By Bill Benda, MD
This article is reprinted with permission from the peer-reviewed journal Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal (www.imjournal.com), vol 7 issue 1, pp 64. Copyright 2008, InnoVision Health Media (www.innovisionhm.com).
“Some struggle and strive and make a vast difference on our planet, only to die in obscurity. Others are born on third base and go through life thinking they’ve hit a triple.”
I received a call several months ago from a good friend of mine, a naturopathic physician with years of clinical experience, one book, and several prior political offices hanging like Christmas ornaments from her resume. She was distraught and angry, fortunately not with me in this particular instance. It seems she had picked up a copy of a popular “news” journal at the supermarket, drawn to the cover story touting the effects of dietary changes on fertility, her specific area of expertise. I’ve read the article myself; it’s basically a glossy six-page excerpt from a new book by two Harvard medical doctors.
So why was this accomplished ND up in arms over a mainstream public magazine espousing an arena reflecting her own hard work and professional expertise? Simply this: After years of fighting the allopathic tide, taking hits for suggesting a non-pharmaceutical approach for an issue of great emotional impact, and helping numerous women achieve their reproductive ambitions, a couple of envoys from an ivory tower of medicine were about to garner the reverence, influence, and income that accompany the royalty and royalties bestowed through public acclaim.
This was not the first time such a perceived offense had confronted her. And not the first time it has confronted me. Indeed, my address book is replete with souls who have, through great effort and persistence, subtly affected the medical paradigm that is slowly loosening its grasp on our healthcare system. Yet perhaps only a dozen or so of their names would be recognized by either the integrative professional or integrated layperson. Even for those who have achieved national acclaim, fame has often been as much the result of cultural timing as sheer talent—as talent is a not uncommon attribute in our field.
I can imagine the absolute frustration of seeing one’s own sermons, so carefully prepared and nurtured, splashed through the pages of Time or Newsweek. “This is mine!” thunders the ego, not without reason. “I gave up income, security, and comfort to walk this path! If anyone’s face belongs on that cover, it’s mine!” I know such words well; I’ve had this internal dialogue with myself on more than one occasion over the years. Indeed, a desire for personal recognition was one of the original motivations that launched my expedition from the shores of conventional medical. But slowly, and not without significant discomfort, I’ve begun to let go of such desires.
Partially this has been due to the natural aging process, as I’m beginning to accept that I will never be president or cure cancer. But mostly it’s because I am beginning to understand what the sages have always known—that it ain’t about me, babe, as much as I hate this particular deduction. It’s about what I do with my time on earth, whom I touch, how I love. Because for all of our plans and dreams, the fact is that the recompense for living is as unpredictable as life itself. Some struggle and strive and make a vast difference on our planet, only to die in obscurity. Others are born on third base and go through life thinking they’ve hit a triple. This is nowhere more evident than in our field of integrative medicine, where a moment on Oprah trumps a decade in the laboratory, and an Ivy League degree confers a moniker of brilliance, no matter the actual grade point average.
So to comfort my dear acquaintance, and my own fragile ego, I would say this: Life appears to be not a mirror but a window. It will never disclose to us who might be the fairest of the fair or reflect back to us the true meaning of the long and convoluted thread that unravels as a result of our efforts. It will simply reveal to us where we must travel next, who still remains to be healed, what still requires our continued attention.
Yes, I still long for the kudos and cash that might come from seeing my face on a popular website or in the conference brochure between the pictures of the palm trees and the girl in the yoga pose. But reality continues to trip me up each time I meander down that particular path. I no sooner start than I find myself once more trudging towards the hospital or back at the computer keyboard trying to make sense of this irrational realm we call healing and healthcare. But every once in a while, I am awarded with a thank you card from a patient I have since forgotten or the thoughtful note spawned by my last editorial. And I remember that, for me, fame has been a drug without a disease, leading only towards addiction and abuse—and that, whenever I have tasted it, I have come out the worse for the experience. And somehow, in this thought, I find a sense of peace.
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