I grew up in the world of Family Medicine because my Dad became a licensed Family Practitioner when I was 5 years old. My older brother, my twin brother and I were all born while he was in Medical School at University of Illinois. Our formative years were heavily impacted by the study of medicine. We moved to California for his Residency in King City, California. When I was 4, my Dad bought a Family Practice from a Dr who was retiring in a San Jose neighborhood called Willow Glen.
The Family Practice, he took over, was in a double story house with his medical office on the first floor and the area we lived in above it, on the top floor. My Dad’s office was part of our home and I loved it. He was always accessible to us kids and, back then, he was actually delivering babies for many of his female patients. My childhood was so inspiring… to see the trust patients had in my Dad and to be able to grow up watching babies he brought into the world grow up was something I always cherished.
I was always fascinated by the medical arts and interested in biology from a very early age. My Dad, happily took me under his wing by taking me with him on house calls and on his rounds at the hospital. A few years after buying the Family Practice in Willow Glen, California, my Dad joined a Group Practice and we moved into a full sized, California Ranch style house. He ended up going back on his own a few years after that.
I loved being my Dad’s little shadow and wanted to go with him everywhere he went with his Dr bag. While he was the medical director of nursing homes, I would accompany him there. I joined him on every call I could possibly go to with him. Actually, my true passion was to entertain people and my goal was always to bring a smile to his sick and elderly patients by singing and dancing while my Dad would exam them and treat them. I spent many years dreaming about being a Dr during the day and be an actor at night. I watched my Father who played the trombone in Jazz bands every chance he could get. So, this dream of mine seemed totally logical to me. However, it was around age 8 when I made the formal announcement at a “family meeting” that I realized it would take more time to be a professional actor and so I had to give up my dream of being a Dr and focus on acting, singing and dancing.
I was always focused and hardworking, two things my parents taught by example and values that they helped to instill in me. My Mom spent her time as my Dad’s office manager, medical assistant and receptionist. When she wanted to start her own career in Real Estate, she was replaced by 4 people! She later went on to get her Masters in Child and Family Therapy and specialized in Child Therapy. She went back to school while my twin brother and I were in High School.
I would always joke that I worked my way up from file clerk to Office Manager – but it’s actually the truth! I ended up running my Dad’s Family Practice after college and at after leaving for a few years to pursue my own career, he asked me back to help him launch and run a Wellness Clinic with Concierge Physicals and classes on yoga, meditation and nutrition. I took great pride in it even though a lot of people questioned me for giving up pursuing my dreams for running his pactice. But, I never felt that I gave anything up when I worked for him as an adult. I worked as a Performance Artist, Poet and as an Artist Facilitator for a. variety of community arts programs and workshops. Plus, I felt honored to learn from my Dad and I loved the challenges of running a small business. Many of his patients had known me since I was a little girl running around his first office. So, there was a deep sense of community and service which brought my life meaning.
My perspectives on the current health crisis is one from the inside out and outside in. I was Office Manager the day the Pharmaceutical Company Drug Reps gave their presentations for OxyContin. They had scheduled the lunchtime time slot in order to maximize the time I had allotted throughout the day for the Drug Reps. I never thought, ever, that I would end up with a debilitating, chronic, life threatening medical condition that would cause me to need drugs like OxyContin when it first came on the market. I was at the lunch table with my Dad while they gave their presentation and I remember it vividly because it was such a revolutionary medication. I, also, remember when Viagra hit the market. I know, first hand, that Dr’s don’t receive financial kickbacks for prescribing certain medications. The idea is absolutely absurd because there are actually laws in place that make that illegal. The fact that the media accuses Dr’s of this is a dangerous lie.
No one could imagine that I could get so sick and debilitated when I was so extremely active and healthy. I practiced yoga and meditated regularly and had a very healthy diet. I did everything right…but I was not immune to getting sick because I am still just a human being and, ultimately, our lives are fragile and can change in a second. In fact, I am only sick because of traumatic injuries and not because I was being lazy or that wasn’t taking care of my health. In fact, there is a deeply held belief that sick people deserve to be sick because they live unhealthy lifestyles. While in reality many people with chronic illnesses lived normal, active and relatively healthy lives before they develop chronic and or degenerative diseases.
My medical condition, RSD/CRPS, is something that happens when the brain’s fight or flight mechanism gets triggered and it doesn’t stop. My health issues were caused by concussions, a brain injury and whiplash which quickly evolved into Systemic Reflex Sympathy Dystrophy.
I can see the Opioid Epidemic from both sides. Drug seeking behavior that patients exhibited were very serious and very real issues I had to deal with. I saw, firsthand that most patients take their medications responsibly and any abusive, addictive behavior really stood out. I have also been on the other side of things, as a patient with enormous amount of neuropathic pain that was affecting my organs. Yet, because I never looked sick, a couple Dr’s accused me of lying to get narcotic prescriptions. My hands and feet would be purple and swollen but overall, I looked thin and young and thus I must be healthy and seeking attention or suffering from a mental illness.
Yet, I had seen therapists and Psychiatrists to help me deal with my PTSD and depression. They would always, inevitably help to address my pain because it was clear to them that I didn’t have any major Psychiatric Mental Illnesses, that my pain was legitimate and it was debilitating and dangerous.
I even participated in a groundbreaking MRI study at Stanford that showed the physiological changes to the brain that occur as a result of Chronic Pain. Yet, their Pain Clinic thought my medical diagnoses were so complicated and severe that I was actually “too complicated” for their Pain Management Clinic. Finding Doctors who we’re capable of treating me was a challenge because, especially back in 2003-2008, we knew so much less about neuroscience and the brain than we did after Obama’s NIH initiative to map the brain in 2008.
So, as you can see, my perspective is unique because I have been on both sides of the US health care system.