Before my diagnosis of CFS and fibromyalgia, I considered alternative medicine to be a bunch of malarkey. In my early 30s, I had actually gone to a chinese herbalist on the recommendation of a colleague who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I went to the Asian Plaza near downtown Cleveland and entered the mall which smelled of chinese food, dead fish, and many other unrecognizable odors. Asian Plaza is actually a wonderful jewel in Cleveland with a sizeable Asian grocery store, good food, and fun stores.
I found the little office and sat down at the desk across from the Chinese ‘doctor’. His wall was filled with jars of unidentifiable ‘herbs’ labeled in Chinese. The ‘doctor’ felt my pulse, and in broken English, told me he could help with my hypothyroidism and I should stop taking the medication I had been on for years. I faithfully combined the herbs in water, boiled them for the prescribed time and drank the nasty liquid regularly. I did feel better for a while until a doctor looked at my thyroid and said it was enlarged. I also learned that one of the patients (not my colleague) who I had met had succumbed to her illness despite the Chinese doctor’s assurances that he would cure her.
I did not go back to him and was angry at myself for wasting my time and money. Even more so, I was angry at this quack who was making false promises to people who were very ill – telling them to stop medications, not to bother with other treatments, as his ancient medicine was reliable and a cure-all. I realize that people with serious illnesses are desperate for relief and hope but do not agree with the idea of totally giving up on western medicine. Hope is important in healing and prolonging life but giving up and discounting modern medicine is not reasonable. Even though I have been misdiagnosed and wasted hundreds of dollars on prescriptions, I have not given up on my doctors.
Years after visiting the Chinese hack (who was shut down and likely shipped back to China), I found myself doing research on alternative medicine. I had a wonderful doctor who I trusted implicitly but he admitted that he could not cure me of CFS and fibromyalgia. This was not good enough for me. I bought books on my afflictions and surfed the web for information on methods that proved effective. One of the treatments I learned about was acupuncture. I asked Dr. S what he thought of my exploration and he was encouraging.
A friend told me of someone she went to who treated patients with a variety of methods including acupuncture. I made an appointment and was surprised to learn that his office was in his lovely Shaker Heights, Ohio home. I don’t know what to call this man as he was not a medical doctor nor was he a doctor of osteopathy though he had many years of studying and practicing alternative medicine. I’ll just call him an alternative therapist.
After a short interview, I was told to lied down on his table and he proceeded to insert acupuncture needles through my clothes. He yanked down my ear lobes which cracked and was mildly uncomfortable which he said would open my ears. I was told that I had too many metals in my system and did some kind of treatments that I no longer recall but I found it all strange. I visited this therapist several times but was not convinced that he was helping though he had calmed my migraines. After talking to my doctor about my frustration, he gave me the name of an acupuncturist he knew who had been a physician at a Cleveland hospital before studying and become licensed to practice acupuncture. It was made clear that this was not a referral so I understood that I was exploring acupuncture on my own.
I met with Dr. H in an office building where he had turned several offices into medical rooms. After an hour interview and discussion, I was given a hospital gown and lay down on the examination bed. And so began my 6 month treatment of acupuncture. For the first month or two, I was given herbal medicine and received weekly acupuncture treatments. While it was not immediate, I slowly found myself feeling better. My strength was returning, I was concentrating better, and I was sleeping through the night. I even began to wean myself of most of the prescription medication – with my Dr. S’s approval and oversight. After six months, I felt like a new person. I had energy and believed I was cured. I continued acupuncture treatments occasionally for a few more months then decided I no longer needed it. To treat myself, I planned a trip to hike the Inca trail to Macchu Picchu. It was a place I always wanted to visit and couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my new-found health. More about that experience another time.
Newly convinced that there are benefits to alternative medicine, I continued my exploration and found that there was something called complementary medicine, which I refer to as integrative medicine. The logic of integrative medicine is that both the benefits of ancient medical practices and western medicine can be used to treat patients. I became familiar with The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) which is part of the National Institutes of Health. NCCAM does research on alternative health care, offers grants, and provides helpful health information. There is still a lot of nonsense on the web and it is sometimes difficult to know what is legitimate. NCCAM is a good place to start for anyone interested in research.
NCCAM website: http://nccam.nih.gov/
One idea that I had but never got off the ground was to develop a national database of licensed alternative practitioners. Sort of like Angie’s List, which provides recommended repairmen from and for subscribers, my thought was that there is a need for people to have easier and reliable access to legitimate doctors and therapists. I never did get my idea off the ground but I still think it is a pretty good one. Even though integrative medicine is becoming more accepted and research is showing promise of wider appreciation of treatments like acupuncture, there is still so little known by the majority of public.
I now think there is value to exploring and trying alternative treatments but also think it is critical to remain connected with doctors. Not all doctors are willing to accept a patient’s interest in trying alternative medicine but more are becoming aware of the potential benefits.