Iwamoto shows me his laptop computer, which has a strip at its keyboard base for reading braille. It has software that translates email messages and other text into either sound or braille. “Before email, think what I had to do to write a love letter,” he says with a laugh.
The intrepid battles Iwamoto wages with San Diego transportation testify to what he calls his mission. He wants to teach people manual therapies and Oriental medicine. He got the notion after he realized he had to develop a positive attitude about his blindness.
Were you blind from birth? I ask.
“No, it happened suddenly when I was an adolescent. Even though my sight had been weak, nobody could explain why it happened. Although I am a Christian, my mother is Buddhist. Every week she still goes to the temple five times to pray. It’s to overcome bad things she thinks our ancestors must have done to cause my blindness.
“And shortly before my dad died a few years ago, he wanted to set me up so that I would never have to work again. But I had learned to be grateful for my blindness. It has enabled me to develop sensitive fingers for manual therapy and other techniques that sighted people do not always understand.” An example would be the way Oriental practitioners take the pulse so delicately that they can detect trouble in the liver or the kidneys.
How do you explain the advantage of Oriental medicine?
“We look at the whole person, the body as its own universe, and by making the ch’i, or vital energy, flow better along meridians all through the body, we help people feel better. We also focus on prevention. Western medicine tends to divide the body into parts. But it has its strengths. Some of my colleagues used to tell me that sending patients to a doctor will kill them. But if I am palpating and I detect there might be a tumor, I refer patients to a doctor. I don’t diagnose cancer and other diseases. The doctor does that with MRIs or other techniques. At the same time, there is a doctor who sends me patients. She wants me to help control their pain. Oriental and Western medicine can cooperate.”
But many Western doctors dismiss Oriental medicine as palliative only. Iwamoto would like to help them understand. He reminds me again of the sensitivity in his fingers. And he begins thinking of sailing, his other passion. For the doctors, he says, “It could be the reverse of our blind situation on the boats. The doctors could say, ‘Tell us what you feel.’ ”