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Finding a Different Kind of Expert

This post is a preview of a chapter in my upcoming book, Maybe I'm From Another Planet.

When I was in those early weeks and months past the 67-day migraine, I was extremely dedicated to my anti-fungal and detoxing protocol. Though I was thrilled to be no longer suffering from migraines, I had some other symptoms that were starting–or continuing–to bother me. Some of the symptoms, such as brain fog and dizziness, seemed to be lessened by my anti-fungal protocol. But I was still wheezing and was prone to some allergic reactions. I was also still highly sensitive to cleaning chemicals. I never got pushed back into a migraine, but I could feel a significant downward shift in my system every time I went even slightly off my extremely tight diet and my time-intensive detoxing plan.

I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to be able to have a “normal life.” I decided I needed to find a specialist who could help me with the complexity of my case.

A specialist of this kind seemed difficult to find, and I was justifiably exhausted by the conventional Western medical paradigm. After all, I had tried everything the Western medicine doctors had given me. I had tried them with full faith they would work, but their strategies had failed me.

But on the other hand, being a person who had worked so hard to train myself to trust in the scientific approach to problems, I didn’t want to end up with a purely intuitive health care practitioner.

To be honest, it was much more than that. All of my study of skepticism made me highly distrustful of alternative practitioners. I didn’t realize, at the time, that the paradigm in which many of them worked was much more suited to my own physiology. It wasn’t their techniques so much as their umbrella philosophy of trust and patience in the body’s innate wisdom that I needed to learn.

When my husband and I first moved to Portland, I took Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry at PSU to wrap up my pre-med requirements. During that time, I met a woman in the third year of her doctoral program at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine. We ended up having dinner one night. It was fascinating to listen to the details of her program and how it was influencing her approach to health.

She mentioned she was trying to add some animal products back into her dedicated vegan diet, and as a dedicated vegetarian, I was perplexed by that. Her reasoning made sense, though, as she shared what she had learned about the benefits of salmon and other oily fish, especially.

She also said she had cut out violent movies and TV and was working on adding meditation to her daily routine, which made perfect sense.

But then she hit me with a statement that closed my young mind like a bear trap. Thwack!

“I think that sometimes the scientific method is not the best way to find treatments for illnesses.”

I am ashamed to say that I didn’t pursue a friendship with her after that day. Her statement was practically sacrilege to my mind. I loved science. I still do. I felt and still feel that the scientific method is the best way to avoid getting duped.

I was young, though, and I didn’t realize the wisdom of her statement. I didn’t know that–in some ways–she was ahead of me, and I think now, a decade and a half after that dinner, I can explain why that is.

In a perfect world, I still believe that the scientific method is the best way to find treatments for illnesses. But the world is not perfect, and highly complex problems require time and funding that some illnesses, especially chronic illnesses, do not have the cultural push to solve.

Plus, no one, in the midst of their suffering, feels like saying, “Sure, I understand that it will take three decades to solve this. I’ll just endure this pain until the impressively designed double-blind placebo-controlled human clinical trials are replicated sufficiently to find a scientifically verifiable treatment. No problem. I’ll wait.”

In addition, if multiple factors trigger an illness or disorder, and if those triggers then cause numerous genes, which had previously been dormant or epigenetically silent, to be up-regulated, to try to understand such an illness or disorder in an experimental setting could end up being a practical impossibility.

If, on the other hand, an umbrella philosophy is adopted that the body itself, in its innate intelligence, is often capable of recovering if health obstacles are removed from its path, perhaps a full understanding of the chain of causality in some of these illnesses is not always required.

The two approaches need not be at odds. Scientifically rigorous thought and experimentation are unparalleled for helping us get around our blind spots as humans. But intuition and innate wisdom need not be ignored in deference to that. Doing so can create its own blind spots.

I needed to find a doctor who agreed with this philosophy. It felt like a near impossibility, but then again, I hadn’t had a migraine for two months. That had seemed like an impossibility, too.

On the National College of Naturopathic Medicine’s website, I pulled up the list of current professors. I noticed a doctor there who had not only gone to medical school at my alma mater, but had also completed a doctorate in naturopathic medicine. An MD/ND seemed like the perfect person to ask for help, and I sent him an email requesting a referral.

He emailed back the next day with three names. I picked the doctor who was also a Northwestern Graduate School-trained chemist, Dr. Heidi Peterson.

I had my first appointment with her about two and a half months past my the end of my long migraine. On our first meeting, after spending an hour detailing my medical history, she said to me, “You have done a great job! I love working with smart patients, and you have such a long and quirky medical history. Let’s do some tests to see where you are and get you on the road to optimal health.”

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