Amy’s Functional Medicine Journey
I was not your traditional medical school student. I was in my early 30s during medical school. (My classmates referred to me as “Nana”.) I worked as a Registered Dietitian for several years prior to attending medical school. I have always felt, and still do, that our lifestyle choices play a huge role in our overall health. Diet, physical activity, stress, lack of sleep, exposures to chemicals, etc. are major contributors to chronic disease. Unfortunately, these things were barely covered and outright neglected during my medical school education and residency training.
Much of my education and training focused on using pharmaceuticals and procedures to treat symptoms. While treating symptoms is necessary and much appreciated by patients, what’s more important is treating the underlying root causes that are causing those symptoms. The traditional insurance model does not allow this. As many of you know and have experienced, a typical visit is around 10-15 minutes and usually ends with the doctor handing the patient a prescription to treat a symptom.
I wanted no part of that.
So, I went to work in the ER after completing my residency training–at least I would be helping people with emergent and urgent needs instead of possibly harming them more with pharmaceuticals to treat their chronic conditions. While I enjoyed my time in the ER, I felt a strong desire to help patients empower themselves to lead healthy lifestyles and avoid the chronic diseases that were behind so many of their ER visits. And I was going to do it on my terms.
The desire to address the underlying causes of chronic disease along with trying to manage my own chronic health issues led me to a chance meeting with a Functional Medicine doctor. My life changed that day. This person not only exposed me to an approach to medicine for which I had been desperately searching, she exposed me to the approach that ultimately helped me overcome my own chronic medical problems.
I, too, have been a patient. I, too, have experienced the hopelessness of waking up every day with health problems that no one could “figure out”. During my Family Medicine residency I was diagnosed with “possible MS”. I had spent the last several years seeing various specialists for the evaluation and treatment of many chronic problems—horrible (I mean HORRIBLE) constipation, IBS, reflux, depression, neuropathy, spastic bladder, restless leg syndrome, vertigo, and rashes. No one could give me a reason as to why I was experiencing these things.
My family doctor did all he could before referring me to GI specialists, neurologists, physical therapists, dermatologists, and psychiatrists. After colonoscopies, EGDs, EMGs, CT scans, MRIs, numerous lab panels, and multiple medications I still did not have any answers or relief. None of the pharmaceuticals helped, and many made me feel worse. I felt hopeless and crazy. So, after a failed defagram test (just so you know, this test involves sitting on a “toilet” in front of about 3 other people while they take x-rays of you pooping contrast material–embarrassing!) my colorectal surgeon and I decided that it was time to “fix” my colon. I just could not entertain the idea of having to endure a life of constant abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation.
I had a wonderful surgeon. His care was superb, and I healed quickly. He removed all but 18 inches of my colon. Well, that cured the horrible constipation I had been dealing with for 10 years but the constipation was replaced with chronic diarrhea. I should have bought stock in Charmin. Not only was diarrhea an issue, my other problems remained and new problems developed. My fatigue was requiring me to take naps everyday. I couldn’t sleep at night because of my restless legs. I was still having neuropathy in my feet and hands. My depression was worse and I began having anxiety attacks. How could I help my patients when I couldn’t even help myself?
I found myself in a state of despair…until I was introduced to Dr. Bette Bischoff, a certified Functional Medicine doctor. Functional Medicine? What the heck is that? After one of the most interesting conversations about the microbiome and immune system I dove head first into this Functional Medicine stuff. I had to know more! I signed up for my first IFM module and heard things I had never heard before. How was this not mentioned in medical school?! After quickly realizing that this, indeed, was not quackery, I signed up for as many modules as I could.
It was the best decision I ever made.
I am happy to say that I am now “cured”. The root cause of my problems was a very unhappy microbiome—major dysbiosis and likely small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. I discovered that I had intolerances to wheat, whey, and eggs. And those Diet Cokes weren’t helping either. I made sure I got rid of toxic exposures (I also had elevated mercury levels). A regular sleep schedule became a top priority. This was something very new to me. Doctor’s don’t have the best sleep schedules. Once I addressed my diet, stress, sleep, over-exercising, and toxin exposures and began an intensive gut healing program my symptoms quickly resolved.
Was this for real? Was this going to last? Was it really that simple?
The answer: yes, yes, and yes.
I will be forever grateful for that chance meeting with Dr. Bischoff. Since that meeting I have had the privilege of helping hundreds of patients improve the quality of their lives by addressing the root cause(s) of their chronic problems. These patients and their doctor (ME) are living happier and healthier lives because of a Functional Medicine approach.