Abigail Burford sheds glorious light on how her elective hip surgery ignited a transformative path to healing the physical ailments of surgery and autoimmune disease, alongside mental trauma, in a holistic way that resulted in the greatest act of self-love.
When her hip surgery led to a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and anemia, Abigail decided to seek non-pharmaceutical therapies. In conjunction with her primary care physician, she created a treatment plan that included exploring how the traumas experienced in her life related to her body’s autoimmune attack on itself. A regime of acupuncture, supplements, dietary changes, psychotherapy and massage therapy yielded results that made Abigail grateful for the new embrace of self-care her medical challenges brought about. And what better affirmation for charting a new course to health and well being, than to say:
I had gone back to the hematologist for a follow-up appointment. Before she walked in, she compared blood test results taken over time. She saw that my anemia had resolved. She walked into the exam room with a big smile on her face, and said, “Your numbers are great! You must have taken the medicine after all!” “No,” I answered with delight, “I didn’t! I’ve been taking supplements!” I almost added, “Boo-yah!” The hematologist looked stunned and asked me some questions. She finally shook her head in amazement and said, “I’ve learned something today.”
Abigail’s story of connecting recovery to self-respect, tenacity in finding information regarding holistic treatment solutions, and self-realization that she is the driver of her treatment plan demonstrates the PVI Principles of Respect, Information, and Empowerment. Learn more about the tools to Abigail’s journey in her story below.
“An Autoimmune Narrative: From Attacking Self to Supporting Self”
By Abigail Burford
Prelude: The Hip (January)
In 2015, at age 57, I decided to have a total hip replacement.
I scheduled the surgery for January 2016. In preparation, I prayed, “New hip, new life.” I had been born with a dislocated hip. At age two, I had surgery and a body cast. In my child’s mind, being crippled, even temporarily, had caused my father to drink and to abuse me sexually, and caused my mother to withhold love. In my adult mind, I knew that I needed to forgive to be free.
My intention was to let go of the negative emotions (guilt, shame, and unworthiness) in the old hip, and foster positive emotions (joy, gratitude, and worthiness) in the new hip.
I didn’t know the half of it! That intention was fulfilled, but in a way I couldn’t have then imagined.
In January 2016, I had the surgery. It went well. After I was discharged from the hospital, I spent three weeks at my friend’s house. I had never been so well-cared-for in my life. This recovery time was a crash course in how to accept help easily.
The Medical Swamp (February-April)
In February I could drive again, so I moved back to my apartment. I was recovering from surgery, but all my joints were visibly swollen and warm to the touch. Stairs and daily tasks became an agony.
I consulted my PCP, who ran tests for autoimmune disease. He gave me a referral for a rheumatologist, and I made an appointment for as early as possible, which wasn’t until April. I contacted an acupuncturist and functional medicine practitioner, Chris Butler, who advised me to wait until I had a diagnosis from a specialist.
So, now I was in a period of confusion and waiting. Let’s call it the Medical Swamp. I was suffering pain, weight loss, anemia, and fatigue.
At this time, I was learning to drop my lifelong shame at being sick or wounded, and to receive care. I had to break old patterns to survive.
I was depressed and crying all the time. So, I started psychotherapy sessions with Suzanne Farkas.
In April I met with the rheumatologist, who behaved like a bully. I ignored his prescription of Methotrexate and Prednisone, and decided to look for another rheumatologist. However, he did give me an accurate diagnosis of RA (rheumatoid arthritis).
And I started treatment with Chris Butler. He prescribed acupuncture and supplements of amino acids, enzymes, and herbs. He advised me to consult a hematologist about my anemia. I made an appointment as soon as possible.
Chris explained the connection between gut health and inflammation. He had me start the Paleo Diet, and read Sarah Ballantyne’s The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body.
The Medical Piedmont (May-September)
In the Medical Piedmont, I was on a path and I could see at least as far as my next right step. I had acupuncture treatments twice a week, and maintained Chris’ protocol daily. I did not see significant improvement right away. For the first two months, I was operating on faith alone.
I found a rheumatologist I liked. She also prescribed Methotrexate, which I declined.
During this time, I was also calming my ego. Because of my formative years in an alcoholic home, my ego was inclined to obsess over tragedy and failure. But now I was consciously choosing positive emotions.
Suzanne recommended The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk. I learned that the survivors of childhood abuse/neglect really experience PTSD, and that I needed to find a therapy that could finesse the trauma held in my body.
I started going to Joseph Nicastro for massage therapy. He released old emotions as he realigned my body. Joseph counseled me to wear orthotic inserts. He started at my feet and worked up to my shoulders.
The idea of “support” took on an architectural and spiritual meaning. I started to think of my body as a cathedral with soaring arches and a tower; it had to have a sound foundation. The smallest detail of orthotics in my shoes was not insignificant. I started to think of my body and mind as a planet with an atmosphere and a biosphere; it had to have an unhindered flow of life energy and vibrant colonies of beneficial micro-organisms. The smallest detail of probiotics in my diet was not insignificant.
Here is a happy moment in the Piedmont: I had gone back to the hematologist for a follow-up appointment. Before she walked in, she compared blood test results taken over time. She saw that my anemia had resolved. She walked into the exam room with a big smile on her face, and said, “Your numbers are great! You must have taken the medicine after all!” “No,” I answered with delight, “I didn’t! I’ve been taking supplements!” I almost added, “Boo-yah!” The hematologist looked stunned and asked me some questions. She finally shook her head in amazement and said, “I’ve learned something today.”
Most MDs are not as gracious as my hematologist.
The Medical Mountain (October-December)
Over the next three months, my pain and fatigue disappeared. I regained weight and strength, and even joined a gym. My path was ascending on sturdy rock and I had a panoramic view of my world.
I learned from van der Kolk’s book that my lifelong tendency to attack myself is a common symptom of unhealed trauma. I found effective help in Chris Butler and Joseph Nicastro and Suzanne Farkas. These practitioners understand that body/mind/spirit are like three co-authors of the screenplay of life. Whatever happens to one affects all three; and one follows the direction of the other two.
From the Medical Mountain, I could see that my experience of the last year had been a process of forgiveness. I set the intention of releasing negative emotions, and fostering positive emotions. I thought I would facilitate this process by having hip surgery. But it turned out that the hip surgery was an initial step in a much more powerful, mysterious process. The sudden onset of RA accomplished the real shift. It motivated me with a foretaste of my own death; it rearranged my priorities; it changed everything.
I’m grateful for this autoimmune disease, because it forced me to wake up to the ways in which I was attacking myself. It forced me to start supporting myself. Both my immune system and my ego needed love and care, in order to back off from their attack. I see the therapies I’ve enlisted in the past year as forms of love.
Abigail Burford is a university English instructor working in the U.S as well as France, Japan, and China, in 2010, she felt the call. An active spiritualist and Quaker Meeting member, she now practices her ministry of healing, herbology, and decluttering. Along the way, Abigail has raised two offspring to become adventurous, resilient young adults.