From Bathtub to Dinner Plate

I was small when I figured out what it really meant to eat meat. There were a bunch of brownish-red lobsters in the bathtub. They twitched their antennae and crawled around on the bottom under several inches of water. My mom brought chopsticks into the bathroom and we stuck them down into the open claws of the lobsters and they grabbed at them! I watched the bionic things bumble over each other in the blue tub of the downstairs bathroom until it was time to cook. Their antennae kept moving as my dad lowered the creatures into the pot and when it came time to eat, my dad cracked my lobster open in front of me, and a green, grainy goo came out. That was gross, but I knew I liked lobster. I'd had it before and it was yummy. So I tried to ignore the green guts and dipped my morsels in butter, then sucked the rich meat out of those recently active claws. I didn't eat a whole lot of lobster that evening but I did do a lot of little-kid thinking.

This is what I remember about learning how things go from living in the bathtub to becoming dead on the dinner plate. I didn't grow up in a family of hunters and fishermen. Since then, though, I've found myself in the brilliant presence of one.

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The ducks that became dinner.

I once half-watched Hanzi clean a beautiful mallard he shot out of the sky that morning. After I ate its delicious and gamey breasts for dinner, Hanzi tied one of the perfectly shiny purple and green feathers into my long hair with the clever use of some fly-tying supplies.

I kind of know how to clean a fish: I could do it in a pinch. But I still don't like encountering the bones in a trout on my dinner plate. One time when we were unemployed, poor, and hungry for anything free, we cooked a gift of pheasant legs like chicken wings. There were more bones in that meal than meat. It was tasty, but we understood why the hunter was happy to give them away.

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My first trout caught on a fly.

Hanzi tells a story of shooting a chickadee with his bee-bee gun once. Rules were: if you shot it, you ate it. So, nine-year-old Hanzi set to work cleaning that little bird. It took a long time, and when he cooked it he got only one little bite of meat. That's the last time he shot a little bird for fun.

Now, I think it's really important to acknowledge where our food comes from, and how it was treated in the process of becoming dinner, lunch, or breakfast. As NDs-to-be we are already teaching our people about the importance of eating good food. Part of knowing our food is good lies in understanding how it was grown, or what it ate. We want our foods to be organic because that means they were grown with minimal synthetic chemical help. We want our meat to come from the bodies of animals that were given space to move and the kind of food they are meant to eat. What we're really going for here is nutrient-rich sustenance that our bodies can use to make all of our parts work well. What we're also endeavoring to do is help our patients connect with the world around them and acknowledge the wisdom in living by the laws nature. And so I challenge you to think about it if you haven't already; how do you connect with your food on, and off, your plate?

Knowing When We Need Healing

I am so grateful for my NUHS community! Not only have all my Tri 8 buddies made a kick-ass team through these midterms, but also I have finally made the time in my schedule to be seen as a patient in the clinic, and it feels fabulous.

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Beautiful day on campus

Once you make it into clinic as an intern, it can be hard to find time to be seen as a patient. But let me tell ya, it makes a big difference if you can make that time for yourself! This goes along with my broken-record line about taking the time to work out or do something that makes you laugh while you're in school... You know, the physician-heal-thyself thing.

This morning I had a lovely DC intern friend treat me, and it set me on just the right track for the rest of the day. I received a little bodywork, a few adjustments, and some acupuncture. The treatments left me feeling great, but I have to say, simply letting someone else care for me was probably the most important part. And, it certainly doesn't hurt that I got the kind of attentive musculoskeletal care my body has been craving.

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NUHS botanical garden in full bloom!

In addition to seeking the skilled care of my peers, I recently decided to embrace my exhaustion and practice some doctoring on myself. Inspired by the success of an adaptogenic tincture I made for one of my patients, I ordered the ingredients to create my own botanical pick-me-up. I know it's not great to treat yourself, but every naturopathic student falls prey to his or her own brain at some point or another. And, my busy class and patient schedule hasn't allowed time for me to be seen by my fellow ND interns. I purposefully try not to over-think my own experiences of health, healing, illness, or discomfort, but I'll eventually hit a critical mass of either exhaustion or uncomfortably tight muscles and will begin to experimentally treat myself.

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Med school jokes, spotted this bumper sticker today and had to share. Poor design choice.

Now I realize I must distinguish between physician-heal-thyself and be-your-own-patient; I do not think these are the same thing. While it is important to understand our own bodies and the effects of the treatments we will ask our patients to undertake, it is more important to avoid over-treating ourselves. I'm no saint when it comes to this, but seeking the objective care of one of your peers is probably a better idea than deciding you need a particular remedy without any input from another doctor-mind. Physician-heal-thyself asks us to recognize that we need healing, and to seek it out. It asks us to make time for self-care like meditation, exercise, and good food. It does not ask us to be capable of radical self-healing. Dr. Lou shares a powerful story about this important distinction in one of our case discussion classes... If you haven't heard it yet, I won't spoil that story! What I will do is tell you that your interns are over there on the east shore of Lake Janse, waiting to care for you!

Why Keep the Future in Mind

Happy Belated Fourth of July! We were blessed with a three-day weekend and I took full advantage of it to get out of town and into the woods! Hanzi and I drove north to see his parents in Michigan, way up to the tip of the mitt. I had to spend a lot of time working on papers and presentations as it's midterm week (more like fortnight), but I did still manage to spend time outdoors. And, I always studied with the windows wide open because the air in Northern Michigan is clear and smells like the trees; I love it.

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Over the weekend I learned how to shoot sporting clays for the first time,
and I actually met with some success! So much fun!

Besides playing outside there were those obligatory parent-child conversations about the future.

  • Where do we see ourselves headed next?
  • What kind of work will we look for once we graduate?
  • What is the job market like out there right now?

And you know, I must be growing up because I wasn't immediately turned off by these questions. Historically I'd never want to discuss my future; it will be what it will be, I would say. I'll just wait and see what comes my way! Lately, I'm willing to entertain some tangible ideas; I can picture myself in a clinic with my white coat on, seeing patients all day long. I know, too, that I want to continue writing, so I can picture myself at a computer, surrounded by books, crafting paragraphs that share my medicine.

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Sunset from the Leggs Inn where we had dinner on Sunday night before
leaving at sunrise on Monday so I could get back in time for clinic.

I'm still relatively undecided on my future compared to many of my peers who either know where they want to go after school, or have a vision for exactly what type of practice they want to work in or create. I recently had the idea to construct a mobile clinic that I can hook up to my truck and tow off into the sticks to work with patients in rural communities. I envision a wall lined with rattling tincture bottles, waiting for me to mix up the appropriate medicine. Of course, this mobile clinic also contains all the necessary tools for physical exam, production of hot water for hydrotherapy, and space for physical medicine.

Regardless of the reality of the vision, I've decided that entertaining one is a good idea. Not only does it give me something to talk about with family, but also it helps keep me afloat when I'm dragging through that last page of a research paper, or waking up before sunrise to cram some information in my brain before a test.

So in the spirit of independence, cheers to our visions, cheers to our future!

I Know I'm Becoming a Doctor Because...

I know I'm becoming a doctor because...

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  • I dumped the contents of my doctor bag on the floor and reorganized the thing.
  • I am currently sitting with a thermometer in my mouth.
  • I just finished listening to my own heart and lungs.
  • All exams thus far are unremarkable, which could be surprising considering how much work hangs over my head at the moment...

If you are on the flex track and are considering completing most of your coursework before heading into the clinical portion of our education, I support that decision! This trimester has been a challenge for me, and I really feel like I had my study strategy down to a near-perfect science. I guess I am finding the transition from student-in-class / absorbing information, to intern-in-clinic / synthesizing and applying said learned information, difficult.

All things considered, I have a pretty light few weeks of midterms; only 4 exams and one paper to write (right? fellow 8th tris, feel free to keep me on track here!) This trimester is definitely keeping me constantly busy between trying to recall information in patient care, to keeping up with online quizzes, writing weekly botanical prescriptions, and preparing for various presentations. 

It certainly is a mental challenge to continually switch gears and be ready to play either student or teacher depending on the circumstance, even within the same few minute stretch. I suppose this is a lot like real doctor life... Listening and wearing your doctor hat, then turning as a student to your books to refresh on information to help the patient you are simultaneously doctoring. I'm realizing in this moment that I've been living in my student-brain so intensely for so many months now, that I'm struggling to make the transition/cultivate the multi-brained me.

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Seeing the farmer's market through doctor glasses

Geez, my friends and family must be relieved to see glimmers of my dynamic brain emerging from the information-crushing stage I've been mired in for the past 2½ years...  And as I recognize a shift in my thinking process and interaction with my world, I know I'm a changed gal. I notice I am becoming a doctor because of the way I have learned to listen and actually hear people when they talk to me. I notice I am becoming a doctor because I know the answers to my friends' questions about the body. I suppose I am never going to be able to take off these doctor glasses. You know, unlike the beer glasses that come off so readily the next morning... Maybe it's a little late to realize this but, readers, I'm going to be a doctor and it can't be undone.   

Recently, I was reading about the life and work of a photographer named Mary Ellen Mark. Hanzi brought home a book of her images from the library the other day, and then I encountered a write-up of her life in the New York Times. I read it, looked at her photographs, and thought, gosh, I'm never going to devote my life to being a documentarian photographer. That's one thing I'm just not gonna be, because instead, I'm going to be a doctor. I'm OK with this, and I know I'll eventually find time to do other things with my life as well, like play the piano, read novels, go for hikes, have a family... but I must admit, I'm suddenly struck by the intensity of these few years of medical school. I know doctorhood has always been on the horizon, but now it feels extra real. I suppose I'd better rise to meet it. Also, incase you were curious; my temperature is 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

NDs Around the World

Over the weekend, I got to speak with one of my dearest friends for the first time in two years. She has been living in South Korea with her husband where they both work as teachers. Sara and I met when we studied abroad in Australia 8 years ago. In the years since then, I've been the lucky recipient of many visits from Sara and her husband wherever I've lived, all over the country. I have totally reaped the benefits of their summer vacations as teachers. This time, they are in the U.S. for a few weeks seeing family and I am so excited to pay them a visit in Michigan next weekend! It's my turn to make the trip to visit them.

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When Sara came to visit in me in Truckee/Tahoe.

One of the most important reasons I moved out west from New England after college (where I subsequently decided on naturopathic medicine as a career), was based on my experience of studying abroad in Australia with Sara. While studying on the other side of the globe, I met so many Americans who hailed from all the very different parts of the United States. I realized that I, an East Coast girl, was so different from those girls from the Midwest, or those girls from Southern California. We all came from very different American backgrounds, and yet these Australians, as well as all the other foreigners we met while out exploring, grouped me in with all the others. I was just another American girl to them.

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Adventuring in Australia -- getting inspired to explore my own country.

On account of this, I decided I had better go figure out what the rest of my country was like before I went travelling abroad again. While we all had some American patriotism and our language in common, I felt so different from so many of my countrywomen. I wanted to know what assumptions people might be making about me based on some other Americans they'd met who, as far as I could tell, were nearly as different from me as the Australian girls were, or the Germans.

Now that I can see the light at the end of the medical school tunnel, I am starting to think about where to explore next. I think I have a pretty good handle on what an "American girl" is, based on my experiences living around the country, so perhaps it's time to head into foreign lands!

Between binge-watching Anthony Bourdain episodes, perusing photographs of far away places on BuzzFeed, and reminiscing about our travels of the past, Hanzi and I have caught the travel bug. We regularly toss around the idea of living and working in another country, and have even set some lofty goals of learning a foreign language before we graduate with our respective master's and doctorate degrees (we haven't made any headway on this, yet). Even if we don't make it out of the country, we are ready to explore another region... perhaps Alaska, or Montana, or Maine...

Of course, I also have to think about actual employment after graduation, and for the record, I am equally excited to work as a doctor as I am to see new places. If you're like me and think you might want to explore, either now or later on, keep these resources in mind. There are several networks for naturopathic doctors around the world. Several of my friends at NUHS have traveled to work with Naturopathic Doctors International and Naturopaths Without Borders during their breaks between trimesters. My peers have returned with totally awesome stories of hands-on experience treating patients, living in rural areas, assisting in the delivery of babies by flashlight, and connecting with local people whose worlds are so very different from ours.

In addition to delivering care to the underserved abroad, naturopathic medicine is going global with the recent creation of The World Naturopathic Federation in 2014. This organization connects naturopathic doctors in 40 countries around the world, and endeavors to connect our work with that of the World Health Organization. We might be a small population here in the United States, but we are also out there, all over the world, sharing and advancing our medicine!