What to do when your doctor doesn’t know what to do

by Gael Wheeler, DO

Many years ago a seemingly healthy 26 year old woman received a scratch from a rose bush. The resulting infection triggered an autoimmune reaction with inflammation and swelling in the affected arm spreading to the neck, back and legs.

After extensive testing, a Rheumatologist told her that she had a genetic predisposition to this inflammation and now that it had been triggered, nothing could be done. He predicted that before long she would not be able to walk and should plan on being in a wheelchair. And, she’d likely lose her eyesight. She would need to stay on strong drugs to try to control pain, but still would be disabled.

As the mother of a six year old, she decided this prognosis was unacceptable. She searched and found a pain management physician who taught her that a genetic predisposition is not a prediction of what will happen but what could happen. She learned that environmental exposures a person has and choices they make can turn on or off different genes. This knowledge was a game changer.

She found another physician who specialized in a Functional Medicine approach and learned about the power of nutrient and lifestyle choices and how the health of the digestive tract can affect the immune system. She learned about how habits of thought, meditation and stress management can affect the immune system. She learned about the therapeutic effects of targeted exercise and movement.

Within a year of that rose bush scratch, she was pain free and had her life back. Her journey to wellness had many turns and required tremendous commitment. She learned a lot in those few years and below are a few of those lessons. Oh, and by the way, that young woman was me.

First of all, it’s important to understand that no doctor knows everything. Each doctor has their own strengths, training and level of experience. Find the value that is relevant to you and then move on if you need more. Shaming a doctor because they don’t have all the answers for you is not helpful for you or them.

Second, each patient’s journey to better health is as unique as they are. Each person has their own genetic predisposition, their own environmental exposures and history, their own habits of lifestyle and beliefs. All of these play a part in making a person who they are at any given moment. There is no magic bullet, no straight path. It requires curiosity, research and a lot of patience.

Lastly, each person must take personal responsibility to seize their intent and do the hard work to make improvement possible. Moving toward good health is a process. In conventional medicine, people are often passive recipients of symptom control.

In Integrative Medicine, people are often looking for “something natural” to control their symptoms instead of a drug. But, is this real health? To truly improve one’s health requires a paradigm shift to being an active creator of health improvement. It requires understanding our physiology and doing what we can to support that. It requires personal commitment; that’s what builds Real Health.