Good for what Heals you

There is something beautiful about coming home. I’ve spent the last 3 months soaking up every second of being here, coming back to what is familiar, what has shaped me, what grounds me, who loves me, who has always been there. What I’ve had the fortune to experience, is to continually come back to what I know with new eyes and new perspectives from this life I have designed.

I’ve written some about how last year challenged me. I started waking up to some ugly things in our healthcare system that didn’t sit well with my morals. I struggled to play the chameleon role of a travel PT while avoiding pulling all of my hair out and screaming from the top of the mountain THIS IS NOT OK!! I worked hard to go back to my roots and make a perspective shift which helped.

Then I came home this winter to work per diem at the same job that I apprehensively left almost 5 years ago (wow) to pursue travel. I was a student when I was placed in this clinic for a manual therapy based outpatient orthopedic rotation, my choice for one of my final clinicals. I was welcomed into the most loving, fostering environment that absolutely rocked my world with the manual skills I learned. This place was like nowhere else I had been as a PT and my soul was screaming out that this is how I wanted to practice. Their holistic approach, caring attitude, and breadth of what they had to offer was unmatched. I absorbed everything I could from the therapists that had been there for 20-40 years and gratefully accepted my first PT job after I graduated. I am so proud to have had my start here because it engrained in my moral being that quality and caring is what is healing. That so perfectly aligned with how I operate and is woven into how I practice no matter where I go. So coming back here the past few months has really helped fortify my mission.

I am proud that when I am faced with ethical situations, I refuse to compromise my morals. But it has put me in the boxing ring with a failed healthcare system more times than I have hair left to pull out.

So instead I’m going to fight back. Excuse me but I have to get on my soapbox for a minute. There’s a corporate culture driving our healthcare system that blinds us from letting our bodies do what they were meant to do: heal. An acupuncturist gave me a perspective many years ago that I have never forgotten. He pointed out that our Western medicine was born out of the war. We learned how to triage patients, provide emergency care, and hone surgery and life saving measures that are unparalleled. There is no doubt that for acute injury or trauma, I want my care provided in the United States. The acupuncturist then explained how traditional medicine has come from hundreds of years of observing the body, preventative medicine, witnessing health. And that is what our Western medicine is lacking. We just don’t come from that perspective. Our doctors want to make our patients happy. We can ease the symptoms, we can fix it with surgery, we can inject something that will take the pain away for a while. And then we drive all of that from the power of pharmaceutical companies that make it even easier to “pop this pill!” And CEOs make billions of dollars, and we keep getting sicker. And all of this is mindlessly accepted by a culture that is lazy. We often joke in the PT world: If your doctor told you they had a new pill you could take that could significantly lower you blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, reduce anxiety and depression, cause you to lose weight and improve strength, and boost serotonin and other feel good chemicals, and has absolutely no side effects, would you take it? What if we told you that pill was called exercise? Somehow that’s a punchline.

All of the above is laden with my subjective opinion and personal experience. But I can tell you as fact that when I talk to my patients, the overwhelming majority tell me they don’t want to take pain medication- they don’t like how they feel when they take it, or they are not sure if it is actually helping. I understand that the population I am seeing may be biased because they are actually seeking physical therapy and conservative ways of managing pain, but in the midst of “opiod crisis” I don’t see it driven by the patient. We are consumers and we are mindlessly consuming information in a society that accepts that doctor is God.

Yup, I said it. And I will say it again: Your doctor is not God.

Does your doctor want to help you? Yes. But you must always consider the restraints doctors in our system have. I educate my patients on this all of the time. When it comes to managing pain, your doctor will likely give you these options: refer you elsewhere, prescribe pain medication, injections, or surgery. When you put the onus on them to help you, that’s what they will have to offer you. I am in no way minimizing doctors. (Otherwise I wouldn’t be one..) We need a team. I have a variety of different kinds of doctors I turn to and refer patients to. But for my own health, I am the quarterback. I know my teammates strengths and weaknesses and I make the decisions on who to throw the ball to in certain situations. Look at the big picture. Climbing down from the soapbox…

…But seriously. We have to put the onus on ourselves. Our bodies are fantastically designed to heal themselves. There is an excellent Netflix documentary called “Heal.” In it, there is a physician commenting on drug trials, and why he was so intrigued with how placebo trials often proved to have the same effectiveness, some times better, than the drug being tested. Why is this? In order for a drug to be able to have an effect, our bodies have to have receptors for them which can start a chemical process. If our bodies naturally have receptors, that must mean our bodies themselves produce those same chemicals we are putting into drugs! If our bodies believe we are receiving that chemical, all those receptors go to work. How powerful is that. We don’t need to administer the drug via pharmaceuticals. Instead all we are getting for the hefty price tag is a host of side effects we will likely need other drugs to combat. And so begins the medication list cycle of doom.

There is an interesting placebo study done on arthroscopic knee surgery I tell my patients about all the time as well. Three groups of patients with symptoms of knee osteoarthritis undergo procedures (1) debridement (surgically cleaning out the joint), (2) lavage (just washing out the joint) and (3) placebo, where the surgeon makes the portals in the knee, inserts the instruments, does nothing, and ends the surgery. Amazingly, the 3rd group has most significant short term relief of pain and all three groups have nearly identical results at two years post-surgery. All three groups simply believe they had the surgery and their bodies go to work responding to those beliefs.

I believe that you can manifest illness just as much as you can manifest health. That is why I work so hard with my patients to shift their beliefs so they are in charge. Our bodies are more incredible than we can even understand and are made to heal themselves. It is our job to provide them the environment to do so. The best things that we can do are to nourish ourselves with good foods, MOVE (blatant and unapologetic endorsement to find yourself a good physical therapist), and reduce stress. Shift your perspective from attending to everything that ails you, to going inward and learning what makes you better.

I’ve personally been working on that last part consciously for the past year but subliminally probably forever. Like all of us, I’m on a journey to find happiness, love, fulfillment, hearts stars and horseshoes- whatever you want to call it. But I think it all stems from the desire to be well. Stop focusing on what is wrong with you. Focus on what makes you better, on what heals you. What do you eat that makes your body feel energized? What do you do that makes you strong? What are you proud of? Who are you spending time with when you feel like your best self? Where do you go that makes you feel alive?

“You are the books you read, the films you watch, the music you listen to, the people you meet, the dreams you have, and the conversations you engage in. You are what you take from these.” –Jac Vanek

My travel journey has been helping me learn the proper questions to ask myself, and align my lifestyle to match the answers. I’m grateful to have a platform as a physical therapist, to reach people all over the country, to teach people to heal themselves and hopefully make a little ripple that gets our world changing. We all have unique journeys to find what it is that heals us.

As Glinda the Good Witch says in the Wizard of Oz, “You have always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.”

Hannah

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