Right away the title of my post will separate most readers into one of two camps: half will have their finger poised above the “love” button and the others above the “angry” one. That is a reflection of today’s society: Some people seem to believe that alternative medicine is absurd, nothing more than a pricey placebo effect. Others believe that Western medicine is nothing but a farce that promotes illness for profit. Precious few seem to view them as I do: complementary of one another. As a figure competitor (albeit one on a prolonged health-induced sabbatical), I love natural medicine. Over the years, I have garnered immeasurable benefits from the vast options available to me through naturopathy. However, as much as I enjoy kombucha and acupuncture, I enjoy living more. And I can only do so with the use of conventional medicine.
I have a complicated, potentially life-threatening genetic disorder that requires more than kale and happy thoughts to treat. My illness is hardwired into my DNA. If you could cure it, you would be in Sweden accepting a Nobel prize in medicine, not touting an herbal blend to “eliminate toxins” in order to facilitate the function of my failing GI tract.
My first and foremost pet peeve is when someone offers a holistic “cure” for my illness. It has happened to me for years, but since I have been slated to have the remainder of my colon removed and a permanent ileostomy placed next month, people have been coming out of the woodwork to propose alternative methods to heal my ailments.
In the hospital about a month ago, I struck up a conversation with a woman waiting alongside me in the emergency room. Upon my eventually telling her about my upcoming surgery, she said, “Wait, have you tried diatomaceous earth first? It will cleanse the toxins in your bowel.”
At a fitness competition, a woman at a booth enthusiastically promised me that their MLM product would cure my “tummy troubles.”
A nursing assistant recently asked if I had used that special brand of yogurt that promotes bowel movements.
Someone recently insinuated on Facebook that gastroparesis could be cured with a positive attitude.
Last weekend, after inquiring about my surgery, a woman asked if they could refer me to their naturopath.
I never quite know how to respond in these situations. I seethe with a disheartened frustration so profoundly that I can usually only sputter something along the lines of “Yeah…thanks.” Or proffer a half-hearted attempt at explaining my underlying physiology that renders such methods ineffective.
I know their intentions are altruistic, which is why I hold myself back from issuing an angry reply. I truly appreciate suggestions in and of themselves: it’s the subsequent and fervent insistence that their idea will restore me to good health – usually with the aid of pseudo-scientific claims – that infuriates me. By proposing that their special mushroom blend or three-week water fast is going to make me healthy again, these individuals are entirely denigrating the struggle that has in part shaped the person I am today. What people like me need is awareness: so many chronic illnesses are currently poorly understood and treated, leaving those with them feeling isolated and similarly misunderstood. Downgrading their disease to nothing more than a pesky nuisance helps perpetuate the global apathy that is afflicting them.
I find it insulting when someone implies I am having this major, life-altering surgery before having exhausted every available remedy first. I have done everything short of forming a drum circle and a seance to avoid the ileostomy. Do you believe I would commit to passing my waste into a bag glued to my side for the rest of my life if that silly poop yogurt would help?! If so, then you insinuate that I, as well as others who rely on Western medicine, are ignorant – choosing to remain sick when your product could easily have us back on our feet. Or you, albeit perhaps unknowingly, propose we are exaggerating our illnesses by proposing an easy method of alleviating them. I still fervently believe that alternative and holistic medicine is an important facet of global health and urge others to pursue this avenue in conjunction with their already established methods of treatment. But certainly not with the ideology that it, and not Western medicine, is the only path to health.
Please try to understand that countless individuals like me require the amazing advances of Western medicine to live and thrive. We need you to understand us, not to demean us and the bravery with which we have fought our battles. If you are a naturopathic practitioner of any kind, I thank you for your ardent commitment to the health of others. However, I also urge you to understand that your field has its limits, and you need to recognize them. You have a much-deserved place in medicine, but you need to realize when you don’t.