Integrative Medicine

About a year ago I saw a doctor who practices integrative medicine for the first time.  Although I had experienced some progress through acupuncture, massage, and nutritional counseling while we were still living in St. Louis, I didn’t really know what integrative medicine was.  However, after almost three years of symptoms — fatigue, joint pain, psoriasis, and multiple issues with my eyes — and little help from traditional medical practice, I figured I had nothing to lose.

When I arrived at the office on the west side of Ann Arbor, I found it to be understated; it didn’t have all the glitz and glamour of the powerful University of Michigan.  It was a small suite of rooms in a strip mall.  The receptionist called my name, weighed me, took my temperature, found my blood pressure, and asked me to fill out some forms. Some of the forms looked familiar — family history, insurance information, etc. — but mixed in with those were others that were asking me questions no doctor had ever asked me before — questions about diet, mood, temperament, lifestyle, and sleep that went beyond the quantitative I had experienced in the past.

The doctor, an unassuming middle-aged woman, talked to me for over an hour.  She took notes, asked questions, examined me, and then gave me a place to start. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that last December I followed the Ultra Simple Diet on the recommendation of this doctor.  She ordered some blood work and also had me submit saliva samples — yes, saliva samples– to a lab to determine my level of adrenal functioning.

I followed her recommendations, and then — bam! — life got a little crazy at our house for a few months.  I kept eating wisely, but I worked too  much, lost track of my exercise plan, and stopped seeing this doctor.

By the end of summer, I had taken a few steps backward health-wise.  I had fallen into some of my old soldiering habits, ignoring my symptoms and pushing through for the sake of family, work, and, most honestly, selfishness.  My fall visit to my rheumatologist at the U was very disappointing.  I was told I had fibromyalgia and that I should find a doctor who would help me manage my symptoms.  Period.

Well, that was the impetus I needed to go back to the integrative medicine specialist.  I limped into the examination room complaining of pain, fatigue, and — a new one — hot flashes!  I was having up to eight extreme hot flashes during the day and that many again at night.  They stopped me in my tracks during the day and woke me out of a sound sleep at night. Furthermore, I was nearing hopelessness because of the verdict from rheumatology.

Step by step, Dr. Mary Greiner, addressed my concerns.  She used homeopathic medicines to address my symptoms. (Some other time I may write about how affordable these remedies are in comparison to pharmaceuticals.)  She also encouraged me to re-adopt my healthy practices of exercise and rest in addition to the dietary changes that I had been following — no gluten, no dairy, no soy.  And, she said I needed to get in to see a physical therapist in Chelsea, Michigan.  She said it would take me a while to get in to see her, maybe months.  However, I needed to see her because she is the one who could help me.   In fact, I’m pretty sure that Dr. Greiner recommended I see Marcy Boughton during that very first appointment almost a year ago.  I didn’t follow through initially, but finally around August, I called and made an appointment.  Last week I met Marcy for the first time.

Just like Dr. Greiner, Marcy listened to me for over an hour.  She wanted to know my physical history, yes, but she also wanted to know about major life events — my parents’ divorce, my experience with anorexia nervosa, the births of my children, our relocation to St. Louis, my reentry into the work force, and our relocation to Michigan. She wanted to hear how I had managed the stressors and, get this, she wanted to applaud my resilience.  Then, she wanted to affirm that this is a good time to allow my body some time to recover.

Yesterday, during our second visit, after having evaluated my personality type and some other socio-emotional factors, she had me listen to some audio teaching while she was gently applying pressure to assess my body’s needs and address some areas of concern.  Hers is a very gentle practice.  She felt my pulses as my acupuncturist had in the past.  She applied gentle pressure to my neck, my skull, my shoulders.  And, by touch, she found the most troubling area, my right hip.

As she applied gentle pressure to my femur, she played two audios.  The first spoke to my personality — my tendency to do, to achieve, to push, to take charge.  The audio celebrated the strengths of these traits — people like me get things done, they lead people, they have what seems to be unstoppable energy and enthusiasm.  However, the audio also identified the weakness — the tendency to overlook the interior, to neglect self-care, to lose touch with the personal.  The information I was hearing resonated.  On just the second meeting with this practitioner, the dots that I have seen clearly on the page, were being connected with an indelible black Sharpie. The second audio was the next step.  The speaker invited the listener to speak words of affirmation celebrating this driven personality — the strength, the vision, the ability to accomplish.  Then, it invited the speaker to heal, to acknowledge the areas that have been overlooked, to give myself permission to set down my weapons,  to slow down and be kind to myself.  As I listened, Marcy continued to apply pressure to that femur, gently attempting to release its torque.  When the audio was done, she said that during the second half of the second audio she was holding my femur when she felt a snap as though my femur broke and then repositioned itself. Interesting.

This is integrative medicine, folks.  I’m not going to tell you that my pain is gone today (although I will say I am no longer having hot flashes!). But, I’m feeling much better as a whole.  I feel like I am understanding myself — my whole self — a little more fully.  We are, after all, complex beings — we are body, soul, and spirit.  Addressing the needs of the body without attending to the soul and the spirit is, at best, a partial fix.

I’d like to tell you more of this story, but I’ve already used more than enough words for one day.  Perhaps tomorrow I will be able to tell you what I am learning about holding it all together.  For now, though, it’s enough to say that we are complex beings created by an even more complex Creator.

I Thessalonians 5:23

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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