It's My Happy Heart You See by Colleen Watkins
"But doctors are people too, and busy or not, respected or not, they will regard themselves as superior beings only as long as we choose to kneel at their feet."
I'm remarkably healthy, fit, and generally optimistic. I think of myself as an empowered health care consumer—making considered choices about the kind of care I want and trust. I have found the "alternative" approach to work best for me because it allows me to feel like a responsible partner in the process of health maintenance. Maintenance is the operative word, and includes everything: house, car, finances, relationships with associates, friends and family, and most of all, me. If I'm not well maintained, nothing else in my world can be.
It is my practice to conserve my resources in the interests of maintenance. That is, to limit my expenditure on dining out, lattés, or expensive entertainments. But my life is full: I enjoy the creative process of food preparation and cooking, and knowing what the ingredients are; I'm actively involved in intellectual and physical pursuits in the community; my family loves me; my friends are supportive. If my energy resources would just keep up with my desires, things would be even better!
But when my left hip suddenly developed what I feared was a case of galloping osteoporosis (causing pain & stiffness, and difficulty in ascending the stairs in my multi-level condo), I was beset by awful fears about my future—especially my ability to maintain my active lifestyle, independence, and resources. A specter of fear began to put a crimp in things, affecting my emotions. I pushed myself to take longer hikes, do more exercises, visualize perfect health, sing my fears away. Nothing worked....
Until an associate happened to mention, in glowing words, the abilities of a naturopath who is also a medical doctor. The axiom "there are no accidents" proved itself. Magic happened. Dr. Pavel Nyvlt (pronounced nee-vult) quickly detected the problem: a pulled muscle in my lower back. He used acupressure, and declared that my bones and joints were perfect, that the muscle was affecting them. Acupressure returns things to where they should be by balancing the body and thus relieving stresses. My fear dissipated along with my pain in the knowledge that I was in good hands.
I found Dr. Nyvlt to be typical of alternative health care practitioners. He used the primary healing tool of active listening, then evaluated the problem holistically and treated the cause of my symptoms. Causes can be physical, emotional, or nutritional—or all three.
He invited me to recall any changes in my recent history. Of course, I couldn't think of a thing—other than the fears generated by my stiff hip and their effects on my emotions. Later, I recalled the new recliner I had indulged in, and the work I did in positioning, then re-positioning it and the rest of my furniture. But considering my fit-and-healthy body, that was the last thing to occur to me as a cause for my painful hip.
The next step in the holistic healing process was to check off an in-depth questionnaire about my nutritional, physical and emotional history.
When my answers were entered into the doctor's computer, it printed out a list of concentrated whole-food supplements that would address some minor imbalances in my system. Dr. Nyvlt assured me, "there's nothing much wrong with you!", then showed me three ideal diets related to the indicated supplements. These were more "ideal" than my own regime-with an even higher percentage of dark, leafy greens, and not including chocolate. At this point my personal empowerment kicked in: I listened, learned, respected the knowledgeable information provided, determined that there were some changes I would make—and that I would continue to savor a little semi-sweet chocolate. It does my heart good.
Until Dr. Nyvlt, I had refused to take supplements on a regular basis because my healthy diet (together with the essential nutrient, chocolate) should provide what my body needs. But the computer print-out indicated that some supplements would enhance the functioning of my organs, taking into account the ravages of time (another of my fears, now that I'm officially a "Senior Citizen"), and other stressors, including environmental toxins, imposed pressures (perceived or otherwise), nutritional and physical challenges to good health-and provide enhanced prospects for the future, which is all I can hope to provide for, actually.
To prove his point, he produced bottles of the indicated supplements and used muscle-testing* to allow my body to decide. It agreed with him.
I questioned Dr. Nyvlt about how my system would react when I stopped taking supplements, and whether or not I might become dependent upon them. The good news is that because these are whole-food supplements, it would be no different from making dietary changes, such as when seasonal vegetables and fruits change. Or, as he put it, "about as much effect as if you stopped eating carrots." Things were looking better and better!
During our discussion of all-of-the-above-and because Dr. Nyvlt allowed plenty of time for the consultation, we covered many areas of health maintenance that one might not normally expect to be so readily addressed in such a matter-of-fact, conversational manner. It was comforting, reassuring, validating.
When I questioned him about my heart function, he produced a little invention he had made from a stethoscope microphone hooked up to his computer. He held the mike against my heart, then printed out a digital cardiophonograph (DCPG) that illustrated my heart function, and at the same time provided information about nutritional support that would help a small irregularity showing on the graph. He assured me it was nothing that couldn't be readily adjusted with vitamin E. And "readily" was the operative word: Dr. Nyvlt gave me three vitamin E supplement pills to chew and 15 minutes later another printout showed the desired improvement. Dr. Nyvlt prescribed ongoing vitamin E to ensure maximal heart support and performance, with the added benefit that it's good for my (aging) skin. Plus, my emotional heart will benefit. I can live with that!
We discussed the different examples of graphs he had on hand, and what supplements and/or diets would correct them. Fascinating stuff! He went on to explain how surgery is mostly unnecessary if people and their doctors take better notice of the first indications of problems, and address them early-on.
The Experiential Difference: Allopathy & Naturopathy My informal and informative discussion with this doctor stands in sharp contrast to my experiences with allopathic physicians. For example, some years ago I totalled my car after skidding on black ice and hitting a pole, doing 180° and hitting it again. I was physically undamaged, thanks no doubt to my seat belt, but I subsequently developed an awful head pain and an aching body. My "regular" doctor couldn't see me for three days, because "It isn't an emergency," and he was booked up. So I waited. When he came into the consulting room, he looked at his watch and said, "Just the facts, ma'am." Perhaps he wanted to avoid any emotional outbursts from me, or maybe he was in too much of a hurry to be bothered. Either way, his attitude did nothing for my body or spirit, and I never took the tranquilizers he quickly prescribed. Nor did I see him again. I went to the Yellow Pages and found an alternative type of care (with "care" being the operative word), and had my first experience with naturopathy: a person who listened with concern to my description of the black ice incident, including the loss I felt about my neat little car that had served so well and so long; and my experience with the medical doctor. This naturopath used hands-on treatments-an overwhelmingly relaxing head-and-face massage, heat and massage for the rest of my aching body—and no drugs. He gave me some exercise regime handouts to help me help myself at home, also. It was a cozy feeling when he described the massage process as "manual choreography."
The author Norman Cousins talked about the physician as communicator, praying that "when [medical students] go into a patient's room they will recognize that the main distance is not from the door to the bed but from the patient's eyes to their own... the shortest distance [being] a horizontal straight line ... it and the importance of the physician's touch as reassurance in the face of a patient's fears." (Healing Heart, 137).
Naturopaths have received this message. Hopefully medical doctors are getting it, too. I wouldn't wish my "Just the facts, ma'am" experience on anyone, including its perpetrator.
Mostly I have found that medical doctors are distracted and in a hurry. They are preceded by one or more underlings who "take down the details," then send in another person to take blood pressure, etc., and announce that "the doctor will be right in." I always take a book. When the doctor enters, he/she seems to be en-route, gives a cursory glance at the previously-noted notes, often asks the same questions but doesn't listen to my responses, and makes amazingly fast determination of treatment. It all seems like such a waste of time and money—theirs and mine. "Quality time" is displaced by their patient load and concomitant pressures.
It's no wonder patients feel overwhelmed, and non-assertive in their state of undress in the doctor's territory. Perhaps, too, early conditioning is responsible for feelings of inadequacy, in which doctors' opinions are equated to god-like pronouncements.
But doctors are people too, and busy or not, respected or not, they will regard themselves as superior beings only as long as we choose to kneel at their feet. My experiences have proved that there's barely time to assume that position anyway. With few exceptions, my loyalties are with alternative medicine.
The politics between conventional western medicine and alternative medicine are divisive and confrontational. But things are changing, slowly. And though nutrition, prevention and emotional well-being are nowhere near the forefront of western medicine, its forté of drugs, surgery and crisis intervention "is absolutely superior," says Dr. Nyvlt.
Reconciliation Ironically, it is this crucial realm of healthcare that most needs healing. For the good of all people who seek care and for all professional practitioners, there must inevitably be healing between the disciplines of allopathy and naturopathy. It is time to end these divisive politics. Ideal healthcare must address the varied needs of people who seek treatment, including treatments that western allopathic medicine is famous for: drugs, surgery and crisis intervention, when appropriate. But people are more than just biological machines, and we need the nurturing qualities I have found with naturopaths in general, and Dr. Nyvlt in particular-qualities like active listening, quality time spent with the healthcare provider, and attention to emotional and nutritional, as well as physical needs.
It is these latter qualities that I like so much about alternative, holistic medicine: they go to the heart of the matter, and address the entire system—physically, nutritionally, emotionally. And that's why my system is feeling so up-beat these days. It's due to my happy heart, you see.
Colleen Watkins is a freelance editor and writer. She currently teaches English as a Second Language to refugees, and is a Reiki therapist. An ex-patriate Kiwi, she has spent more than 30 years living everywhere except New Zealand, but has settled in Portland because it's a most comfortable place to be, and also has similarities to her native land.
cover art © Leo Wyman