09 April, 2014

in pursuit of holistic medicine: a farewell

It goes by many names – complementary, alternative, integrative; some simply call it quackery. But whatever you want to call this realm of non-conventional medicine, know that it is filled with much more variety and depth than you likely suspect. I became interested in integrative medicine (IM) in college, when I started practicing yoga and became more concerned about nutrition for myself. It was a gradual process from there. I attended a local IM conference as a first-year, which lead to re-instating Loyola’s Interest Group for Integrative Medicine, and hosting the same conference as a second-year. Then came research projects, and new mentors who encouraged me to do things like getting trained in clinical hypnosis and presenting at an international IM conference in London. The world of IM grew from yoga and nutrition to a variety of mind-body practices, to whole systems of medicine like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s exciting, and tends to align with my passion for preventive medicine, and desire to help others on a path towards wellness. (Note: that is different from treating disease, which conventional medicine does exceptionally well.)

This blog has been a big part of facilitating learning around these interests, and sharing them with others. Especially regarding nutrition and mindfulness. It's also been a major creative outlet for me. A place to express myself without much pressure, and to begin developing a personal writing style and explore where that might lead me. Over the years I've posted less and less, and recently I have really trickled off. Part of that was because of a month-long trip to Changzhou, China for Loyola’s newest global health elective. At the Number 1 People’s Hospital I got to learn about acupuncture and the traditional Chinese methods of diagnosis. The hospital is predominantly Western, and it was fascinating to see how Eastern and Western medicine are truly integrated. For example, there is a drawer full of herbal patches in the pediatric nurses station that are placed on children’s chests when they have a cough.

One important thing I learned there, which I had already begun to suspect, is that even alternative medicine can be practiced in a non-holistic way. Problem, diagnosis, prescription, return in four to six weeks. So then, what is it that I’ve been searching for? Certainly not a whole new pharmacopoeia of herbs and supplements, nor a list of problems not yet defined by the modern medical literature. I’m not looking for a fancy new field of medicine, I’m simply looking for good medicine. I believe that happens when we approach the patient as a person with whom we enter a relationship, as a whole person who can also teach, and even heal, us. I also still believe that looking at IM is a good place to start, because it emphasizes the fact that what we eat and do with our bodies daily, and the way we experience stress and emotions all have a profound impact on our health. 

I feel very fortunate to have some time to reflect on these things even more before heading into residency. It's such an exciting time. I absolutely want community outreach, teaching, and writing to play major roles in my career as a family physician. But I think this blog is no longer the place for me to do that. Instead, I'm going to push myself to write when I feel like writing, even if I won't have the instant gratification of hitting the "publish" button. To store up my thoughts, to refine them, and then to be so bold as to ask somebody else to publish them.

With any luck, you will be reading something else from me soon. Just not here.

With gratitude and love,

15 January, 2014

medical students write!

I'm becoming more and more interested in the idea of narrative medicine, storytelling in medicine, and what the humanities can teach us in general. Little things pop up in the hospital everyday that deserve to be written about. Even in our boring electronic medical records little gems pop up, like "the patient lives alone with her dachshund named Piper*."

There are a lot of physicians, other practitioners, and students who feel the same way, from journalists like Atul Gawande, to novelists like Abraham Verghese. I've been exploring a few outlets for medical professionals, one of which is in-Training, a sort of online magazine by and for medical students. They published a poem of mine a few months ago, and more recently an essay about I wrote about coping in the ICU. You can read it, and get a peak into the lives and brains of many other medical students, here.

*this dog's name has been change in accordance with the HIPAA pet privacy act ;)

03 January, 2014

loveliness in presence

Happy New Year! I hope you are enjoying a bit of time to reflect on 2013 and dream about 2014. And staying warm. I think resolutions are a beautiful thing, especially when they go beyond the typical list of do's and don'ts. 2014 is going to be a very exciting year for me. But first, a bit of reflecting.

I happily have been able to read a lot more than usual over the past 6 weeks, especially during the 2 weeks around Christmas & New Year's.  Growing up, I almost always had 2 novels going at once, but it's been quite a while since I've had enough leisure to do that. It was a great joy to read through Marilynne Robinson's Gilead in just 3 days. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. The entire book is a letter written by an elderly pastor in the small town of Gilead, Iowa to his young son. He tells of abolitionists and pacifists, devout friends, deviant sons, and the old man's attempt to find peace and reconciliation in his final days. The language is simple and cuts clean to the reader's heart. Pristine.

Here is a passage that immediately had me writing in the margin:

By “life” I mean something like “energy” (as the scientists use the word) or “vitality”, and also something very different. When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the “I” whose predicate can be “love” or “fear” or “want,” and whose object can be “someone” or “nothing” and it won’t really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around “I’ like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else. But quick, and avid, and resourceful. To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned.
I think this describes the way I feel about having difficult discussions with patients in the medical setting. Conversations about death and dying, scary diagnoses, psychological turmoil. During my month-long rotation in the ICU this happened pretty regularly, and I found myself feeling better on those days compared to others. I hate to use the word "better" here. Perhaps what I mean is something like more fulfilled, more alive. It's something I tried to explain to my husband, cringing as I used such positive words to describe such a negative situation, failing to explain it even to myself and wondering fearfully if it were just some sort of morbid fascination. But reading these words cleared it up for me. Like a confession these conversations highlighted the presence, the I, of those patients and their families. And what I felt was privileged to be part of such a lovely thing.
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