I spend a lot of time looking at the sky. When I lived in the
West, I realized that a big sky makes me feel that anything is
possible and that I can never understand it all. I adore this
feeling. I desire to be outside of my comfort zone as often as
possible; so much so that at times I've had to give up and retreat
to calmer waters.
I spend a lot of time looking at the sky. Sunrise on my
morning commute last week.
On a long weekend during my first year at NUHS, before the
program had a chance to wear me thin, my partner and I set out on a
camping and fishing trip to Wisconsin's driftless region. We
meandered through farmland and found our camping spot as the clouds
were gathering, no big deal. We'd once tried to camp at Vedauwoo
near Laramie, Wyoming, in late October with a wicked, biting wind
that threatened both to snow and to overturn our tent. When we
realized they'd shut off the water and closed up all facilities for
the season, we gave up.
My partner Hanzi tying flies at our kitchen table over the
weekend, caused this story to surface.
On this particular trip in Wisconsin, we made dinner over our
camp stove as the rain picked up. We ate our rice and beans on the
tailgate to stay dry. As the downpour intensified, we climbed into
our tent earlier than expected and snuggled into the center, trying
not to touch the wet walls.
At 1 a.m., the 5th drop of water landed on my face and I
realized my sleeping bag was totally soaked; our tent was no longer
waterproof and the Midwestern thunderstorm was still raging. Soaked
and sleepy, we sloppily disassembled our tent and crammed all the
sopping wet sleeping stuff into the trunk and slunk out of the
campsite, our tails between our legs.
The fishing the next day was terrible. The streams ran high
with mud. You can see our soaking wet camping gear piled in
We drove a wide-open rural highway with lightning cracking all
around us in the longest, loudest and most spectacular streaks I've
ever seen. This was some thunderstorm! If you've never experienced
one, do come study naturopathic medicine at National. If you've not
chosen our school for the strong philosophy and awesome
collaborative learning environment, then do at least choose it for
After a drive through the downpour and lightning, we checked
into the only room left at the nearest hotel, a suite with a hot
tub in the corner and the fluffiest king size bed ever (save for
that one that enveloped me during that bout of food-poisoning I got
in Banff, Canada after eating scrambled eggs at the airport. Don't
ever eat scrambled eggs at the airport.)
When you're in medical school, you pretty much can't do these
adventurous, uncalculated things. They squash that tendency to toss
logical thinking to the wind (like setting up camp in the midst of
a deluge) in the process of teaching us to be responsible doctors.
I don't mean my professors tell me to stay out of the rain. I mean
that medical school in general takes you away from the fun stuff by
sucking you dry of energy and sitting you down for some serious
business. It's all worth it though, I promise.
I may not be able to adventure, but I guess my education does
cause me to constantly move beyond my comfort zone. Each new class
I take demands that I commit to memory information I've never known
before. When I see a sim patient, I have no idea what to expect and
have to dive in ready to grapple with whatever story they tell me.
This is undoubtedly like the real world of doctoring and so I rest
assured; I totally AM in the right place.... If doctoring is a
process of continually stepping out of your comfort zone while
seeking the patterns that help you find your way to healing a
patient, then I think I'm on to something.
Really though, I already knew I was in the right place before
writing this rambling essay on thunderstorms and airport eggs and
squished adventures. I came to naturopathic medicine because I
thrive on the different stuff. Our medicine is not well known but
it is intelligent. Our medicine is not entirely understood in
reductionist terms, but it works from a place of truth. Camping in
the rain is not a comfortable choice, but it does make for a good
So, I guess the exact name for this new lunar year in the
Chinese calendar is up for debate. What's not debatable is the fact
that I went to a (belated) Chinese New Year party on Saturday and
ate a delicious hotpot with ingredients sourced from Chicago's
China Town. Yummy! I also tried my hand (mouth?) at a Chinese
blowgun and wore house slippers.
Hotpot! (The little mushrooms were the most delicious
According to both the New York Times and NPR, the English translation of this year's
Chinese animal is fuzzy. "Yang" may mean a sheep, a goat, or a ram.
The sheep/goat/ram debate seems to be a uniquely American and
European problem. Throughout Asia, most people are settled on what
exactly the word "yang" represents for them, often depending on
which one of these animals lives in that particular region and
whether they do good or bad things for the ecosystem.
Party host Reed taking aim with the blowgun
For example, I learned that in Mongolia, this year is likely be
regarded as the year of the sheep, as opposed to the goat, which is
known for eating not only the grass but also the roots, leaving no
grass for the following year. Thus, the sheep is more auspicious
and one's ancestors would surely name a year for the animal that
leaves opportunity for growth.
As part of our naturopathic training, we take an Intro to
Chinese Medicine class in our third trimester. The course provides
an excellent segue for those ND students who are considering a dual
Oriental Medicine at NUHS. The information we learn in this
class barely grazes the surface of Chinese medicine, but it does
give us the capacity to converse with its practitioners based on
our rudimentary understanding of the substances, organs, elements,
and patterns used in Chinese medicine. We are taught to analyze a
case to determine imbalances in yin/yang, internal/external,
cold/hot, and deficiency/excess.
Pulled out my old notes on Chinese Medicine for a
After much debate in my third tri here at NUHS, I realized that
studying in the OM program was not for me. Many of my ND peers are
working toward dual degrees and take night classes in the
Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine program. I hear fabulous things about
the professors and the program as a whole! If you're curious about
the master of science programs in acupuncture and oriental medicine
here at National, don't hesitate to jump over to Juli's blog
and read about it!
As for the rest of the naturopathic medical schools, I believe
that the Canadian colleges include more training in Chinese
medicine in their curriculum than do the American schools because
parts of Canada include acupuncture in their ND licensure. Another
note to make about this overlap between naturopathic medicine and
Chinese medicine is that as NDs we have the opportunity to sit for
an acupuncture-specific board exam when we take NPLEX Part 2. If
you want to practice in certain Canadian provinces, Arizona or
Kansas, I believe you must sit for this board exam. In order to sit
for this add-on exam, you must have upwards of 200 credits in
acupuncture/oriental medicine. At NUHS, this means you must enroll
in 7 specific courses in the AOM program. I looked into all of this
because I intended to take every add-on board available to me when
it comes time to do so, but in the end I decided I was unlikely to
end up in Arizona or Kansas or most of Canada, and if I do end up
in one of these places I'll tackle that obstacle when I come to
In the meantime, I'll be making an effort to embody these
qualities of our new Year of the Sheep (/goat/ram): avoid pessimism
and hesitation, be kind-hearted, clever, tender, and compassionate.
Happy New Year to you all!
Where do we start when we talk about love in medicine? In
naturopathic philosophy, love is one of our basic determinants of
health; we require it to be truly well, just like we do air, water,
and nutritious foods. But there are endless ways to love, and a
doctor can never understand them all. What a doctor can do is
appreciate love's presence with an open mind, without judgment, and
with the awareness that love comes in all forms.
(Image via www.dawn-productions.com)
Stephanie Draus' lecture in Clinical Problem Solving class this
week was inspired by love. We discussed how to talk about sex with
our patients. One excellent phrase I collected from her lecture was
this: "Do you have sex with men, women, or both?" I never realized
that question could be phrased with such simplicity. We talked
about the out-dated stigmas attached to sexually transmitted
diseases and why a lack of sex education causes these to run
rampant, especially in the geriatric population.
We touched on the fact that sexual preference, desire, and
practice are similarly stigmatized; we assume everyone having sex
likes it "vanilla," that is to say, plain and simple, no bells and
whistles, no games, nothing interesting. Just sex. As doctors, we
cannot assume this about our patients, nor do we always need to
know all the juicy details. What we do need to try to gather is
whether our patients' health is at risk based on their sexual
preferences, whether in regards to use of protection, or the myriad
of alternative ways to experience pleasure.
Mary Calderone was a
physician and public health advocate for sexual
(Image via izquotes.com)
So, what do we do as doctors-to-be if we find ourselves judging
based on our own histories, the things we've been taught, or the
lack thereof? I suppose the best place to start is by talking about
it with our professors, and with each other. If you are someone who
finds his or herself cringing inside at the notions of same-sex
love or multiple lovers, I personally think you need to start
learning by reading, listening, and well, Googling stuff. Perhaps
your professors and friends can't or won't expound on the vastness
of possibility and risk involved in more colorful sex, but we need
to remain open to the frank notion that lots of people in our world
experience pleasure in unorthodox ways. As doctors, we must be
prepared to listen without judgment. We must also be willing to do
our research so that we can advise our patients appropriately.
So, yes, in the name of becoming a better doctor, I am
encouraging you to read up on any alternative sexual practices you
can imagine. I've just given you the go-ahead to research gay
culture, to wonder at how polyamory is comfortable for so many, to
investigate the intricacies of anatomy and physiology in trans
people, and to look up that thing you've always been curious about.
I encourage you to explore resources for learning about and finding
compassion for the zillion ways that one can love and be loved in
My experience in finding acceptance for ways of loving that
differ from my own can be understood like this: my partner doesn't
like feta cheese. I like feta cheese! When I cook dinner with feta
cheese (because I think its delicious!) he just decides to eat the
food because he knows I'll be hurt if he doesn't eat what I've
cooked, and you know what? After a few feta meals he decides he
doesn't really hate feta cheese. After a few more feta meals, he
decides he might actually kind of like feta cheese. What he does
know is that he appreciates my satisfaction at the taste of this
food, and he loves me, so he eats feta cheese for dinner with me.
And of course, I do make sure to cook feta-less meals, too.
Summer's slip into fall was subtle until the past week or so; it
got cool here, the leaves are falling more rapidly. I am sitting on
my porch in a sweatshirt with a cup of tea as I type this and
except for the barking dog playing in the park next door, it is
quite peaceful here in the wind. Fall is blowing in. Monday the
22nd was the fall Equinox; day and night were equal lengths, and
from here on out, the days get shorter. It was the first official
day of fall; the season changes.
I like to think I'm good at changes. I identify as someone who
desires to be outside of her comfort zone. Here in Chicagoland, I
often pine for change. Usually it happens when I'm sitting at my
desk on a beautiful Saturday afternoon staring out the window, or
when I'm inching along in traffic to or from campus. The med school
routine starts to feel monotonous. So, when the earth does her
thing and the land around me transforms, I am thrilled! I found
orange leaves on the ground outside the front door this morning.
This obvious sign that fall is here made me reflect on how much
change really does take place in the midst of my regular routine. I
am evolving as a doctor in training, learning to see the world
around me with the eyes of a Naturopath.
I see a man limp down the street and speculate on which muscles
or nerves are not functioning properly. I listen to another man
with a lifeless arm order sandwiches in a low, nasal voice with
little enunciation and I speculate on which part of his brain
suffered a stroke. I watch the guy in line ahead of me at the
grocery store as he blinks and twitches his head repeatedly and I
can identify the part of his brain that might be disinhibited, by
medications I wonder? Two years ago, I would see only a limp, hear
only a funny voice, and notice only a man who blinks a lot.
In naturopathic medicine, we consider the experience of the
change of seasons a determinant of health under the category of
light and cycles. Cycles that last longer than a day, and are
therefore not linked to our circadian cycle, are called infradian
rhythms. Annual cycles of the seasons are infradian rhythms, and
can affect our metabolism, appetite, and weight gain. It is healthy
and vital to experience these changes that indicate the passage of
time. The days get shorter and our bodies respond in kind. The
temperature changes and our systems acclimate. We learn that spring
and fall are ideal times to cleanse as we prepare for the
inevitable hot summer or cold winter.
As I meditate on summer's bow to the arrival of fall, I remember
that every trimester brings change, too. I have a new set of
professors, new expectations, and new information to throw into
that fragrant soup of knowledge I keep cooking up there. I suppose
my task is to recognize the small changes happening every day and
find solace in them. I will also revel in fall while it lasts, and
try to notice all of its colors and smells while in the thick of my
busy academic life.
I think I'll leave you with this, written by Stephen King, about
the change of seasons:
"But then fall comes, kicking
summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day
sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an
old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old
friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe
and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he
has been and things he has done since last he saw you."
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.
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!)
Looking south from Indian Point (a photo I took at Tanager
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
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
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