Bridging East and West: One Doctors Journey

Why am I now doing a medical practice that combines both conventional medical care and complementary ("alternative") methods? What happened that made me decide, at 58 years of age (!), to put my energy into starting this type of private practice????

Before I even considered going to medical school, I knew that my calling in life had to do with enhancing health. So when the opportunity presented itself to consider going to medical school, I decided to risk going for the most challenging path of learning to do this.

Little did I realize then that I would be putting maximum energy into memorizing the essence of the Western knowledge to date about treating diseases. (If naturopathic education had been an alternative to me at that time, I'm sure that is what I would have chosen! To me, there is a marked difference in focusing on attacking disease versus enhancing health, no matter what the starting point is on the health-illness spectrum.) So I trod the narrow difficult path toward the MD degree, believing this was going for the very best available.

When I realized that it was important for me to do a medical residency, I knew, from my own life experiences at that time (having had three children, in a difficult marriage) that I wanted to facilitate people's growth. I had seen that even I myself had been able to let go of old self-limiting patterns, and I wanted to help others do this for themselves. I finally chose a family practice residency, because I appreciated all the stages of life. And I chose to do this in what seemed to me an ideal setting: a large private health maintenance organization (HMO).

I was quite happy in this challenging mode of learning more specifics on how to treat people - how to help them. Of course it was difficult to balance my professional and family roles, however, I knew I was going in the direction I wanted. After finishing the residency, I chose to continue practicing with this same HMO organization. I felt privileged to be part of the ground floor of the medical care of the future: practicing in a large pre-paid medical group, with health education and prevention a significant component of what we offered.

Gradually I realized that for me something seemed to be amiss. I was working hard (as a workaholic, I later discovered, in unconscious attempts to avoid my own suppressed, denied feelings). I was being well paid, yet I didn't feel fulfilled. Occasionally my patients voiced their gratitude for my services, but to me this seemed to be minimal. Like many people in our society, I had an external locus of control: I looked for my rewards from others, rather than trusting my own internal guidance, my internal locus of control. And as a family practice physician, I found myself on the bottom rung of the ladder in this large medical group. Referrals to other specialists were frowned upon, because we primary care physicians, who were paid least, were expected to do everything we possibly could for the patient (the organization financially benefited from this, of course). My work schedule was pre-set: I had no say in how many patients I had to see in a day. And by now I was the single parent of three teenagers! As they were gradually leaving the nest, I realized I was feeling unsettled, and unsure of my place in life. I found myself crying as I was getting ready to go to work in the mornings. I felt overwhelmed by my job, yet I knew I did not want to go from the frying pan into the fire: I could not conceive of trying to go out into private practice myself, and having to deal with all the issues involved, financially and otherwise. A chronic pain insiduously began in the left side of my neck: this was with me constantly every day, for four solid months. I knew it had something to do with allergies, yet I didn't want to just cover up my symptoms by taking palliative medication. The pain did not prevent me from continuing to push myself to work hard, even though I was nearly at the end of my endurance.

Prior to this crisis in my life, I had been fortunate to have several patients who had gone outside of the conventional medical system for care (of course, paying out-of-pocket), and reported back to me how helpful this was to them. I took it all with a grain of salt: after all, wasn't I, as an MD in a big HMO, in the system that really was on top of it all? I kept up faithfully with my continuing medical education, and none of these other modalities had been proven! So how could there be anything to them? In fact, after one of my patients had been, several times, to see Carl Simonton regarding her metastatic (i.e., spread throughout her body) melanoma cancer, and she obviously was doing better, I had asked one of cancer specialists who also took care of her, what he thought of this new approach. (Carl Simonton, MD, was doing a novel holistic approach for cancer patients.) "Hogwash!" said my colleague. So I thought he must be "right:" after all, he was the authority! Who was I to question him! (At that time, I still worshipped authority figures: one doesn't get through medical school without having some of this!)

However, by this time, I had been having my own bouts of sinus infections. During my years in the HMO, these averaged about 2-3 times per year. (As you will see, my sinus infections have been an inestimably valuable teacher for me!) Starting in my residency, I learned that the only thing that would make these infections go away was antibiotics. When it became obvious that they faithfully occurred on the routine evaluations by my boss, I finally found myself acknowledging that stress played a part in the eruption of these infections. So, as a good doctor, I learned that I could take a few days of the antibiotics at the very outset of an infection (every sinus infection sufferer soon learns how to recognize the very earliest stages of their illness), and all the symptoms went away! If I didn't take antibiotics, I'd have varying degrees of sore throat, headaches, etc., for weeks and weeks, until I finally did take the antibiotic. Of course, in so doing, I eventually had a vaginal yeast infections problem, and this also had to be treated with medications. Inside, part of me realized this was not good for my body.

So when one of my holistically oriented patients gently kept encouraging me to seek the care of a local naturopath for my sinus infections, I had finally decided to try this. And I discovered, much to my surprise, that a simple homeopathic remedy and an herb gave me full relief of my sinusitis, within the three days that I had to take them! without any of the side effects of the antibiotics! (I haven't taken any antibiotics since then, about 15 years ago!)

Also, I had begun to attend a "Physicians-In-Transition" group, started by one of my colleagues, as he found himself on a spiritual path, yet desiring support from fellow physicians. This group was extremely important to me: in it I could share my tears and discomfort in front of my fellow colleagues, without fear of being ridiculed for being "weak." (By this time, I had been in therapy for quite a while, gradually learning to actually feel my denied pain and anger, etc.) In addition, I was able to honor, with fellow physicians, the spiritual-emotional-physical ground of our being. I felt as though I had finally come home, feeling this shared acceptance and inner knowing of truth about healing. However, I felt quite conflicted and torn occasionally: how could I keep on attending this, and still function in the closed environment in which I found myself as a busy physician? Fortunately, I chose to continue my own healing in this supportive professional group. From my colleagues there, I heard of the American Holistic Medical Association, and decided to attend an annual meeting.

This meeting was a milestone in my development. I was touched by a presentation of Irving Oyle, D.O., on guided imagery: getting in touch with the inner masculine, feminine and child. He claimed that this was helpful for any problem with work, relationships, or physical health. I decided here was an opportunity to check out my chronic left-sided neck pain. I spent one extra private session with Dr. and Mrs. Oyle there. Most prominent among the images which came up spontaneously for me was that of a very scruffy-looking doe, representing my feminine side. With this I realized I wasn't taking care of myself (after all, weren't "good" doctors and mothers supposed to do everything for their dependents?) With their help in this one session, I allowed myself to realize that I did have options in how I lived my life. I went back to my job, resigned my position as full-time family practice partner physician, and within two weeks my pain was totally gone! (It recurred about once a year, for a few hours at the most, over the next 3 years - just a gentle reminder of my lesson!)

I still worked as a physician, full-time, because of my responsibility to nurture my youngest son as he attended his final year of high school. Yet the overwhelming sense of ultra-responsibility for patients and family was gone! It seemed as though an enormous lead necklace had been removed! Of course, my income was less, but I felt free! I had broken through a self-imposed, previously unconcious block to my growth.

After my son finished high school, I went on my own exploratory journey. In essence I designed my own post-graduate education in healing and growth. Thus I found myself privileged to be able to work in an East-West health center. When my sinus infections recurred, I was treated by a wonderful Chinese physician, who taught me to do the boiling up of the appropiate herbs, and again these got rid of my symptoms by the three-day therapy, without any antibiotic side-effects. However, I still got the infections, and I realized that to me it was important to get to the root of the problem: why were they recurring? I finally took the painful step (painful because I had to admit I needed help) of going to a colleague who did classical homeopathy, and took the remedy he prescribed. This was very helpful (actually, he was treating my entire condition, which included my self-deprecation and depressed state). Yet after three different times of taking this remedy, each about a year apart, they still recurred, although now only once a year. What was at the root of them?? It was a mystery to me.

I also learned other healing and growth methods, along my way. Finally, I did a physician training in Ayurveda, the very ancient natural, holistic healing-medicine system of India. This gave me tools to use in my own consultation practice. Overall, many of the treatments applied to myself were helpful, including the cleansing modes. (From the Ayurvedic prespective, infections and allergies are the result of physiologic imbalances and also toxins, both physical and mental.)

Most recently my learning has been of Causal Release System Training (CRST). This is a very effective mode of releasing old emotional trauma, and getting to the root of any given issue, to clear out the problem at this level. It takes courage, and a deep commitment to one's own growth, to work at this level. My last sinus infection was about two years ago, under great stress traveling across country to a new home. I flared up again with fever, feeling exhausted, green nasal congestion, and sore throat. I had no access to the herbs I'd used in the past. However, I received a CRST session, clearing out tears that I had no idea I had been holding onto - releasing old judgments and blame. Within 24 hours the fever was gone, and over the next couple days I felt well. It recurred in a mild form two weeks later (still a very stressful time!) I received one more CRST session, released again more tears. (I was told that this is what sinus infections represent: old repressed tears.) The next day I felt well, and have had no further flare- ups. By the way, I have done many CRST sessions since, both on myself, and facilitated by others, and released even more tears!

So now, at this stage in my life, when most doctors would be retiring (!), I am actually enjoying the sessions I do for patients, as I am learning to structure them in a way that feels comfortable for me. (I did appreciate my interactions with patients in the past, but I always felt too rushed in the time constraints I was given.) And I'm planning on broadening the scope of what I offer, so that I combine the best of what I do in both conventional and complementary approaches.

Each of us in on a journey in this lifetime: a magical wondrous journey. It is our choice what path we take. For those willing to accept it, we each have all the guidance we need to learn to make the choices that enhance our growth: our love (of self and others) and our trust. (Sometimes,of course, the lessons may come in the form of physical symptoms to be decoded, or even so-called accidents! Or they may be words which touch us, as they are quietly spoken by another person, even by ourselves! or as a phrase or a story in a book.) If we are willing to embark on the path that our soul is calling us to take, all we have to do is to ask for help, and be willing to truly follow what we receive in our innermost heart as to the next step to take. Yes, there'll be mid- course corrections ("mis-takes") along the path, from time to time. And from time to time, you may feel fleeting discouragement and fear. Yet taking the risk to find your own adventure, your own path, IS worth all the commitment that it takes! Bon Voyage!

By Elizabeth Z. Coleman, MD

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