Updated: Feb 12, 2021
In my years running Vitalize Acupuncture, I found people generally drifted towards alternative medicine for one of three reasons:
They are curious and have been exposed to social constructs and medical practices in alignment with alternative medicine.
They have a symptom or complaint that has not been adequately resolved with allopathic medicine
They feel they have been mistreated by the allopathic medical system and have lost trust in contemporary medicine
I originally attended Chinese Medical school because of reason #1. My mother has been an energy healer disguised as a physical therapist for decades, and so I was naturally interested in other healing modalities. Chinese medicine appeared to be a form of alternative medicine that was tangible, results focused, and had burgeoning research in support of its effects. I was drawn towards its practice because it would allow me to connect with and serve people in a way that felt both scientific, yet also intuitively-guided.
Within the first few months as a student at Chinese Medicine school, I experienced reason #2. I became ill after I neglected a third degree burn (at 22 years old, I didn't always make the brightest decisions). As the skin didn't heal properly, I developed a persistent infection and severe lymphedema. IV Antibiotics and wound care in the hospitals did not help, and I was charged tens of thousands of dollars for this care. A professors of mine guided me towards one of the founders of my school to receive herbal medicine. Within three weeks, the edema and infection had resolved, and I had developed a newfound respect for the medicine I'd committed myself to learning.
Only in the last few weeks have I experienced reason #3, after receiving the Pfizer COVID19 vaccine. With limited data, and at 22 weeks pregnant, I was hesitant to become vaccinated. However, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology was strongly in support of pregnant patients receiving the Coronavirus vaccine. As I was exposed to COVID patients at my job, I decided the benefits outweighed the risks. Eight days after the vaccination, an accident at the hospital I was working in resulted in labs being drawn on me. One of these labs was ALT, a liver enzyme. It was 4x the normal upper limit.
Surprised, I decided to purchase a full lab panel on myself 4 days later, and then 1 week after that. I found that both the AST and ALT were elevated, although my blood glucose, bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase, and platelets were all normal. This told me that all the most common cause for elevated liver enzymes in pregnancy could not be explained by the labs. The isolated elevated ALT and AST could only be attributed to something directly damaging my liver.
Thankfully, both labs have been slowly normalizing over time, and I have not experienced any severe symptoms, but this experience frightened me. I decided it was my responsibility to report this to the hospital that provided the vaccine, and the CDC VAERS (vaccine adverse event reporting system). While reporting to VAERS is fairly straight forward, reporting to the hospital was not. I spent hours on the phone, responding to emails, and completing forms. As someone with no medical conditions, who does not take medication, and has never had an abnormal lab in the past, the cause for the change in liver enzymes was clear to me. However, it was not clear to the hospital. The final email I received from them stated, "I consulted with my supervising attending... based on the data that we have were not able to correlate an elevated ALT level with the vaccination."
In PA school, I learned that some of medicine relies on the need to protect the population over the individual. For example, longterm birth control methods are strongly encouraged, as misuse of condoms and oral contraceptions result in great medical cost each year. This is what I believe I am experiencing, from the other side. The need for the virus to be contained is so great, that as the patient, the information I provided could not be clearly received. I was not trusted, and the information I provided did not appear valid based on the current algorithms.
I do believe there is a need for the virus to become eradicated, and vaccines are a clear means to this end. I do believe I had a rare response, and this might have to do with the fact I am currently pregnant. I am sad to say I've now experienced all three reasons people often seek alternative medical options. Allopathic medicine serves an important role in our healthcare system, and representing the majority offering available to patients, receives the brunt of patient frustration. But it is not completely without warrant, as the healthcare system as a whole makes it difficult for MDs/PAs/NPs to take the time needed to build relationships with their patients, and see them for who they are. Those providers who overcome these hurdles, and are able to truly care for patients in spite of nearly insurmountable barriers are cherished.
I see my experiences as an opportunity for empathy, and I find myself inspired by them in my own medical practice. My goal is to provide individualized, patient-centered medical care, using the best that allopathic and eastern medicine has to offer. I understand the value in making population-based medical recommendations, but it is impossible to know that this is always the appropriate option for a patient. Medicine is imperfect. We do not know as much as we think we do. And therefore, as providers, it is our responsibility to remember the person sitting across from us in our office is human, to be respected, honored, and involved in his or her own care. It is important for providers to continue to educate themselves on how to best serve their patients using a variety of medical options. It is important to remember patients are entrusting their precious health and wellbeing in our hands, and our participation in this is a calling and a gift.
These are my promises to my patients, and it is why I choose independent practice, extended patient visits, and Integrative Medicine, as a patient and provider.
Wishing you the greatest Health and Wellbeing!