Searching for the Forest

11 02 2008


By Derek Beres

Over the past year I’ve experienced numerous medical issues that, while seemingly varied, somehow are connected. This is basic knowledge, though we often treat our bodies as a collection of separate “part,” with each one needing specialized attention. While I’m all for specialized medicine when symptoms call for it, the tunnel vision often applied by the Western medical system of seeking out only one mode of remedy is disconcerting, to say the least.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, which was not surprising. I began having panic attacks at age 16, and would have them annually at most. Two were severe and put me in the emergency room believing myself to have had a heart attack. For the most part they were manageable. Last January, when I suddenly passed out in a restaurant and then began having them daily, I sought out medical attention. I had numerous tests done on my heart and liver, though they showed me to be perfectly healthy. My doctor prescribed me Xanax, as needed, and I can fortunately say that one year later I have not even gone through that entire first prescription. I try to avoid taking them unnecessarily, but at the same time, they do work incredibly well when in the midst of an attack – especially when I am awoken by one, which is usually the worst form.

In December I began getting hit with unusually aggressive acid reflux. Again, this is not new; I’ve been having heartburn since I was 12 years old. It’s been calm for the most part since college, only flaring up here and there. But this recent bout was bad, and I found that when it got really bad, it would trigger off my panic. This too was not surprising. The enteric nervous system, which governs the stomach, intestines and bowels, is more sensitive and influential than your other bodily nervous systems, all the more so because so little is known about it. It makes sense that Carl Jung would declare the unconscious to manifest as diseases in the bowels, and that the second and third chakra centers, located in the solar plexus region, would govern our unconscious emotions regarding family, love and survival.

I was referred to a GI specialist by my doctor to check into this heartburn. A 10-day program of Protonix worked very well, making me think that it was GERD-related. This was prescribed by my doctor, and then I saw the GI. He was certainly a friendly fellow, but unfortunately the small talk about the city I live in and other things dominated the conversation. He didn’t care about my family history or even my present condition. He looked at my file and said I needed an endoscopy. Case closed.

I didn’t mind going in for the procedure. It was not pleasant, but a photograph of your stomach and esophagus is powerful, and can dismiss speculation for actual evidence. I also didn’t mind that the doctor was aloof to my actual symptoms. I would get the results, I told myself, and then seek to treat it ayurvedically, unless there was serious damage which called for something like a PPI. I also tried to not let it bother me that my GI never bothered to say hello while I was at the hospital. In fact, he only walked into the room as the anesthesiologist was asking me some question that I’d never answer, as I would no longer be awake.

I did, however, start to mind when the nurse told me upon awakening to call my doctor in a week to find out results. A week? I thought the benefit of technology was finding out right away? Two members of my family had the same procedure done, and both were told before they left the hospital what was going on. Alas, I waited a week to call. And when I did, my doctor first didn’t remember who I was, and then proceeded to tell me to call for an appointment the following week.

Then I really started minding. I’m not anti-Western medicine by any stretch. I’m not dependent upon it either. If possible, I try to treat everything with herbs, vitamins and yogic techniques. But if the technology is there to help heal us, I will take advantage. What’s more is that a personal relationship with the person that’s supposed to be healing you is very important. The entire process saddened me, seeing how far away from any sort of humanity this treatment was receiving. Because the reality is that its not treatment at all. It was a 15-minute procedure that cost my insurance company nearly $4,000 – and I am fully aware that I’m lucky to not be writing about the inhumanity of insurance here. They covered the expense.

After my doctor canceled on me for a second time, I was livid. I wrote a detailed email about the process, as this was the only way I could actually connect with him, and not one of his secretaries. Now, granted, this second cancellation was for good reason – he had to have emergency surgery for kidney stones the night before our appointment. When we finally talked and I explained that it was still ludicrous that I had to wait over two weeks to find out test results that he knew two seconds after snapping a photograph, he let me know I had a hiatal hernia and slight erosion of my esophagus. Then he told me – as a good doctor would – to Google those terms to find out more.

Wonderful that a medical doctor is relying on Google instead of being an actual doctor to his patient.

Fortunately I never expected more from the process, so I wasn’t let down. I knew a little bit about this hernia, and did in fact Google it, where I did find out plenty more. I found out that the rip in the diaphragm that causes the stomach to impinge on the esophagus is the cause of the reflux, and that this is caused, usually, by one of four things. The first two, obesity and smoking, are things I do not have to worry about. The second, heredity and stress, are. But the reality of it is that worrying about it is only feeding the problem. It was also interesting that this hernia sometimes causes heart palpitations and a tightness in the chest that some confuse with a heart attack, which is also a sign of a panic attack.

Even more interesting is that a hiatal hernia is sometimes caused by tightness in the psoas and quadratus lomborus muscles, which just happen to be the two tightest muscles on my body. I’ve been having bodywork done on me for years, and so know how painful those two regions are on me, mostly the cause of earlier injuries, such as a broken femur, which causes my pelvis to tilt at an awkward anterior angle. All of those factors combined could very well account for this hernia, which could be a major source of my anxiety problem.

Neither of my doctors put nearly any of this together, because neither ask about things like tight muscles and/or emotional symptoms. They both see the single tree in the forest and try to sedate it to sleep. This is not how the body works though. There are plenty of good holistic doctors that see the forest for what it is, and I chalk up this experience as a reminder that diligence and patience are such important factors in diagnosing one’s ailments. I’m happy to have gone through it – and am still going through it, as I have not received any actual advice regarding medication from my GI yet. Knowledge is power, and it takes a bit of investigation to put the puzzle pieces together. Overall, though, I always consider that the more honest, and fruitful, path, as it empowers you with self-knowledge in a way that saying “take this pill” can never offer.




2 responses

11 02 2008
Searching for the Forest : Anxiety-Stress

[…] Original post by innercontinental […]

14 02 2008
Ben Johnson

Hi Derek,
I’m a recipient of your Earthrise Arts mailer, which I quite like. Reading about your health situation, I’ve also noticed you are fond of certain stimulants, specifically chocolate, maté and/or other teas. Regarding panic attacks and acid reflux, I would suggest cutting stimulants from your diet for a month or so, and see how it affects the situation. Easier said than done I know, but stimulants like chocolate and other forms of caffeine and/or sugar can have the effects that you describe, particularly when consumed in the evening.

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