At the moment, integrative medicine is just a dream.

The two sides of medicine (western vs ‘natural’) oppose each other so vehemently.

Traditional doctors and specialists seem to want to push pharmaceuticals, and little else. These medications are supported by scientific studies, usually large scale, but sometimes quite dodgy.

Natural or alternative doctors typically avoid pharmaceuticals as if they were the devil, but they have a huge range of things to try - supplements, diet restrictions, naturopathy, acupuncture, energy medicine, homeopathy, chiropractic, Chinese herbal medicine and more. These are usually unsupported or even contradicted by scientific studies, and are often very expensive.

A middle way?

Complementary alternative medicine (CAM) are therapies that help, or at least don’t worsen the patient’s condition, while they follow ‘standard’ biomedicine. Although many doctors regard these therapies as little more than placebo.

Integrative medicine goes one step further, and should see practitioners on both sides respect each other and work together for the overall health of the patient. They should also include and respect the patient.

In practice, this rarely happens.

Integrative medicine requires trust and co-operation

At the rheumatologist, the questions and comments I get about my spondyloarthritis treatment are:

  • Have you tried this medication?
  • Are you sure you had an allergic reaction to it?
  • Are you sure the headaches are from this and not something else? Other patients are fine with this medication.
  • Have you tried this pain killer?
  • Are you sure you can't take anti-inflammatories - your kidneys might actually be fine? (no, a birth defect doesn't fix itself)
  • Are you sure you have these side effects?

At the alternative medicine practitioner/physiotherapist, I get similar, and yet different, questions:

  • Have you tried a dairy free / gluten free / ketogenic diet?
  • Are you sure you didn't see any improvements?
  • How long did you try it for? (They assume it was for too short a time to see effects)
  • Have you been tested for allergies? You know, they can cause endometriosis and inflammatory arthritis …
  • You shouldn't be taking medications, so what else have you tried? Homeopathy? Ayuverdic medicine?
  • Did you really feel worse after the treatment?

There is one thing these two sets of doctors agree on:

  • You know, it's probably just because you are obese. Lose some weight. How, when they can't even walk because of the pain? Stop eating perhaps?

It’s no wonder that patients are not happy with doctors and therapists, and they are frustrated with their patients.

There needs to be more respect

Both sets of practitioners constantly disparage each other and their treatments. Although GPs do tend to send people to physiotherapists for muscular problems, alternative practitioners often advocate avoiding GPs completely.

Both sets of ‘doctors’ don’t look at the whole body. Even physiotherapists and osteopaths work on a small and limited area when doing manipulative therapy.

Both sets disregard, disbelieve or even outright ignore their patients.

My psych is right
Medications can be helpful or harmful (or both), as can natural medicine and therapies. Doctors and therapists need to work together. The patient needs to learn about and manage their own health, treatments and therapies.

To reach truly integrative medicine, practitioners need to have respect for each other and work together. Plus the patient must both respect and be respected by their practitioners.

Until then, it’s up to us as patients, to do the integration ourselves.

Respect yourself - take charge of your own treatment

I have had to remind myself of this, especially after the last year or two.

Each day is a chance to experiment and observe to find the medicines and therapies that work.

Sometimes our experiments will fail, occasionally spectacularly.

Sometimes something will help enormously.

Our changing circumstances and bodies will mean that treatments will have to change too.

So, we should never stop experimenting, observing, or actively working on our health.

Note to self - even when it hurts so much.

Especially when it hurts.