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Susan Gaudet’s Journey Through Pain

How Community Acupuncture Restored Peace in a World of Pain

The day that Susan Gaudet slipped on a small patch of black ice was the day her life changed forever. “I knew immediately that I was hurt,” says Gaudet from the dining room of her Falmouth, Maine, home. She had no idea the incident would start her on a decade-long path of medical intervention and the search for relief from chronic pain.

Unbeknownst to her, Gaudet had sustained a spinal cord injury called Cauda Equina Syndrome, a serious condition caused by compression of the nerves in the lower portion of the spinal canal. The injury left her unable to walk, unable to feel the lower half of her body, unable to control her bladder and bowel movements, and in a state of chronic pain.

In an instant, this young mother of three – who’s youngest was only 3 at the time – was changed forever. She was told it was unlikely that she would walk again.

For the next ten years, Gaudet traveled through the conventional medical system, which has treated her condition in many important ways. She can walk and drive again, she works again, and she and her husband continue to raise their three girls at home. But the severe nerve pain persisted, and Gaudet had no bladder or bowel control, which seriously affected her ability to function normally in the world.

“Every day is still quite challenging when it comes to things that are simple for others and not quite so simple for me,” she says.

Gaudet’s team of specialists continued to offer painkillers to address her chronic pain, but Gaudet did not like the side effects nor the cost of her conventional treatments. Not only that, but the system of medicine she found herself trapped in was not giving her a sense of hope. She felt as though she had plateaued, so she started hunting for alternatives.

“I found Wildwood Medicine through an acquaintance who had significant medical issues,” she notes. “She too did not find Western medicine particularly helpful – she was being offered a lot of prescription pain medication.”

Gaudet, who had never tried acupuncture in her life, decided to try Wildwood Community Acupuncture in hopes of finding relief. “I went three times a week for the first month and found that things were really starting to move,” she recalls. “It was almost as if I had my life back.” Gaudet’s bladder control improved markedly, and her nerve pain started to subside.

In addition, at Wildwood, she discovered an alternative medical team that was taking a genuine interest in her recovery. Gaudet was stunned by the personal touch she found at Wildwood. “In the conventional medical world, no other doctor had ever stopped me and put their hand on me and said, ‘You’ve got this.’”

“Wildwood is a blessed little place – a small oasis of peace. I love knowing that I am going there because I can just shut off,” says Gaudet. “After the acupuncture needles are in place, it’s so peaceful. It’s hard to explain the level of comfort that comes from it.”

Gaudet continues to visit the community acupuncture clinic several times a week and she continues to see improvements and to feel hopeful and optimistic about her path to recovery.

“I feel like I won the lottery finding Wildwood,” she says.

 


Why Wildwood?

Healthcare that treats the person not the condition

A conversation with Daniel Katz, co-founder of Wildwood, a holistic, integrative health practice on India Street in downtown Portland, Maine.

Katz’s calling into holistic medicine came right after college when he first became a physical therapist. He noticed a lot of patients coming in with particular issues, such as knee or back pain, but they would also have a laundry list of other problems.

At the time, I didn’t really have a context to understand why all of the things they were suffering from might contribute to their knee pain,” he explains. So, Katz started looking for what else might be out there to treat pain that was not related to his training as a physical therapist. At the same time, he started seeing an acupuncturist for sinus problems, which he had suffered from since childhood. This journey eventually led Katz on a path toward attaining a master’s degree in the Science of Oriental Medicine, in addition to his Physical Therapy degree.

Why Wildwood?

In 2005, Katz and his wife Dr. Sasha Rose, a board-certified naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist, moved across the country from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. They knew they wanted to start a holistic healthcare practice, so they joined together to offer a unique eastern/western medicine approach. It all started in one small treatment room, just the two of them, and then Wildwood blossomed. Today the practice occupies a 4,000 square foot building on India Street, with seven health care practitioners offering naturopathic medicine, private acupuncture, physical therapy, massage, herbal medicine and a thriving community acupuncture program.

Why seek alternative healthcare?

Katz and Rose feel deeply connected to greater Portland and find that there’s a community of people who are thoughtful in how they want to be treated for their healthcare needs. Many do not want a complicated plan of care. “They want a simplified and down-to-earth way of looking at their health and many reject the notion of taking a lot of medicine,” says Katz. Wildwood patients often seek an alternative approach or some combination of alternative and conventional medicine.

There has been a bit of divide between alternative and conventional medicine, but I think that is being merged together now,” explains Katz, who has served as a mentor in the Maine Medical Center Integrative Medicine Department. “There’s much more alternative medicine in the conventional medicine world and vice versa,” he adds. People are no longer choosing only a conventional treatment or only an alternative treatment.

Some patients may have had a bad experience with conventional healthcare, or they want a different kind of approach, or they have new diagnosis and don’t want to go down a road that requires a lot of new medication. They are looking for a place that will treat the person and not the symptoms or condition.

At Wildwood, we don’t have a preconceived idea of what people will want when they come in,” says Katz. “We look at people with a holistic point view and meet them where they are on their road to health.”

Wildwood also works to help patients remove barriers to wellness. Some of the most common barriers include the cost of healthcare, work and time-related barriers, physical distance, restrictions, such as social barriers, and mindset. “Some people are locked into their own idea that their illness is part of them as opposed to something that can be treated,” says Katz. “Part of our job is to break down those barriers and see if we can help.”

The calling to be a healer

Katz says he knew from a very young age that he wanted to do something that was bigger than his own health and well-being, and he wanted to help people along in their journey. “I always knew that I was going into some sort of health care,” he says. When he was younger and involved in sports, he was fascinated by how people could come back after an injury even better than they were before. “That’s what drove me right out of high school into a physical therapy program,” he laughs.

Today, one of the things Daniel loves about his practice is that he doesn’t need a lot of equipment to treat people.

All I need is my mind, my hands, and acupuncture needles to help someone to heal.”