa greeted me. “I’m Elaine and you must be Mike’s friend.”
As I entered, I could see that they had pushed several pieces of cheap furniture into the living room area with a TV against a bare wall. Off to the left were those massive windows that looked out into the forest and nothing else. To the right was a large kitchen and a small desk with a phone. There were no decorations, the floors were cold and hard and the lighting was migraine fluorescent. We chatted for a few minutes as she walked me through the place.
“I want to show you around and talk to you about the job before I even get an application from you.”
That was fine with me even though I knew I wanted the job. It didn’t pay much, but it was 4-5 nights a week from 7pm to 7am. I was a full time paralegal student at that time. Classes began at 8am so this was the perfect match for me. I would babysit the patients and the magnets at night, go to school during the day and my life would be awesome. Well, it was a nice thought anyway. She gave me the application and told me I had the job before I had even filled it out. I would start the next night.
As we toured the basement facility, the next thing I observed was a long dark hallway that led to a few rooms on the left-hand side. The first room was designated as an office where her husband could pretend that he was a chiropractor. There were a couple of desks and a computer with dial up that looked very much like 1997. Of course, they had put in an exam table to make things look more official. Jesus was hanging on the wall staring at me through Kenny Loggins’ eyes. Bibles were everywhere and if I listened closely, I could hear the faint hum of something I did not recognize.
Each subsequent room was rather small and had a single bed in the middle of the floor. Hanging above each bed from the ceiling was a colossal, round, metallic thing unlike anything I’d ever witnessed. At first, I thought I was looking at a scene from Donnie Darko where the jet engine falls through Donnie’s ceiling. That’s where the hum was coming from.
“Those are the magnets,” Elaine proudly announced when she saw the look of ‘what the hell is that’ on my face. I wasn’t sure if I should ask what the magnets do, but I didn’t have to worry about that for long. She was eager to brag about their life saving abilities. The magnets were invented for use in MME, or Magnetic Molecular Energizing. The whole concept was invented by a dentist, in the event you were wondering. According to Elaine and her nameless quack of a husband, those magnets were nothing short of a miracle. I was told they can get rid of everything from chronic pain and sports injuries to multiple sclerosis, stroke injuries and could even stop seizures.
“These magnets have been proven to heal torn ligaments and tendons. Even torn cartilage grows back after so many hours spent lying underneath one,” she told me.
I was trying very hard not to ask for said proof. I just wanted a stinking job.
“They can also cause stem cells to regenerate,” she kept bragging.
“These babies will also reverse any damage done to the brain by a stroke. We have many stroke patients who have told us that after only a few hundred hours under the magnet they are all better!”
When she said that I could feel my eyes glaze over. In my mind, I immediately began forming the opinion that they were either bad scam artists and liars preying upon the sickly, or they were mentally unstable. Maybe both, for if these magnets worked miracles as they claimed, why wasn’t this on the evening news? Why weren’t people shouting about this from the rooftops? Why had I never heard of this phenomenon?
It was during that initial meeting that she began to talk about her love of Jesus. She told me that they were very strict Christians and boldly began to needle into my own beliefs. They weren’t solidified yet and I had no real answer for her.
“I don’t know any more what I believe and I don’t attend,” I explained to her when she asked me if I was a believer and where I went to church. 
That last comment got me a dirty look with pursed lips.
Since it has been so many years that I worked there, I cannot remember the total number of hours recommended under one of their magnets, but it was a lot. The patients were expected to lie under there for no less than 2 weeks depending on the severity of their injury or illness. Months were recommended though because of the money of course, even though I was told the more hours put in yielded better results. If they were unable to stay for 2 solid weeks, they were expected to come back as much as they possibly could and lie there for as many hours at a time that they could. This therapy was not cheap. The cost was in the tens of thousands.
After touring the basement, Elaine then wanted to show me the upstairs. We made our way to the very back of the building where a dark staircase went up two short flights. It opened into a small room that they called their physical therapy department. The smell of mold and mildew hit my nose immediately. There was a small heated pool in the center of the room and a few pieces of cheap exercise equipment pushed up against more ginormous windows. I took note that everything in that place was old, dirty and cold. There were no warm vibes coming from that “place of healing.” I didn’t get a good feeling in my gut, but again, I just needed an easy job.
Leading from the PT room was a very dark hallway. My curious antennae were up.
“What exactly is this place?” I asked Elaine.
“This is a pain clinic,” she told me.
Back then I hadn’t a clue as to what a pain clinic was, but I surely know now. Pain clinic docs are given huge incentives by Big Pharma to get folks hooked on their drugs. In some parts of the country, there is a pain clinic on the corner of every city block. In most other parts, they are in or near other offices, not out in the middle of the forest, in the middle of a void county that most people have never even heard of. If you are a doc in search of opioid junkies, it just makes good sense to practice in a spot where they can at least get to you. The location struck me as odd, but being naïve about certain things, I just went along with everything my new boss told me. We then made our way through another dark hallway with offices on both sides. Every single one of them had a glass window that took up the entire outer wall. I was really beginning to creep out over all the glass in that place. Any pervert could be staring in from the trees. I would soon learn that perverts in the woods should have been the least of my concerns.
“We don’t mind if you use the computer in the office,” both quacks told me, “but we do extensive history checks all of the time, so don’t go to any websites that are offensive because you will be reprimanded.”
I figured they were looking for porn and the like and since I didn’t watch porn I thought I was safe to read up on whatever I liked.
I began my first evening with enthusiasm. I packed an overnight bag. They did not provide food for anyone, including their high paying clients so I brought food and drink as well. I was welcomed to sleep in the office or I could sleep on a bed under a magnet if I chose. Choosing the office, I threw down some old tumbling mats that I found in a closet, covered them with some blankets and waited for nightfall. That first evening there was only one woman in the whole place and she was in the very back room. I was told that unless the patients came to me I was to leave them alone. Privacy. I get it. I made myself some food and went into the office to play on the computer. The first few nights were an adjustment. I had to get used to all the glass and I had to adjust to the hum of the magnets. Other than that, there were no sounds in that whole building. I got on Yahoo Messenger, which was popular before Facebook and Twitter, and talked to a couple friends before lying on my mat and falling asleep quicker than I thought I would be able to. I had my alarm set for 6am. I wanted to check on that one patient, eat something, shower then head off to school. For the first few weeks, everything was going quite expectedly. A couple of times in passing, I saw Mike come in either to get his check or to look at his schedule.
“Have they asked you about the computer yet?” he wanted to know.
“No, but they told me not to view porn,” I told him.
“It isn’t just porn they’re looking for,” he advised. “They did a history search one day after my shift and found where I had been reading some New Age articles and they were very angry!”
“What is a New Age article?” I sincerely had no clue.
“You do realize I’m not a Christian, right, but do NOT tell them that!”
“I don’t think we’ve had that conversation yet. I just left Christianity, so I’m confused about everything. I don’t understand what New Age means.”
“Suffice it to say that it pisses them off and we shouldn’t look at things like that on their computer,” he kindly counseled me.
“Not a problem,” I laughed at him. I didn’t know what I was interested in yet, but I didn’t want to piss off the bosses.
About a month into my new job, Elaine announced that we were going to be hosting a celebrity. I knew celebrities were really into off the wall treatments. This could be exciting! She didn’t want to tell me at first who it was.
“Pleaseeeee tell me who is coming Elaine!? If I must look out for them, I want to know who it is!?”
“Alright,” she relented, “Have you ever heard of Judge Mills Lane?”
“Um, no.”
“Okay, did you see the fight where Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear?”
“Yes, actually I did watch that fight.”
“Alright, Mills Lane was the referee for that fight. He also had a TV show. He has suffered a massive stoke and they are coming to AMRI for magnet therapy.”
They had built the whole idea up until I thought an A-lister was on their way and even though they weren’t, I was still excited to meet some new people. People who had lived some form of an exciting life. People who weren’t from my small, close minded neck of the world. Maybe I would learn something new. Maybe I would make a new friend.
“We are going to pick them up at the airport in a limo!” Elaine was giddy.
At the time, they were the only ones who knew that the limo was from 1979, had a blown gasket, leaked oil and spit clouds of black smoke as it rolled down the highway. I laugh as I remember this detail. I was on duty the night the Mills first arrived. By the time I got to work that evening, Mr. Mills was already in bed under the magnet. Mrs. Mills was stirring around the living room and kitchen area familiarizing herself with the place. She was a very kind and friendly woman who I liked immediately. Somehow, I felt comfortable talking to this lady. She intrigued me. She laughed her ass off as she told me how the limo sputtered and spit and barely made it from the airport, much less up the long winding driveway. She talked to me about past lives, reincarnation and being a light worker. She even gave me a book called The Lightworker’s Way. I read it from cover to cover. That book still sits on my bookshelf as a welcomed reminder of the person who gave it to me. Each day I absolutely could not wait to get back to work to talk to Mrs. Mills. We connected on a deeper level, at least in my mind, and I found I could talk to her intensely about anything. She welcomed any subject. My mind was opened to so much just by meeting her. When I told her I wanted to get out of NC, she offered me their home in Reno. She said I could stay there for as long as I wanted to. Thinking back, I should have jumped at the chance to get away, but I was so unworldly that I was terrified, plus I was in the middle of my degree. Out of respect for their situation and my adoration of this kind woman I will not go into any more detail other than to say the stroke made Mr. Mills a very angry man. He didn’t like me much at all, but the poor guy had suffered so much and had lost his ability to even speak. I completely understood why he was grumpy and held nothing against him. I have since Googled his name and discovered he is still alive and was glad to read that. I genuinely hope they are well and happy in life.
Over the months, I met a lot of different people. It was rare that just the patient came to AMRI. It was usually also the spouse and/or another person from the family. Most of them were religious. I tried to sit in the common area and watch TV with them, but being asked about Jesus over and over grated on my nerves so I began to retreat into the office as soon as the bosses would leave each evening. I was not there to babysit the family of the sick, so I found myself closed off in that office with Kenny Jesus and Yahoo for hours at a time.
That is, until I met Abby* and her family. The day they arrived at the facility was a good day. It was Abby, her 3 children and her sister. She had the biggest most friendly grin I’d ever seen. She immediately hugged me tightly as soon as she met me. They were from a little town in Massachusetts and I adored their accent. My time spent with them was full of laughter and for the first time in a very long time, I felt genuinely loved by that room full of new found friends. She was eager to tell me her story and was equally as anxious to talk to me about the magnets.
Only a couple of years before finding AMRI, Abby, her husband and their 3 children were traveling down a highway in Massachusetts when a man who was drunk as well as high on cocaine crossed the median and hit their minivan head on. The husband and father was decapitated immediately on impact. Abby said she blacked out from the crash and was awakened by the cries of her youngest child who was in the far back of the van. Abby’s left arm was severed nearly completely from her body. The child riding in the seat behind her was hit so hard she had a permanent stutter. The child riding in the very back had to be put into a full body cast for months. The saddest part of her story was about the child riding behind the driving father. He was crushed by the impact. Being a healthy child before this incident, he was now crippled to the point that he was permanently in a wheelchair. His body was so injured that his spine was ever so slowly curving into a “C” and his internal organs were literally being crushed. He had to wear a brace to keep his spine straight. The hope was his body would stop going into that C curvature. He had the biggest most beautiful smile in spite of the fact that only one of his arms worked. He still had his mental capacities and not long after meeting this kid, he became infatuated with me to the point he would grab my butt or my boobs every time I tried to give him a hug or even walked past him. There was nothing to do but laugh about it. I couldn’t be angry at that kid. He was the one lying under the magnet. I watched many times over as Abby, whose arm was only held on by bolts and screws and other hardware, lovingly picked him up to move him from chair to bed. My eyes would mist over as I knew the pain she was living, not just from the wreck, but from watching her spouse die and almost watching her children die. She did everything for them and with that big, wide smile. I don’t think that woman stopped smiling the whole time with exception to the one time she cried to me in the night. We were up late that evening talking as usual. She took me gently by the shoulders and begged me to tell her the magnet would heal her son. By that time, I knew fully that AMRI was a loaded crock of shit, but I absolutely couldn’t find the right words or the heart to take away her only hope. Tears streamed down both of our faces as I promised her everything would be alright. As desperately as I wanted her life to turn around for the positive, I just couldn’t tell her my thoughts on that place. She had taken out a 2nd mortgage on her home just to pay for the treatments. It simply wasn’t in me to crush her world.
During their stay at AMRI, I wanted to pick up as many shifts as I possibly could. I wanted to be around this family all the time. The girls were so sweet and very smart! It was like talking to two mini adults. They told me of their plans to adopt a baby monkey and all about life in Worchester. Their aunt, Abby’s sister, suffered from severe migraines, so she had her own room with her own magnet. She too was a beautiful soul who smiled the smile of an angel. I thought these two women must be made of stone to endure the things they had lived through and were still able to carry on with love in their hearts. My evenings were spent tumbling on the mats with the girls, trying not to get pinched by the boy (lol), and having some real heartfelt talks with the two sisters. When the day came for them to pack their things and leave, I cried like a baby. I absolutely did not want them to leave. Over the next few months we stayed in contact through email. I missed them all so terribly. Life had to go on though. I needed to stop getting so attached to people who were not going to be staying in my life, but I had just lost everything and everyone important to me. My heart was raw and aching for somebody to accept me and love me. A few months after I lost that job—which I will explain, I had the opportunity to travel to Massachusetts to visit them for a week. I met Abby’s new husband. We went to her sister’s house in Connecticut and I met her new grandbaby. We spent countless hours talking about anything and everything. I played with her daughters, watched movies and visited her handicapped son in a group home for children. When he wasn’t there, he was at home with all of us. I cooked dinner for them one evening. It was wonderful to feel a part of a family unit again. I was still in mourning over my own children though; my mind wasn’t right. Without going into many details, it is sufficient to say that I fucked everything up in the end. I didn’t mean to. I was on Ambien and if you’ve ever taken Ambien you know that it makes you do things to humiliate you later. That’s exactly what happened on my last night there. I completely freaked her husband out and I’m sure after he told her what I was doing, she freaked out as well. I flew home from the Boston airport the next afternoon knowing that those people would never want to see me again. I cried for weeks. Indeed, they never contacted me again. Now, I have the mental capacity not to give a shit about being liked or not, but back then I was still reeling from so much rejection. Losing their friendship was likened to the pain of that sad day I had to put my dying pet down at the vet.
Time kept ticking and a few months came and went as did the people. Winter at the facility was breathtaking. To look out those big windows at the falling snow was so enjoyable. I folded the laundry, cleaned the kitchen and kept watch over the locked doors. I never saw any improvement in anyone who came there for treatment, but it was fun meeting all the new faces; except for the ones who only wanted to preach at me. One morning I had awakened earlier than usual. Sleeping on the floor was hurting my back. So, I picked up a book on philosophy that I had been studying and settled in the living area to read on the couch until the bosses came in to relieve me. Elaine had not been in the door for more than 30 seconds that morning when she quickly walked over to see what I was reading.
“Philosophy?” she balked.
“You are NOT allowed to read that trash while on OUR property!”
She yanked the book from my hands and threw it on the floor with disgust.
“YOU NEED JESUS!” she was yelling at me!
Her husband, who was religious yet not so outspoken, looked sad that she was yelling at me. He asked me why I was up so early so I told him my back and neck hurt. BIG MISTAKE! BIGLY HUGE MISTAKE!
“Come into the office and let me do an adjustment for you,” he offered.
“To be honest with you, I’m scared of chiropractors. I have watched my friend get her neck popped and it looks just awful.” I was trying to think of any reason possible for this man NOT to touch me.
“I have been doing this for years and I promise not to hurt you. You won’t feel a thing. Now come on into the office and sit on the exam table.”
Reluctantly, and in spite of the fact that I’d never seen a patient in his office, I did as I was asked. He positioned himself behind me and wrenched my head so hard that I felt something snap in my neck. At that time, I had no idea that I had a bone spur growing on my spine, protruding in to my spinal cord. Immediately, I felt heat rush from my neck all the way down to the last vertebrae. Big tears welled up in my eyes and I knew letting him touch me wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I knew something was wrong, but it would be many years before I knew exactly what and that day, that fucking quack could have paralyzed me! I couldn’t move my head for over a week!
“You just need to pray about this,” he told me as I bawled in pain and held tightly onto my neck. He wasn’t even going to take responsibility for hurting me.
That was the moment I declared war. I was fucking sick and tired of people telling me how to live my life, what to think, how to feel, what to study, what to believe in. Enough was enough. I would rebel. From that day forward, I made it my personal vendetta to do just whatever in the hell I felt like doing while there. I began to go upstairs during my shifts. I swam in their little pool and used their old equipment. I roamed the hallways and offices. I went through drawers and rummaged through cabinets. I didn’t intend to take a thing, but I was going to nose through everything I could possibly find just because I wanted to and because I could. If it wasn’t locked up, I looked at it. If it was put away, I got it out and studied it. I started going for walks into the woods and found a creek that I could sit by and be alone with my thoughts. I wandered all over that property just picking flowers and listening to nature.
Within another week or so, I was told that the staff upstairs in the “pain clinic” needed another receptionist. At the time, I was getting paid to roam around like a free bird, so I wasn’t keen on taking that job.
“We will work with your schedule so that you can do both jobs if you want,” they said. It was summer by then and school was down to part time.
“Well, if I can still go to school and work, I’ll give it a try,” I caved. It would be an adjustment to be there 3rd shift some days and 1st shift on others, and college classes some mornings, but I needed the money. I would be there every morning that I wasn’t in class and then on some nights.
The following Monday morning I was upstairs in the reception area bright and early waiting to be trained. The way they did things up there was surreal. I could find no rhyme or reason to their habits. Patients would come straggling with gaunt eyes and stick thin bodies looking for their next fix while the staff sang hymns and prayed out loud. The “doctor” was pale and hollow looking; his dark and disturbing eyes gave away the secret that he might be a psychopath. Not once did that man greet me, speak to me or welcome me to the staff. He was far creepier than the windows were in the beginning.I was informed that they held a bible study every Wednesday morning before work and I would be expected to attend.
“I don’t read the bible,” I told my new co-worker and trainer.
“This is expected of you so even if you don’t read the bible, you still have to be here an hour early on Wednesdays.”
“Then don’t schedule me on Wednesdays,” I told her.
“Don’t you believe in god?” She questioned me with her eyes squinted.
I didn’t want to tell her that I had left religion only a couple of years prior and didn’t want to hear that shit anymore. Not only was it none of her business, but this was work and I thought you weren’t supposed to talk about religion at work. But this place was different and I knew it. They had their own rules and their sheeple were to blindly follow.
Then again, I wanted to be a rebel, remember?
“No, I don’t believe in god anymore,” I admitted.
She looked like I had just slaughtered her firstborn in front of her eyes.
I worked that day upstairs and that evening I was to go down to the basement and watch the facility overnight. As I looked at the schedule I noted that Elaine had me on there every single night of the week. There was no way I could work the pain clinic most days, attend school and be in the basement every night. It was too much. No sooner had I opened my mouth to let her know she had scheduled me too much when she began to rant about the computer again.
“We looked at the internet history and we saw what you’ve been doing on our computer.”
“Elaine, I talk to my friends on Yahoo Messenger and I play online Mahjong. I cannot possibly understand how this is offensive to you.”
“We saw where you’ve been reading articles written by Edgar Cayce,” she responded with a very red face.
“Who is Edgar Cayce?” I sincerely did not know that name.
She stuck her finger in my face and said, “You know exactly what you’ve done.”
It had been Mike and his interest in New Age articles that was getting me in trouble.
“Look at the exact date and times and you will see that it was not me!”
She just couldn’t stop wagging her finger at me, yelling the whole while. I later learned that she hated me the instant Tracy* told everyone I didn’t believe in god anymore.
It was at that point that I snapped. I mean, I reallyyy snapped on her.
“NOBODY is going to stick their fucking finger in my face anymore!” I was pretty much screaming at this point.
Her jaw dropped open and she couldn’t find the words. I had never bitten back at her even though she had been a smartass to me too many times to count. I had never been anything but loving and sweet to her, so she was in shock and I absolutely did not care. As we stood there toe to toe, both of our faces stuck with anger and determination, she began to wag that finger at me again.
“I SWEAR ON MY LIFE IF YOU DON’T GET YOUR FINGER OUT OF MY FACE I’M GOING TO BREAK IT!” I was ready to slap the shit out of that woman!
I could feel myself losing control.
“Don’t you dare talk to me that way,” she demanded.
“Stop harassing me and talking condescendingly at me like you’re my fucking MOTHER!” I couldn’t help but scream that at her as I began to pack my things. I was supposed to stay for that shift, but nothing could keep me there that night. I gathered my things and headed for the door, but not before I yelled one more thing at her.
I got in my car and left that place. It wasn’t very original, but it was all I could muster on the fly.The next evening, I figured things had cooled off and I could return. Ha! Yeah right! I got there and her car was noticeably absent. I went in and began to unpack my food as Dr. Quack approached me.
“Look, I’m real sorry I yelled at your wife yesterday. She was sticking her finger in my face and that offends me. Where is she anyway?”
“Listen,” he gently touched my arm and stopped me from unpacking, “We are letting you go.”
Part of me knew this was coming. The other part felt that I was justified in getting angry from time to time. Doesn’t everyone?
“You have yelled at Elaine. You told Tracy you won’t come to bible study on Wednesdays and the other morning when we arrived, you were outside picking flowers!”
“No one was awake yet. I looked in on everyone and they were sleeping soundly. I was only outside all of 15 minutes,” I tried in vain.
His eyes were sad. He was married to that bitch and he knew she was in the wrong, but he also had to live with her which meant he had to side with her. She had forced him to fire me because she was too chicken shit to do it herself. She couldn’t or wouldn’t face me.
“Fine. I accept what is happening and I will leave you in peace. But not until you pay me everything that is owed to me. I will not wait until payday and trust that you people will pay me.”
He immediately took out his checkbook and wrote me a check.
“Dr. Quack, I’m truly sorry that I lost my temper and yelled, but you don’t know my life. You don’t know my history. Neither of you could possibly understand why I acted the way I did.”
“No one cares.”
And with that, I was terminated.
That was the end of my time spent at AMRI. I truly enjoyed meeting most of the people that I made instant connections with. I didn’t mind the job at all. What strikes me as hilarious although, is the fact that they thought they could go the rest of their lives and never be outed like this. I mean, who writes stories about their personal life on the internet? LOL
So, Elaine, and Dr. Quack, I sincerely hope that you see this. I also sincerely hope that everyone who is considering going to your little magnet facility, otherwise known as AMRI in Mocksville, NC sees this story. If they do read this and still choose to pay your salaries with funds from their 2nd mortgages and hard earned money, then it’s their own fault.
You have all been warned about that place.
Was any of this experience destiny? I'd like to think everything that happened there not only expanded my mind and opened it up to ideas that I would have never dreamed of, I also learned to see certain people without my rose colored glasses. No one has the right to tell you how to live your life. I met some people that I will never forget as long as I live. 
My job here is done.

P.S. I never saw Mike again either. 

*Name changed for privacy

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How Taekwondoa and Martial Arts Helped Ruin My Body and Health

Typically, when people think of martial arts, they picture Bruce Lee in a room full of mirrors fighting off a bad man with a steel bear claw on his hand. Obviously, that isn’t even close to reality and if you’ve ever stepped foot inside of a martial arts studio you will see that firsthand. I saw it all up close and personal for years, so please allow me to elaborate on the reasons why I will never recommend martial arts to anyone, especially to children with developing joints and bodies or adults with joint troubles.
In September, 2016 I had my 4th foot surgery, which in total was surgery #18. Granted, not all 18 of my surgeries were related to martial arts injuries, but many of them were. Before I begin, in no way am trying to slam martial arts. Truly, I loved what I was doing. I won state championships in my division in 2000 and I won a national competition in my division in 2001. I had the medals. I had a room full of trophies and if you do as well, please don’t take offense. I practiced full time, was getting good and wanted to make it my life career. I visualized myself on the cover of a magazine, or happily teaching others the sport, or even opening my own studio one day. The aspirations were all in place, but I had irreversibly damaged my body forever and I wouldn’t find that out for several years later. After it was too late. 
I realize that while not everyone who studies martial arts become injured, many do. I have spoken to so many people who, after years of studying combat techniques, needed a knee replacement, a hip replacement, a shoulder surgery or worse, a wheelchair. Guffaw if you will. Tell me that my techniques weren’t so great or I would have never become injured at all. I’ve heard everything. And while the possibility of bad technique could have been a factor in the beginning, I honed my skills to the point where it wasn’t technique that ruined my body. It was the sport itself coupled with my preexisting hypermobility and the genetic predisposition for osteoarthritis that eventually took me down in the end. Which brings me to children. Their little bodies are still developing when parents decide to put them in karate or taekwondo for sport. Ask any orthopedist or pediatrician about the fragility of a child’s joints and how the constant wrenching/pivoting motions one performs in a single hour of martial arts practice could potentially end in disastrous results. Although I had a true love and passion for the sport, I cannot advocate it anymore.

Taekwondo is primarily a kicking sport. Yes, you learn to punch, but it's mostly kicking (at least in my dojang and our style). When one is first learning the sport one must practice learning to kick. In learning to kick, it is easier to start off with a primary kicking leg; the right leg. What this means is, for much of your practice, at least in the beginning, you will be learning to balance on your left leg, while you kick with your right leg. This is literally practiced hundreds and thousands of times as one trains and what this means for your left leg, the balancing leg, is that it must pivot over and over. When one is a beginner, it is easy to forget to lift up onto the toes and pivot properly during a kick, which results in the left knee becoming wrenched again and again. Same concept applies to the left hip. Even if you do learn to pivot perfectly, chances are that while you were perfecting your craft, you messed up your knee. Most of the time, people don’t even know what they’re doing to their joints until it’s too late. That’s what happened to me. I’m positive that as I worked my way through the colors of belts, I wrenched my joints to maximum capacity and now I’m paying the steep penalties—which I will get to soon enough. And even after you get good at balancing on that left leg and kicking with the right, at some point you must learn to balance on your right leg and kick with the left. All the pivoting principles and wrenching motions are the same. Keep in mind that most young children are not going to understand pivoting. Some will, but most will not. They just want to have fun and play, so they think throwing some kicks around is a great game, but please know that it isn’t.
I trained in the ITF (International Taekwondo Federation) style of TKD. This style is very traditional; old school if you will. It focuses mainly on technique, power and lots of breaking. While WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) style trains mostly for sport as in the Olympics, they focus on speed, agility and sparring. My TKD master was first generation Korean and was strict to the point that sometimes people weren’t even enjoying coming to class anymore. But not me. I wanted the challenge. I wanted to play hard and train harder. I was the only adult female in my DoJang and I loved training with full grown men. We used to joke that anyone outside of the ITF tradition were only doing aerobics in a pretty white suit with a pretty colorful belt (which is absolutely not true, but in the tradition of talking smack…you get the idea). We had a demo team in our school, and as I progressed in my talent, I was urged to join. If you’ve never seen a demo team in action, check this out:

One day in class I was sparring with another member of the demo team. A young, swift and very strong man kicked me in the abdomen with such force that I immediately blacked out and fell straight to the mat. When I woke up, he was kneeling over me, crying his heart out. He really thought he had killed me and I was soaked in his tears as he begged me to wake up. I can remember looking in to his big doe eyes and mentally telling him not to cry, that it was my fault for not blocking the kick, but he was distraught and even moreso by the fact that I was unable to speak right away. Our master dared him to help me up or even see if I was alright. I was carted by another team member to the hospital (who was later punished for helping me) where I had an MRI of my abdomen to check for internal bleeding. When I returned a few days later, I learned the young man was so traumatized by the experience that he quit the sport. No amount of consolation on my part would bring him back either. Once I was foolishly back on the demo team, I began to learn tornado kicks, jumping/flying kicks, how to land on the mat when being slammed down and how to break things with my hands and feet. I quickly moved from boards to cinder blocks. In no time, I was busting up concrete with my bare hands and feet.
That was the precise moment in time when my spine began its descent into deterioration. But that isn’t the real “kicker” (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t help myself). The worst injuries were yet to come. Soon after the kick to the abdomen, I was sparring with yet another young man who thought it funny to bring illegal muy thai moves into our dojang. You do not block with your knees in TKD. As I went to roundhouse kick him, he blocked with his sharp little knee and I was left with a hematoma the size of a grapefruit on my shin. The doctor was very afraid I would form and possibly die of a blood clot, but I obviously didn’t. Again and again I went back for more punishment. As time went on and I was twisted and thrown around like a ragdoll, my shoulders began to pop. The left one began to roll out of socket. Then the day came that I was to learn how to jump from a small trampoline and land a side kick on just one leg. It looked easy enough when I watched the guys do it, and with their encouragement I went for it. The first time I tried it I fell to the mat. I got up and tried the jump again. The second time didn’t fare well for me. I landed the kick on my left leg alright, but when I did, my knee wrenched and popped and I went to the floor in agony. With more threats from my asshole TKD master that if I didn’t keep trying he would lock me out, I limped to the back of the line and tried again. The next landing would be the end of my left knee forever. And even though I was in blinding pain, I couldn’t give up. Not yet. I had failed in all other areas of my life so far and was determined to succeed at something. I could not and would not accept defeat so I kept trying. HUGE mistake! After class that evening, as I changed back into my street clothes, I got a good look at my knee. My knee as well as the entire outside of my leg was beginning to turn black. Not black and blue. Not purply. It was black. That scared the hell out of me. I hid it from my teammates and went home in so much pain I passed out immediately and slept for days. I went to a new orthopedist who also happened to be a black belt. With a very concerned frown on his face, he informed me that my martial arts days were over if I wanted to keep the ability to walk. He did offer me a controversial surgery; a very extreme surgery involving stripping my IT band and replacing it with one from a pig or a cadaver—attaching it to my leg with 27 bolts, leaving me with a scar from hip to ankle. With only a 50/50 chance of recovery, I opted out of that surgery, although I did let him fix my left rotator cuff. He warned me that since I was so hypermobile and flexible, I would most likely develop osteoarthritis in the next decade or so, but I didn’t want to believe that even with a family history of OA. I was young and thought I could simply shake it all off. I could not have been more wrong.
Soon, I began having severe, chronic neck pain. I had moved to a new town and began to search for a new doctor. I was told many different things were wrong with me from stress to exhaustion and even that it was all in my head. As I mentioned in my chronic pain blog, I went to one doctor visit in so much pain that I threatened suicide if someone didn’t find the source of the pain and fix me. Instead of imaging or even consolation, I was locked in an exam room all day long and put on suicide watch. Between the neck pain, the knee pain, the shoulder pain and the spinal pain, I didn’t think I could handle anything else. That’s when my feet began to throb. I found a foot clinic and began receiving cortisone injections in my feet. I learned much too late that those injections were breaking down the tissue in my tired feet, but I couldn’t focus too much on my feet. My neck was literally killing me and my arms and hands had begun to go numb. There were some huge insurance changes going on during that time. Big HMO’s didn’t want to pay for MRI’s unless the patient was dying, so no physician would order scans for my neck or my knee. I went for 12 years with that neck pain before a neurologist finally ordered an MRI scan. Turns out I had a bone spur protruding into my spinal cord and needed immediate neurosurgery. I was told that all the former negligence and activity could have left me paralyzed, but there was nothing to do about that. In 2014 I had the bone spur removed and now live with a titanium cervical spine. I can still hear the nauseating grinding sounds when I turn my head. That same neurologist ordered several scans of my spine and that was when I found out I had scoliosis and a hemangioma (tumor) on my spine. It was never detected as a child and I never had prior troubles, so I was left to believe this too was caused by the trauma of falling to the mat over and over for years. It was also during that time that I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. My spine is literally crumbling inside of me.
 In 2015 I found an independent orthopedic surgeon who consented to do exploratory surgery of my knee. Once inside, he found multiple bone spurs and unbelievably, I had been walking on a fractured femur bone for 14 years! My kneecap was mush as well. He also told me that I had no cartilage in that knee. None. I’m literally walking bone on bone and with a fracture at that. I was informed that it would never be normal again. He did not want to put a titanium replacement in though, stating that I was too young. They don’t like to put titanium knees into people younger than 65, he said. I yelled at him and fought with him that I didn’t deserve to walk on a fractured leg until I was 65. Neither of us would relent and I left his practice extremely disappointed. With that “out of the way” for the time being, I then found a podiatrist to begin the long trip to hell in regards to my feet. Through all the kicking and breaking, I had developed a neuroma (more tumors) in both feet and both heels had a bone spur. One neuroma was successfully taken out. Two months later, the next one was removed. Two months after that, the left heel spur was removed. And here we have come full circle back to that foot surgery I just had in September, 2016. It was supposed to be another simple heel spur removal, or plantar fasciotomy, in medical terms. But it didn’t go as simply as the last one. I knew something was dreadfully wrong immediately after I woke up from surgery, but chalked it up to exhaustion. In all 18 of my surgeries, I have not once slept 7 straight days, but after that final foot surgery, I literally could not move for a solid week. I couldn’t sit up, I couldn’t walk, the crutches were killing my weak shoulders and I couldn’t crawl around because of the knee. I was spiraling into a deep depression that is still hanging onto me like a wet blanket. The 19th of January, 2017 marked 4 months post op and my podiatrist wasn’t taking my post op pain seriously. He wouldn’t even touch my foot. He chided me to stop walking in my surgical boot, but I couldn’t. So, I found yet another orthopedic specialist. Within 5 minutes of meeting me, she had set me up for an MRI of my right foot and began telling me I needed PT for my spine. I went yesterday to pick up my MRI report because I could not wait for my next appointment to find out what is wrong with my foot. As I sat in the car and read over it, I was overtaken with disbelief. Not only do I have a high grade tear in my central cord plantar fascia, but there is another high grade tear in the lateral plantar fascia as well. And the icing on the cake is the fibroma tumor that has rapidly developed in the arch of my foot. I cried all the way home. No wonder I can’t walk. No wonder my foot flops like a dead fish. I couldn’t believe any of it. But it is true. I called my new doctor immediately and sobbed to her. She is sending me for intensive rehabilitation for my spine, my feet, both ankles and my knee. I haven’t told her that my shoulders are clicking again. As a matter of fact, she knows nothing of my shoulder history. I can only picture her hanging her head when I do tell her. Even with all the PT coming my way, I will never walk normally again.
With all of that said, I hope you can now understand why I cannot recommend martial arts to anyone. And while I do realize that I cannot blame Taekwondo for everything, I still cannot promote it. Genetics did play a role in the slippery slope I’ve been sliding down for well over a decade now. None of this is going to get better either. All my “conditions” are degenerative, meaning they will slowly get worse with age. Emotional and mental troubles played a hard factor in that body-mind connection, I’m positive, but I am also a firm believer that if I had never stepped foot in a martial arts studio, my health would be 75% better than it is now.
If you are considering martial arts, or thinking about putting your kids into a program like that, please reconsider, or at the very least, talk to a doctor first; especially if you have a family history of any type of joint, spine or bone problems. I’m really not here to bad mouth the sport. I’m simply trying to save someone else from all the torture I’ve lived through as a result. 

 This is an image of the inside of my knee taken during surgery May, 2015.

**click here for my blog on chronic pain and I do apologize in advance if some of the event sequences are out of order. I’ve been through so much and it is very hard to sort it all out and keep everything in perfect chronological order**