Will it make me well?

I teach yoga to a few people who have multiple sclerosis, and I find this illness scary and mysterious.  The medical profession continues to grapple with the cause and best course of treatment, and researchers remain mostly in the dark about it.  This week though, I heard a perspective that provides a handle on how to understand and manage it:  It came from a talk by a woman who was diagnosed with MS 20 years ago and who is virtually symptom free.

Carol was once told she had an aggressive form of the illness and that she would quickly deteriorate.  She had already lost vision in one eye and had trouble walking.  And yet she only used the recommended medications briefly, then went off them because they made her feel sick and were terribly expensive as well.

She looked instead for a different doctor, one who might have other suggestions besides drugs.  She discovered an orthomolecular specialist in Denver who spoke with her sympathetically and recommended homeopathy.  Carol took his advice and addressed her diet as well, eliminating gluten and sugar and eating grass-fed beef and a variety of vegetables.  Today she is symptom free–walking, talking, and practicing as a homeopath herself.  She now sees dietary issues, particularly gluten and overall imbalances, as a key to understanding MS.

We’ve all heard stories of such turn arounds, but I’m very interested in two things about her story.  One is that she came away from her experience with doctors and medication, then homeopathy, realizing the most important question to her when it comes to treating her illness, is, “Will it help me to be well?”  Her determination to seek a treatment or healing path that made sense to her and would support her wellbeing impresses me and, I think, was part of her ability to heal.

Second, I was struck by the part of her story in which she encountered her first doctor, the one who diagnosed her and gave her such a dire prognosis, in the hardware store.  Seeing him, she immediately began to feel nauseous, weak, and confused.  She greeted him and hurried out of the store, recovering her strength outside.  What better example is there of the power of authority and the enduring strength of social conditioning?  Of our passivity in the patient role and the godlike qualities we ascribe to doctors?  After leaving the doctor’s presence Carol felt fine again.  Free of his influence, she felt her health and her body’s remarkable ability to heal.

Also attending her talk was a young man named Dave who sees Carol as a client.  A former forklift operator turned oil and gas employee, he said he also was told he had an aggressive form of MS after experiencing vision loss.  He then experienced pain in his left leg and later lost feeling below his waist.  He stopped working, sat around on the couch dealing with sickness and sleep deprivations from the medications.  He gave up.  His wife, though, did some research, found Carol, and Dave saw her for help with his MS.  He now takes homeopathic remedies and follows a gluten-free diet.  He too is walking, working, and playing ball with his son:  When he does experience numbness or pain he goes to see Carol for remedies and dietary changes.

I am quite struck that these folks had to strike out on their own to get well.  Both learned about the politics of food supply and pharmaceutical use, making their own decisions about their treatment.  And both made radical changes in their diets and sought natural remedies.  It isn’t easy to turn down all the sweets and fast food coworkers bring to work, says Dave, but he knows he must to be well.  Both sought doctors who support their perspectives and partner with them, and both are prepared to challenge conventional “wisdom” on their illness.  While neither is Both against allopathic medicine, they truly do want to support their bodies in more natural ways, and they want to do things that make sense to them.

When Carol and Dave do see doctors, they seek practitioners who acknowledge their needs and the validity of their own approaches to their illness.  There are some who know how to partner with them in their chosen approach, in their quest for wellness, and there are some who do not.

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Out of step or a foot ahead?

Change is coming.  So said a healthcare recruiter to me a few days ago when I interviewed with him at the local hospital.  The company has been preparing for 10 years, he said, to develop new IT and wellness programming.  Wellness is included since new healthcare legislation is designed to instigate reimbursement for keeping people out of hospitals.  Finally!  But I’ll wait and see.

It’s the kind of healthcare I have been awaiting for a long time.   I want the hospital to hire me.  As a mind-body therapist.   I interviewed to be a wellness specialist/yoga teacher.  The description was for a health educator really.

The weird thing is that six years ago I had a job as an education coordinator in a holistic center associated with this same hospital.  I ran a yoga/qigong studio, coordinated classes and workshops, and supported the administration and holistic pharmacy.  It was part-time, and I had health insurance.

I loved that job.   I loved being a part of a holistic center within a medical center.  And I loved developing an integrative approach to healthcare and providing wellness services to the community as well as people in the hospital suffering from illness and injury.  We helped people through chemotherapy with acupuncture, people going through rehab with massage, people with chronic illness with nutrition, kids with ADD and depression with a more natural approach.  We also  supported dying people with reiki.  Our classes, open to staff, patients, and the community, included meditation, infant massage, and other healing approaches.

This center was closed down.  The healthcare company sponsored an exit lunch for us in which we talked about keeping our commitment to the cause alive in our individual work.  But it’s been lonely.

Yesterday, I talked with a recruiter for 45 minutes, took a break, then interviewed with two wellness managers and did a yoga demo.  Turns out all this was for a temporary position to teach two yoga classes a week.  While I wish for something more substantial, the wonderful part of the interview for me was the conversation with these three folks and the awareness I had of the growth in me since I last worked there.  I am bolder, stronger, and more articulate about wellness, yoga, and mindfulness and their role in the healthcare system.

Dan, the recruiter from a temporary staffing company, asked me why I was interested in wellness.  I said that I want to help people live healthier lives, to tap into their own immunity and stay well or find supportive therapies when they get sick.  I hoped to teach yoga to help people gain a sense of their inner healing capacity.   Dan looked at me and said, “that’s where our company is heading.”

When I sat down with two female managers from Wellness, one said to me, “You worked for the holistic center?  It was ahead of its time:  If it were created now, it would thrive.”

Will things really change?   We still don’t know what will happen with the latest healthcare reform bill.  And we don’t know how far policy changes will reach.  But healthcare expenses are getting too high, and more folks have less money and will be excluded from care.  When things begin to affect the bottom lines of hospitals and insurance companies, or when the people make enough noise, a shift will certainly occur.  We already see stirrings of movement.

In the meantime, us mind-body types will hang in there, learning about embodied experience, the immune response, healing, and inner work.  Practicing stress reduction and renewal, exploring our connection to ourselves, each other, and nature.  But there really isn’t time to spare:  We and our world will become much sicker if we don’t move forward.  I’m ready to work, and I think others are too.  Let’s get the behemeth moving a little faster.

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