So today is my birthday and no, this is not a post about how great birthdays are; even though they are great! Rather, I am giving myself the birthday gift of writing a quick blog about something important to me and maybe to you too. With our wedding coming up in fifteen days, my writing frequency has taken a sharp decline lately, hence why it is important that I hunker down and get this written so that I can then take my pooch out and enjoy this beautiful day.
As I wrote in a previous blog Going Down The Road Of Integrative Medicine, since November, I have been going to a wellness center in a nearby town to see an integrative medicine doctor in the hopes that they can help resolve some of my autoimmune issues. Because let's be honest, I have been treated for Sjogren's syndrome for over five years now by traditional doctors and I haven't really gotten too far. Actually last year, I would say that in many aspects I even got worse. I have some very excellent specialists who know what they are doing but I am beginning to learn that chronic illness, especially autoimmune disorders, are extremely difficult to manage and treat. When they are treated, it usually means with potent and caustic medications, some of which can eventually kill you. The medications used treat the symptoms, not the cause of the illness.
Don't get me wrong, I am not abandoning traditional western medicine. I feel strongly that there is a place for medications like steroids and stomach acid blocking medications (PPI's). However I also feel strongly that staying on these medications indefinitely is not the answer to managing my Sjogren's. For someone else, it may be and that is OK. But there came a point last year where I looked at my medication list and it contained about fifteen different prescription medications. And I was still pretty sick.
As I wrote about in the previous blog, I began my integrative medicine journey by starting an alternative medicine for autoimmune illness called LDN and I also started with allergy testing. Since then, I have spent countless hours, fifteen hours to be exact, having extensive intradermal allergy testing done. I was shocked by the results. I am allergic to most molds, weeds, grasses, and trees as well as cats and dust. I now receive five allergy shots every single week.
As many of you know, I also changed to a Paleo diet. This was not suggested by my integrative medicine doctor but rather it was something I researched on my own. I strive for an 80% compliance rate with this way of eating.
However as the months went on, I started to become frustrated with my integrative medicine doctor. I felt very rushed during my appointments and I didn't feel like I was being treated as a whole person, which is an integral part of this modality of treatment. I was anxious just going to these appointments. I wasn't getting returned phone calls in a timely manner over an issue that was pretty significant at the time and I felt like my practitioner and I were not connecting in a therapeutic way. He wasn't the right doctor for me.
However I had been doing a lot of research about the use of integrative medicine in treating autoimmune illness and on top of that, I really liked the rest of the staff at the wellness center. I looked into switching to another provider. I have to be honest, this was very difficult for me because I still have a hard time advocating for myself at times. Especially since this is a relatively small practice and I knew there was a chance of running into my old provider. But at the end of the day, my health and wellness is the priority.
Yesterday was my second visit with my new practitioner. I will call her S. She is a physician's assistant who is new to the practice. This did give me pause when I made the appointment because I wanted to make sure I saw someone with experience. I decided to take a leap of faith and it certainly paid off.
I never feel rushed during my visits with S. and she made it very clear that she is there to help me get as healthy as I possibly can. One of her concerns was about the GERD medicines (PPI's) I am on due to my Sjogren's. I knew there were risks to long term use of these medications (Nexium and Zantac) but I didn't know the full scope of the risks and issues associated with their use. If you do a Google search of "risks with PPI's", you will see what I mean. She also explained to me about how our body needs stomach acid for proper digestion and that it is likely I am not absorbing the nutrients and supplements that I am taking because I am suppressing my natural stomach acid. It seems counterproductive to me to eat very healthy and take supplements if I am counteracting their effects. However I also know that my reflux issues are real and severe due to my malfunctioning esophagus. I have had some relief from dietary changes but it hasn't been enough.
S. suggested two supplements that I can take for my stomach (Mastica and Zinlori 75) that helps restore the natural state of digestion, rather than suppressing it. She told me to stay on my prescription meds until these have a chance to kick in and then if I feel comfortable with it, to start weaning off of them. She compared the PPI's to prednisone. They both suppress the problem but they do nothing to solve it.
This is where things become tricky for me. I do realize that as my prescription med list shortens, my supplement list gets longer. And I am OK with that because it is part of getting my body to heal itself and I imagine I won't be on these supplements forever. I have also noticed that as the shift occurs, I am starting to feel better. However the issue for me is trying to deal with all the other specialists that prescribe these medications. To them, they are doing what they think is in my best interest but they are not the ones living with the consequences of these medications; many of which sometimes don't even work all that well.
So I had a heart to heart with S. about this. I explained to her that I take a lot of crap from my other doctors for going to the wellness center. There is an incredible amount of resistance in the medical world to the concept of the body being able to heal itself. I have already had to deal with my rheumatologist and pulmonologist regarding this and now I am going to have to face my gastroenterologist who is old school and most likely will flip out over me weaning off my meds. S. was very supportive about this. She gave me a great pep talk about continuing to advocate for myself and my body. She said that it is my choice to take her recommendations and there is no pressure to do so. She spent a lot of time printing out some appropriate articles for me that may be helpful to present to my other specialists. Our discussion reminded be that I am strong and resilient. I have to remember to be that way when I go to my other doctor's appointments. S. made me feel like we are partners in this journey and it was in that moment that I knew I could trust her. I knew she was the right fit for me.
I will be honest, the road of integrative medicine is still a very scary road for me. It defies everything I was taught in nursing school. It defies everything I have been told by the bazillion doctors I have seen over the years. That being said, I know in my gut that something about it feels very right to me. As my medication list shortens more and more each week, I look at where I am now compared to where I was at this time last year and the evidence is there. I may not be a vision of perfect health and I may not be in a place to go back to work yet, but I am definitely several steps closer.
I know that what may work for managing my health may not work for everyone. But I am taking the time this morning to write this because I want people to be aware that there are other options to treating your autoimmune illness, as well as the many other chronic illnesses. There are answers and soutions beyond the pharmaceutical industry and I think we all owe it to ourselves to explore as many of those options as we can whether it be vitamins, supplements, diet, exercise, massage, acupuncture, meditation, stress management, yoga, reiki, prayer...whatever it is that you feel comfortable trying. Open up your computer or visit a bookstore to learn more. Don't settle for what you've been told. Don't settle for the words "there is no cure."
Reclaim your body.