Postural Anesthesia

by Tom Veatch

If you need instant pain relief, try this. Might not work for everyone, but it works for me, so maybe it'll work for you. Let me tell you about it by way of a story.

So last January or February (maybe 2015) I had an appendectomy. After waking up I was on some good drugs so I felt no pain for a few hours. After the surgical anesthesia wore off, they had me on a sequence of codeine and then later on Tylenol, for a few days until I had healed up to the point that I didn't need any more pain relief.

During those few days there was a cycle of pain less periods when the drug was working, and eventually a pain full period when it stopped working. At that time my intestines, of course, being all traumatized with surgery, were still operating and sending bits of food down the tubes and around the corners along inside them and stuff, doing the things intestines do. Well, when something went around a corner, Oh my God, that was an instant onset of agony. Just beyond my ability to control or tolerate it. Unbelievable pain.

So I have this posture trick; I don't know if you've heard about it, but I've been doing it for most of my life, I'm sure I got it from my trip to India in my 20s to study yoga meditation, after a short career as a massage therapist, which of course made me very thoughtful about posture.

A habit of posture, especially spinal posture, establishes a kinesthetic sense of what it's like to be in one's body. The Alexander Method students correctly recognize that this sense often controls the inner experience of identity, the feeling of what it's like to be oneself. Posture is indeed linked to identity: what you hold on to, to feel safe, and how you feel, inside yourself.

So if I do two things then three things happen reliably. This is my posture trick. The first thing is I straighten my spine up, like standing one hundred percent completely tall, I mean like my head is suspended by an anchor bolt hanging from a cable from above. I mean there's no tolerance for, Oh I'm tired, or, I don't have the ability to get Really Straight. I use All my muscle strength if I need to and I get straight, I mean actually really straight. That's one.

Then number two is I lean back a little bit. I would say about 4 degrees, maybe mostly up towards the head at the atlas joint of the neck, just a little tiny bit back, in order to get a little bit of an opening or falling sensation.

OK so if I do those two things than three things always happen. First, you know how, when you fall sleep, it's like things turn black. Well in this, it's like things turn white. It's not that things actually turn white it's As If they turn white; there's a certain effect that can be described that way. If you don't get what I mean, it doesn't really matter, but there's this thing inside my experience, and that's one way to talk about it, and if you experienced it you would know what I mean, so that's number one.

Then number two is, I suddenly don't care about anything. When I tell this story to little kids they laugh hysterically -- because life is so painful for them! Poof, I don't care, it's all good.

Number three is there's a small but positive euphoria. It's very small but this is a good thing not a neutral thing.

That's my posture trick. I told an old man about it once and he said that he would really love to die doing that. And I agree with him.

Actually as I write this, my mother died about a month ago. She had suffered from osteoporosis for many years, and her neck and upper spine were usually roughly horizontal in her standing posture. In bed, she was normally in a curled, fetal position on her side, because there weren't enough pillows in the world to support her inward curling posture. During her last week, which I spent by her bedside, after she became unresponsive and her body position was as given by the caregivers who tried to make her comfortable, she was on her back, knees supported by pillows, and spine curling its now natural curl inward and neck craned far far backward to rest on the one pillow stuck behind her head. So I would massage her feet, her temples, her neck, and she would breathe a little easier for a moment. Then I thought I'd try helping her straighten her neck a little, so I adjusted her head and stuffed another pillow under there, so it wouldn't be a 90 degree reverse bend in her neck. Well in that instant, she stopped breathing! If it were me, that change would have been taken me into a state of bliss, and maybe she was. Maybe that was exactly what she needed. But suddenly for 20 seconds she didn't breathe at all, and I freaked out, thought I had killed her, and I pulled out the extra pillow and gently let her head go right back where it had been. After a bit she started breathing again! Well, I truly wish I knew whether I had helped her to find bliss or not. Because she lived from Tuesday to Friday night, and perhaps it was no kindness, even highly cruel, that I put her back into that old posture. I just don't know.

For our purposes here, suffice it to say that adjusting the posture of one's neck can have a very dramatic and objectively observable effect on a person. QED.

These effects happen instantly, it's like a physiological thing not some kind of conceptual or gradual thinking process. Poof.

So anyway this is one of the things that I know about my own being in this body and so when I was in agony during my appendectomy recovery I would use it. It really doesn't matter if you're standing up or laying down it's just a matter of your spine being straight and then arching back that little bit.

So I'm lying in this bed with my hospital lift on the mattress and the agony comes, and I find a way to straighten out; it might take some effort considering that the mattress is trying to curl my back into a fetal position. But as soon as I get totally straight and then I arch back that little bit and I hit that posture then, amazing, Bam!, the pain is totally gone. If I held the position and there weren't any new things going around corners in my guts then I was good. Of course I would still push the button and get the nurse to come bring me some more codeine, but I was not screaming while I was waiting for her or him and for it to kick in after I took it. I was safe not sorry.

So I tried this in desperation the first time, you know, because the pain was horrible, and I feel so blessed and so amazed that it would work; it just really worked. So I did it and I did it and I counted until I felt better, it was days and days and this happened many times. I counted 41 times. I did it every time and it worked every time. It was like a scientific experiment.

That's my data for you, 41 out of 41, periods of agony completely turned off, during a single surgery recovery.

So why don't you think about it, what is this thing? And what should be done about it, by: you, the people that you meet that might be in pain, anesthesiologists, nurses, bed makers, medical scientists?

What is it? Well, it's something. It's not nothing. Maybe not everybody will do something to make it work for them but if it can work for you you should use it. Would you rather feel the pain or just freaking straighten up your posture and try it? Of course it's your call, I'm just pointing out an option. But seriously, are you so attached to the personal identity that you hold in your posture in your particular way that you'd prefer that to agony? Why wouldn't you try it? You can't? Of course you can!

Yes, I encourage you to try it.

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Copyright © 2000-2019, Thomas C. Veatch. All rights reserved.
Modified: December 16, 2019

Copyright © 2016-2018, Thomas C. Veatch. All rights reserved.
Written May 16, 2016. Edited and Published: October 23, 2018