I’d like to tell you about a new patient I recently began working with. Not only is her case illuminating and educational, but it encapsulates some of the most important themes of the work I do and the approach I take.
Jamie (not her real name) is a 16-year-old high school student who had been suffering sudden, violent stomach pain since January of this year regardless of what she ate. Her mother took her to doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist; she got endoscopies and even an MRI. All tests came up negative. Her doctor prescribed Elavil, an anti-depressant, to relax the nervous system which was mildly helpful; though it did come with the side effect of constant burping. And for a 16-year-old girl in high school, I can only imagine how socially challenging that must have been!
For 10 months, no matter what she ate, she would get this sudden excruciating pain! They only thing she was able to partially tolerate were dairy-based Ensure drinks, which the doctor recommended to get some kind of nutrition in her. She also complained of sinus congestion-- which she thought was due to cats despite having it after eating—knee pain, fatigue, dizziness on changing position, acne on her face, getting cold easily, headaches, and dream-disturbed sleep.
Anytime someone can tell me an exact time when their condition began, that is where we start investigating. I asked her if she had any adverse health events in January. She hadn’t. How about in December? She said she hadn’t. I then asked if she had taken any plane flights. She had gone to New Zealand in December—a 15 hour flight! She then told me that with that flight, as with all other flights, she got sick. I then asked if she had eaten anything unusual in New Zealand: raw milk. It was all starting to come together.
Theme #1: Take a thorough history.
My teacher Dr. Matt likes to say, “If you give patients enough time, they will tell you exactly what is wrong with them. If you give them a little more time, they will tell you what they need to do to fix it.”
Through asking the right questions, and allowing Jamie time to answer them, she basically solved the mystery herself. She picked up a bug on a long plane flight which compromised her immune system. Then she drank raw milk—dairy is a very effective means of harming your immune system and digestion, especially raw dairy. She came back with a sinus infection and a post-nasal drip that never cleared. And every time she ate, she swallowed the bacteria–laden mucus upsetting her stomach and causing her pain. And while she may have been getting some nutrition from the Ensure drinks, the dairy was making her worse.
Theme #2: See the forest through the tress.
Chinese Medicine offers a unique perspective on larger connections in the body. Every organ has an energy channel that is associated with it. What shows up in the organ can show up in the channel and vice versa. In this case, unclean food entered her stomach and the pathology introduced circulated through her body through various pathways. The Stomach channel begins in the sinuses, descends through the jaw into the breast, the stomach itself, through the hip and thigh, into the knee and all the way down to the foot. Notice how much ground the Stomach channel covers and therefore how many structures pathology from digestion can affect. In Jamie’s case, she had sinus congestion, stomach and knee pain.
Unfortunately, our Western Medical model has developed in such a specialized direction that when you have stomach pain you see a Gastro-Enterologist who may only look at your stomach. Yet, despite that expertise, sometimes they can’t see beyond it. With just a better history taken, they could have come to the same conclusion we did. After all, a post-nasal drip is very common.
Theme # 3: Follow my evidenced-based advice
I have learned to never under-estimate how effective our daily lives and choices are in counter-acting even the best therapeutic treatment. This is why I put so much emphasis on making better food choices, one of the main things we actually have control over. And since food is the first to hurt, making better choices is the first step to the letting food help.
As I discussed in my article on Digestion and the Element Earth, sometimes I do a Food-Mood Journal with patients. For 7 days they write down everything they eat and how they feel afterwards. At the end of the week, they will have created so much awareness around their relationship with food that my job is to then simplify and refine their diet. But from my end, among my Basic Food Guidelines, there are 4 types of food I am most direct about avoiding.
- ZERO dairy: it is loaded with bacteria, viruses, hormone residues, and is scientifically linked to just about all the major diseases we suffer from in the US. I have yet to find any patient who is actually benefitted from dairy use. So far, dairy is harmful to everyone I have tested.
- ZERO coffee: highly inflammatory, highly acidic, scientifically linked to cardio-vascular disease, inflammatory joint conditions, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and colon and bladder cancer. The day I find it helps one person is the day I will change the ZERO policy.
- Minimal sugar: sugar feeds all infections and is highly inflammatory, irritates digestion and contributes to diabetes and insulin resistance.
- It is better to cook your vegetables, especially leafy greens: In a single piece of lettuce, you can have e.coli and salmonella. And it is simply hard to adequately clean leafy greens. So a quick steam or sauté of your spinach will go a long way toward helping your digestion.
Jamie took the customized herbs I prescribed, immediately got off the Ensure, followed my advice about easier to digest foods, started doing sinus rinsing twice a day and….
Theme #4: Get quick results!
...within 24 hours started feeling markedly better! And with a short acupuncture treatment, the burping from the Elavil stopped. When I saw her the following week, she was radiant, happy, sleeping, eating and digesting well. We were all so happy that she responded so quickly and could put this health episode past her. I have high expectations for this medicine and work very hard to back up my perspective with verifiable clinical evidence. And while I may dream of helping all of my patients as quickly as I helped Jamie, I do know that when my patients and I follow these themes, quick results can be found.
Theme #5: Sometimes, it’s just that simple!!
At some point I will stop being in awe of what Chinese Medicine can do! Maybe. Jamie and her mother came in my office in such a state of frustration, having gotten nowhere with their conventional doctors. The last thing their doctor suggested was for Jamie to see a psychiatrist! At their wits end is where I met them. Something that seemed so complicated and mysterious, was really quite simple. While I may have been the one to connect some of her dots, she was perfectly compliant with my advice and very active in her own health care. We worked together in partnership to achieve these miraculous results.
Sometimes my patients ask me what more they can do to help themselves. I usually respond, “Do less!” Most of what I do for patients is to help clear away those health obstacles that are keeping them from thriving. I help them pare down, slow down, and pay better attention. Because sometimes….
Sometimes, it’s just that simple!