Dr. Holden's Blog

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  • My Recovery

    I was born a twin to loving parents in a small town in Louisiana. We were large twins and cramped in-utero. This resulted in my twin needing to wear corrective shoes with braces. I was born with a crossed eye and a weak neck resulting in my head tending to rest on one shoulder. My parents immediately took me to our family chiropractor. In 1964, the traditional medical establishment considered chiropractors quacks. As I’ve come to learn, a healer is a healer. My eye uncrossed and my neck became strong enough to hold up my head after Dr. Eastman adjusted my tiny body. Dr. Eastman is a hero to me - a true pioneer in the art of medicine. He bravely faced prejudice by a powerful medical institution that attempted to squash his profession.

    In 1966, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution calling the chiropractic profession an “unscientific cult,” and in 1967 issued an official opinion making it unethical for physicians to associate with chiropractors. In 1976, four chiropractors filed an antitrust lawsuit against the AMA charging restraint of trade, and in 1987, a federal judge found the AMA guilty of conspiring to destroy chiropractic. In 1990, the Court of Appeals found the AMA guilty, and later in 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the earlier legal findings. Finally, in 1992, the AMA reached a settlement with the plaintiffs requiring the AMA to complete all of the terms of the court order ending one of the longest antitrust legal battles in the history of the United States.

    My experience with Dr. Eastman was the first of many healing experiences facilitated by alternative medical practitioners. I have reflected upon that experience each time I came across prejudice against alternative forms of medicine. My story of healing through nontraditional way at an early age has become a guidepost for me. It has reminded me to keep an open mind about nontraditional therapeutic methods. Keeping an open mind has been a gift helping me become a better practitioner of the art of medicine.

    I’ve come to realize just how sensitive of a child I was. I remember my mother often trying to soothe me back to sleep after recurring bad dreams. In kindergarten, I remember often crying for my father not to leave me when he dropped me off at school. I wasn’t interested in hunting animals like my other brothers, but I went hunting with them as a way to fit in. I was bullied in sixth grade, seventh grade, and tenth grade, possibly because I was perceived as weak due to my sensitivity. Parents should nurture sensitivity in children. Sensitive children have loving hearts with an abundance of compassion and empathy.  

    I always had a nervous stomach in my childhood. This was especially true when eating out with my family at restaurants. I’d come to learn that my nervousness about eating was linked to an overactive sympathetic nervous system. This state of “fight or flight” interfered with normal digestion. It also helped set me up later in life for a severe gastrointestinal disorder.

    I loved medical school and my Internal Medicine residency. I thrived in a structured educational environment and craved intellectual stimulation. I graduated from medical school as a junior year member of the Alpha Omega Honor Medical Society. This honor is reserved for the top ten percent of medical school classes. When I graduated from residency and started practicing primary care, my passion for medicine began to wane. Part of my discontent was boredom. I was seeing lots of head colds, stomach viruses, and back pain, which is typical for a primary care doctor.

    The most prominent player in my discontent was the dogmatic way I was expected to practice medicine. My training in medical school and residency was indoctrination into a certain mindset. That mindset included a belief that any healing methods outside of the box hinged upon malpractice. This created an internal conflict for me that I couldn’t shake. After all, I had already experienced an alternative healing method that had actually worked.

    I was seeing many patients who didn’t get well despite following the best evidence-based medicine (EBM). I found this dogmatic approach to practicing stifling and sometimes harmful to patients. If a patient has multiple diseases, EBM sometimes calls for them to be on up to 8 or 10 medications at once. Sometimes I’d have to address the side effects of medications with guess what - more medications. In some patients, EBM creates a vicious cycle of dangerous polypharmacy. This wasn’t what I had envisioned the practice of medicine would be.

    Then came a horrible blow. One year out of residency, a patient sued me for malpractice. I was devastated. I always prided myself in ordering the right tests and making the correct diagnosis. My physician assistant had injected a patient’s Achilles tendon resulting in the tendon rupturing. We were both named in the lawsuit as well as the clinic I worked for at the time. From that point on, I became extra vigilant and practiced defensive medicine. This hypervigilance exacerbated my underlying propensity for fight or flight. Every time I saw a patient after that, the interaction was tainted by the fear that I would be sued again. I couldn’t shake this fear and it created a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

    The lawsuit dragged on for five years and I underwent multiple depositions. Some of the depositions were lessons in how to remain calm while undergoing a personal attack on my integrity. As I was packing my suitcase to travel to Louisiana to go to a jury trial, I got a call from my attorney. He told me that I had been dropped from the lawsuit, and the clinic had settled the claim for a small amount of money. I was relieved, but the experience left me with an unease that has taken 13 years to shed.

    I went on with my life and the practice of Internal Medicine, but in the back of my mind I was looking for a way out. I began working part-time helping case managers adjudicate Social Security disability claims. I excelled in this field because I was good at collating complex information into concise summaries. I also didn’t have the stress of seeing patients in this arena. I later left the practice of medicine and did this full-time for several years. I only came back to Internal Medicine out of sheer boredom. I missed the healing arts, and it was time for me to recertify in Internal Medicine. I returned to my old practice and put my nose to the grind. I began seeing patients while working on certification modules and studying for my board test.

    It was about this time that I also began studying the alternative healing arts. If I was going to stay in medicine, I was going to do it differently this time. I could not go back and do the same old thing that led to my dissatisfaction in the first place. I passed my board test and recertified in Internal Medicine. I decided I was going to use these credentials to establish my own practice. This time, I was going to do it my way.

    It was about this time that I came across The Institute of Functional Medicine. Their courses teach Functional Medicine, which is essentially science-based American naturopathy. As I began to learn the concepts, at first, I became angry. The information I was learning filled in the blanks medical school and residency left out. Why wasn’t I taught this in medical school? It would have made such a difference in the lives of my patients. It’s the same reasons the AMA tried to squash chiropractic - bias, academic arrogance, and shortsightedness.

    The traditional medical model does well treating acute injury and illness but not so well treating chronic illness. This is where Functional Medicine excels. A major obstacle in bringing Functional Medicine mainstream is that many insurance companies won’t pay for it. It also requires practitioners to spend quality time with their patients. Insurance companies won’t adequately pay for that either.

    About the time I found Functional Medicine, I also discovered electroceuticals. Electroceuticals are energy-based devices that are making a comeback into mainstream medicine. Some examples include pulsed electromagnetic field devices, microcurrent devices, and vagus nerve stimulators. I adopted a pulsed electromagnetic field device and a microcurrent device into my practice with amazing results. Physicians use electroceuticals in the early 1900s but passage of the Flexner Report in 1910 banished these devices.

    So life was good again. I began practicing as a Functional Medicine specialist in a cash-based practice. I was using some effective electroceutical devices. Then life threw me another curve ball. I decided to have all my dental amalgams removed after having read about the risk of mercury toxicity. In my haste, I did not adequately prepare and asked my awesome dentist to remove all seven in one day. This turned out to be a big mistake.

    Less than one month after their removal, my stomach swelled like I was 6 months pregnant. No matter what I did, I could not get rid of the bloating. Shortly after that, I started having diarrhea and weight loss. Over several months, I lost 10 pounds, and I became very scared. In addition, I started having severe bouts of anxiety. I would be getting ready for work in the morning and would feel this intense anxiousness wash over me. I’d start having intensely worried thoughts followed by what seemed like someone turning on a water faucet under my armpits. Some mornings I was so drenched in sweat, I would have to take another shower.

    I saw a gastroenterologist and underwent an upper and lower endoscopy. The upper endoscopy was normal but the colonoscopy showed aphthous ulcers scattered throughout my sigmoid colon. Biopsies were consistent with aphthous ulcers and not Chron’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis. My gastroenterologist prescribed a well-known drug used to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). A few days later, I flew out of state. That night on October 10, 2010, I became the sickest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I developed constant diarrhea with abdominal cramps so bad the only thing that gave me relief was lying submerged in warm water. So I laid in a warm bathtub for almost 24 hours on the first day of my vacation.

    I didn’t want to go to a hospital out of state, so I called my gastroenterologist. She prescribed Questran powder and I began taking it. In about four hours, my symptoms started to subside. She called to check on me and told me to stop the IBD drug because in some individuals it can exacerbate IBD. How ironic - a drug used to treat a condition can cause worsening of the condition, which is actually not a rarity. I decided I wasn’t going to take any more medications for this condition since the medication had made me drastically worse. I would find another way to get better.

    I returned home and began experiencing fatigue so bad that I was only able to see a few patients a day. I’d often come home and take a nap at lunchtime just to be able to get through the rest of the day. I’d spend some Saturdays on the couch recovering from the week. When I’d make it to the gym, my muscles would ache like the worst case of post-workout muscle soreness. I was no longer able to hold a chiropractic adjustment for more than a few days. My body would frequently torque causing one shoulder or one hip to be higher than the other. I’d also get intense spasms in my neck and upper back causing terrible tension headaches.

    Then I began waking up in the middle of the night with intense hunger. I’d need to get up and eat before I could go back to sleep. Sometimes when I’d stand up suddenly, I’d have to sit back down because of dizziness caused by low blood pressure. All of this was due to adrenal fatigue and mitochondrial dysfunction. The scariest part was when I’d develop severe palpitations when drinking cold water. I’d have to lie down and perform a Valsalva maneuver before the palpitations would stop. When I’d check my pulse during these episodes, it felt irregularly irregular at a rate of about 140. This was consistent with atrial fibrillation. My body was in chaos.

    I ordered labs on myself and underwent a computed tomography (CT) scan of my chest and abdomen. Heartburn was so severe it would cause difficulty swallowing at times. The Chest CT was normal and the Abdominal CT only showed a benign hemangioma in my liver. My relief was short-lived as the weight loss continued despite eating 5000 calories a day. Something was terribly wrong and I thought I was going to die. I tried every Functional Medicine trick in the book and nothing seemed to help. I know what you are thinking - doctors should never treat themselves. I agree. But after my bad experience with the medication, I was wary of seeing traditional doctors. 

    I saw an alternative medicine practitioner who diagnosed me with mercury toxicity. He told me that my body had been bordering on the brink of disaster due to multiple precursors. The most prominent being my longstanding poorly managed stress. Years of discontent, hypervigilance, and emotional hypersensitivity also played a role. These combined with my genetic aberrancies created a tipping point when I was exposed to the excess mercury. My body had been accumulating mercury over the years from the environment, eating tuna, and mercury leaching from my amalgams. The significant exposure during the removal of my amalgams was the final straw. My weakest link - my gut - was poisoned and went into chaos.  

    I had several other contributors to this disaster. I struggled with severe acne in high school and college for which I took multiple rounds of antibiotics. The antibiotics wiped out my healthy gut microbiome causing immune dysfunction, leaky gut, and yeast overgrowth. He explained to me that depending on each person’s unique genetic makeup, some are good detoxifiers of mercury and some are not. A homozygous methylation defect plus other single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) contributed to my inability to detoxify mercury well. These revelations finally put the pieces of the puzzle together.

    I began a mercury chelation regimen including injections of DMPS, a powerful mercury chelator. He warned me that because of my weakened system, I might experience intense side effects. I didn’t care at that point because I was already miserable and had tried so much else. Shortly after I began the DMPS injections, I experienced bouts of bloody diarrhea and worsening fatigue. Thankfully after a couple of weeks, things began to improve. The DMPS injections helped me finally turn the corner by eliminating mercury from my body. My gut came back online and I began gaining weight.

    It’s been 4 years since my gut started functioning with some semblance of normalcy. It’s been a long and slow process of recovery. Only in the past month has the constant bloating stopped. My energy is much better and I’ve put on 5 pounds of muscle in the past 9 months.

    A key to my recovery is the consistent practice of mindfulness and meditation. This practice helps keep my perceived level of stress low. I say perceived because it’s always a perception that creates an emotional stress response. Mindfulness and meditation balance my excessive sensitivity by helping me create a perception filter. Slowing down and paying attention to the present moment enhances this filter. This reduces the onslaught of overwhelming sensory stimuli and keeps me from catastrophizing. A regular meditation practice has honed my ability to stay fully present and calm in the midst of chaos.

    Regularly meditating on trust has helped me to stay trustful about my life’s experiences. Before I would fall into a victim’s role, which is completely disempowering. If I do start to feel disempowered, the feeling doesn’t last long. This is because I’ve created deep neuronal pathways of trust in my brain through regular meditation. Meditation has strengthened my ability to tap into a deeper knowing about my life’s experiences. This lets me more easily find the path of least resistance. 

    I’m telling my story of recovery despite feeling vulnerable because I want you to know that things will get better no matter how tough life seems. Getting better requires that you establish a state of mind of peace, patience, and trust. This type of mindset leads to self-confidence and a sense of empowerment, which leads to your life getting better. These attributes are easier to achieve through a regular practice of mindfulness and meditation. So stick with your practices and never forget - you can do it. You are all-powerful. 

    With love,

    Dr. Holden