I grew up in doctor’s offices. It began when I fell asleep on my desk in kindergarten, eyes swollen
from the pollen outside. In second grade I began getting stomach aches. My allergist, who I saw weekly for shots, told me to stop drinking milk. So until age 14, I was dairy free, but then I was back at the doctor’s again in my teens, more stomach aches, plus eczema. My appendix was taken out in one bout of stomach pain. Then I had mono that seemed to relapse and remit for years. They found a mitral valve prolapse (MVP) and gastric ulcers. I was told I was stressed. One doctor told me that my problem was that I was Taurus being raised by a Taurus mother. I had some successes. The allergy shots seemed to help some, and an appendectomy and some prescription Carafate managed the worst of the stomach pains. Drinking less caffeine slowed my MVP symptoms.
Overall, for having met with dozens of doctors, I just felt fragmented and wary of what might come next in my sickly body. I remember going for a run one day in my early 20s. I was not a runner, and was not sure it was safe. I actually wondered if I should check with a doctor first. But I had given up on conventional medicine. It had failed me over and over. That failure was the greatest gift of my medical training.
One of the first tasks of Naturopathic Medical school is to do the Elimination Diet. The real one, not just a limitation of sugar, gluten and dairy. I took out all processed and artificial foods, all sources of refined sugar, all non-organic foods, all meat except lamb, eggs, fish, gluten, dairy, nightshades, and soy. The first time I did this diet, I just ate lots and lots of brown rice, greens and onions. At first, I felt horrible. It was like having a week long hangover. My joints throbbed with pain, my head was foggy, I was exhausted, my colon cleaned itself very quickly and very thoroughly, let’s just say. I was moody and sweaty and tired.
After about a week of total misery, I felt incredible. I was calm, energetic, clear-headed and the revving hunger slowed down. My joints stopped cracking and aching, and my endurance improved. I seemed to react to every food I brought in. My most dramatic result came when I violently regurgitated my gluten challenge.
The gift of my elimination diet was certainly not the deprivation or barfing. It was the unbelievable amount of control I learned I have over my health. I had a completely new body. It was actually disorienting not to be in pain. From the first experiment with really, truly overhauling my diet to today, I have watched my body heal in layers. It has been about 15.5 years since then, and every year brought new kinds of healing. At times, I took a huge step back, feeling flattened by exhaustion or rocked by GI sensitivity. But my worst health now is always above what my best health once was.
The process of becoming a Naturopathic Doctor, at least at Bastyr beginning in 2001, was highly experiential. Yes, we spent most of our time in lectures, studying or taking exams, but were able to experiment with our medicine. We filmed ourselves in counseling sessions, practiced listening, changed our diet, ate at the vegetarian cafeteria on campus, prepared teas, tinctures, salves, endured massages and adjustments, hydrotherapy and TENS units at the hands of fellow students. One MD who taught our Family Medicine course handed out very small thermometers and led a meditation while we held the thermometer in our fingers. We witnessed the rise in our body temperature from the beginning to the end of the meditation, as our circulation improved.
In Botanical Medicine classes, we passed around tincture bottles to smell and taste drops of different herbs that might be included in formulas. Can you imagine that in conventional schools? “Ok, everyone, that was Xanax. Now we’re passing around a generic for comparison.” Not safe, which should give us pause.
There is the field of healthcare and then there is the reality of health. I know few conventional medicine practitioners who take as many medications as they prescribe, and almost no Naturopathic Doctors who do not live what they practice. We are now many decades into top down medicine, where Doctor knows best and we are left to trust the experts on our own body. Even these experts only know their part of the body. The hormones or the GI tract or the cardiovascular system or hands. This is ok. If your hand is severed in a snow blower, you do not want your surgeon asking about your hormones or your breakfast- you just need him/her to save your hand.
Most of, let’s hope, will not lose hands in snowblowers this winter (please, be careful!). Most of us will live with viruses or depression or fatigue or IBS or pain. Don’t be discouraged if you hear that your labs are normal. It’s great news. It means that your health is back in your hands.
The revolution that is sorely needed in healthcare is absolutely not going to come from our expensive, cumbersome healthcare system. There is too much money to be made by sustaining that system, and that money relies on patients who keep coming back, and keep needing to buy drugs. The revolution will come from individuals, who stop waiting for someone to tell them what is wrong with them and start looking, very actively for what is right and how it can be better.
Step one is simply this: Get involved with your health. Trust your body not to break when tested.