“Have a good day, Dad! Go save someone’s life!”
I shouted this every day as my dad dropped me off at middle school. You couldn’t cut through my pride with a laser when I thought about my dad helping patients at his family practice. In fact, one day, a friend said to me, “Hey, Molly! Your dad has touched my balls before!” I brushed it off. He was doing his job – nice try. I was convinced by the “doctor magazines” with pictures of swollen, oozing eyeballs and necrotic patches of skin that my dad was a brilliant medical doctor. I was further persuaded by the fact that he spent hours in his chair reading these nasty publications.
My dad’s commitment rubbed off on me. As I grew, a thick layer of medical ethics settled in my psyche. It spoke of a commitment to active listening, being present with the patient’s concerns, following safety regulations and researching conditions for hours on end, until you have a handle on them – until you can help.
I did not know that these values were inside me until I dusted off the cobwebs during my graduate school program and started speaking my thoughts to a room of bright, medically-minded students. The pull to go into a medical profession existed as a mere hint while I pursued theatre in undergrad, and again as I ran after school programs for at risk youth. It wasn’t until I came across acupuncture that I fell for the bait – hook, line and sinker.
But why acupuncture? Why not nursing? Why not follow in my father’s footsteps with an M.D. like the man I idolize.
The next piece of my past leaves me feeling vulnerable and ashamed when I share it because my entire existence revolves around this one event. It feels like I cannot have a single in-depth conversation without this topic coming up, and the records that play over and over in my mind say that people think I repeatedly bring this up to get attention. I wish that so much of who I am and what I do were not determined by this one event in my life. But it is. I will forever be processing the loss of my mother at 3 years old. She passed away in child birth, and we lost the baby as well. It was a shock for my family and for our small town community. She was truly a light in this life to those who knew her.
After years of processing my mother’s death, I came to a conclusion that deeply impacted my decision to go into Eastern medicine. The Western medical field is mind-blowingly advanced – we can replace a person’s limb, regenerate burnt tissue, read a sequence of DNA, cure diseases that used to cause millions of deaths. But maybe Western medicine does not have all the answers.
It couldn’t save my mom. The doctors didn’t even know there was a problem until it was too late.
I don’t blame the medical community for my mom’s death. I don’t blame anyone. But her loss opened me up to the deepest mysteries of human experience, spirituality, and scientific sink-holes. I was fascinated by any explanation of how the human body works, be it physical, spiritual or emotional. Interest in alternative healing modalities was a natural fit. I place great worth that which has been proven by science, but I understand from the depth of my being that we have not yet uncovered all the answers.
I had a completely positive experience with the healthcare system as I grew up. The nurses let me hang out at the nurse station, drink hospital juice, and make pictures with the color-coding tape (for those of you who did not grow up with hospital nurses as your babysitters, this is the different colors of tape that they used to color code their files). I got to draw on the bottom of the dry erase board where the patients’ initials and room numbers were listed, and our medicine cabinet at home was a mecca of cures. I was Dr. Dyer’s daughter – if I coughed, someone immediately showed up with Robitussin. Heck, I had the greatest healthcare gift of all; a dad to answer my every health-related question or concern. Sickness was never something I had to fear or worry about. I was in good hands.
Despite my comfort with this system, I recognized its limitations. I hated taking medication. I did not always agree with the dietary recommendations that Western medicine embraces. Sometimes it felt like they weren’t really solving problems – they were just masking the symptoms, only for them to return at a later date. The drive to resolve what happened to my mom inside my mind has inspired me to look deeply into the cracks where Western medicine falls short.
One of the things I saw in those cracks was the dehumanization of healthcare.
I went to the McDonald’s of healthcare at Kaiser Permanente for a few years. My time with the doctor was limited to about 10 minutes, during which she stared at a screen, asked me a lot of questions, and typed in my answers. She turned to me for all of 3 minutes to feel my lymph nodes and listen to me breathe through a stethoscope. During that visit, they shipped me in to the office, zipped me over to the treatment room with quick pit stop at the scale and vital signs station. Then, they whizzed me over to the pharmacy and whirled me out the door. “What just happened in there?” I asked myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect doctors. I witnessed the depth of their training and continuing education throughout my life, and I know they act from a place of concern for their patients. On the other hand, I also recognize that they are working for a system that is no longer working for them. My Kaiser doctor tried to ask me about acupuncture, which she seemed to find interesting, but our conversation was cut off mid-sentence by a nurse poking her head in the door to ask a question. And then she was off to a new room and a different patient.
Another time, I went in for my “lovely lady cervix-plucking” (i.e. PAP smear – we all on the same page here?). The doctor did her business and then left the room. She didn’t tell me if I was supposed to get dressed… or leave? She just ran out, left the used, messy tools on the table next to me, and vanished. I slowly sat up, gathered my surroundings and came to the conclusion, “I think I am supposed to leave now.” So, I stood up, got dressed, picked up my things and opened the door. I looked in this direction and that direction. I couldn’t remember for the life of me which direction I came from. This is not an uncommon occurrence for me. After a few minutes of gazing like a lost child through the cubicles in front of me, I found something that resembled an exit. I headed towards it.
“Am I supposed to get a paper from them? Or talk to someone else out here?” I thought as I passed the front desk. At this point, I decided to wrap up my dazed and confused pondering. I thought, “Well, if I was supposed to do something, they sure as shit didn’t mention it.” I walked out.
Even when my dad was not doing the doctoring for me growing up, his partner (my regular MD) asked me questions about myself, looked me in the eyes, spent time truly looking at my body and observing my symptoms. I felt relaxed because my discussions with him made me trust him.
Observation is one of the four key diagnostic criteria in Chinese medicine – you have to actually look at the patient. You cannot make a diagnosis without careful observation. Being a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which includes using acupuncture and herbal remedies, requires connection, active listening, being mindfully present and spending time with the patient. These are all things I experienced while growing up that I have found lacking at times in our Western healthcare conglomerate.
What happened to our medical care system? When did the human connection piece exit stage right? How can we expect to do our jobs effectively as healthcare providers if we don’t observe the person in front of us, or take the time to give them the simple directions of, “You may put your clothes back on.” (…and they wonder why there was a naked man standing in the middle of Colfax a couple weeks ago).
I got lucky – I had an awesome doctor growing up. He paid more attention to me than most doctors do and he showed me what caring and compassionate healthcare looks like. I know that there are still a lot of great doctors out there, working to help humans and make their lives more vibrant and healthy. But the system is changing in a way that decreases the connection between doctor and patient. This connection, in my eyes, is the very heart and soul of healthcare. Empathy plays a huge role in knowing what a person needs to heal, and empathy occurs when we look each other in the eyes, recognize human suffering, and use our intuitive understanding of healing to tailor our approach to that individual’s needs.
We connect, we recognize, we instinctively know how to help. This is the story of our ancestry, and it makes prescribing medicine more effective.
I became an acupuncturist because my father illustrated compassion towards others, because I grappled with the mystery of the divine timing involved in my mother’s death, and because I inherited ethical standards around building trustful patient-practitioner relationships in healthcare. In my journey to embrace Eastern traditions of holistic care, I have used the best examples my Dad offered me and implemented those into a whole-body practice I can share with my patients. I enjoy spending quality, face-to-face time with my clients. I love laughing with them – laughing is central to the healing process. I also appreciate sitting with them while they cry – another essential component to healing.
This human experience is meant to be shared, so if you’re looking for a medical encounter that is about connection, listening and hearing your health concerns, visit me and allow me to provide you with the type of medical care that I have been so lucky to receive. My goal is to help you feel relaxed and cared for in a modern medical setting while addressing your immediate and long-term health goals.
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