Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Winter Solstice

By Sara Thyr, ND

Labyrinth of Light
Photo by ItzaFineDay, via flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.

I took one of the little snowmen chatchkis to place on the alter at the Solstice Circle I went to on Sunday. I have mixed feelings about him, but such deep appreciation for the spirit in which it was given. And the spirit of celebration, which my mother always fostered this time of year. I appreciate that sometimes the gifts that we unwrap are not always the sum total of what we really get.

The Solstice is an important day of the year for me. I crave the long days, so the Winter Solstice always feels like I can start getting excited about spring again. I know. It’s the middle of what most of us experience as winter. (Similarly, the Summer Solstice always makes me a little sad, even though we are at the apex of long days.)

The Winter Solstice is considered the strongest point of the four main power points of the year. We naturally let go - in our bodies, minds and hearts - that which we don’t want to carry with us into the next cycle of increase. This was an interesting concept to learn at the circle, as I had already begun purging some things in my life - which I really dug into on the Solstice. I felt I had given myself a powerful gift of starting this next part of the year clinging onto less unnecessary baggage.

I ran into a patient who I’d not seen for a long time at a holiday party recently. As we were chatting, she went expressed how much I had helped her sleep. She was very grateful. Her husband is grateful. On an evening that was all about merriment and holiday gifts, I received the best one…appreciation for passing along naturopathic medicine to one who needed it.

What can you gift yourself during this time of year? What idea or habit do you long to leave here in this natural time of removal, moving into spring lighter, gentler, happier? Perhaps it is time to eliminate old mental imprinting that you have been running on from past decades.

I have never been big on New Year’s Resolutions. It’s always felt ripe for setting myself up for failure. Taking time to notice the movement of the seasons - to really feel them and to be a part of them, letting go when that is appropriate, feels more natural to me.

At the end of my yoga class on the Solstice, we did a chant in Sanskrit which I’d like to carry with me into this next phase: May everyone feel peace and happiness. May my actions contribute to the peace and happiness of everyone in the world.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What I Learned From My Nursing Colleagues

By Marica Prenguber, ND, FABNO

new year
Photo by *Sally M*, via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.

As the year end rapidly comes upon us, I am assessing the work I have done toward achieving both personal and professional goals that I set out for 2009. One of the goals that I had established was to better understand what the day to day experiences are of the nursing colleagues in the infusion room of the cancer center in which I work. So I spent a few hours with them in the past couple of weeks (and yes, although the goal was made for this year, I still managed to put it off until December 2009). I am so glad to have spent that time with the infusion room nurses, and been able to better understand what their perspectives are in working in that environment with folks who are undergoing chemotherapy as part of their treatment program for their cancer diagnosis.

Although I work with this same group of patients, my work brings me somewhat different experiences with these patients. So, during part of the time that I spent with these remarkably dedicated nurses, I asked them many questions, including why they do this work – in oncology. Universally they shared very similar reasons. Each of the nurses with whom I spoke told me that they chose oncology because they felt that they could make a difference in someone’s life – in the lives of patients who are going through very difficult situations. And that is helps them to keep their own lives in perspective – to keep a measuring stick against their own trials and tribulations.

I asked about their fears – working in this environment. (It’s very common among folks who work in oncology, at some point, to be very concerned about a symptom that we experience that makes each of us wonder if we have just found the first symptom of a cancer within us.) The vast majority of these nurses are of child bearing years – and the vast majority of them have either been pregnant or their partner has been pregnant at some point during their years working in the infusion room. They all shared that they have feared a specific cancer diagnosis at one time or another, and even now ponder what type of cancer it may be, if not today - then one day. Yet it has never caused them to consider switching to another department. Despite their newborns, their toddlers, their growing children waiting at home for them everyday. Their work with these patients is too much a part of who they are to allow their fears to take over. And still they take the emotional disappointments and triumphs home with them.

What about the frustrations? The loss that comes with the territory – getting close to patients that come in regularly for their treatment, and the family members that come with them, and the battles that are lost. Many shared that come to know the families well – often spending 6-8 hours caring for a patient (and family members!) each time they come in- you get to know them pretty well. Suffering and loss with a relationship that has developed through difficult times over weeks and months can be very painful.

And they still say the good outweighs the difficulties. They have learned to personally be “more spontaneous, to appreciate health (their own) more, and to live on a day to day basis rather than living for the future – appreciating family and friends, and not to live in fear.” They are inspired by these patients – patients who face such challenging situations and yet have such great attitudes – how they get up every day and face the challenge. It seems to me that these nurses do the same - and for this I admire them. I am certain that we all have challenges that make us better, but I am in awe of these RNs who look those issues square in the face every day, and although they drop some tears along the way, they never turn their back on the challenge.

I am fortunate to be able to work alongside an impressive and inspiring group of people. And am happy to be able to have accomplished this goal for 2009, and hope I am better for it. Hoping not to sound too philosophical, I do think it’s important to set goals, personal and professional, and evaluate them at year’s end. Maybe it is just the former school teacher in me, but there is so much to learn and to allow ourselves to be inspired by - with every experience. So my advice for 2010 - set some goals – the research tells us that those of you who do, achieve more, and are happier! Goals provide a focus and enable you to measure your progress. I have read that goals are motivating, and I would agree – it may have taken me until December – but I got it done! And am so glad that I did.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Final Message as AANP President

By Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO
AANP President
Vice President, Quality and Education, Emerson Ecologics

Photo by Dare*2*Dream via flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.

This is my last message as President of the AANP. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my ramblings with you in this venue over the past two years. As my last one, I am taking some liberty and exceeding my word limit just a bit. I have a lot of gratitude to share. As I sit here reflecting upon my time as President, I feel good. We have done a lot! Despite the turmoil of the past many months in our economy, our globe citizenry, and our national health, the AANP has thrived. Naturopathic medicine is more visible in proposed Federal legislation, we have a multi-series documentary on naturopathic medicine and an intricate PR campaign about to launch around it, we have a stellar on-line journal, we have more and deeper alliances with other professional and trade associations. The AANP is actively advancing its mission, has added new members, and has expanded its corporate support. The AANP has matured into a governance model which facilitates visionary leadership. So, as my tenure as President of the AANP draws to a close, I am filled with gratitude and optimism. Let me dwell on these for a moment…

I am grateful for many, many things. I am grateful for the incredible integrity and intelligence of my fellow Board members. The AANP Board has thoughtfully and gracefully transformed itself into a Governance Board. This model has allowed the visioning and leadership activities of the Board to blossom. I am also grateful for the exceptional dedication, passion and talent of the AANP staff and consultants. We are extremely fortunate to have such a capable staff implementing the work of this Association. I am deeply appreciative of all that I have learned from the staff and for their friendship over these past years. I am grateful to every member of the AANP. These doctors understand the criticality of supporting the national association of naturopathic physicians in order to both solidify and grow naturopathic medicine. I am also grateful to those companies who are our corporate sponsors. They understand the integral role that naturopathic physicians have in optimal healthcare and are investing in our future. Finally, I am grateful for the patients that have sought care from naturopathic physicians. Not always an easy thing to do, these individuals have stepped out and sought a different kind of healthcare. Their willingness to experience the benefits of naturopathic medicine is the bedrock of our profession and our continued success is absolutely dependent upon our patients.

My optimism emerges from the confidence that I have in people who comprise the AANP and in the future landscape of healthcare. There is a place in healthcare for naturopathic physicians, and while this place has always existed, more and more people outside of our profession now recognize this place and want it to be larger and more visible. I can think of nothing more exciting than knowing that soon, in my lifetime, many more people throughout this country will enjoy access to naturopathic doctors.

I want to thank you for allowing me to serve at the President of the AANP. I carry the honor of this service deeply. I hope that I contributed to the profession’s well-being and made it easier in some way for each member to be more proud about the AANP and about our profession. Everything I have done is the result of the work of the entire board. I want to thank Dr. Vanessa Esteves, Dr. Chad Aschtgen, and Dr. Steve Bailey for their service as Directors on AANP Board. Their terms have come to a close and these individuals have enriched the Board with their perspectives and have donated extraordinary amounts of their time to this profession, often at the expense of time with their loved ones and other professional endeavors. I also want to extend my deepest gratitude to the current board members, who, as immediate past-President, I will have the pleasure of continuing to learn from and work with. Drs. Michelle Clark, Bill Benda, Tabitha Parker, Sara Thyr, and Michael Cronin. Leaving the role as President is easier with such a fabulous next President in the waiting. I welcome Dr. Carl Hangee-Bauer as our next AANP President. I cannot imagine anyone I would rather hand the baton to. He brings his immense talent, huge passion and great integrity to this role. Dr. Carl, at 12:01 EST January 1st, 2010, it’s all yours! I bow to all with immense respect and love in my heart.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Digitus Impudicus

By Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

dangerous driving in the rain - tips
Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.

It wasn’t until the woman driving the Range Rover in the next lane raised her digitus impudicus that I realized I had been glaring at her. It was on the way to work this morning, driving south on Monaco Parkway; we were driving side by side while she read her email using an iPhone. Any other day I might have admired her talent but that day's feature article in The New York Times was on my mind. The article, a full three columns on the front page, revealed how from the start those engineers who developed car phones knew they were going to be a hazard. One early developer, Martin Cooper suggested locking the dials while driving. This was back in the early 1960s.

By 2007 the government estimated that 11% of drivers were talking on their phones at any given time. Harvard researchers estimate that during 2002, drivers using cell phones caused 2,600 fatal crashes and 570,000 accidents. It’s unlikely that any of these statistics have improved. More people are using phones and with texting and other new uses for these phones, accidents have most likely increased.

It was these numbers that I was trying to fathom as I watched this young woman adeptly use her index finger to scroll down the screen on the phone as she pinned it to the steering wheel with the other hand.

Large number of fatalities invariably get translated in my mind into multiples of the 9/11 deaths. For example the yearly mortality in the US due to lung cancer is equivalent to 108 twin towers lined up and falling like dominoes. Cell phones now account for a pair of towers collapsing annually.

Thinking of those towers as we paralleled our way down the road, I probably wasn’t smiling. I was wondering why we make such a fuss over terrorists and barely notice these insidious causes of death. What’s the difference? Terrorists kill us for political and religious reasons. Businesses can ignore the fact that they kill us because they make a profit. The later is ok and the former isn’t? A 166,000 people die from lung cancer every year, almost all a direct result of smoking cigarettes, and it no longer makes the news. At least with cigarettes we can pretend there was a time when we didn’t know they were dangerous.

But cell phones? No one pretended that talking on the phone would make cars safer. One needn’t be a rocket scientist or a Bell Laboratory engineer to realize they would increase the risks of driving. Using hands free phones are still risky but handheld phones are four times as dangerous. While she read and responded to email on a tiny touch screen, I don’t want to guess how much this woman increased our collective risk of having a bad day, a really bad day.

Why do we tolerate these pernicious incursions on our health and safety? Our patients come to us worried about how much vitamin E they should take, whether coconuts are healthy for them and other relatively trivial questions. Using a cell phone while driving is more likely to kill them than bisphenol-A or any of a dozen other things we put so much effort into protecting them from. Some days we might do everyone more good by becoming public advocates, making it harder to smoke and making it difficult to talk and drive. We could count the lives we save by the thousands.

Why is it so easy to look the other way? There was a brief flurry a few years back of bumper stickers that read, “Hang up and Drive.” The sentiment never took hold, perhaps because phone receivers no longer exist. The generation that needs to hear the message most has never ‘hung up’ a telephone.

I called a colleague last week at a time we’d prearranged. I caught her in the car ferrying her kids somewhere. I can’t name anyone I know who shuts off their phone when they get in the car. These are people who would go hungry rather than eat trans-fatty acids. There’s a disconnect here.

It is time to shift public perception. Talking on the phone in the car is no longer ok. It’s no longer multi-tasking, it’s no longer being efficient and productive. It’s being stupid. It’s sociably unacceptable, or at least it should be. As doctors we have a responsibility to teach our patients. Let’s teach this lesson by example and shut off our phones while we drive.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nature’s Way

By Bill Benda, MD

Southern California Fires
Photo by Rennett Stowe, via flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.

This article is reprinted with permission from the peer-reviewed journal Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal (, vol 7 issue 1, pp 64. Copyright 2008, InnoVision Health Media (

My world burned on June 24th of this year. I witnessed its genesis on a beautiful Big Sur summer day, clear and warm, the Pacific luminescent in the afternoon sun. And then, from the north, 3 small, innocent, tumbling clouds, passing overhead barely noticed, until . . .

Boom. Five rapid lightning strikes: 4 over the ocean and 1 touching down half a mile south of my ridge. Ten minutes later, a puff of smoke. After 24 hours, 4 neighboring houses burned to the ground and I began what became a 7-week exodus from my home and bed. More than 200 000 pristine acres and 30 structures destroyed within a month, and nothing we humans, even with our sophisticated airborne fire-fighting technology, could do to stop the advancing flames.

And then, once we were finally allowed to return to our blackened homes, something quite strange and beautiful occurred. The smoke cleared, the ash settled, and the earth, instead of gasping in pain, began to breathe as it hadn’t in a hundred years. The sky acquired a blue not before seen by those now alive, and the coyote pups and fox cubs I feared had perished reappeared, thrilled with the epicurean fare now exposed on the barren earth. The land loved having been burned. It turns out only we humans had suffered from what was, in fact, the ecological equivalent of a good housecleaning. As the only species allowed access to the process of combustion, we were, ironically, the ones who suffered most from its ill temper. It turns out we have become so adept at fire suppression that we have interfered with Nature’s perfect means of clearing away the debris of her own life cycles. It took but 1 lightning strike to dissipate both our sense of security and our delusion of eminent domain.

Which brings us (at last!) to the topic of healthcare. Our media is laden with stories of epidemic obesity and hypertension and diabetes. But obesity, hypertension, and diabetes do not kill. Stroke and myocardial infarctions kill. And ketoacidosis. And sepsis. We, in our exuberance to suppress the unpleasant symptoms of chronic illness, have, with our pharmaceuticals and surgeries, allowed our own toxic accumulation of unhealthy protoplasm—cells and organ systems unable to breathe, to cleanse, to heal. The patient need not really pay attention to nutrition and exercise if a little blue pill can make the pain go away.

But when the lightning strike of a clot hits us or a bit of inflammation starts a forest fire, the results are catastrophic rather than merely inconvenient. We suffer a stroke rather than a little more senility. A cellulitis becomes sepsis.

Life’s disasters have a way of teaching us lessons that we, in our mortal arrogance, tend to ignore until painful remediation engulfs us. Some tutorials are of extraordinary value, such as the rediscovery of compassion that had been nescient until a friend faces heartbreak. Others are more poignant than tragic, as in the revelation that one really does not need and does not miss all that stuff in the drawers and closets.

But above all, through catastrophe we learn that we are not in control, no matter how powerful our war machines or how small our computer chips. Nature trumps all, and when she wishes to correct the insanity of our plans for her planet, we are helpless to stop or even slow her down. “It’s Nature’s way,” goes the old ’60s Spirit tune, “of telling you something’s wrong.”

Perhaps it is time to surrender back to Nature her thrones of omniscience and omnipotence. During some points in our lives, we must become ill. We must age. We must die. Our task as practitioners is not to suppress the symptoms of blocked arteries and failing memories but to clear the toxic load of adipose tissue and calcium deposits and free radicals that will feed the flames of an acute medical event. Most of all, it is time to come to the understanding and acceptance that we are not in control, and that, in fact, we would not benefit by being in control. Nature has given us the most advanced healing technology on the planet, one that has been perfected over tens of millions of years and needs only our respect and attention to function at top performance—our own personal human body.

It is time to stop interfering with the natural processes that possess their own timetable of living and of dying; rather, we should focus on lending support to a cycle we may not fully understand and may never fully accept. This life is not our life. It is but a beautiful, perfect cell in the organism that is our natural world, a place not ours to control but only inhabit. And when we do return to ash, we will assist the earth in breathing deeply, once again.