Patient’s Wisdom: Looking Beyond Traditional Medicine

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Doctor Neha: Welcome, today you’re going to get kind of an insider look of a discussion between two health professionals. We want to share with you our discoveries when we became the patient. So this one is a little bit different. I know you’re used to hearing health professionals speak from the place of healing others. It has been quite an awakening for both Kim and me—welcome, Kim.

Kim: Thank you, Neha.

Doctor Neha: —to actually be on the other end of things. We’re going to have a little bit of a discussion. And if you’re struggling as a patient, we’re hoping that we can shed some light on those struggles and help you find some new ways to move through wherever you’re stuck.

Kim, what’s the synopsis of what’s been happening for you?

Kim: A little over a year ago, I had a major surgery on my hip to repair not replace a torn ligament. My glute muscles, which are my butt muscles, were detached, and so they were re-anchored and I had the bones shaved. A long recovery, a lot of immobility. But as I went through the therapies, the immobility stayed. My butt muscles never woke up; they get some firing back, but not enough to impact my walking. So after a year of physical therapy, my surgeon said, “You did great. The surgery was successful. Your healing and your recovery was not, so this is kind of where you’re going to end up in.” And I said, “That’s not okay.” So I have mobility issues. I can walk and I’m not dependent on assist devices. But it is painful. It drains my energy. I get weak with any distance and it feels something is stabbing me. It gets better, but again, I get weak when I’m walking. So it really impacts my life and I’m looking to see what’s next.

Doctor Neha: Wow. All right. So I’m going to share a little bit about my experience over the last two years. I travel a lot, and I speak a lot. I stay in really wonderful places. And I’m usually pretty diligent about the water that I drink and what I eat. Somewhere along the way, I got some parasites and I wasn’t aware of that. The first way that it showed up was on my skin, on my body. I started becoming hypo-pigmented in certain areas so there was no coloring. And for someone my color, that’s a big deal because it showed up pretty obviously. For about a year, that went on and I went through the traditional medical system. One dermatologist started giving me steroids and things to make that go away, but then it would pop up somewhere else. So I knew that something wasn’t working or it was working temporarily.

About a year later, I ended up going to Costa Rica. Every year I dance with 50 women on the ocean in Costa Rica. It’s kind of my sisterhood connection time. And let’s be honest, it’s sanity to get out of the cold weather. When I came back, I had that same experience, not exactly the same thing, but similar. This time, it was redness and inflammation started moving down both sides of my face. Now I speak and teach for a living. And this was not going to be okay. What I was told is, “This is kind of the way it’s going to be. You’re going to need to cover it, use cover up and things like that on it.”

The first thing I want to say to anybody listening, when you’re in the traditional medical system, and they tell you something that doesn’t seem to make sense—like what Kim just said, “Your surgery was a success. The recovery was a failure” or “We can give you these things to put on your skin, some creams on your skin,” but then when they start popping up other places, everybody acts surprised—when you start getting feedback that something you’re doing isn’t working or a short-term solution over and over again masquerading as a long-term solution or “We can’t help you anymore.” I want you to realize that nothing’s wrong with you. Don’t lose hope. What they’re saying is you’re in the wrong system for help. That’s all they’re saying. They’re saying, “We are out of options in our toolbox.” That’s all they’re saying. Because now I’m on the path of recovery and so is Kim. And I want you to know what it has taken for us to get there.

So Kim, you can speak for yourself, but there’s this time where I really isolated myself and I felt so down. I really thought if my face is going to start having this whole thing move across it and I have to keep putting all this makeup on, I don’t feel like me. I teach authentic communication. I teach about being yourself. I teach about the whole experience that I feel like I’m covering up now. And it didn’t feel right. So what I ended up doing was going to a functional medicine doctor. Functional medicine, you can look this up at Cleveland Clinic, there’s a $50 million new division at the Cleveland Clinic doing the research to heal chronic disease. So let me give you one clue. I learned often skin issues start in your gut. It’s about what you’re eating and how the entire system of your body is connected. In traditional medicine, we’re really good at solving acute crises—like when you get into a car crash, we will reset your bone, we will take away the pain, we will help stop the bleeding.

But in chronic conditions, not so much. So wouldn’t you say, Kim, “Thank God for the surgeon”?

Kim: Absolutely. He reattached everything, got everything together, but I need to move to the next level.

Doctor Neha: And the physical therapists were probably great at getting a lot of your muscles stronger again and working and moving. But now it’s time for the next level because you aren’t exactly sure. One thing I’ll say is we think illness is physical and it’s on a physical level. It’s important to remember that when anything is chronic like autoimmune diseases, skin issues like psoriasis, eczema, one way to treat it is to put creams on it that make it go away. But if it pops up again when you stopped doing that or it shows up in a different place, you’ve got to start asking yourself, “Is this like Groundhog Day?” I’m in the wrong system because I haven’t solved the problem.

The second thing I want you to know is that when it’s acute, go to traditional medicine. We’re really good at emergencies. When it is chronic, think to yourself, naturopathic or functional medicine and start moving in the realm of the people who are experts in chronic disease.

The third thing is a physical ailment. You spoke to this Kim. A physical ailment isn’t just physical. You’re a high-powered leader, go-getter, doer, and an accomplisher. Now you’re saying, “I am less social than I used to be. I don’t feel as confident as I used to feel.” It now hits you on mental, emotional, social and spiritual levels.

Kim: Absolutely. It drains your energy, so you don’t feel confident, you don’t feel connected. And people see that very quickly. “Hey, what’s going on with you?” And you try to mask it because you are this leader, this go-getter and you’re supposed to be on all the time.

Doctor Neha: Say, “When I am…I am…”

Kim: I’m supposed to be on all the time.

Doctor Neha: “I am a powerful leader and I masked my symptoms.” There’s something important about you saying “I” in that you can feel it when you say it and you own it. It’s different than when you say, “You don’t feel good.” That’s so different than “I am a powerful leader. And I had a hit to my confidence and self esteem.” Do you see how different that is?

Kim: It is very different.

Doctor Neha: The idea here in illness, for people as independent as us and as healers ourselves who help and serve others, is it can be kind of hard to ask for help.

Kim: Yes, it can be in working in the medical field. In traditional medicine, I’m going to get comments like, “Why are you still limping? You had surgery.” Well, that’s a good question. Yes, I had surgery. “Well, you should just go get an injection that will help.” But again, like you said, it just masks the symptoms. So it is more than physical.

Doctor Neha: And it’s important that you get the feedback loop from your body. Our body is always talking to us. The question is, are we listening? The body is so wise. It knows how to heal a cut. When we start bleeding, we put a little pressure there or maybe put on a band-aid—and the body does the rest. The body has an innate wisdom that moves it toward healing. We have to give it all the conditions to promote that. So one of the things you had mentioned is that one of the ways that you’re starting to heal and be more open is instead of isolating yourself and being alone, you’re reconnecting and opening up and being a little more vulnerable in community. Is that true?

Kim: It’s true. You have to learn whom you can trust or who’s going to feed you the positive that you need back-and-forth and open up your boundaries. So I have done that with a few select friends and a few coworkers. Not that I tell them I have pain today, but I have anxiety, or I have emotions attached to those pains and how it’s impacted me. That’s a different conversation and a different level of trust. I guess I’m going public with it versus withholding it, but you have to give that trust and open up those boundaries to people who are going to give you that positive loop. And then you can interact for support to heal you. And that is something I learned very strongly from the self-care in health care. When we first started, the first two sessions we had, I was still in physical therapy. So all this was happening as we are working together. And I think the tools and the learning and the group help gives me that sense that it’s not over. I’m not going to live with this. I am going to figure out what to do next.

Doctor Neha: Yes, I am going to heal.

Kim: Yes.

Doctor Neha: And the mental aspect of it is, “I am whole, healthy, and well. I am whole, healthy, and well.” Now that is not enough just to reprogram your mind. That doesn’t mean that it goes away. I’m not one of those people who thinks if you say that enough times, you will be okay. But I do think that our mindset, my mindset in believing that my body can heal, believing in the innate wisdom of how my body shows me everyday, that my nails grow, that my hair grows, and I don’t tell it to do anything. My body resets itself and has the wisdom, so my job is to partner with it instead of against it. Not my mind against my body.

I hope these have been a few key ways of thinking about [being a patient]. If you aren’t getting the answers that you need where you are, it just means that you got what you needed out of the system where you are seeking help. So if it’s the traditional medical system, it’s good for a few really important and respected aspects of health—you need it during an emergency. Then pay attention to expanding your viewpoint to trying other modalities and being open to being in community.

What I’d say about you, Kim, that’s so incredible is when you were speaking about trusting other people, what you did by deciding to go on this blog today and share with other people is you decided to trust yourself. And because you trusted yourself, you’re letting go of who gets to hear this and trusting that the message goes to the right people and that you and I can be some role models. The face of healthcare—there’s a lot we do right, and there’s a lot we can help you with. And when you’re not getting what you need from us, be open to other ways of healing.

Kim: If I could reach one more person with this talk, that would be amazing because through these sessions I’ve said, “I can heal myself with the help of the people I trust. And seek alternatives. Don’t just accept that your healing had failed.”

Doctor Neha: You do your due diligence about who you’re getting healing from and whether they are trusted and respected by someone you trust and respect. Are there data, science, longevity, and results of what they’re showing? If there is, if any of those things are true—or however you decide that you trust someone or some guidance—allow yourself to trust a new way of healing. Most of all, trust in the wisdom of your body.

Thank you so much, Kim. It’s been such a delight. I hope we have many more of these conversations because I think healthcare is in a place where we need them.

Kim: I agree. Thank you for opening up the door.

Awareness Prescription
General Rules to Navigating the Healthcare System

  1. When it’s acute, go to traditional medicine.

  2. When it’s chronic, look for a naturopathic or functional medicine professional (ifm.org).

  3. When you get a short-term answer masquerading as a long-term solution or you hear someone say, “There’s nothing else we can do,” realize that nothing is wrong with you. You’re just in the wrong system; it’s time to explore other options.

  4. Sometimes physical ailments surface to get our attention, but the root cause is on another level (mental, emotional, social, spiritual). What other levels may be playing a role in your illness? What personal and professional support do you need to heal those areas?

  5. Trust your body to heal itself, and align your thoughts with a meaningful affirmation, such as “I am whole, healthy, and well.”

Doctor Neha