Wednesday, August 20, 2008


My naturopath, Carolyn Humphreys, is moving to California. I got the letter in the mail yesterday, and at first I simply stared at it in disbelief. In one month, she will be gone—simply gone. I read the letter over three times, but by the third time it still said the same thing. She was leaving.

How could this be happening? There wasn’t the tiniest hint until now that she was planning this, and in her letter there was no explanation as to why, beyond wanting warmer weather.

Warmer weather? What about all her patients? Including me? How will I get better from Lyme disease without her?

I was glad, at least, that my mother was with me when I opened the mail. She is here visiting for a few days, and she is one of those people whose presence is simply reassuring. With her by my side, I can face things.

Carolyn, too, is one of those people. In fact, at times she has felt like the only person Seattle who was there for me. If my illness has been like crossing the stormy North Atlantic on a perpetual winter night, then Carolyn was the ministering Angel, descending from a dark sky on vast white wings, a chalice of healing elixir in one hand and in the other a fiery sword, illuminating the way.

I first met Carolyn in 2004, when I came to the Seattle suburbs to see Dr. X. At the time, it seemed X was my last, desperate hope for recovering from the unknown illness that had taken over my life.

Carolyn was working as Dr. X’s assistant. She is a naturopath, and I barely knew what that was. It turns out that Seattle is the country’s center for naturopathic medicine, since Bastyr University (a mecca for alternative medicine) is here. In Seattle, going to a naturopath is as common as going to an MD. Naturopaths undergo extensive training, as complete as a medical doctor’s. They are able to write prescriptions for most pharmaceuticals, but their preference is to look at a patient holistically, to bring the body into balance with diet, vitamins, supplements and other alternative therapies, instead of covering up symptoms the way western medicine usually does.

When I was working with Dr. X, my primary relationship was with Carolyn, not with Dr. X. I saw X every three weeks, and I saw Carolyn about twice a week.

Carolyn was always cheerful and reassuring, no matter how badly I was feeling. My appointments with her were often an hour or longer, including craniosacral therapy, massage, acupressure and homeopathy. We often giggled and laughed our way through, talking about all sorts of things besides my treatment.

I was devastated when in 2005 she decided to leave X’s office. I considered going with her, but she didn’t have a practice set up, and I decided I would stay with Dr. X because she had more experience. I thought I would never see Carolyn again.

In 2006 I decided myself to leave Dr. X, for the same reasons that almost all of her staff and patients left her. (More on that another day.)

I had lost all my trust in X, and at the same time I had no idea where else to turn. X was the only doctor who had ever helped me in all the long years of my illness. I didn’t even know where to begin looking for a new doctor.

And then I heard that Carolyn had at last set up her own practice. Before I made the final break with X, I went to see Carolyn. She suggested a couple MDs for me, but in the end it was Carolyn who turned into my primary doctor. I had to work also with Dr. David Busher to continue my heparin therapy, but so many of the other therapies that I had done with X and wanted to continue, Carolyn was expert in.

Unlike Dr. X, Carolyn was always receptive to my input and agreed that treatment had to be manageable. If it was so complex and demanding that it used up all my energy, or kept me from leaving the house, what was the point? Thus we cut out many of the extraneous or cumbersome therapies that X had insisted on.

When I left Dr. X I thought all that I needed was to continue the program X had put me on, and I would eventually get better. Carolyn knew better. After a few months, she pushed me to do more.

“This program is good, but it’s only managing the Lyme, not treating it,” she told me. “And I don’t know enough about Lyme to treat it myself, so you need to go to someone else.” And she gave me Dr. Martin Ross’s name.

Dr. Ross gave me two options: a more intense herbal treatment of Lyme than I had done so far, or high dose antibiotics. Since I was already on an herbal treatment plan and had ceased to make progress, I decided on the antibiotics.

I continued to see Carolyn for all the supplements and other therapies that have supported me through the difficulty of treating Lyme. Throughout it all she been caring, sympathetic, open to my own suggestions and understanding of my needs.

And most importantly, her treatments work. Whatever problem I come to her with, she has a solution and it works. When I have insomnia, she gets me sleeping again. When I am exhausted because my thyroid is low, she has something natural or herbal that gives me energy and brings my next blood test right up to normal. She has been the most reliable, effective health practitioner I have ever had in my life.

I have always thought, as long as I live in Seattle, I will have Carolyn and she will help me with whatever health problem I have, or the Poet has, or my friends have.

And now, what will I do without her?

Now I have to believe there will be another doctor or naturopath in Seattle who can step into her role, because I believe I can get better from this illness. There must be a way.

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