Hepaptitus C for Yoga Magazine. March 2006.
I read a piece by a NY yoga teacher some months ago on Hep C. It was a way of dealing with the disease that I found harsh and very different from my own experience:
We found out by chance that my husband had Hepatitis C, through a blood test requested by a mortgage company. It is not a test they do as a matter of course, but his liver was discovered to be enlarged and so the need for further tests was apparent.
I was heavily pregnant at the time. It was shocking and scary. Suddenly life changed from being full of hope and promise to be extremely frightening. His hepatitis C was already affecting his blood count.
We spent a lot of time and money trying alternative treatments. There are a lot out there. Each new practitioner wrapping us in a cocoon of new experiences and imagined safety, confident that they could cure him and all dismissive of conventional treatment. Faith was tested, as whilst pursuing the route of healers and alternative therapies, the regular check-ups at hospital were showing a steady degradation of the liver functions and most worryingly the increasing weakening of the immune system. Right from the start the consultants at the liver department pushed for interferon treatment but we were determined that the alternative route would be successful. Only when the doctors pointed out that the Interferon treatment would no longer be an option if the white blood cells count dropped any lower, did we made the decision to embark on treatment.
We have had several friends die from Hep C. We know two people who are fine after liver transplants; we know others who have carried the disease for years with no apparent ill effects. It is tricky and cunning. The range of symptoms is vast and often misdiagnosed, the illness moving through you almost imperceptibly except for the 6 monthly check-ups that say: blood count falling, liver functions worsening, cirrhosis progressing. It is unpleasant stuff.
Interferon has had a lot of bad press and it was rare to come upon someone with a positive feedback, apart from the consultants at the hospital. The reports, from friends, of debilitating side effects, such as acute depression, exhaustion, and general malaise made it a difficult decision to make. The Hep C Trust and the Hep C manual were extremely helpful in reaching the decision to go ahead, combined with the awful reality that if he did not take the treatment route things were going to get a lot worse. We were aware, too, that as Kundalini Yoga teachers and practitioners we had a lot of resources at hand to deal with the experience.
I remember being convinced the treatment would kill him. He was weak and ill when it started. The first night was terrifying; shooting pains in all the organs and uncontrollable shivering. He had a bright red patch on his skin over the liver and both of us wondered how we would get through it.
The answer was, not so much yoga. An unexpected reality. We went from a daily morning practice of quite strenuous positions for the liver, the glands and detoxification to a very different practice of prayer, healing meditations and relaxation. He was physically exhausted; he looked like a medieval woodcut of a starving man despite 5 meals a day, and could not sleep. All expected side effects. It was a time to let go of the rules and rather conditioned moments of ÄúI must do yogaÄù and move into acceptance and patience. My own practice became jap, the repetition of the names of God. Lying awake at night, terrorising myself with thoughts of loosing him, I turned inwards and just meditated all the time.
The treatement was finished in April 2005. We had to wait 6 months for a clear blood test, which has now happened. There is still the risks associated with the cirrhosis, and so 6 monthly check ups continue, but the Hep C has gone. He is transformed, sleeping, gaining weight and with normal liver functions. Gradually the ability to stretch out and take more physical yogic practice is returning.
Do I wish we had done the medical treatment 7 years earlier? No. The experiences of the last few years, especially the last three, have been beyond price. How we have grown together, how we have learned about Death and become comfortable with its presence has been a great teacher and the most potent yoga I think we will ever experience.