Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bitter as kale and goldenseal.

"Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home:
Thou art not my friend, and I'm not thine."
                              --Ralph Waldo Emerson
I'm done with my career. My current one. And I'm moving on to a new that is more in line with my values, my strengths, and my passion. And fortunately, it is in a field for which there is a need, one that will contribute to the betterment of society.

Over the past eight years, I have gone from being the only person in my practice (read: no admin help, no assistants of ANY sort...I was everything and everyone rolled up in one), to being quasikindasortabutnotreally part of another chiropractic practice (and oh boy was THAT not fun), to being business-wise on my own but with administrative support in a building with practitioners of a similar bent (the best situation). Each iteration has resulted in less-than-stellar results to the bottom line, and much personal and professional struggle. It's hard to be in this field when you're surrounded by people (including the spouse you are around more than anyone) who are at least dubious, if not outright skeptical and dismissive of your field and the good you can do/have done in it. Such a lack of support tears at you like daily paper cuts made with a razor-sharp sheet of copper.

I'm leaving this line of work with not a little bit of bitterness. In retrospect, so many of the signs were there all along. I was never that much into the medical field originally. In school, anatomy and physiology never really grabbed me. Nutrition bored me. My fellow students' foul stench of entitlement and political correctness grated on my nerves to no end. The woo-woo component irked the solid, grounded side of me tremendously. Heck, even one of the most prominent members of the naturopathic community, Dr. Michael Cronin, once told me, point-blank, "Don't do it" when I asked him advice about going into naturopathic medicine back in 1997. Maybe he saw something incongruent in me I didn't...or maybe he was just similarly bitter about the profession at the time.

Having said that, botanical medicine and homeopathy were fascinating. (And no, the irony of being enamored by homeopathy while cringing at the woo does not escape me.) I cannot overstate the joy I had upon drinking licorice tea for a week and, as a result, obliterating a cold which otherwise would have given me bronchitis for months on end. Nor can I deny how one particular homeopathic remedy helped me mature tremendously over the span of six months, helping me emotionally feel no longer like a boy trapped in a man's body, but as a full-grown man. And I've seen homeopathy successfully treat - and sometimes end - depression, anxiety, alcoholism, food cravings, allergies, asthma, food poisoning, minor hemorrhages, PMS...the list goes on and on.

Conventional medicine is very well established, with plenty of infrastructure and plenty of opportunity for students, residents, fellows, and doctors to observe, learn, teach, and otherwise apply their knowledge for (hopefully) the betterment of their patients. Unfortunately, my experience - and that of many of my patients - has only borne this conclusion through significantly less often than is ideal. Hence the need for the medicine I have been practicing for eight years. But the support in conventional medicine is profound compared with the brittle infrastructure of much of what I consider traditional medicine. Few residencies exist after school, be it naturopathic, acupuncture, chiropractic, or some similar practice. Hospital privileges are virtually unheard of. Students are graduated and given diplomas and licenses, and are shoved out into the business world to start their practices with naught but the most menial of business education, frequently placed on a quicksand foundation of little interest or acumen in business in the first place.

Bitterness also rears its ugly head when I watch the nightly news and see minute-long pharmaceutical commercials, with lists of side effects that take up half the ad. Pharm companies spend millions to get these commercials out there. And the medicine I practice gets swept under the rug, or at most gets tolerated by the media outlets. So I shake my fist impotently at the universe.

More bitterness? I am sick of playing Cassandra. She was a woman in Greek mythology who had the gift of prophecy, but the curse of having no one believe her. I'm sick of people complaining online about their illnesses while knowing that knowledge I have could help them tremendously, even more than the conventional medicine they rely on. For example, hearing people complain about having the flu for weeks on end grated on my nerves, knowing that a tasty syrup made from black elderberries could cure them of the flu within 3 days, and powerfully alleviate symptoms within 24 hours. And my advice - from a doctor! - to take said syrup went unheeded I can't tell you how often. Lesson learned: I shouldn't dole out free advice on the internet.

I resent the sentiment that caring about the food you eat is elitist. Sure, people can have a legitimate beef with Whole Foods/Whole Paycheck, which has an undeniable elitist bent. When you bring that sentiment to the realm of farmers markets, though, it's just invalid. Besides, why would you not want to feed yourself with the best food possible, when tremendous evidence exists that pesticides (stored in containers marked with skulls and crossbones) are the basis for a wide swath of diseases? The same claims exist for genetically modified organisms. Or how about the current obesity epidemic? Among a multitude of other factors, it seems pretty plausible that the growth hormones that we give cattle and swine to help them grow to insane and unhealthy sizes for our dinner plates might also be helping us humans to grow to insane and unhealthy sizes, too. Why is wanting to avoid these things elitist?

Tangentially, I had a brother-in-law who was the epitome of the salt of the earth. Great guy, but our politics diverged diametrically, and while I was trying to build a career on optimizing one's diet (among other things), he scorned the idea of eating for your health, and despite a dangerous lifestyle that shot his cardiac risk factors through the roof, he wouldn't budge his habits for the sake of his health - nor for the sake of those around him who loved him. (Whole Foods, I'm certain, represented an unpatriotic way of life, anathema to him.) And six months ago, he stopped having to worry about health forevermore thanks to a massive heart attack, leaving behind a fiancee with a debilitating chronic neurologic condition, bills to pay, and a full house to take care of. Not caring about what you eat can, in some cases, be tremendously selfish and hurtful to those around you.

One more thing that gets to me: had I listened to myself and heeded myself years ago and followed my love of words to its conclusion, I might not be in this situation. Or maybe I might. But I harbor even more resentment about taking to heart the advice of disinterested adults at dinner parties who smiled indulgently at my passion for language, then derided my choice of linguistics as a major as being too boring. Or what about journalism? Oh, but that's stupid, see, because then you'll only write about what other people do, instead of doing those things yourself. (Not a word said about how journalism ends up requiring you in some cases to go out and explore said things, instead of merely reading about them in the newspaper or seeing them on TV.) God forfend I should consider dead end. Only but so I graduated from one of the top music schools in the nation, and while many of my music major friends were being placed into jobs directly out of school, I graduated with a degree that never earned me one penny.

So I give up. I'm leaving the tribe. This profession is made for those with steelier spines than mine, for people who can walk their talk more firmly and passionately than I, for people who refuse to let their world view be tainted with bitterness, for people who are damn near superhuman. These doctors deserve a world of respect and acknowledgement. And more practically, they deserve a world of patients...and patients deserve them. And I will be a lifetime patient of naturopathic doctors.

I have few illusions about the field I'm going into. It is not the most lucrative. It is highly specialized. Heck, I can count the number of professionals in this field on one hand. But there is undeniably a demand, and I'm not sure I will be idle for long. And I can honestly say it is where my heart lies right now. Is it as prestigious as being a doctor? Not really, but what is? I can get used to shaking my fist at the universe - the one I've already used - for the injustice that being a professional educator is a fraction as prestigious as being a doctor. Oh well. I guess the lesson here is that you'll find injustice everywhere you look.

Having said that, I'm adhering to the Tammy Wynette school of philosophy. Despite being so successful in music, she maintained her beautician's license all her life, because...well, you never know what life may deal you, and she always wanted that safety net. I admire that kind of pragmatism. Similarly, maybe I'll come back around to this field in some capacity in the future, so I'll keep my licenses active, quite possibly for life.

But for now, I'm leaving, with a big fat gluten-filled chip on my shoulder and a lot of self-learning to do.

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