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Integrative Medicine: How I Got Here and How I Envision the Future

I have had a long history with medicine. It began as a child with chronic sinus infections, fatigue and body pain and evolved into painful gynecological problems, depression and migraines that left me virtually debilitated as a teenager and young adult. Doctors were often stumped by my conditions, and I ended up seeing a lot of them. Some doctors were nice and really tried their best, some were indifferent, and some were flat out rude and told me and/or my parents that my pain was imagined. Well…it was real to me, and it was destroying my life. What was worse was having surgeries that did not help and medications with side effects worse than the symptoms they were supposedly trying to fix. I got sicker and sicker, which made me angrier and angrier. After it was discovered (23 years later!) that my lifelong constellation of symptoms was from untreated Lyme disease contracted as a child, I was hurled into a medical controversy where most of modern medicine knew little about the disease, doubted its very existence and mishandled its care, and most practitioners even went so far as to discriminate against patients. This discrimination almost took my life in 2016 when the disease spread to my brain and heart. Because medical research has not caught up to the disease  progression, insurance won’t cover it and very few doctors in the United States are able to treat it. Late-stage and persistent lyme patients are caught in a labyrinth of poor care, charlatans claiming cures that are not real, and mounting medical costs that crush the families into bankruptcy.

I started to see the doctors not as a people trying to help me, but as adversaries that are at best just doing a “job”…a job that proved to be at times dangerous.

In college I trained to be an anthropologist, and my experiences with medicine led me to the field of Medical Anthropology. This is where I could study medicine from a safe distance, and try to help the patient cope with the scary labyrinth of medical providers that understood symptoms, not people. I was still suffering at this point, and could barely make it through a day in one piece. But then a medical pluralism class introduced me to Acupuncture, and, desperate for help, I tried it for myself. It was a miracle. For the first time I started to get relief from my pain…and best yet, there were no dangerous side effects. And so I was hooked. I was inspired. My new life path was to help others find relief from their pain and from the dangerous route of surgery and pharmaceutical side effects. So I moved to a new state to earn a second Masters degree (followed later with a Doctorate) and worked at the long, arduous process of becoming an acupuncturist. That was 13 years ago.

I am ashamed to say that in the beginning of this process, based off my biased personal experiences, I harbored an adversarial view of medicine. In my mind allopathic medicine was dangerous and natural medicine was the light—but it was being blocked by hardened doctors that refused to let go of their power. I did not even realize I thought this way, but as I look back I realize how much anger I unwittingly harbored due to what had happened to me and my health. A dichotomy was created in my world, and it became my purpose to help people see the “truth” about medicine. This subconscious belief created a lot of unnecessary frustration in the early years of my career.

Over the years I have seen Acupuncture and Chinese medicine achieve amazing clinical results. I’ve watched conditions heal there were deemed untreatable and babies created for women that were told it was beyond hope that they could get pregnant–ALL through Acupuncture. But I have also seen its failures and short comings, and I have witnessed severe, complicated conditions needing nothing less than the skilled, technical advances of Western medicine. I have met good doctors and callous doctors; talented acupuncturists, and poorly trained acupuncturists. I have seen practitioners dedicating their whole lives to helping others, and I have seen practitioners cash in on their patients with useless gimmicks and “packages.” But, through it all, I have seen something truly remarkable: I have seen collaboration of both sides to the mutual benefit of the patient.

As with any profession, there are some medical providers that do not have their heart in it and went into the field with the wrong motivations. But by far the majority of medical providers entered the field because they truly cared and wanted to help people. They each practice the medicine they deem the “best”, and give it their all with the intention of healing their patients. It is a beautiful thing.

When I drop the ego and recognize this truth, I begin to see a medical world in this country based on collaboration, innovation, and integration. I see a world of communication and referrals between doctors, therapists, and natural healthcare providers allowing for the best combinations of medicine for the patient. I have met some really profound doctors so far in my career, and I am proud to know them. And I have witnessed some truly miraculous healings take place through Acupuncture and natural medicine. It is my dream as a healer, as a practitioner of one type of medicine, that this collaboration continues to grow and flourish, until one day there is no longer a clash of egos about which medicine is “better;” but instead, there is a general understanding that all medicine has a purpose and a place, and can be used harmoniously for the greater good.

Now that I am past my first decade as a healer and prepare for the many decades to come, I know that what I know will change often. I know that there are many changes on the horizon and always so much more to learn. But I will continue to hold the vision of integrated medicine, and am grateful for the doctors, nurses, therapists, and natural healthcare workers that continue to daily do their best to help others. I am thankful to play a part in the ever-changing world of medicine.

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