Archive for tag: faculty

Leaves, Berries, Flowers and Bark

One morning when I was 18, I went out for a run in the Adirondack woods and after I rounded a corner, I stopped dead on the narrow trail and looked up to see a buck standing in my way. I stood stock still for half a minute as we made eye contact. I think I took one or two steps back, which made him hesitate and glance over his shoulder, then stamp once. He was brownish grey with dark brown eyes and a small-ish rack of antlers that made me think he was fairly young. Another shift in my posture was all it took for him to turn abruptly and bound off into the woods to my right. (This was before smart phones, and there was no power plug within 2 miles of me to power it anyways, so I didn't catch a picture, but the image stays remarkably clear in my mind.)

This experience was one of several encounters with wild things I had over the summers I spent at Tanager Lodge, a summer camp in the Northern Adirondack Park in upstate New York (the same place I traveled to for that wedding mentioned in last week's post.) That wedding trip has inspired this meditation on what Tanager fostered in me that made me gravitate towards naturopathy more than any other school of the healing arts.

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Old Map of Tanager Lodge

Tanager is a self-proclaimed wilderness camp that engages "campers and staff in a small, non-competitive community dedicated to wilderness appreciation, life skills, and individual growth." This is its 90th summer in operation.

A day in the life of a camper or staff member (I was both) starts with waking to the sound of a flute (a real one, played from atop a cliff...I'm not kidding), followed by a dip in the lake, then breakfast on open porches, cleaning and prepping camp for the day by bailing boats, peeling carrots, sweeping docks, cleaning our tents, etc., and then choosing an activity for the morning.

My favorite activity was making herbal teas. We would hike out a mile or so into the woods on a rainy day and carefully harvest all kinds of edible leaves, berries, flowers and bark. Once back in main camp, we steeped them in varying combinations. After a while, we tasted all the different teas we'd made and they helped to warm us after a morning of tromping around in the rain. The steeping of teas is pretty darn naturopathic; there's even an elective class here at National called Special Topics in Botanical Medicine in which we learn to make medicinal herbal teas (and many other things like salves, tinctures, and elderflower fritters!)

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Looking south from Indian Point (a photo I took at Tanager years ago)

If you are just beginning to explore naturopathic medicine, please do not feel that you need to come with a past full of jaunts in the woods and time spent identifying plants. I have many exceptional peers here at NUHS who came right out of the heart of cities like New York and Detroit. Not every naturopathic student loves to get their hands dirty in the garden or yearns for a hike in the woods like I do, but I am pretty sure we all have a deep respect for the natural world.

The Tanager Lodge community I grew up with strives to live by 12 Woodcraft Laws that will likely resonate with naturopathic students in some way. These laws generally parallel the community, spiritual and ethical aspects of our Determinants of Health (listen to Dr. Louise Edwards speak on the topic). I'll leave you with the list and hope that you have learned a little more about what draws me to study Naturopathic Medicine.

  1. Be clean; both yourself and the place you live in.
  2. Be strong. Understand and respect your body.
  3. Protect all harmless wild life. Conserve the woods and flowers.
  4. Hold your word of honor sacred.
  5. Play fair for fair play is truth and foul play is treachery.
  6. Be reverent. Worship the Great Spirit and respect all worship of it by others. For none have all the truth and all who worship reverently have claims on our respect.
  7. Be brave. Courage is the noblest of all gifts.
  8. Be silent while your elders are speaking and otherwise show them deference.
  9. Obey. Obedience is the first duty of the Woodcrafter.
  10. Be Kind. Do at least one act of unbargained service each day.
  11. Be helpful. Do your share of the work.
  12. Be joyful. Seek the joy of being alive, for every reasonable gladness that you can give or get is a treasure that cannot be destroyed.

 

Maybe This Will Touch Your Heart Today

OK readers, I did it! I decided. My parents were a reliable sounding board in a conversation last week and while I trust my own intuition and will follow it even in the face of resistance, being reassured with parental support really sealed the deal. I plan to start the massage program in September!

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Source: www.ieet.org

Trusting intuition is something we address in class from the very first trimester. Mostly, we have these discussions in our naturopathic theory classes, although this week in Homeopathy 1 we started a topic on How To Take the Case, which is inseparable from learning about becoming a true healer. "Taking the case" means listening to our patients without any preconceptions; it means forgetting ourselves, and dissolving the boundary between the self and the world so as to note every important detail.

In discussing both homeopathic and naturopathic theory, our professors have talked about mirror neurons, a term that defines how empathy is evidenced in brain scans; the listener's brain lights up in exactly the same places as the storyteller's brain does. Our goal as doctors is to use our mirror neurons.

One of my peers asked about how, on the one hand, we dissolve the boundary between ourselves and our patients' stories of suffering, and on the other, maintain our own sanity and refrain from shouldering the burdens of every sick patient that walks through our doors.

It is a good question. How many mirror neurons can we afford to use? Turns out, the answer is different for every doc. Of course we knew that, everyone (every case, every patient) is different, after all.

One professor told us that he sits behind a desk, with the patient opposite him; this provides a physical boundary to remind him. Another professor spoke on how her spirituality and the healing cannot be separated. Her spiritual practice involves dissolving boundaries and finding compassion for every single living thing.

During several of these class discussions our professors have sited an author named Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor known for her work teaching other physicians how to heal from the heart. On her blog, Remembering Your Power to Heal, Remen writes of physicians: "Our habitual way of seeing things and even our expertise can blind us to the meaning of even the simplest of our daily interactions and relationships." This tendency towards blindness is an obstacle to cultivating the healer in us, and comes at least in part, from our training. One of Dr. Remen's tools for learning to see through "new" eyes is to keep a "heart journal" in which you answer three questions each day.

The Heart Journal

The first question is: "What surprised me today?"

The size of the nose ring on the girl sitting next to us at the beach; it was huge but I figured she probably loves it that way!

The second question is: "What moved me or touched my heart today?"

On our way to the beach, Hanzi was looking out the window and said, "That was cute!" I asked what, and he told me that a little girl was leading her grandmother in an investigation of something smooshed on the sidewalk.

And the third question is "What inspired me today?"

The camaraderie of the group of "Bears" gathered at the beach, all bobbing together with their big bellies in the chilly Lake Michigan water.

If this exercise is something Remen thinks we should do as professional physicians, why not start practicing it now? In addition to practicing things like taking blood pressure, evaluating cervical range of motion, or taking a history from a SIM-patient, we should probably be cultivating the healer through exercises like this.

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Hard to believe, but I did study at the beach. Here's the evidence!
Want to find a Chicago beach to visit? It's easy: CPDBeaches.com.

The skill set of a healer includes knowing how to find the beauty in the midst of the suffering we are exposed to daily for the duration of our professional lives. So, to my fellow students, don't write in a journal every day if the time commitment freaks you out, but at the very least, have these conversations with each other. Try to talk about the heart-full things, rather than the test you're dreading or the professor you can't stand. Look for the things that inspire you, the things that touch your heart, and the things that surprise you. Forgetting to cultivate our eye for these things will, I suspect, prove a grave mistake whose consequences we will learn when we go out into the real world and try to heal people.

So, I encourage you to notice the things that make you smile more than the things that make you groan. You may even find less to groan about....

On Finding Your Favorite Tools

I'm deciding whether or not to study Massage Therapy while I'm here at National in addition to getting my ND. Many of my peers get dual degrees, whether it be ND/DC or ND/AOM because the modalities and philosophies run in parallel and allow us to expand our scope to meet our interests and passions, especially in unlicensed states. Part of the adventure of studying naturopathic medicine is learning what aspects of our vast toolbox suit you best, and then exploring ways to pursue those interests.

I struggled for a few weeks last fall with whether or not to enroll in the AOM program, because Chinese medicine is so wise and its application is so broad and increasingly accepted by mainstream medicine. It serves as an excellent adjunct to naturopathic medicine. Many of our professors use it. Ultimately though, I realized I do not absolutely, definitely, no question, want to be a master of Chinese medicine in the kind of way I know I want to be a naturopathic doctor. And, I am not willing to invest all the time and money in something that doesn't feel quite right for me.

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In E&M Extremities class, Meg demonstrates a gait anomaly as the rest of us analyze it.

Over the past few trimesters, I have gravitated towards physical medicine in application with naturopathic medicine. I was totally surprised when I enjoyed E&M class and found that I was actually pretty good at adjusting. I realized that I know my body and its relationship to weight-bearing and careful maneuvering through my experience of being a competitive athlete. It's been years since I gave up competitive sports in college, but I still have that knack for acquiring muscle memory and fluidity in movement, and it pays off in understanding how the body should, or wants to, move.

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Cranial Sacral Massage elective class with our professors,
Dr. Patricia Coe and Dr. Heather Wisniewski

Also, having never taken any kinesiology classes, I figured I was doomed when it came to grasping biomechanics. As it turns out, knowing my body and its movements has made learning biomechanics and adjusting a lot easier. Inspired by my propensity for understanding and applying physical medicine, I asked for a recommendation of who to talk to or what other avenues to explore beyond the classroom. Dr. Pearson, one of the family practice interns, directed me to Dr. Coe, massage program supervisor and instructor (and totally awesome ND/DC/MT/photographer/character/mentor). I signed up for her massage elective class on Cranial Sacral technique and discovered this awesome new dimension to add to my ND toolbox. By using what I learned in Dr. Coe's class, I continue to study through experience on my friends and fellow classmates. I am learning how to listen with my hands, follow what I find, and make people feel better.

Inside Outside Muscle Hand by Katherine Du Tiel
"Inside/Outside: Muscle/Hand" San Francisco, 1994. Photograph.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Katherine Du Tiel (b. 1961) [artist]

So, in an effort to distract myself from the stress of 3 exams and 2 assignments due in the upcoming days, I've tracked down Dr. Coe and picked her brain on my options for adding the Massage Therapy coursework.

I also reached out to a recent NUHS grad who tutored me through Phase 1 and studied in the massage, chiropractic and naturopathic programs during her time here at National. She offered some solid advice. (Even after they're gone from campus, NUHS folks are still accessible and willing to help you!) Now I have to make some decisions. It's probably time to make a pros and cons list and a phone call to Mom and Dad, who always offer pretty good advice. Part of what makes naturopathic medicine so strong is this great big toolbox we're given. It also presents a fun challenge to us students: to discover our strengths and trust the process!

Study and Stretch

OK, it finally feels like summer in Chicago! The weather is warm and I am officially finding it harder and harder to buckle down to study. Ideally, I would study outdoors, but there is some material that really just requires a white board for drawing and some "rain sounds" in my headphones in order to get it to stick (there's an app called "Rain, Rain" that I swear by).

My first midterms begin this week and I'll admit, they snuck up on me! As per my last post, spending a little time away from the books is important, but allocating that time wisely is also vital. This week will be one of those where I must tactfully ask my boyfriend to cook me dinner every night as I play some catch-up and prepare for exams.

One of the perks of studying at National alongside chiropractic students is that we get to hear stories from the field from our chiropractor professors. This week, Dr. Humphreys (who teaches Neurology) shared with us his experience of testifying in a court case for the defendant, a chiropractor and graduate of NUHS. The whole process was time consuming and ultimately successful. It is hard to face this reality, but our medicine is sometimes misunderstood. Luckily, our medicine is wise, with research to support it, and proper education and communication with the public and the conventional medical world pays off. I am thankful that we have access to the workings of the clinical world through our professors' stories, and that they are willing to share their experiences, both positive and challenging.

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On a lighter note, I visited the garden again on Friday and this time got to reap the benefits of being a regular! Here is a picture of me in the midst of digging up some mint (Mentha piperita, I think) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) to plant at home. I also contributed a little time to pulling weeds before I headed home for the weekend. 

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This past weekend was busy -- full of studying for Monday's cardio exam and some playing, too. My friend Allison (a yoga teacher and fellow student in the ND program) and I met downtown at Grant Park for Wanderlust in the City, a free yoga festival that happens once a year in Chicago. We both loved doing yoga outside with hundreds of other Chicago yogis! One phrase I habitually use at the end of my yoga practice is "Kind thoughts, kind words, kind intentions."

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So, in the spirit of this phrase, I aim to tackle the start of midterms and this busy week by thinking, speaking, and intending positivity and grace in the midst of heightened stress. Being kind to ourselves during our most stressful times is so very important.

Walk the Talk

I told you all about me last week, which is good for foundation, but now I have to catch you up on what actually took place during my first week of the summer tri! 

My first week of classes in the Clinical Sciences phase was awesome. We are at the point now where we get to apply the information we've learned about how the body works to clinical situations; how a patient would present in clinic. So far I think GI & GU & Reproductive Systems is my favorite class. We talked about fascinating stuff like where the problem comes from if a patient in pain vomits or has black stool. I suppose only doctors and future doctors can be so enthralled with the color of poop and whether or not someone's going to vomit so as to make it their favorite discussion of the week. I must be in the right place!

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Digging around the NUHS botanical garden

I ended my first week of the trimester at the garden party on Friday evening.  Those of us who love to dig in the dirt or who want to learn more about medicinal plants meet at our modest botanical garden where we gather to pull weeds, laugh, review, and learn about the plants from our professor, Dr. Lorinda Sorensen. Thumbs up from my friend John who is as happy as I am to spend his Friday evenings diggin' in the dirt!

In contrast to our first week, this past week it rained. A lot. The lacrosse practice I usually coach was cancelled due to the chilly, wet weather. Despite this, I did manage to commute to school by train/bike on Thursday, and the rain held off just long enough!

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Lilacia Park in full bloom! It's located next to the train station in downtown
Lombard. I wandered through while waiting for the train to arrive. 

Mostly, I spent this rainy week struggling over whether or not to take the NPLEX Part I boards this August. I am eligible to sit for the exam now that I have completed the Basic Sciences phase. All the other ND schools have the summer off from classes (as far as I know), and many of their students study all summer long. Here at National, I am taking a full course load of 28 credits and the board exam falls during the week right before final exams. While I don't doubt that I COULD do it if I HAD to, the prospect of studying every free moment all summer long is unpleasant and intimidating.

It's decisions like these that make me realize the importance of walking the walk. As NDs we will advise our patients to optimize the determinants of health -- adequate sleep, hydration, community support, and healthy food -- to name a few. It is a true challenge to live the life of a student and embody naturopathy at the same time. My conclusion has been to take the board exam in February. This decision comes after listening to the advice of upper tri students, and also by listening to my own heart. In doing so, I'm embracing the reality of what it takes for me to stay happy and healthy, all the while keeping my eyes on the prize: McKenzie Mescon, ND.