Complete Wellness

A Place for Healing MindBodySpirit


Alternative/Complimentary Medicine

Going to Not-a-Physician

Today in America the conventional medical practice is modern western medicine. A doctor takes a history, performs an examination and maybe some tests. Then a treatment is ordered or reassurance given as is appropriate. This modern western medicine is a relatively new science, about 100 years old. It is not what I would call traditional. Some of the medical traditions still practiced can be dated back millennia: acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, Ayruvedic medicine.

The idea of using whatever method or methods work for you is where the terms “complementary” and “integrative” medicine come up. Western medicine is based on a Cartesean assumption that the soul and the body are separate and distinct. (Renee DesCartes had to convince the Pope of this concept in his day in order to get permission to dissect corpses.) This assumption becomes problematic in our life experience.

Western medicine has fairly well defined boxes we call “Normal”. We define normal blood pressure, culture results, blood tests for thyroid and hormone function, for fertility, and blood sugar, and cholesterol and a million other things. And to make it even more interesting, “Normal” keeps changing. What was normal for blood pressure is currently considered too high. And what was normal for blood sugar and cholesterol keep shifting downward too.

Sometimes a result will come back “Normal”, but you just don’t feel right. You are inside the box of western medicine’s normal, but you may not be in the right spot in the box for you. Sometimes it’s that we’re testing for the wrong thing and sometimes it’s because western medicine has no way to make the subtle adjustments it might take to get you back to your normal. 

We have big old sledge hammers, like surgery and pharmaceuticals to whack people back into the box when they are outside the parameters of “Normal”. But sometimes you need a feather to gently allow your body to resume its specific proper and normal functioning.

There are some general rules for engaging the services of an alternative practitioner.

I understand deeply that we humans cannot begin to comprehend the complexity of the human body. Our bodies are miraculous, self-sustaining entities that utterly defy our meager intellects. I am greatly amused by physicians who think they know. I often borrow a phrase I read from Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, saying that we have “a few shining shells on the seashore of ignorance”. I humbly acknowledge the great expanse of that sand. We don’t know much

To illustrate this point scatologically, I tell my students that if I sent a pizza to Harvard Medical School, they could not make poop out of it, and we do that without any thought at all. Your rectum can tell the difference between solid, liquid and gas, and is able to let one pass without the other, usually, one hopes.

Our bodies are built to survive. They are tough and smart. Not everybody who had pneumonia died before the age of antibiotics. Generations of people throughout the planet have survived on meager diets of mostly a single food; rice or potatoes for example. These people can grow to adulthood, procreate and those babies grow to adulthood as well. I’m not saying it’s ideal, but it certainly does illustrate the fact that we don’t have to micromanage the miracles that are our bodies. 

As amused as I am by physicians who think they know how things work, I am equally amused by people who fuss about how many milligrams of which type of supplement they ought to take. Is calcium gluconate better than calcium carbonate? How many grams of soy should I be eating?
I tell people to buy reputable supplements that pass the vinegar test. (Any supplement you take should break apart easily if left in plain white kitchen vinegar for 15 minutes.)

The one that is on sale that doesn’t upset your stomach and passes the vinegar test is probably the right on for you.

Don’t get me wrong. I think western medicine is amazing in some really important ways. Trauma care and immunizations are among the best things we have to offer. The lives of people all over have been saved by the use of antibiotics. (That may come back to bite us later…) But certainly, western medicine is not the only valid and useful paradigm for medical care.

There are many good and bad practitioners of each of the myriad healing practices. Trust your intuition. Believe your gut when it comes to choosing someone. There are some basic questions you should ask of anyone who wants to help you with a health problem. 

  1. “Have you seen this kind of problem before?” Your practitioner should have some familiarity with your particular complaint. If he or she does not have some knowledge of the illness, it will be more difficult to address it effectively

  2. “How long until I should expect to see an affect?” He or she should be able to give you an idea as to when there will be a noticeable change. If the answer is reasonable, you can consider this form of treatment and this practitioner. The longer you’ve had a problem, probably the more patient you might have to be, but you don’t have to wait forever.

  3. “What would you expect to be the total duration of treatment?” Again, the longer you’ve had a problem the longer it may take to get to the bottom of it, and there are some problems which might need ongoing maintenance. Get an idea form the practitioner and see if it makes sense to you.

  4. “What would be the expected total cost of treatment?” Again, see if it makes sense to you, and follow your instincts.

You should feel that you are being taken care of. I have never been a fan of the “It’s going to feel worse before it gets better” school of thought. You know the difference between a good hurt and a bad hurt. Use that knowledge. You know when something is helping you or not. Trust yourself. Be wary of practitioners that seem to use fear as a motivator or those who claim to be the only or the best at their modality. Again, gut check. Overly charismatic or paternalistic people should make you consider the motivation. You know.

Any practitioner might be helpful to the extent that they can, and then it is possible that you have to move on when you have gotten all that you can from him or her. It’s not personal, it’s just that you need something else.





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