September 1st, 2010 - I remember it vividly. I was finishing my morning clinic which had been a typical hectic schedule. I knew my husband Mike had called, but I let it go to voicemail. In the back of my mind, something nagged at me; he had left more than one message which was unusual. He typically left one message letting me know off what part of the island (Kauai) he was diving. Just before lunch, I retrieved the most recent message and was shocked to hear someone’s voice other than Mike - “Hello, this is the Poipu lifeguard. Your husband has been in a dive accident…” (My heart still races when I recall listening to this message). I don’t remember much after that other than something about an ambulance on the way to Wilcox ER - the emergency room located just outside my clinic. After letting staff know to cancel the rest of my patients, I headed to the ER.
The month prior to this incident, I remember thinking at times, our life is so hectic. Between my full-time clinic position, my husband’s dive business, and my (at-the-time) 8 year old daughter’s schedule, there was little time to enjoy and breathe. I would fleetingly think at times - this life is too crazy, something has to give (at times later guiltily thinking of my husband‘s accident). I had increasingly become more unsatisfied with my work as an internist in an all-too-busy primary care practice. If I was not satisfied, how could my patients be satisfied? I was beginning to realize how little my medical school and residency prepared me to deal with the management of chronic diseases which was the crux of my practice. More importantly, I felt that I may be “treating” my patients, but I was not truly making them healthier.
At that time in my life, I felt I had come to a fork in the road. I could continue down the same path - not passionate about the care I was providing and increasingly worried that our family was too busy to enjoy each other or ourselves as individuals. Or I could choose a path of change and growth. Now, “change” for me never came easily (I am the first to admit I am probably too much a creature of habit). But in my heart, I knew there had to be a better way.
Over the course of the next year, many things began to alter my perspective. I read the “Power of Now” and “Heal Thyself: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine”, thus opening my eyes to the power of being present. Just this small shift with my patients had such an impact. I began practicing yoga - at first for a new form of exercise, not realizing the true gift of the practice. Slowly I began to understand the power of mind-body medicine through yoga with my own self-healing. I watched “Forks Over Knives” and “Food Matters” - realizing how I had completely missed the boat when it came to understanding nutrition and chronic disease. This ignited a passion about using food as medicine.
Then, I really started taking a hard look at the way I practiced medicine. I had slowly become disheartened over the years by the lack of true healing for most of my patients. If all of these pills and 5 minute (if that) encouragements to lose weight, exercise and eat right were working, why were so many of my patients returning time and time again with similar complaints? Why were they ending up on more pills over the years and more and more complications? I started reaching out to some other practitioners and realizing I was not alone in my thinking. Through one of these doctors, I was introduced to Dr. Mimi Guarneri and the world of Integrative Medicine. Mimi came to our little hospital on Kauai to give a presentation and it all began to make sense. You know the saying a picture is worth a thousand words? It only took 2 slides for me to clearly see the beauty and logic in this type of practice. The first slide depicted 2 janitors mopping up a roomful of water with their backs facing an overflowing sink. I was using pills to treat reflux, blood pressure and diabetes, but all the while the sink was still overflowing with causes of the problems that were not being addressed. The other picture was a tree representing a patient - dead leaves of her hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease all being “treated” with lisinopril, metformin and atorvastatin. But I was ignoring the most important thing - watering and fertilizing the roots of the tree.
From there, it has continued to be a journey of my own self-healing as well as an exploration into this fascinating world of various healing practices of which I was so ignorant. I say “ignorant” because I had been aware of acupuncture, naturopathy, chiropractors, healing touch and other forms of “alternative” therapies, but had never taken the time to really learn about them and the incredible amount of scientific research supporting their use. Moreover, I really began to question my entire approach to patient care - realizing that so much of what I see in my clinic (eg diabetes, dementia, irritable bowel, anxiety) largely has its roots in nutrition, stress, activity level, and toxins. I am trying now to take a more holistic approach with patients and slowly helping patients realize their potential for change and growth in order to achieve more optimal health. The journey for me is in its infancy as I realized after attending the 2013 Science and Clinical Application of Integrative Holistic Medicine. The conference, though, confirmed my belief that this path is leading towards a place of passion, love, and true health for me and my patients.
And now, at the end, you may ask what became of my husband? After 17 treatments in the hyperbaric chamber, an unrelenting determination to walk again, an inspiring physical therapist, and months of retraining his neurological pathways, my husband is doing well. He unfortunately will never dive again, but continues to work on the ocean where I know he finds his inner peace.