My Health Journey

Life has many silver linings. One of them for me is that a big reason why I am blessed to practice integrative medicine today is because of my own personal health journey. The struggles I have faced with my own health have forced me to look for solutions outside of conventional Western Medicine. As with many other physicians who have made the decision to shift their practice to Integrative Medicine, this personal experience has given me first hand insights into the power of a holistic approach to healing.

Before I was 1 year old, I had already been sick with respiratory or ear infections multiple times and had been given many rounds of antibiotics. This led to me being prescribed “prophylactic” antibiotics for the next few years- in other words, antibiotics every day just to prevent me from continuing to get sick over and over. I am grateful for antibiotics but in hindsight I believe that this might have been avoided if the root cause of why I kept getting sick was found. In my case, I believe it was gluten and dairy sensitivity, which caused inflammation in my respiratory tract and digestive system, and a strained and weakened immune system, further weakened (in the long run at least) by the chronic antibiotics. Being born in the early 1970s, in peak of an era with increasing reliance on processed foods was not helpful, particularly in regards to the dairy and wheat-based baby formula and cereals. Since then, although newer and even more serious problems in our systemic food system have emerged (GMO Foods and increasing reliance on toxic chemicals, the collapse of our nation’s topsoil, etc.), at least the importance of breast feeding is more broadly recognized.

In any case, despite the antibiotics, I did manage to continue getting sick. In fact, I was getting sick so often that I had to reschedule 3-4 surgery dates to remove my enlarged tonsils. More than a week after I had finally completed my surgery, I was still not recovering. I remember lying on the couch listening to my neighbors playing outside and wishing I could get up to join the fun, when I leaned over and threw up onto the living room rug a mix of blood and pus. Needless to say, this freaked out my mom, who, before driving me back to the hospital, called my grandfather the doctor, giving him his first ever panic attack over a medical situation.

So obviously I survived and it turned out that was the last hurrah of the revolving door of infections for which I was to finally get a hiatus as I was heading into age 6. I had had a peritonsillar abcess that grew and burst. Unfortunately though, I received a blood transfusion during this hospitalization, another blow to my immune system which was an additional factor in the almost inevitable development of future auto-immune problems.

After that, I was a relatively normal, happy, active kid. In high school though, despite being a great student and athlete and even managing to graduate as valedictorian, I was tired a lot. Although I LOVED my Anatomy and Physiology course (budding doctor!), it had the unfortunate timing of being right after lunch, and almost every day after eating either a big doughy piece of thick and yeasty cafeteria pizza, or a burger with a chewy white bun, I would not be able to keep my eyes open. I am not sure if it was more painful to be that tired, or how bad I felt about hurting my teacher’s feelings who was putting so much passion into his class. I kept explaining that I really was NOT bored!

Unfortunately, this level of fatigue carried through college with me, as well as a couple years abroad teaching and working and traveling mostly in Latin America, as well as in medical school. One of my very close friends and trusty travel companions never fails to crack me up when describing our bus rides in the Andes Mountains, with the endless hairpin turns and frequent potholes causing heads to hit the roof, not to mention squawking chickens and other non human passengers to get some air time too. Whenever we would get to our destination, sometimes 8-10 hours later, I would wake up dreamily from a deep dead sleep, while everyone else would stagger off the bus ashen faced and nauseated.

Talk about adrenal fatigue! I needed to nap all the time.

What I also managed to pick up in Latin America- Peru to be exact- were a couple of intestinal parasites. Unfortunately when I finally visited a doctor in Peru, I was diagnosed with just simple diarrhea and given a bottle of Kaopectate. Not much changed for the year that I worked as a teaching intern. Again in hindsight, I believe it was my weakened gut (from the history of antibiotics and from ongoing gluten sensitivity) combined with already blown out adrenals, that made me more susceptible to picking up the parasites.

Having the parasites really pushed me over the edge, leading to even more fatigue and gut symptoms which can still plague me to this day if I am not careful. But it has also helped me learn a lot, trying so many approaches, both Western and holistic, in order to heal myself. I did every diet I knew of, for significant periods of time- months to years, including being vegetarian and vegan. I tried probiotics. I tried many other herbs and supplements. My initial attempts in integrative, holistic approaches were pretty much failures. But there were hints and clues along the way and eventually a combination of antibiotics (ironically, given that was what hurt my microbiome originally as an infant) and the right nutrition and supplements have helped me manage my symptoms more than ever.

So yes, pharmaceutical medicines have been a part of my recovery. I am a Western trained physician, after all! But when I kept not being fully well, I had to dig deeper. About 10 years ago, I FINALLY realized I needed to be gluten free. I also got on vitamins. Particularly, robust doses of Vitamin D, which significantly helped decrease my allergies and inflammation and aches and pains. I worked on my sleep and adrenals. I got into yoga.

I go to farmers markets and am grateful for foods grown on organic, regenerative farms. I am still a work in progress. I still sleep a lot but at least it is at night and almost never during the day or on bumpy bus rides anymore. There’s more to the story as well of course. I don’t feel perfect but I feel better in most ways, getting close to age 50, than I did in my 20s and 30s when I was still suffering.

And I became an Integrative Physician because of it all. That’s what I am most thankful for, having self witnessed the body’s potential to heal when given the chance. My goal each day in the clinic is to give my patients hope and to help them discover their path to wellness more quickly than the many decades it has taken me!

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My Health Journey