By Stephanie Schneider LAc, AyD
“A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how, by his own thought, to derive benefit from his illnesses.”
From the origins of mankind throughout the world, the medicine man, the shaman, the rishi or the healer were all highly revered in their given communities. In Vedic culture, the doctor was said to have obtained his knowledge not only through rigorous study but also as a conduit of the deities that bestowed health and well-being upon all people. Healers were given an elevated rank in society that paralleled that of spiritual and holy beings. Great figures such as Hippocrates of Greece, Cassius of ancient Rome, and Sushruta and Charaka from the ancient Vedic times all sought for a betterment of humanity and aspired to make quality of life greater for all. They sought to understand and share the wisdom of what health entailed, and how disease could effectively be treated. Their lives were dedicated to medicine and they used minimal instruments for maximal healing results. In any case and in any era, one of the greatest pursuits a human being can aspire to is service to others; to lead them to healthier, more productive, exemplary lives.
The ancient physicians quenched their thirst for knowledge with intensive observation and study. While many of these healers were focused on the physical body, they also recognized the strong link between the spirit and the physical form. In those times, the practice of medicine, while rather primitive, was unadulterated and pure. The early physicians did not have the legal or social pressures and ramifications of doctors in today’s world. They also did not face the pollution, travel, environmental toxins, and social disengagement that are present today. This allowed them to view health from a somewhat less complex perspective. Their time was largely dedicated to their medical and philosophical pursuits, though they did not have the advanced capabilities to address microbiology, bacteria, or genetically triggered conditions. Regardless, the knowledge passed on by the great physicians of earlier generations still strongly influences modern medicine. There were far fewer doctors in the days of Hippocrates and those of his era, and high tech laboratories were quite far into the distant future. Considering the lack of technology coupled with the ability of those great physicians to discover aspects of health and medicine renders their timeless approaches to medicine noteworthy and exemplary. It is a testament to their focus, intense perceptive capacities and devotion to medicine.
In modern medicine, due to the incredible advances in technology, the field becomes more and more specialized and the treatment of diseases becomes the focus. The patient as an individual often goes lost. The inspiring doctors of our time, however, often have characteristics similar to doctors of ancient times; they address each patient as an individual, not as merely an illness to be treated. Dedication to the true practice of medicine, devotion to its comprehensive study and guidelines, both ethical and moral, is essential for medical doctors to excel in their field. Success in medicine lies far behind the monetary compensation received. True success occurs when the physician reaches into the life of the patient, recognizes the imbalances and illness, and has the knowledge and technology to reset and rebalance that person’s health.
Today, the concerns of malpractice, the cost of education, insurance issues, and other extraneous problems that involve the practice of medicine often deter many from even beginning the arduous study that becomes ones life’s work. The pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying and heavy investments in medicating our societies overtake the sincere desire of many medical practitioners to heal others. In today’s medical climate, receiving proper care is a difficult and costly feat for both practitioner and patient. Hence more and more doctors find themselves retiring or stepping beyond the constricting rules of the medical organizations. The practice of medicine has become highly controlled, increasingly politicized, and more regulated than ever in history. It has become a spiral of cascading effects in which many people do not receive proper care, and the research has become biased towards the pharmaceutical industry that seeks to medicate rather than eradicate illnesses. This leaves the renegade doctors seeking further answers for their patients on the fringe, frequently persecuted by the very organizations that award them their licenses to practice. Most doctors follow the guidelines set forth by regulatory organizations and accept mainstream medical views rather than exploring illnesses on a deeper level for the sake of true knowledge and answers for their ailing patients.
There are, however, doctors that seek to help those that are afflicted with the most difficult conditions and strive to find answers to some of the most pressing and urgent medical dilemmas. This often means going beyond the boundaries of what is considered “mainstream” medicine. Illnesses like cancer, immune dysfunctions, Lyme disease, rampant viral infections, ALS, and other difficult-to-treat conditions beg far greater solutions than the ones that are currently within the acceptable medical guidelines. Most cancer patients that have undergone indiscriminate chemotherapy can attest to its potent and frequently fatal consequences. This is not to say that it is not frequently warranted, but the proper tests must be done to assure the patient’s safety as well as the targeting of the cancer cells. This is merely one of the issues of modern medicine when it is applied in a heavy-handed manner and the finesse of knowledge and science is not properly employed. The individual is lost.
While there are a few medical professionals that rise to the heights of some of the healers of ages past, there are doctors that seek out ways of handling illnesses in a different way, including the cases that are deemed lost causes. These physicians see the individual before them and, prior to writing a script or treatment, the doctor verifies through proper testing that the treatment is tailored to the patient’s unique constellation of symptoms. Often, through their own trials and challenges, the rare doctors that truly revive their patients are molded into remarkable healers with hearts full of compassion, minds full of knowledge, and ability to use it. These healers are spirits that are driven towards healing themselves and others.
Before exploring the challenges faced by medical practitioners today, it is vital to understand the factors that compound the increase in chronic, debilitating illnesses. While modern medicine has developed many new weapons against certain diseases, today people are sicker, suffering from conditions supported by a host of influences. Most of these external influences impact peoples’ well being and heighten their susceptibility to disturbances that make succumbing to dis-ease more likely.
In order to understand health and what leads to it, it is important to acknowledge what creates the environment for health to flourish. The basic needs of pure air, water, and food are essential, as are activity, exercise, and a harmonious social network. After these basics, more specific needs come into play, according to seasons, climate, and individual genetic predispositions. Usually, it is difficult to maintain balance in all of these areas all of the time. For example: not getting enough rest while going through a stressful time at work can be completely normal, but this draws upon other areas, such as the ability to maintain harmonious relationships or spare enough time to unwind and keep physically active. Usually, if these stressful times are episodic, the mind/body system can manage and regenerate without difficulty. However, what sets our modern age apart from those of the past are the unrelenting stressors and lack of forces to assist us in alleviating them. How often do we hear of the single mom going through a divorce, losing her job and not having anyone to turn to? How many times do we hear about environmental pollutants polluting entire communities, as in San Diego in the 2004 when certain companies were dumping toxic wastes into the ground near the drinking supply?
Offices like those of Dr. Rafael Kellman, Dr. Richard Horowitz, and Dr. Giuseppina Feingold are becoming the “new norm” in which Western medicine is blended with nutrition, alternative therapies, and cutting edge science. Labs like Moraga Lab, Igenix Labs in California, and a host of others make it possible for practitioners to access the frontiers of modern medicine. Genetic testing is ever more available through doctors, when a mere five years ago most practitioners didn’t even know what the MTHFR test was; now this genetic test for methylation is commonplace. Acupuncturists have a role in all medical offices, centers and hospitals. Our training, however, can not only be what we learned in classes at highly esteemed colleges, but must also include knowledge from colleagues in neighboring or even opposing fields. It must also involve getting into the public to see and experience the illnesses people are facing. It is to our benefit as well as that of our patients to expand our knowledge far beyond the scope of practice. One doctor that trains medical professionals to go beyond the bounds of conventional medicine is Dr .Dietrich Klinghardt of the Sofia Institute in Seattle, Washington, who works with chronically ill patients presenting with MS, Alzheimer’s, Lyme disease, and severe neurological and immune dysfunctions. He connects the dots between current environmental issues and illness, conducts extensive trainings on parasitic infections, toxicity syndromes, and heavy metal burdens through dental work and other sources, then addresses these conditions with a wide breadth of modalities from neural therapies, ozone, homeopathy, herbology, autohemo therapies, frequency-based therapies, toxin to toxin treatments and more. While his approach may seem extreme, he assists people in regaining their health and doesn’t damage them in the process. He also focuses on the spiritual aspect of the individual through constellation therapies. His approach is comprehensive and a model of medical practices in future years. Acupuncture also plays a role in this approach since it can gently guide the body back to balance, and encourage the reconnection of spirit and physical form. The message for acupuncturists is to continue pushing the limits on education. To understand the illnesses entering clinics today, we have to become versatile, knowledgeable beyond our own field, and ground ourselves in the strong foundation our medicine provides.
In today’s fast-paced world, practitioners need to be armed with knowledge and seek health and wellness themselves so as to be a clear vessel for those they treat. Mental clutter and stress distracts practitioners from their duty to be the best they can for their patients. Self-care and setting an example for our patients is vital in gaining their respect and confidence. A solid focus on current medical topics is part of the necessary arsenal acupuncturists need to be engaged in. Next time a patient with MS, ALS, Lyme, or other illnesses comes in the clinic door, be aware of the origins, treatment options and possibly the referrals that you can provide the patients with. Now more than ever, we need to fortify our abilities with the backup of other practitioners, modalities, and vital components of getting our patients well. In my own case, as a patient that struggled for four years with neurological Lyme disease, I had seen 16 doctors prior to a diagnosis, and had a team of six practitioners I saw to finally regain my health. It was a journey through the medical system on a multitude of levels. No patient should have to go through 16 doctors in order to arrive at a diagnosis, especially since that is only the point of departure for treatments to begin. Without my tenacity as a patient and the intense desire to be well, I would have remained chronically ill and a constant drain on the insurance and medical system. This occurs far too often and the responsibility comes back to practitioners that must be versed in the many modern conditions coming into the medical offices.
In closing, as our world faces more and more challenges on environmental levels, our physical bodies and spiritual well-being reflect these global issues. It is time, as a profession, to arm ourselves with awareness, scientific knowledge and push ourselves to be the best we can be in the name of our profession and in the name of our patients. Working in medicine and being successful requires growth, awareness, and a keen eye. Like Indra, the deity in Vedic times, we need to have eyes all over in order to see all things and even see within for the patient, but also to have the continual awareness of what is happening on the treatment level in our and complementary arenas. It is time for practitioners to live their path. Certainly, current health conditions require that of us.
Stephanie Schneider, a graduate of PCOM-San Diego, has been in practice for 25 years. Having worked with Navy SEALs in Coronado for 8 years, and in NYC at the medical offices of Drs. Kellman and Feingold, she has spent her time dedicated to TCM and Ayurvedic medicine.