Often people first who first meet me ask how I went from being a Louisiana medical school graduate and Marine Combat Battalion Surgeon to becoming a Natural Anti-Aging Doctor.
Here is the story. At age 28, I found myself living in Paris studying French. By then, I had completed an accelerated undergraduate Bachelor of Science program, medical school, a medical internship, one year in Vietnam with the Marines assigned as Chief Medical Officer to a Combat Battalion, and one year in San Diego at the Balboa Naval Hospital. I had zero interest in studying Natural Medicine, having only heard of it as some sort of a vague, even weird, unscientific system.
Before beginning a prestigious residency program at Tulane University under Dr. Robert Heath, I decided to spend a year in Europe in a self-directed study of French and European History. As I was about to settle into my carefully planned year abroad, my reality quickly and totally unexpectedly was turned into a painful, struggling existence as my health began to deteriorate. For the first time, I began to experience physical pain for which I had no easy answers.
Shortly before leaving for Europe, while skiing in Lake Tahoe, I reinjured an old football injury in my knee. For the past ten years, I had been completely without symptoms. But because of the persistent swelling and pain after the ski trip, I sought out the advice of the most prominent orthopedic specialist in San Diego. His opinion, that degenerative arthritis had set in and the knee would eventually have to be replaced, came as quite a shock. In the meantime, the orthopedist also advised I would have to take medications to control the pain and swelling.
While understanding these options from a medical perspective, I was still taken back by the seeming inevitability of it all. In retrospect, the orthopedist’s suggestion for the eventual knee replacement was actually an attempt to give comfort to a distraught young man who kept saying to him, “How can this be? There has to be some sort of definitive treatment to fix this problem.” After all, my knee had been perfectly fine without symptoms for ten years before the recent skiing trip! Now I was being told it would never be the same again!
Nevertheless, I took the medications, tried to put aside my concerns and prepared for what I had hoped would be a fun, restful year abroad after my discharge from the Navy. But shortly after arriving in Europe, even though the knee pain and swelling did improve, I started to have painful attacks of gout. It was at this point that I arrived in Paris to begin my French study course at a language school. Since I knew through my study of history that gout had afflicted many of the French philosophers and nobility during the Age of Enlightenment, I tried to put a positive spin on my circumstance while gulping down pain relievers.
A fellow student at the language school noticed I was limping and wincing while I was moving around. She suggested some basic dietary changes, including that I try eating yogurt. It turned out she was a licensed dietician from Montreal. I tried not to show the distain in which I viewed such natural recommendations of treatment, mainly because I was single and the dietician was quite attractive! Instead, I simply asked, “Why in the world would I do that?” Quite honestly, I did not know yogurt as anything more than a sweet dessert which I found to have no flavor unless you put a whole lot of sugar in it. The dietician’s suggestion seemed like just another type of ridiculous, unscientific treatment which would offer me no pain relief. And this typified what I thought of Natural Medicine at that time.
But as the days went on, I was still in pain and not getting better from my pain medications. The dietician tried again to explain that even though yogurt was not a pain reliever, eating it could help me indirectly, from the “inside out” as she put it. Clearly the dietitian was intelligent, and of course still attractive. So, for all of the reasons above, I started to ask a few questions.
Remember, this was 1971, not 2001. It was actually illegal to practice Chiropractic or Naturopathic Medicine in many states in the United States. There were articles periodically published describing the arrests of Naturopathic Physicians who attempted to practice outside of the very few states that provided for a Licensure. Many Osteopathic Medical Boards had largely sold out or cleverly adjusted to survive, depending on one’s point of view. The Osteopathic Boards had directed their members and schools to become indistinguishable from mainstream medicine, other than offering traditional courses in spinal adjustments. Other natural care courses were eliminated. The younger osteopaths quickly dropped adjustments of the spine and went into orthopedics and general surgery. Under a climate of learning medicine from professors who shared the common beliefs of physicians at that time, I had fully accepted this proscribed view, without any real investigation on my part. That view held that the whole arena of Natural medicine was based on “poor science” and populated by people who were not able to get into proper medical schools. The practitioners were seen at best, as well meaning deluded people and at worst, only slightly better than charlatans preying on the false hopes of people.
Dianne, the Canadian dietician who eventually became a dear friend, picked up on my resistive and closed frame of mind. She suggested we visit a Parisian Medical Doctor who practiced Natural Medicine to get his options and opinions. During the visit, it was clear Dianne suggested the meeting so I could hear what I should do from a “MD,” to allow the information block I had about natural care to be bypassed. Her strategy largely worked. The meeting with the Parisian MD was an eye opener. I was amazed at the quiet confidence both the MD and Dianne showed at the possibility of actually getting better. Perhaps my continued gout and knee deterioration were not inevitable after all! I recall the MD pulling out a few articles on nutrition from American Medical Schools when I told him there was no research on nutrition going on in America! The Parisian MD’s calmly pulling out a research article or two made such an important impression on me at that time that, to this day, I do the a lot of the same thing in my work with people. As those of you who have worked with me know, when someone comments that they or their previous physician did not know of any research in the area of Natural Medicine we are discussing, I usually offer a few articles to indicate where the research has been done.
The MD and Dianne smiled knowingly and kindly, but said, “What did you expect to happen to you?” when they reviewed my stressful lifestyle and adherence to a diet which was almost 100% acidic. All of that in a person with arthritis as a genetic family trait.
With this new information now being taken seriously, I became a vegetarian for many years and adapted to an alkaline ash diet program that I continue to follow today. My knee pain, deterioration and gouty arthritis are long gone. Sometimes people comment that I seem to have the good fortune to physically look a few years younger than my actual age and ask for my “secret.” Population groups which follow an alkaline diet as a cultural norm over a lifetime seem to have the same extra youthful appearance.
After the visit with the MD in France, I also began to do research of my own. I was fascinated to discover how much research material there was from the US and around the world. The data and results from such research into Natural Methods of Treatment of Disease were so compelling that they easily became my focus of medical study at that time, and remain to be my focus to this day.
As a general pattern, the scientific research on information in Natural Medicine and even some little know mainstream medicine methods proved that there were, undeniably, as effective ways of treating disease as the surgery and the multiple prescription based techniques I had been trained to use. However, these other natural based methods no longer had the ability to produce the high profit margins necessary to be marketed to doctors competitively with the development of very patentable methods. Usually these “road less traveled” methods I described were less dangerous treatments, more natural, and resulted in deeper cures to the majority of the chronic medical conditions commonly afflicting our world. And yes, I learned that there are several levels of cure for any disease process that can to be addressed in order to avoid the excessive use of pharmaceuticals and surgery.
What I finally grasped over time was that I was a well trained physician in only one specific type of medical care. That type of care had only recently become established as the pre-eminent method of medical care in advanced societies around the world. The system I had learned in medical school and used to great benefit in my work in rural Guatemala, in emergency rooms in America, and the battlefields of Vietnam could save many lives. It seemingly gave an almost divine like power to prevent death to young doctors, such as myself, with those skills in surgery and antibiotics. Yet something very important seemed to be missing. There was and is an Achilles Heel, if you pardon the medical simile, to this otherwise impressive system. And I had found it personally. My experience with the chronic knee injury early in life taught me firsthand the great limitations of the system of medicine in which I was so well trained. Being humbled is an understatement. I will try to summarize what that Achilles Heel is in the following paragraph.
It was obvious to me after my experience with my disease condition in Paris that over the previous 30 to 40 years before I entered medical school in 1967, a dramatic transformation in medicine had occurred that was never fully and consciously acknowledged, nor planned. It just happed. The advances in surgery, including anesthesiology and post-operative care, opened many new possibilities in the treatments for injuries, wounds, and congenital cardiac diseases in children. Antibiotics and inoculations cured countless previously fatal conditions. The iron lung wards for polio patients and TB sanatoriums were closed down. Cortisone stopped previous fatal asthma in its tracts, relieved the pains of arthritis and was eventually held out as the promise of cures in those areas.
The effects of surgery and medications seemed so dramatic that it is understandable what happened next. Schools of medicine became essentially limited training grounds for people to learn to do surgery and use these newer medications. The focus of medical study was quickly narrowed to only these methods. All other methods were deemed unscientific and inferior, and no longer worthy of funded study and research.
These medical breakthroughs also received great unified public support and admiration. Some of the most popular early TV programs, such as Dr. Kildare, were about doctors and hospitals, and these types of shows continue to be popular to this day. Also of importance was that the effects of using the new medications and surgery generated financial profits never before seen in medicine. The prices for medications and all medical services began to skyrocket in the 1950’s, as the deaths from childhood and adult infections fell. This new system of medicine could be standardized, patented and made into a business. These were new concepts for medicine. These profits help establish pharmaceutical companies and allowed for them to go public and become publicly traded stocks, multiplying their profits. The companies produced more and more medications, surgical devices, etc. Great old institutions that were previously established specifically as Naturopathic Centers for research and therapy, like the Mayo Clinic and Hahnman Homeopathic Medical College in Philadelphia, completely abandoned their roots and became the bastions of solely the surgery and pharmaceuticals they are today. Many other Naturopathic Centers closed for lack of funding when they did not change to the specific practice of medical and surgery based medicine that was demanded by the funding sources of this new era.
The financial and intellectual takeover of medicine in this country was swift and almost complete by the involvement of well funded surgical and pharmaceutical companies. Insurance companies quickly arose around the same time, ostensibly to give people more access to these new wonder therapies which were quickly becoming expensive. But as patients no longer had to pay directly for their care, it only had the effect of again increasing the cost. The end result by the early 1960’s was that there was a sudden and almost complete elimination of access to the medical research, knowledge and skills needed to maintain health, avoid disease, or slowly bring the body back to health when disease had occurred. In short, if it was not a surgical or patented prescription medication based treatment, it was no longer viewed as any kind of medicine by most of the doctors. Students no longer wanted to attend Naturopathic schools. Thus, the schools which attempted to treat the body as a whole and cure disease by starting within and moving out, ceased to receive funding for further research or teaching. You had a system that produced many doctors like myself who could save lives in emergency rooms, be honored for work in a war in Vietnam, but have no clue what yogurt was actually used for in health, or that acidity causes arthritis and gout.
I see no point in trying to look at all of this as a simple picture of impersonal, corporate greed or victimization of the innocent. If someone has taken antibiotics or invested money in the stock market, as we all have, are they not in a small way part of the system, part of this takeover of all of medicine by one better-funded segment? We all have friends who have been helped, or perhaps we have been helped by these advances described above. But unfortunately, as a society, we threw out the “baby with the bath water.” And now, we also all have friends who have been injured, or perhaps we have been injured by the over use of surgery and medications. Until we reintroduce, teach and appreciate the Natural Approach in medical care on completely equal footing, we will continue to see in our society the spread of greater and greater numbers of disabled, chronically unwell people, who use expensive and excessive medications and surgical procedures to survive, but not thrive. We have eliminated TB sanatoriums but have seen the rise of houses of the not well, often called nursing homes or care homes. Each time we use airports, there seems to more and more need for wheelchairs for people who are unable to simply walk to the departure gates, even though many of them have received hundreds of thousands of dollars of cardiac surgery, joint replacements and patented medications.
As I was told personally in Paris by the physician who understood Natural Medicine, “What do you expect?” We should now say to ourselves, “What can we expect?” When we began to no longer recognize the value of a system of medicine where people and doctors address disease by working together to restore and add vitality to the body, would we not expect to have an increasingly debilitated population, caused by conditions that are simply out of reach of further surgery or even stronger medications?