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The Ch’i of Covid-19. Invincible.

By March 29, 2020November 22nd, 2020Caregiver, Clinician, ePatient, Family man, Musician, Podcasts
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The Ch’i, Covid-19, Chinese medicine, lungs & spleen. Warm water, less sugar, exercise, sleep well. Find 1 source of less depressing news. Connect. Invincible.

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Episode Notes

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Music by permission from Joey van Leeuwen, Boston Drummer, Composer, Arranger

Sponsored by Abridge

Thanks to these fine people who inspired me for this episode: Lea Rizack, Jane Spielman, Melissa Reynolds, Keith Puri

Related podcasts and blogs

Kind Re-Equilibration in the Age of Coronavirus

Chiropractic – Operating at Peak Performance

Accessible Yoga: Honor Your Body

About the Show

Welcome to Health Hats, learning on the journey toward best health. I am Danny van Leeuwen, a two-legged, old, cisgender, white man with privilege, living in a food oasis, who can afford many hats and knows a little about a lot of healthcare and a lot about very little. Most people wear hats one at a time, but I wear them all at once. We will listen and learn about what it takes to adjust to life’s realities in the awesome circus of healthcare. Let’s make some sense of all this.

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The Show


The human body, the human condition intrigue and fascinate me. I remember taking my first anatomy and physiology class in nursing school. Studying the heart, I discovered the wonder of the 12-lead EKG. Twelve different views of the heart. The instructor said, ‘picture a room where you can see in through twelve different doors and windows three dimensions, 360 degrees – same room, different views. That day in 1973 began my Zen drive to examine people, health, society from many perspectives, looking both in and out of the windows. My Uncle Leon introduced me to the Metaphysical Dictionary and dream studies, my Uncle Arthur to the Medical Letter, a ‘consumer reports’ of drugs and therapeutics, and my Aunt Lea to home birth, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and reiki. There are more than three dimensions! These diverse views of the human condition fed my curiosity and wonder. In this bizarre, alternate universe of Covid19, I find that the ability to shift dimensions and views helps me to create new perspectives and reach for wonder while I freak out. Valerie Smith, the acupuncturist on my health team, has offered me a Chinese medicine perspective and treatment for more than ten years. Valerie and I recorded our conversation before Covid19 became a pandemic. We spoke again. Listen through the word from our sponsor, Abridge, for the second half – the most recent conversation about the coronavirus through the eyes of Chinese medicine.

Introducing Valerie Smith

Valerie Smith, Lic.Ac. is a general acupuncture practitioner with a passion for the beauty and complexities of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the diversity of patients that she sees. Valerie has been practicing in the Boston area since her acupuncture licensure was granted by the MA Board of Registration in Medicine in 1997. She teaches acupuncture at the New England School of Acupuncture at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences since 1999, where she is an Assistant Professor and Clinical Supervisor.

Health Hats: Good morning. I’m with Valerie Smith, my acupuncturist. I’m delighted that you could take some time to chat with us.

Valerie Smith: Thank you.

Health Hats: How do you introduce yourself in a social situation?

Valerie Smith: In social situations, I’m Valerie. I feel passionate about Chinese medicine. Sometimes the question is about what you do for a living, but often there’s a lead in to a conversation about Chinese medicine. Then I’ll mention, or if I’m with a friend, they’ll say that I’m an acupuncturist.

Health Hats: How does someone become an acupuncturist?

Valerie Smith: Acupuncture study is a licensed program or a licensed career in Chinese medicine. In the 3000 hours graduate program, you begin as a first-year student by learning about needles and how to needle each other and complete courses in safety, OSHA, bloodborne pathogen before you even touch the needle. Those subjects continue throughout the program. Then you learn about the theory, which is what I taught for many years. What is Chinese medicine? How do we use it? How do we make those connections in a way that’s different than more of a mechanistic approach of Western medicine? It really is all about relationships.

Ch’i: relationships, energy, flow, marrow

Health Hats: The relationships of what?

Valerie Smith: The relationships of everything. So, it starts out with, let’s say, somebody comes in with a headache. There might be acupuncture channels that move through the area of pain. It might be more related to channels. But then why does the body allow that pain to exist? You dig a little bit deeper. Is it more about the Ch’i (the energy running through the body)? Is it stuck causing intense pain, or is there not enough causing a lot of fatigue with the pain?  Is it more about blood, or are they more dry symptoms? Is there more fatigue? Is there a pale tongue? Then you layer organ relationships onto that. Organs, the energetic functions, in Chinese medicine don’t necessarily, often don’t correlate with Western functions. That’s okay. We look at the body a little bit differently. If you go back to the headache, often in this culture right now, people are more sedentary and feel stuck in life. That’s a liver energy type of thing. The liver energy wants to propel the Ch’i and makes sure it flows smoothly. There’s an emotion attached to every organ. With the liver energy, it’s anger. That person’s slamming down the road, beeping their horn for everybody to get out of their way. We say that’s liver Ch’i stagnation. That might be the background story of the person with that type of headache. It’s about that individual, not just about the liver energy. It’s about all the other pieces to the puzzle in that person, which makes it fascinating.

Health Hats: I don’t remember why I started coming to you and choosing acupuncture. Wait a minute, that’s not true. My Aunt Lea is a doctor of acupuncture. She’s also a nurse-midwife. She worked for many years in the South Bronx with mothers who either were or had been addicted to crack. I think my Aunt Lea got into acupuncture (this could be a grade B memory, but it’s what I remember) because she was trying to figure out how to help these moms and babes. That got her into the study of acupuncture. Through her influence I was open to it. I often wonder what I know that acupuncture helps. You and I have talked about this. It definitely helps with my digestion. There are certain kinds of pain, especially nerve pain, that I can feel a direct correlation. It evens out my mood. Although I am a pathologically optimistic person, I do have ups and downs. When you do whatever you do with my ears, that makes a difference. Other than that, it’s part of a package for me, along with chiropractic and massage and meditation, that I don’t know what of all that works. It seems like a practice. How do you approach me when you work on me?

Valerie Smith: I want to address something you said at the very beginning. How do people come to acupuncture? They might think, ‘Oh, I don’t know about this.’ Someone might say, ‘I went, or I know someone who went’ and then it becomes more normal. I always tell my students that people will think it’s the weirdest thing in the world, and then they find out that you’re studying it, and you’re normal. So, it adds a level of respect. And to us, to me, it doesn’t matter how someone comes to me. The fact that they’re coming so that I can help is important. So how do I look at you? I recollect that that’s why you came. It was part of a package that you were looking for maintenance to stem the progression of the multiple sclerosis. That’s a lot of what we’ve been working on – the digestion, some of the nerve pain that can be very well treated through acupuncture. Aside from that, part of the work we do, or I work with you on acupuncture is for maintenance and stemming the flow. MS is a central nervous system issue. In Chinese medicine, we don’t necessarily say central nervous system. We talk about the marrow. There are a lot of broad definitions in Chinese medicine, and marrow is one of them. It’s the marrow inside the bone. It’s the structure of the bone. It’s also the spinal cord and the brain. It’s comparable to the central nervous system. And some points specifically open the spine and enter the brain, causing the Ch’i to open up the spine, flow more freely and enter the brain and invigorate the marrow. That’s a big part of your treatment.

Health Hats: Dr. Puri, my chiropractor, had me do my stretching, exercise, balance routine in bare feet because he’s talking about the soles of the feet to brain connection. He wants to promote that. That sounds like an acupuncture channel.

Valerie Smith: I agree. I like that approach with our feet on the earth, which is optimal, or they’re on the earth of the floor that we’re on. It’s not great to always walk around in bare feet for arch support, but it’s a connection to the earth. It’s a grounding connection. You don’t have a layer of sole or shoe that inhibits, or your foot is held at its normal position. There is one point on the sole of the foot that is powerful for anchoring the energy. I might’ve massaged it on you a couple of times. I’m not sure if I needled you there. I may do a needle from above and deep needle toward that point, so it opens the circulation of the foot to try to bring more energy. It’s also great for stress. If someone has a hard time sleeping, I’ll show them that point, and it helps anchor the thoughts particularly when your head is full.

Health Hats: Those nighttime terrors, Oh, just shut up.

Valerie Smith: I hear you.

The Ch’i of Chinese and Western medicine

Health Hats: How has the relationship of acupuncture to Western medicine in this country evolved since ‘97.

Valerie Smith: A lot. When I graduated, and there’s still a small percentage of people that do this, many people did not tell their doctor they were going for acupuncture because they were afraid of what the doctor would say. They would report that they would have broken bones or illnesses, and their doctor would be amazed at the speed of recovery, their healing process. But they were afraid to tell their doctors. I had someone come in who had had a lipoma removed. I was going to do treatment in the area. Her doctor said, no, no, no. Don’t do that because we don’t know how it works. It might hurt you. And she said, okay. Then she made an appointment. It helped the healing process. So, we go from that to now, where more doctors are referring. More doctors are referring, particularly in New England. It can depend on where you are in the country. They’re telling their patients that they don’t understand it, but it’s okay. They’ve heard about how it works for different things. You go to this acupuncturist, and often acupuncture shines in issues that Western medicine says, ‘we don’t know what’s going on.’ We don’t need to know what’s going on. It’s essential if someone comes in with a Western diagnosis; I want to understand that. I want to understand how it manifests. But I’m not going to assume a particular treatment. I’m still going to sit down with the patient and ask how it manifests for them. Then I can start putting that puzzle of relationships together. There’s acupuncture at Dana Farber Cancer Center. There have been acupuncturists at Boston Medical Center for years. The New England School of Acupuncture has had an internship site at Boston Children’s Hospital inpatient. The interns will talk with parents and can we treat their son or daughter.

Health Hats: Wow. When I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, my neurologist at the time, Dr. Kinkle, was helping me deal with neuropathy. He wanted to put me on Gabapentin. I said I don’t want to take it. I want to try acupuncture and other things. He said, ‘I don’t know anything about acupuncture, but I’m into anything that works for my patients. Go ahead and try it and let me know how it works. Does it help? I think that was one of the first things we worked on, you and I. That and meditation were monster. My goal was not to eliminate it but manage it without drugs. Part of it was realizing that certain sensations would last a defined length of time – seconds, minutes. I could say, ‘okay, it’s just minutes. I can deal with that.’ Let it pass. I think it both lowered the threshold, the intensity, and helped my brain, my attitude. Meditation certainly helped, too.

Interested in trying acupuncture?

Health Hats: What should somebody listening to this thinking, ‘I should try this.’  How do they go about doing that? There are lots of shingles out there that say acupuncturist.

Valerie Smith: I tell my patients if they need a referral from outside Massachusetts or somewhere that’s far away from Watertown and they don’t want to make the trip, that I’m happy to try to find someone that I know. I’ve been teaching so long that I often will know a name, and I’ll remember whether they’d be a good fit. Everybody has their own style. There is a website,, which is the National Certifying Board for Acupuncturists. When I finished my program, I had to sit for a national exam and then give my eye teeth and a few pints of blood to the board of registration in medicine so that I could get licensed in Massachusetts. You can go on there and look by zip code. Anyone on there has been board-certified, a minimum for any of the States. Board-certified means they’ve graduated from an approved accredited graduate program in acupuncture or acupuncture and herbal medicine. There’s also a site called If someone is watching this and they’re in Western Mass or somewhere else, they can contact me at, and I’m happy to try to steer them in the right direction. I’m all about people being able to experience acupuncture and Chinese medicine, whether it’s me or whether it’s someone else, so they can have a better quality of life in general, no matter why they’re coming in.

Health Hats: What should I be asking you that I’m not?

Valerie Smith: Actually, I have two things. One is that if someone’s listening and thinking about studying acupuncture, it’s not required that you have a medical background. It’s not required that you’re premed. I had a hotel background. It was more my experience with medicine and my own health that brought me there. You bring your passion. Then you learn the medicine, and you apply it.

The other thing I would say is the breadth of issues that acupuncture, and Chinese medicine can treat. We talked more about more chronic type issues today: acute back pain, supporting women in labor, fertility journeys. I don’t like to use the word, infertility, but people who are on a fertility journey, acupuncture can be beneficial. Headaches, asthma, are grief are huge. Emotions are huge. That’s kind of my jam right now. I’m all about the Shen. The Shen in Chinese medicine is the spirit quality, the emotion, and the intellect or the mind. It’s not just the mind, it’s the whole ball of wax. The spirit is another layer higher than emotion. For example, each organ has a spirit quality. The liver energy is the wanderer. The liver energetically wants to move. When it doesn’t, you might find yourself stuck in life or you might find yourself completely out of control. The lung energy is a corporeal soul. It has exterior skin conditions. It regulates our protective energy for colds and flu. It’s our strength of voice. So, if we’re talking softly, then that might indicate that there is more of a lung issue. The spirit aspect plays a huge role. I love that in Chinese medicine they’re never separate. It might be more prominent spirit one day and less physical or more physical and less spirit, but they’re never separate. You’re always doing the whole person.

Health Hats: Another thing is when somebody has a procedure, there’s the speed of healing. Is that right?

Valerie Smith: Yes.

Health Hats: Say a little more about that.

Valerie Smith: Sure. There are two pieces. If someone’s going in for major surgery, they can use acupuncture before the surgery to calm the mind and strengthen the immune system. Post-surgery, post-trauma, post broken bone, acupuncture is incredibly helpful for the healing process. Part of it is that there are points that nourish the blood, move the Ch’i. We determine what channel the imbalances on, and we can do acupuncture above and below that space to move the Ch’i. With skin issues, I’ve treated surrounding a skin issue, and the person comes in the next day or the next week, and it’s pretty much healed. Let’s say I had a patient a while back, who broke his ankle, so I couldn’t work directly on that ankle. But he can tell me where the break is and I can work on the good ankle with great results.

Health Hats: Wow.

Valerie Smith: Yeah. Because most of the channels of energy are bilateral, so I can work on that injured area and the good side.

All right, well thanks.

Valerie Smith: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Now a word about our sponsor, ABRIDGE.

Use Abridge during your telehealth visit with your primary care or family doc. Put the app next to your phone or computer, push the big pink button and record the conversation. Read the transcript or listen to clips when you get home. Check out the app at or download it on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Record your health care conversations.

Valerie and I spoke again a few days before I published this episode. It made sense to hear her take on the new Covid19 experience.

Covid19, Chinese medicine. Lungs and spleen.

Health Hats: Valerie. Here we are in this shelter at home, Covid19, bizarro world I’m just thinking about Chinese medicine and what can those of us who are sheltering at home, which is all of us, what can we learn from Chinese medicine on top of I’m not coming to you for treatment? What can we learn from Chinese medicine to help us navigate where we are?

Valerie Smith: I like to refer to this as a moment in time when I’m not referring to it as a bizarro, weird, surreal place we’re at right now. As you know, Chinese medicine deals with the spirit, mind, and body. It’s all part of the same. What’s interesting to me about this Covid19 illness is that it historically has primarily affected the lungs. I think it’s affecting the United States population a little bit differently. There are more digestive issues. In Chinese medicine, every organ has a spirit and an emotional component. It’s fascinating to me that in this time, our lungs are being attacked by this phlegm. Lungs are also about grief. I also apply grief to transition from one thing, good or bad, to another, good or bad. On top of this virus, we’ve all been a bit traumatized. And the most affected organ has to do with grief and processing all this information and transition. There are a couple of different ways to look at this. The second organ is the spleen energy. In Chinese medicine, it’s energetic. I don’t want anyone listening to think that their lungs or their spleen are out of order, and they need to call their doctor. The spleen energy in Chinese medicine is hugely related to digestion. The spleen needs a lot of warmth to process the fluids from what we mash up and eat and drink to make the material that’s used to transform into different types of Ch’i or energy for various uses in the body. The type of digestive issues that are starting to show – diarrhea – things like that in Chinese medicine, that’s spleen all the way. The phlegm accumulation is the lungs. Clearly, the virus is entering the lungs, it’s impacting the lungs. The lungs tend toward phlegm type conditions when we get sick, but then you have this secondary organ relationship. An energetic relationship with the spleen, and when the spleen is not getting enough warmth, when it’s not happy, it gives rise to another issue called dampness leading to phlegm. It’s all about the fluids. The other beauty about Chinese medicine is it’s not just one thing. It’s about the relationship of the different organs. So that’s how this presents. One simple thing to do is to stay away from cold fluids. The spleen energy wants warmth in order to process the fluids for digestion and provide fluids for the rest of the body in some ways. You want to stay away from cold fluids because that’s taking heat away from the digestion. Warm fluids, hot water is excellent, ginger tea, fabulous. That’s warming. There are all sorts of other herbs you can add for warming, but the easiest thing to do, and what I typically tell my patients, just grab some hot water. You don’t have to find a teabag. You don’t have to go shopping. Heat some water, and that helps this spleen energy do its job of processing some of these fluids from the digestion and keeping the dampness at bay, keeping diarrhea at bay. That’s an easy piece. The other thing about phlegm – I’m calling this dampness – they’re just shades of difference, a long conversation perhaps for another time -is reducing or removing your refined sugar from the diet.

In Chinese medicine, a lot of sugar can cause what we call inflammation. It can be indicated in some chronic conditions, pain conditions, things like that. Refined sugar impairs the spleen’s function. Each organ has a flavor. Spleen is sweet. The spleen is looking for the neutral sweet of root vegetables. Roast up some root vegetables. That will help to calm your sweet tooth. The more sugar we eat, the more dairy we eat, the more fried, greasy foods. You want to just cut that down as much as possible or eliminate it particularly during this time. It’s partly what can we do when we have the virus to protect ourselves aside from social distancing? That’s a big one. And that can also help with the potential for phlegm in the lungs. I’d also recommend pressure points for the lungs. There are points along the sternum – the center cartilage that connects the rib cage – to help open the Ch’i of the chest, get the Ch’i in the chest moving to help clear the lungs. You don’t need to know exactly where the point is, but if you just massage – use pressure all along your sternum from top to bottom – you’re going to be helping to move the Ch’i through the lungs and the heart as a preventative. You can do that anytime. You can do it while you’re watching TV, you can do it while you’re chatting on the phone with someone. That’s something practical that you can, you can do. So far so good.

Health Hats: Let me ask a question about what about honey and maple syrup?

Valerie Smith: I think honey is okay.  Ultimately, it’s about balance. If you’re drinking a gallon of maple syrup, which I don’t think anyone does unless they’re homebound and desperate, then if you have a little bit of maple syrup on your pancake, it’s not going to hurt you. But it would probably be best to stay away from it if you feel more vulnerable because it is quite concentrated sugar, although it’s natural.

Health Hats: I’m asking the question because one of my comfort foods is granola, and I sweetened it with maple syrup. I would say that I have a couple of tablespoons of granola every day.

Valerie Smith: Do you make the granola yourself, or do you buy it? The caution I would say for anyone who’s buying granola, it can be very high in sugar, hidden sugars that we don’t know. If you were buying granola and adding maple syrup, I might say that maybe make it every couple of days. It’s really about balance. If you start feeling like you’ve got some phlegm in the morning or things just don’t feel right, then you pull back on that.

Health Hats: That’s helpful. Thank you. So, we have warm fluids instead of cold fluids. We have no refined sugar or fried food, sternum. Okay.

Connection, spirit, and soul

Valerie Smith: I’d also add a few other things because Chinese medicine is so much about the spirit. We all respond differently when we have to stay at home for prolonged periods. We are social distancing, but it’s essential to connect. It’s important to nourish your spirit by connecting with others.  And I been using a lot more video. You can use FaceTime or Zoom or whatever works for you because then you’re able to really see the person, see their mannerisms, and sometimes texting and emailing is kind of flat. You don’t hear the intonation. I would recommend trying to connect that way. Having social events virtually. I know a lot of people are doing that. What we take in impacts us. If you feel that you need to be constantly up to date on what’s going on, maybe choose one source and make sure that source calms you. You can get your information from different sources you can read instead of watching if you get riled up. I was laughing with a couple of my friends the other day because Andrew Cuomo, I liked the way he presents his information.

Health Hats: I was just going to say the same thing. I was on a call a little while ago and recommended that to people. It’s the same information. Actually, it’s not the same information. Let me correct that. But I do feel like the balance of facts – when I say facts, I partially mean data. I hear his healthy skepticism of data. He provides context and adds a slide that says, My opinion. Then he talks about what he thinks, and he has some inspiration. Yesterday it was that New York City’s in trouble because of our closeness, and our greatest strength is our closeness. Oh man, that was beautiful.

Valerie Smith: I totally agree.

Health Hats: I got the charts and the waves, and it was realistic. Okay, when you say take in, you’re thinking about what you’re taking in through your eyes, your ears, mouth. You’re really speaking about taking in in quite a broad way because you started with the oral, what you’re eating and drinking, and then what comes through your ears and your eyes in terms of media. Okay.

Valerie Smith: Exactly. It’s so important. I’ve started to joke with my friends because I agree. I think that Andrew Cuomo’s presentation is realistic, it’s level, and it’s human. I’ve said, ‘my friend Andy said today.’ It’s so important, even what we’re watching on TV. A lot of people are doing Netflix and movies. Maybe you want to cultivate a different playlist. If you’re someone like me that likes zombie movies – I think they’re fun and stuff – but perhaps I’m not watching so many of those. It feels a little bit like there should be a zombie walking down the street somedays. You want to think about everything. If you’re on social media all day, think about that. Think about what you’re exposing yourself to when you’re wide awake at two or three in the morning. That’s really important.

Ch’i, essence, sleep

Health Hats: As you know, one of the things that I’m always working on is the quality of sleep.  My sleep is so mixed. A couple of hours before I go to bed, I stop all the news. I stopped listening to Rachel Maddow. I like her, but it’s at nine o’clock. And then I’m going to sleep, and I’m like having more apocalyptic dreams or not sleeping because my brain is just going. I am finding that setting this limit: eight o’clock it’s over. I’m only going to read. I have to admit, I am binge-watching Silent Witness, which is a 21-season crime pathology serial. Kind of gruesome.

Valerie Smith: It’s a documentary?

Health Hats: No, it’s 21 seasons of this British BBC show. It’s incredible, but it’s like a zombie show.

Valerie Smith: Fascinating. That’s the difference. Maybe comparing it to a zombie, but it’s also something that fascinates you. And I think that’s the other piece. What interests us? What are we doing to cultivate creativity are things that feed our soul in this time, whether it’s coloring, painting, or watching? I’m doing yoga, taking walks.

Health Hats: I’m upping my music.

Valerie Smith: Oh, wonderful.

Health Hats: I had been playing an hour a day, and I’m trying to up that to an hour and a half to two hours a day. It’s such a different brain.

Valerie Smith: Yup.

Health Hats: Playing music. I listen to music.

Valerie Smith: Then you can go back to the day to day, and it doesn’t seem as intense. You fed yourself, and I use that loosely – whether creatively or food or visual. Then you’re able to come back to the same situation. You’ve been able to take a breath and clear your head.

Health Hats: This is great. Thank you.

Valerie Smith: You’re welcome. I have a couple more thoughts if you’d like. We talked about sleep. Sleep hygiene is so much more important now than ever before. What you’re talking about is turning off the TV. For someone else, if they feel intensely like they’re going to blow – a lot of frustration – movement might be useful for them before they go to sleep. They can get the Ch’i circulating and calm the mind – movement, in general, is great. I see some people say, ‘I’m going to do this 90-day program and be fit.’ Okay, that’s wonderful. But you want to balance; you want to create balance in just about everything you do as you can. So, if you never exercise and you start exercising like crazy, and you’re exhausted, you must pull back. You want to pull back your exercise to what makes the most sense for you. If you go from zero reps to 30 and you’re exhausted, go from zero reps to five and slowly build it up because that’s responding to what your body’s asking for and overdoing something is going to make you more susceptible to getting sick because you’re using too much of your, what we call, essence in Chinese medicine, that you need to cultivate. One other thing, meditation is great. There’s a lot of free apps, Insight Timer. Have fun. It doesn’t have to be sitting for an hour. It can be five minutes.


Valerie Smith: Keep symbolism around you.

Health Hats: What do you mean by that?

Valerie Smith: Something that reminds you of your goal. There was a time where I had Danielle LaPorte’s deck of cards with a saying. It might be, embrace the chaos, but if something resonated with me, I would just stick it on my wall where I can see it.

Health Hats: For me, it’s invincibility.

Valerie Smith: I love it.

Health Hats: I’ve been trying to channel invincible, even though I think it’s absurd in this time. But what the hell, invincibility. That’s what I’ve been channeling: invincibility.

Valerie Smith: And why the hell not, right? It completely spins our perception of what’s going on if we can do something like that instead of, ‘okay, the world is ending.’ It’s like, wow, there’s so much possibility. The world is going to be different when we move through this, but is it going to be worse, or will we have built more connections? Will we value things more, not materially, but each other?

Drink water

Valerie Smith: There was one other thing that I think is important are structure and hydration. I think the days can go by; I’ve found this a couple of times where I’m not drinking enough water. If you’re slowly getting more and more dehydrated, you might feel dizzy. You might feel confused, you might feel lethargic, and then that can be very anxiety-provoking in this moment. Like, am I getting sick? What’s going on? What’s happening to me? Drink some water and drink a good amount of water. You don’t have to drown yourself. See if that passes, which it likely will.

Health Hats: As you know, for me, I feel like through all this having MS, when I feel weird, and I think, ‘Oh my God, this is progression.’ I have my panic. Drinking water, 80% of the time, I drink water, and I feel better, and I can’t believe it. It’s so cheap. There are no side effects.

Valerie Smith: I think we forget that it can happen anytime, and when we don’t have structure or maybe we’re not eating as regularly or hydrating or our sleep schedule might be off because of lack of structure, then it can just happen so easily. And the easiest way to see that is if your urine is dark. If you look down and there’s concentrated urine, just drink some more water.

Health Hats: This is helpful.


Valerie Smith: I’m so glad you reached out. Thank you. If you want to reconnect on the other side of this, there’s a whole other side of this acute phase. There’s the long-term phase, a lot of PTSD, posttraumatic stress. We are in a moment of collective trauma. Everything seemed to come on fast. Our lives are completely changed. We need to be adaptable in this time, and then when the crisis is over, I think a lot of people are just going to be crashing. Not literally, but just being exhausted.

Health Hats: I know what you mean.

Valerie Smith: That’s a different type of PTSD.

Health Hats: A personal PTSD. Yep. I’ll be back.

Valerie Smith: Fabulous, great to see you then. My best to Ann. Okay. Bye.


Chinese medicine and common sense. Stay away from cold fluids, drink more tea or hot water. Take in less sugar and fried, greasy food, rather more roasted root vegetables. Massage your sternum. Pick one source of news that doesn’t completely depress you. Move around as much as possible. Increase slowly, don’t overdo it. Play attention to sleep hygiene. Find a silver lining. Do what gives you pleasure. Bring out positive symbolism – invincibility or embrace the chaos or whatever. And of course, drink water.

Danny van Leeuwen

Patient/Caregiver activist: learn on the journey toward best health


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