Whether you've known me a long time or you're just newer to this website and the world of functional medicine, I want to share 3 things that have shaped my own health journey.
I WAS THE SICK KID
I grew up in a loving home. My dad was a pastor, my mom a nurse. I was the youngest of 3 kids. I was a sick kid.
Every February, the fall of an ear infection transitioned into strep throat, then into bronchitis, right into the standard antibiotic treatment. I don't remember being at many school Valentine's Day parties because I was absent due to those ailments.
I was also an obese child. At the age of 11, I was 4'11" and weighed 115 lbs. I thought "husky" was a brand of clothing, not a clothing code word for "fat kid clothes section."
Through middle and high school, I was involved in athletics, so I trimmed up and "stretched out" with all that activity and the ear infections and strep and bronchitis improved.
Despite the former getting better, in my undergraduate years, I developed eczema so bad in my hands that if I opened up my palm, I would have this dual sensation of intense itching and pain due to my skin ripping apart.
Not many girls were keen on holding my hand.
What really shifted my health was when I was at chiropractic college after my undergraduate training. Yes, we were learning about the intricacies of nerves, blood vessels, movement patterns, etc, but we had equal parts nutrition as well.
To keep up with my 2 roommates who looked like action figures, I started cutting grain-based carbs (that was when Atkins was really popular). Lots of meat, no bread, no pasta, no chips, and cut all the wheat-based products. I cut out all the cakes, candy, and stopped drinking milk. What do you know? My skin healed up. I also started taking supplements like fish oil for the first time in my life. I still didn't understand the connection that my diet was improving my skin, but I liked the result. I was eating that way more for physique than any other reason.
I never knew anyone with eczema and had no clue it could be healed. What else was I missing with this nutritional piece? Could I incorporate this into my future practice career?
I ALMOST QUIT THE PROFESSION
I graduated from that chiropractic program at the end of 2004. I had completed all my national board exams and was looking for a clinic to start treating patients. I took a position in a clinic in Bakersfield, CA. I moved from NY state (my entire life) to the opposite coast.
It took about 6 months in that clinic before I realized there was a lot of shady stuff happening in the billing department at the direction of the owner.
One of the services that the clinic offered was custom orthotics (shoe inserts). We were instructed to perform a gait analysis on all patients using this orthotic scanning machine.
I had a patient that was paralyzed from the waist down. One morning, I got to the office with a note on my desk from the owner, "Please do a scan on Johnny."
I replied, "He is unable to perform."
The next morning, another note appeared. "Please do a scan on Johnny!"
I replied, "He is unable to perform!"
Morning #3. "PLEASE SCAN JOHNNY!!!"
Final reply. "JOHNNY HAS NO LEGS!!"
The only reason we were doing that service was because insurance would pay a lot for it. I slowly realized that 90% of the services offered were because insurance would pay for it, NOT because the patient actually needed it. If patient A had X type of insurance, he got the platinum selection of services. If patient B had Y insurance, she would get bare minimum services, despite actually really benefitting from the platinum services.
My frustration grew with that clinic. One of the final straws was that I asked the owner if I could do some nutrition classes through the clinic. He emphatically said, "YES, but keep it to 15 minutes and make sure you serve pizza and soda." His way of saying "no."
At the same time, my interest grew in a certain girl in Colorado (remember, I was in California).
After 10 months of growing frustration at the clinic and long-distance correspondence with that girl, I made the move to Colorado to be near the girl. And yes, I got the girl. Or did she get me?
But I wasn't really interested in staying in my profession. In fact, when I moved here, I opted for stocking shelves at Walmart during the graveyard shift to pay bills instead of finding another clinic.
Thankfully, I became aware of a few clinics in town that actually were interested in helping the person as an individual and not just based on their insurance carrier. That restored my faith in the profession and set me back into motion in delivering healthcare services.
WHAT ELSE AM I MISSING?
As I got back into the healthcare game, I wanted to make sure lifestyle and nutrition were an intricate piece of the structural care I was delivering. I wanted people to be able to be their own advocate for their health and use the healthcare system ("sick care system") as little as possible.
Fast-forward to 2014 when I went totally independent and opened up Dr. Kurt's Place. I had a slogan and theme of "More Health Less Healthcare." Lifestyle medicine and wellness were already pieces of my approach, but it wasn't until an experience with a long-time chiropractic client that created the tipping point in the world of functional medicine.
This woman had been under regular chiropractic care for years for maintenance, but one day she came in with this raging, unrelenting shoulder pain. We did a couple of visits working on mobility and the shoulder soft tissue but nothing touched that pain. I was then convinced she had a torn rotator cuff.
Off to get an MRI. The report came back clean as a whistle. What is going on? For lack of knowing what else to do, I suggested, "maybe go get some labs and see if there's anything weird going on."
There was. Her thyroid numbers were whacky. She was already taking meds for it but for some reason, it needed to be adjusted. Within 2 weeks of her meds being adjusted, her shoulder was pain free. WHAT?!!
I'm not saying every shoulder issue is a thyroid issue, but it did raise the internal dialogue of "what else am I missing?" How many of these seemingly muscle and structure issues are actually metabolic issues? How can I better serve those people that have a chronic pain problem when structural work isn't improving the problem?
That was the tipping point to more formal functional medicine training that actually will never end. What I love is that I still feel like I'm just getting started. I get to apply what I learn to myself and my family, so my kids won't suffer from the health issues that I did.
I get to try and optimize what a Perkins looks like and functions and, hopefully, that inspires some hope in others who have struggled with chronic health issues. This could lead to the 4th point of losing my brother at the age of 37 and losing my dad to Alzheimer's, but I've written a whole book on that...hint hint.
IN THE NEWS...
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