Thursday 28 February 2019

Seeing the Bigger Picture

My practice is incredibly busy. In addition to my Garden Room Clinic, I still hold a low cost clinic on Tuesday afternoons/evenings in its town centre location at Quay Place, where the 30-minute appointments are idea for those with limited time or resources, or who happen to work close by.

Interestingly though, I find more often than not that patient prefer to come for longer sessions at my Garden Room Clinic I am increasingly aware that patients really want to be listened to, and indeed they have a lot to say. Many do not have the opportunity o the appropriate circumstances in which to tell their story and to feel that they have been heard - a practical impossibility in a 10-minute GP consultation.

I am also aware that more and more people working in the medical profession are looking beyond drugs to help with their mental and physical health. I already treat a number of healthcare professionals who have turned to acupuncture in preference and/or in addition to the western medicine approach of drug therapy, and have recently been invited to explore the possibility of delivering acupuncture to the staff at my local hospital as part of their wellbeing regime.

Whilst I have utmost praise for the NHS and think they deliver an excellent service the majority of the time in acute cases, where I think they could do better is in the long term management of patients whose medical conditions require them to access multiple departments. There can be a very apparent lack of joined-up thinking, a lack of continuity with no one clinician overseeing the treatment and with a strong tendency to quickly escalate the strength and quantity of medication. Patients are left highly medicated, often with complications and side effects which require additional medication, but are in receipt of very little, if any emotional support.

In my practice I have come across a great number of patients who are living with extremely complicated and debilitating conditions. Many have been prescribed a cocktail of powerful drugs but increasingly they experience little, if any respite from their symptoms despite dutifully taking their medication.

If a patient is willing to take the time to research their condition and treatment options in order to make an informed decision, and is willing to pay for private alternative therapy, then why wouldn't the NHS embrace an action that would take the onus off a system which is on its knees. In a struggling health service which is stressed and over-stretched, we are now in an environment which acknowledges the connection between emotional wellbeing and physical health.

I can understand a clinician's reluctance to allow patients full autonomy in view of the blame culture in today's society, and fear of legal action. On the other hand however, I find this surprising and rather narrow-minded as many patients are very keen to take responsibility for their own physical and emotional wellbeing, and I feel they should be applauded rather than reprimanded for wanting to do so.

Some of my recent experiences involve patients who have turned their back on conventional medicine in favour of acupuncture, on finding that they experience little or no lasting benefit from their meds, and in some instances when the prescribing has been nothing short of heavy handed. Where a patient has taken it upon themselves to explore a different route, their actions have often been severely frowned upon by their medical practitioners.

A recent patient suffering with alopecia totalis came to me after she was due to be prescribed a powerful immunosuppressant drug (usually given to transplant patients to prevent rejection), purely on the basis that one of its side effects was excess hair growth. She decided against taking the drug and is now doing very nicely after a course of acupuncture treatment. She is much less stressed and anxious and is now more accepting of her current reality and less impatient with the wait for hair regrowth.

Another patient had a very painful non-malignant melanoma in the brachial plexus of nerves in the shoulder area. She was told it was inoperable due to the proximity of nerves and was prescribed very hefty painkillers, which made her feel lousy. She was scheduled to undergo radiotherapy in an attempt to shrink the tumour. The patient realised that the medication side effects far outweighed its benefits and made the decision to reduce the medication, despite strong reservations from her consultant. Since receiving treatment, she has been able to cease all medication, has made significant lifestyle changes and is pain free. She is also refusing the radiotherapy, much to the disgust of her medical team.

Most recently I treated a young teenager who has a connective tissue disorder which leaves her with many symptoms including constant, severe joint pain. This has severely impacted her ability to attend school and has had a very negative effect on her emotional wellbeing. She had been subjected to innumerable tests over the years and was prescribed some very heavy duty medications, requiring fortnightly blood tests. All of this has left her feel low in energy and spirit, and utterly exhausted but with very little respite from her symptoms. Her parents made the decision to withdraw from treatment in favour of a less invasive, alternative therapy approach and were threatened with legal action by the hospital if they did so! I saw her  for treatment and she says she feels so much better now that she has stopped taking the drugs. She loved the acupuncture treatment and felt very calm and relaxed afterwards.

And finally, a patient who was, according to her GP, addicted to the painkillers she had been taking for many years for her constant severe headache. She was told to stop taking all medication completely and to  'ride the storm' of withdrawal, having been offered no back up or support. When I saw her she had been struggling enormously after only a few days without drugs, but this was very quickly resolved with a simple de-tox treatment and nourishment for her constitution. When she came for her next treatment she looked a different person - lighter, happier and had felt well enough to wear make up.

I am at times horrified to hear of the over-prescribing of drugs and the seemingly heavy-handed approach by the medical profession, who often do not take kindly to being questioned, and often take umbrage should a patient show a desire for autonomy. I think patients should be applauded for wanting to take responsibility for their own health and for being willing to explore different treatment options. I think one of my roles as an acupuncturist is to support them in their decision, but certainly not to influence them in any way.

I am delighted to have been able to help these patients with some very simple Five Element treatments and to give them the encouragement they need to find their own treatment path. I feel both honoured and humbled to be asked to accompany them along their journey to recovery. 

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