Chapter 1 - Self-Healing by Design

My grandmother, Viktoria, whom I lovingly called Maya, was an artist in the kitchen. She was an amazing culinary expert – creating not only from memory, but also from scratch, a vast array of elaborate, delicious, traditional recipes. The smell of everything she cooked, especially the traditional holiday pastries she baked, filled her house with delightful and unforgettable aromas.

Maya cooked all her dishes with pleasure, ease, and great love, making it a privilege and blessing to eat anything she prepared. Her food always left me feeling a deep sense of wellness and wholeness. "To your health," she said warmly at the end of each meal, after everyone had thanked her and complimented her cooking.

Each year, in preparation for the winter months, Maya made jams and preserves from a variety of fruits. In addition, she pickled numerous vegetables and created other gourmet delicacies. She stored everything in the basement, to keep the food cold until the spring. As part of doing so, she meticulously lined up all the jars, from very large to very small, and covered them with the white lace paper she designed herself, embellished with thin red ribbon.

During my teenage years, our area was hit by a big winter storm, with excessive amounts of snow and ice. One day, my family received a panicked phone call from my grandfather Toma, whom I lovingly called Dede. On her way to the basement, to bring in jams and preserves for breakfast, Maya had slipped on the cement steps, which were covered with ice, and had fallen on her head.

My parents and I immediately made our way through the snowy city, taking buses and trams. By the time we arrived, some neighbors had helped bring Maya upstairs, and she was resting in bed. After many excruciating hours of our waiting, an ambulance arrived and took Maya to a specialty neurology hospital. Despite the suffering apparent in her eyes, as she was hauled away on a gurney, Maya said not a word.

The doctors concluded that the fall had fractured Maya’s spine in multiple places, as well as in her forearms, above the wrists – the latter because Maya had attempted to brace her fall, by throwing her arms in front of her. As a result, while she could see, hear, and talk, she was completely paralyzed from neck to toe. Doctors did not order her forearm fractures to be set, since they felt that doing so would lead to more problems for her.

Thanks to my father’s advocacy and work connections, the doctors consulted leading professors of medicine, to get their input on Maya’s case. Proclaiming that the nervous system does not regenerate and that, at the age of 70, Maya was old, all agreed that absolutely nothing could be done. My family was told to take Maya home, because pretty soon she would die. We did as told, organizing some home care for her and visiting her daily.

Maya was stoic, refraining from even one complaint. She just kept everything inside. Then, a couple of weeks into the ordeal, she told me to bring her the rolling pin from the kitchen – a long, wooden cylinder, used for making thin layers of pastry dough. I was surprised by her request but obeyed, returning to her bed with the rolling pin.

She was lying flat on her back, as usual, with her arms by her sides. ”Put the rolling pin over my body,” Maya instructed, “then take my hands and curl my fingers around the rolling pin on either side.” I did as told and covered Maya’s hands with my own, to keep her hands in place. At Maya’s request, I then started to make small back–and–forth, up and down rolling motions with the pin, while holding my hands over Maya’s – causing her arms to passively follow the motion.

Within a few days, the movements had grown so big that I was lifting Maya’s arms over her head. Then one day, when I visited Maya after school, she excitedly showed me that her fingers had started to move slightly. We both were amazed and felt very encouraged. As we continued this daily practice, Maya kept improving. She then improvised exercises for her feet and legs, and I moved her legs and feet for her, as per her instructions. Within just a couple of months, Maya was able to lift her hands all by herself, to the level of her ears, and she was able to sit on a chair throughout the day, instead of being stuck in her bed all the time.

Taking her rehabilitation to the next level, Maya asked me to bring her a comb. She needed a purpose for motion, she said, as she proceeded to alternate lifting her hands as if she were combing her hair. Soon after, she was combing her hair successfully, with both hands, hundreds of times a day. After so much combing, she and I laughed, she might be left with no hair!

When Maya felt ready, she and I began her improvised standing exercises. Back then, we had no walker or physical therapy gadgets. And so, as I supported Maya from beneath her arms, she held onto a chair and lifted her feet up and down, stepping little by little. Eventually, with my help, she was able to slowly walk around the room.

Six months after the accident, my grandmother not only was walking by herself but also enjoying full range of motion throughout her body. In addition, she had no pain or any other complications. Her forearms healed themselves, though at a slightly deviated angle, since the fractures had not been set. Regardless, she had perfect use of her arms, hands, and all other body parts.

Maya, it turns out, had not wanted to inconvenience anybody. Seeing that she was not dying as the doctors had predicted, she had decided to take matters in her own hands – both figuratively and literarily. Today the scientific field of neuroplasticity and neurogenesis tells us that the brain and nervous system are capable of forming new neural pathway and synapses, and generating new nerve cells. Back then, nobody knew of the self–healing powers we all possess. And so the doctors simply were astonished by Maya’s recovery.

My grandmother had an amazing spirit, focused intention, and incredible courage. In addition, she was a religious believer. She prayed non–stop and trusted that there was no other possibility, never doubting for a moment that what she was intending and working toward were possible. Meanwhile, my entire family prayed for her devotedly, and Dede prayed both with her and with his hands over her.

I too never doubted my grandmother’s ability to heal herself, as she conveyed that faith to me. As we implemented the exercises that Maya intuitively designed, we entered a state of trance, where the doubts and cynicism of the world were non–existent. Looking back, I know that our heart chakras were fused together during those moments. At the time, I felt as if our bodies and energies were one.

Ten years later, in her early 80s, Maya was diagnosed with breast cancer. It had not been caught in time or properly treated, so it spread. Maya suffered from a horrific open wound, as the cancer ate up her breast. Still, true to form, she was stoic and said not a word of complaint. Each day, my mother and I gathered to take care of Maya’s wound, bandaging it correctly.

One evening, as I was seated by Maya’s side, she said to me, “What if this [cancer] disappears?” By then, I was toward the end of my medical studies and already indoctrinated into the conventional medical way of thinking. Forgetting completely that Maya already had produced an amazing self–healing result, I responded from the programming of my medical training, gently saying, " I don't want you to think that this is possible and then be disappointed in your expectations, Maya. These kind of things do not really happen."

When I think about this exchange, my heart constricts. I took Maya’s hope away, and in doing so, prevented her from the possibility of enjoying another self–induced miracle. There was no guarantee that the healing was going to happen, of course, but who was I to make such a proclamation? To this day, over three decades later, I am deeply remorseful and upset with myself.

My hope is that by sharing Maya’s story, I may encourage someone else to say YES to the possibility of healing beyond our wildest expectations. Perhaps as a result, not only will someone’s life be saved, but so will there be an expanded awareness of what the body, mind and soul are in fact capable of doing.