I’ve always viewed life as an interesting interplay of poetry and prose, of free will and exquisite synchronicity.
And by no means is my own life an exception.
My journey to the field of Naturopathic medicine has been unexpected, but at the end of the day I cannot picture myself being anywhere else. My culture, family upbringing, and desire to see people thrive are the main precipitators that have led me here.
Growing up in a Cambodian household, eating and doing “interesting things” was a common theme. My mom had a food cure for everything: bitter melon for fevers, raw garlic and vinegar for sore throats, and mustard paste on the skin for muscle cramps. Pharmaceuticals were always the last resort, and rarely did we ever need to use them.
Food was medicine and eastern “old wives tales” were the real deal for us. Most of my family members have lived well into their nineties.
Being raised with a Buddhist background, water fasting was also commonplace. Interestingly enough, I found myself doing my post doctoral residency at a medically supervised water fasting center years later.
All of the elders would fast several times a month in observance of new moons, full moons, and other transitions in nature. During those times, the energy of the house was ever so calm and quiet. I remember evenings when I would peek into my 92-year-old great-grandfather’s room during one of his fasts, and saw just a quaint image of him sitting in meditation as the glow of the sunset warmed the room through the window curtains. When he caught me in the doorway, he would give me a big generous smile. “How wonderful it must be to get older,” I used to think to myself, and still do.
Elders in my culture are the bearers of wisdom and history. It would make sense not only to take care of them, but also to take care of our own health so that we can get to that stage ourselves. I’ve always resonated with the saying, “We get better with age.”
Little did I know that getting older in our society meant cardiovascular disease, dementia, nursing homes, and polypharmacy. I did not come to understand the complexity of growing older until I began volunteering in the geriatric units of hospitals and in hospice settings. It was a sad reality for me, and a very different one than what I experienced growing up.
Choosing Naturopathic Medicine
These days, not only do I get to practice the philosophies that shape my view of health and wellness, I also get an opportunity to listen to the unique stories of all the people that make their way to my office.
Because I get to spend 1-2 hours at a time with my patients at each visit, I get an in depth chance to understand the many layers and dynamics that shape their individual lives and health. Because I deeply believe that the purpose of medical practice is to educate and enhance life with purpose and quality—not just extend life—I knew I needed to choose a profession that embraced that philosophy.
I chose to go into the field of Naturopathic medicine for this very reason, and my practice is driven by the philosophies that it encompasses.
The philosophy promotes the recognition that the body has an inherent self-healing process that is ordered and intelligent, and it is important to identify and remove the obstacles to healing and recovery in order to facilitate such a process. Next, it is important to identify and remove the underlying causes of illness rather than to eliminate or suppress the symptoms.
Naturopathic physicians do their utmost to avoid doing harm by utilizing methods and medicinal substances that minimize the risk of harmful side effects, as well as using the least force necessary to diagnose, treat, and aid in prevention of illness.
Above all, Naturopathic physicians educate their patients and take into account individual, physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and spiritual factors that help to enhance total wellness.
Health is always fluid and multi-dimensional, and health care should be as well.
The Nature of Naturopathic Medicine and My Approach
The overall philosophy of Naturopathic medicine encompasses the following principles that are utilized towards each and every patient:
- The Healing Power of Nature (Vis Medicatrix Naturae)
- Identify and Treat the Causes (Tolle Causam)
- First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocere)
- Doctor as Teacher (Docere)
- Treat the Whole Person
It is also worth noting that disease is not always an unfortunate thing. Although ailments, of course, can be a nuisance at the very least, I learned through my family that deeper meanings can often be carried in “dis-ease.” When my father was sick, he was forced to stay home from work, slow down, and was actually able to spend time with me and my brother. It showed him how much of his children’s lives he would miss out on if he continued working as much as he did.
However, I’ve noticed that in modern day, many people stay sick with only the few hours of temporary relief between medication dosages, and rather than reflecting on what the illness may be trying to say, it becomes more about suppressing the deeper message and cause. As we get older, illness becomes more difficult to suppress.
My goal is always to promote deep healing rather than suppression of symptoms, and embrace all the principles of Naturopathic medicine.
Above all, I love to emphasize simplicity and guide patients to literally retrain themselves to “get back to the basics.” This includes many things we take for granted on a daily basis such as sleeping, eating whole plant based foods, sitting in the sun, drinking water, walking, and even just breathing properly.
It’s a wonderful feeling to see patients let go of the unnecessary and immerse themselves in the power of foundational health, rekindling what it feels like to experience energy without caffeine, sleep without sleep aids, strong digestion without laxatives, and beautiful blood pressure without the pills.
To illustrate this, one patient I had the opportunity to work with during my residency comes to mind. She arrived to the center with about 12 health conditions ranging from type 2 diabetes to fibromyalgia. After much work on her part and guidance from the TrueNorth Health Center team, she was able to come off of 25 different medications and eventually could no longer identify herself with any pathology.
To this day, the image of her wide smile and tears of genuine exhilaration as she cleared away all the medications, one by one, from her room still appears in my head as well as her beautiful words, “I’m free.”
Those very moments are the most rewarding part of my job.
Seeing hopelessness transform into renewed purpose for living is priceless. Every person deserves the chance to be educated about their bodies in order to achieve the level of health they desire and a lifestyle that allows them to do what they love with more joy, ease, and most importantly, FREEDOM.
Working with patients committed to their overall wellness is a blessing.
It’s an even bigger blessing when I see them walk away with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and empowerment for a way of life that allows for growing into their nineties with very little pain and struggle so that they can reach their purpose and potential.
That is really my passion, for myself and for others. I look forward to living and promoting exactly that, even when I’m in well into my nineties!