In Her Words
I have always believed that every illness has a cure. I believed that being a doctor meant curing peoples health problems so they could live out their lives in optimal health; a means to actualizing their personal maximum human potential and happiness. Science and medicine fascinated me from childhood. According to my mother, at age seven, I took much greater interest in my meals if she told me the health benefits. I’m forever grateful to her for keeping the nutrition book at the dinner table, instead of forcing me to eat; and my dad for insisting that she find diplomatic means to stir my interest in food.
I planned to go to a conventional medical school after majoring in Biochemistry and Anthropology at the University of Michigan. I took the usual pre-med courses with some additional courses in philosophy and art for personal enrichment. Two courses, and my friend, changed my views on medicine and how I wanted to practice. The first was pharmacology. I was very excited about the class as I would be getting a sneak peak at the tools I would be using to heal my future patients. This proved to be wholly not the case. Pharmaceuticals are not used to heal or cure any condition; it is a reductionist treatment where physiological changes are imposed on the body to produce the desired results, irrespective of the underlying imbalance that gave rise to the original problem. As a result, the underlying cause of the imbalance is left to fester, and side effects from the pharmaceutical oppression accrue. This did not sit well with everything I was learning in biochemistry. The elegance of the biochemical pathways and the specific vitamins and minerals the enzymes need in each step to operate smoothly, made it obvious why mitochondrial and therefore cellular and therefore tissue and therefore organ and therefore organism, dysfunctions occur. There is a reason or a cause for every bodily dysfunction, and it is not a deficiency of pharmaceuticals. Nevertheless, in acute situations, pharmaceuticals are an indispensable gift, and do save lives. Every modality and treatment has its place in the proper therapeutic order.
The second class was Medical Anthropology. My friend, who was standing in front of me in line to sign up for classes said, “ Hey you want to take this Medical Anthropology class with me?”. I thought it sounded interesting and I signed up. That was my first Anthropology class and after that it became my second major. We studied tribal cultures from around the world and the herbal and sometimes exotic methods they used to treat the ill.
The treatments worked, sans pharmaceuticals.
At the same time my good friend had been through the ringer seeing medical doctor after medical doctor to obtain a proper diagnosis and treatment for her condition. For the first 5 years they insisted nothing was wrong with her and that she just needed to get on a diet; their standard laboratory testing with huge ranges of “normal” did not help her situation. She did go on a diet, a very strict diet for some time, but no results, and the underlying condition continued to advance. Finally she became sick enough so that the standard laboratory testing revealed some abnormals, by then her system was so far gone, it would take a miracle to get her health back. Conventional medicine is a gift in the area of acute or emergency cases, but we hope as doctors to not drive our patients to that point due to attention to standard labs as opposed to the person them self. Ultimately I learned that the cure is in identifying the cause. In order to identify the cause you have to spend time listening to the patient.