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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Gillis

The day I realized my doctor is as “woo-woo" as me

Like many women, I have a deep-seated fear of being judged. Even though I’ve done years of work on this, it’s so rooted in the core of my being that it still creeps into my mind, whispering its lies. That fear often rears its ugly head when I share my unconventional beliefs about medicine and health. In my mind, I see eyes rolling, smirks and raised eyebrows. In my mind, I hear the tsks. “What kind of nonsense is that girl talking about now?” I know this is my subconscious speaking. I know it’s probably not true, but the roots of my fear run deep.

A doctor I’ve been seeing regularly (let’s call him Dr. X) has helped me with this. It’s not what you’d think though. Dr. X isn’t a therapist, or a psychiatrist. He’s a gastroenterologist - a doctor who helps with all things digestion.

“Let’s schedule your next endoscopy…. oh, by the way, do you know about Dr. Joe Dispensa’s meditations?” Dr. X turned from his computer screen to look at me after a few moments of silence. He’d caught me off guard. Hearing the words “meditation” and “Joe Dispensa” come from a man in a white lab coat who spends his days writing prescriptions was… unexpected.

I did, in fact, know about Joe Dispensa. I’d read his book and practiced his visualizations regularly. Dr. Joe claims to have healed his shattered spine by visualizing his vertebra piecing themselves back together. He wrote about it in a book called “You are Supernatural,” and his followers say his meditations have reversed their illnesses. This type of thinking obviously flies in the face of conventional medicine - the medicine Dr. X not only practices, but also teaches to future doctors.

I’d already had in depth discussions with Dr. X about gut healing bone broth recipes, how gluten causes leaky gut and our favourite brands of digestive enzymes. None of these things are taught in medical school. Naturopaths, functional and Chinese medicine doctors will tell you - intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) is a likely contributing factor to the onset of many diseases. A concept still not accepted by mainstream medicine, despite the scientific evidence.

I knew Dr. X wasn’t your typical conventional doc. After all, that was the reason I’d asked to be referred to him. I got the feeling that he was comfortable talking to me about his alternative beliefs because he knew he was preaching to the choir. I doubt he’s suggesting Dr. Joe’s meditations to his students or most of his patients. But he knew I wasn’t a typical patient after our first appointment when he offered me a prescription for a Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) to help deal with my heartburn.

“I don’t want a PPI,” I told him. “I already have multiple deficiencies - iron, magnesium, b12, vitamin A. I know what PPIs do. They suppress stomach acid, and I need my stomach acid, thank you very much. How can I ever heal from this disease if I’m not getting the nutrients I need to be healthy?”

(Stomach acid breaks down food so that nutrients – including all those ones I was already deficient in - can be absorbed into the bloodstream.)

He put down his prescription pad and smiled. “You’ve done your research,” he said.

He was right. I’d spent the past 8 or so years doing my research, trying to understand how this autoimmune disease had transpired for me, and how I could address the root causes to heal my body.

At that first appointment he’d suggested ginger root. But now we’d gone from talking ginger tea to discussing “supernatural” healing. I was fascinated and excited to talk freely without feeling the white hot shame of explaining to another doctor how meditation helps keep my symptoms at bay. No one triggered my fear of being judged for these beliefs more than a conventionally trained physician.

But Dr. X changed that for me. If this well-respected gastroenterologist and university teacher can talk about visualizations that can heal your body without fear of being judged, why can’t I?!

I’m beginning to think my beliefs may not be so “unconventional” after all. Dr. X has me thinking, how many other doctors out there are questioning the status quo, but stuck working within an antiquated establishment that isn’t really set up to help people with chronic health issues. For Dr. X, it wasn’t until he himself got sick and couldn’t find answers in the pages of his textbooks that he went searching for other solutions.

Dr. X realized what so many of us are learning – conventional medicine works in acute care situations. If someone is in an accident, has a heart attack, a broken bone or an infection, that person needs a hospital, medication, surgery and the amazing practitioners who are dedicated to this work. But this same system doesn’t work so well for chronic illness.

Dr. Mark Hyman is an MD who has successfully helped bridge the gap between conventional and alternative worlds of medicine. He opened the Centre for Functional Medicine at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. Functional medicine focuses on food, behavioural and lifestyle changes to address the root cause of health issues. Dr. Hyman has a great analogy – if you sit on a tack, it would hurt like hell, and you could just keep taking Tylenol to deal with the pain, but wouldn’t a better solution be to remove the tack? With chronic illness, you can take medication to help with symptoms, but these Band-Aid solutions will never get to the root cause of what’s making you sick. You need to find and remove “the tack”.

Dr. X not only gives me hope that I can overcome my fear of judgement, but he gives me hope for the future of medicine. I think the paradigm will slowly shift as doctors like him and Dr. Hyman look beyond what they’ve learned in the classroom because they know it isn’t working. It makes me happy to know that Dr. X is teaching the next generation of doctors right in my very own city. Even though he’s teaching from those same textbooks he learned from, I hope he’s quietly pulling them aside to share stories about how meditation has helped him. I hope he tells them over lunch about the healing power of food and about leaky gut and how it can be repaired. I hope tells them about the impact of community and connection on the health of their future patients’, and I hope he’s leaving Dr. Joe Dispensa books on their desks.

Do you have a Dr. X story? Have you met a doctor who’s questioning the status quo, opening your mind to unconventional ways of healing? I’d love to hear about it.

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