The smell of disease masked by disinfectant and the bright florescent lights are something I won't too soon forget. I was 16 and it was my first job. Florida is a haven for retirees, so it was only natural that the majority of patients in that hospital were elderly and in poor health. Painful memories of my grandmother's battle with cancer and my own childhood illnesses were too strong to allow me to continue working in that environment for long. This experience also made me wonder about my father's parents. What were they doing so differently that made them be able to enjoy good health and an active lifestyle? It also made me question my own well-being.
Much of my early life was spent in hospitals and while the operations I underwent corrected various congenital defects; I was constantly ill. Visiting the doctor and taking various prescriptions became as routine as going to school and eating cornflakes.
As I look back on three generations of my family, some obvious, yet interesting patterns begin to emerge. I grew up with awe regarding my father's parents. They were older than my mother's parents, yet they looked and acted so much younger. Comparing their lifestyles and health care philosophies is like looking at opposite sides of the spectrum. My maternal grandparents passed on almost 15 years ago. My paternal set, on the other hand are healthy individuals who are approaching their 90's.
Since it was my mother who raised me, it was her beliefs regarding medical care which determined how I would be treated anytime I became ill. Her principles were based on her upbringing. Consequently, any mention of non-traditional healing methods were ignored.
It was when I left home for college and became ill that I decided I needed to take some personal responsibility. I spoke at length with my grandmother about herbal treatments, nutrition and lifestyle. She encouraged me to read about oriental medicine and to investigate possible causes for my illness. It became clear to me that I needed to look beyond symptoms. I needed to work backwards to get to the possible root causes. Eventually, with the combination of certain herbs, dietary and lifestyle changes, I was able to stop taking the prescription medications.
Years later as my mother faced her own mortality by being diagnosed with an auto- immune disease of "unknown pathology," she reacted in much the same way her parents had reacted to illness: she ignored it. As she developed more complications such as fibromyalgia, she turned to surgery as a method to relieve the pain. My mother's sisters have also been diagnosed with this, but they have sought relief through much less evasive methods such as acupuncture and yoga. Now, they enjoy flexibility and a life free from pain. In contrast, my mother now experiences greater pain than prior to the surgery.
Based on my own family history and numerous stories from friends and acquaintances testifying to the benefits of oriental medical practices, I am firmly convinced that people's lives can be changed for the better. Our health is something which we can not take for granted and we must play an active role in managing our own health care. For me, this reaches far beyond caring for myself.
For the past two years, I have enjoyed countless hours with a dear friend who is HIV positive. During this time, he has experienced related illnesses, but has always managed to regain his health by combining oriental medicine with pharmaceuticals. I can not imagine a more fulfilling and compassionate way to spend my life than by helping others realize their own potential for great health.
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