MY HEALTH JOURNEY
"Having a sensitive system with immune and digestive issues since childhood has helped me to become a better doctor. I understand what it takes to overcome health challenges. Complex health issues are often misunderstood & requires a lifestyle devoted to emotional & physical balance ."
(collage by Elizabeth Large)
Learning that I was a “Highly Sensitive Person” was an informative moment for me. "Highly Sensitive People" or HSP's are estimated to be 15-20% of the population. This discovery guided me in putting together the pieces to my own health problems. I also found that there were genetic tendencies that predisposed myself and my family members to issues such as depression, anxiety, dementia and alcoholism in my family lineage.
In the year 2011, when I began learning about chronic infection, I found that I too had many of the symptoms. I began treating myself with natural supplements and herbs, finding that my body responded well. It was at this time that a large amount of my patient population was also suffering from chronic infection. Wanting to learn more about the field of infectious disease, I did a preceptorship with Dr. Wayne Anderson, ND in Santa Rosa. Dr. Anderson asked me to come work with him and my career in infectious disease was born.
Working with those with Lyme and other chronic infections was deeply gratifying and taught me a great deal. I began to see that many with chronic infection have a history that predisposes them to getting ill from these infections. Since many of these infectious diseases such as Lyme, Babesia, Bartonella, Erlichia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be carried by tick, lice, fleas and mosquitoes I began to think that a large proportion of the population are most likely exposed to these infections. I became interested in why only a percentage of people get ill after a tick bite. My data are all to be found in my personal observations over the years. I include my own history as part of this data.
I chose to study naturopathic medicine in part to heal my own health problems. As I kid I was the allergic child with a poor immune system. I had the chronically drippy nose and got every cold and flu going around. I was a sensitive kid and yet pushed myself to excel in many areas. I tried to be like others but didn’t see that my system was more sensitive. In retrospect, I believe that I was very stress intolerant and my frequent acute infections were largely due to an inability to handle stress and the awareness of my physical limitations.
I was incredibly thankful to discover natural medicine at the age of 28. It was the first time I found an alternative to the antibiotics that had been the mainstay of my childhood. Natural medicine cured my chronic sinusitis that I had suffered from for 10 years. It helped pull me out a debilitating fatigue that came after working one summer doing indoor oil painting. This led me to pursue a career in Naturopathic medicine. My experiences in my family and my personal health helped shape my career as a doctor.
I had always been sensitive and stress intolerant yet quite ambitious in my approach to life. I had a strong will and was able to make my body keep up with my passionate thirst for life. I backpacked through Southeast Asia for a year, participated in triathalons and 100 mile century rides, hiked regularly inthe hills of Southern California, Arizona, Oregon and Northern California. Naturopathic medicine was my savior as I could use herbs, vitamins and nutrition to cure my health issues. It wasn’t until various stressors occurred consecutively in my late 40’s that my immune system began to break down and I began experiencing chronic shingles, insomnia and bouts of fatigue. I was working with chronic, complex illness at Gordon Medical Associates in Santa Rosa. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by very knowledgable doctors with the latest, cutting edge information on curing chronic infection. My stress levels were putting a burden on my immune system that I could not undo with all the natural medicine. Concurrently, I became a foster parent in 2014, something that had been in the works for years. It was amazing to have a beautiful 8 year old daughter and I was grateful for her coming into my life.
In the Fall of 2014 as I was learning the ropes of becoming a mother, I came down with a strange flu-like illness. The next week, my body was covered with a strange rash and rather unsightly blisters on my hands, wrists and fingers. For weeks, no one was able to diagnose my condition until one of my colleagues at Gordon Medical noticed my rash looked like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I tested positive 3 weeks later and started oral doxycycline. Over time my arthralgia, numbness in my extremities, fatigue, headaches improved. I thought that I had overcome the illness but throughout 2015 I suffered from bouts of fatigue, headaches and often debilitating insomnia. I thought it was all due to stress and perimenopause.
Nearly a year after the acute RMSF infection, my old symptoms began to reappear without the rash. I immediately started IV antibiotics for 3 weeks. Along with antibiotics and nutritional IV therapy, LDI, herbs, sauna, yoga and meditation, somatic therapy, lifestyle management and rest, I began to heal. Two and a half years later, my body has recovered from this virulent infection. Getting ill often happens with the "perfect storm" of multiple stressors on your immune system. For me I believe it was infection, prior mold exposure, life stress and a genetic susceptibility. In retrospect, I now realize that stress is the biggest and greatest enemy of the immune system. The experience has taught me to LISTEN to my body and I am a kinder person to my body because of it. I also learned first hand what it feels like to have an infection that most doctors know nothing about. I can empathize with the fear and isolation that comes with having an chronic infection whose treatment lies outside the parameters of western medicine . This experience has made me a wiser and more compassionate doctor.