After December finals, I had my first naturopathic preceptoring experience. At CCNM, we are required to sit in on a total of 100 patient visits with a practicing naturopathic doctor. From these visits comes the kind of learning that one can only obtain through experience. This particular session, however, served to be a pretty big eye-opener for me.
Sometimes I feel like being a healthy naturopathic medical student is a bit like treading water, while out to sea, after your ship has capsized. Luckily, you are a good swimmer to begin with, but it’s still not easy out there, struggling in the dark, churning water. After several hours you’re exhausted but, luckily, a nice, bright yacht sails by. Before throwing you a life raft, someone on board yells, “I thought you said you were a good swimmer, and yet, I don’t see very good form out there!”
My diet and overall lifestyle has come a long way since I’ve started studying at CCNM. Through the many hours of class, expert instructors, patient visits and my own independent reading I’ve made large changes to my diet, increased the amount of sleep and exercise I get, learned to manage stress and have dealt with some of my own psychological and emotional issues. However, after a period of exams (9 in total) I couldn’t help feeling imbalanced and inadequate.
During the patient visit that I had the opportunity to sit in on, it became quite clear that this patient was much farther down the road to health than I was. During the visit, I listened to this radiant being discuss her interest in living wall gardens, buying organic meats, farmer’s market tofu and completely clean eating while I looked on with dark circles under my eyes and skin that was aged beyond my years. As she spoke I vaguely recalled the lunch I’d eaten that day, which had consisted primarily of jelly beans.
One of the sayings that experienced naturopathic doctors often relay to us students is, “you can only take people as far as you’ve gone yourself,” meaning that we must all be somewhere along the road to health in order to act as a guide or, as some say, a well-marked signpost, on others’ journeys. After all, that’s our job.
I know that I might be being a little hard on myself, and yet, I often feel like I’m not the best signpost at this stage in the game. For, although we receive a ton of education, we don’t have enough time to live the lessons ourselves. Time is spent hunched over a book, using our heads in disproportion to the rest of our bodies, feeling stressed and not eating as well as we should. There isn’t enough time to expand our human experience through regular volunteer work, exposing ourselves to culture, delving into creative pursuits or working through our personal issues by meditating or engaging in spiritual practice.
One day, I hope to be in a place where I have time to create things and research, to live in a house that has walls containing plants that feed me and cupboards that hold contents that are completely clean, unprocessed and chemical free. Ideally, I will make time for meditation and daily hours spent in nature, while becoming a wonderful inspirational asset to the health of my community. In reality, I’m not sure if the world of private practice will allow me this amount of time and energy but I think it’s important to recognize that we naturopathic medical students still have a journey ahead of us, some of us longer ones than others. This patient visit was an excellent reminder of that.
Now I understand why some naturopathic doctors say that their patients often serve as the wisest and most humbling teachers.
But, for now, pass the jelly beans (or maybe some Lifesavers) I have 6 assignments due this week and it’s all I can do to stay afloat!