Finding My Doctor, Finding My Doshas

Admittedly, I picked the first doctor in a fairly juvenile way. I was a self-employed writer with the cheapest insurance I could find and, reliably healthy, I had never used it. The tingling in my fingertips, however, seemed like it meant something — like my fingers were trying to tell me something — so I looked at the HMO’s website and picked the doctor with crazy, curly hair.

Her brown mop was unruly just like mine, and I took that as a good sign. (I rarely trusted curly girls who wrestled with a hair dryer or used harsh chemicals to straighten their hair.)

In the end, though, the primary care doc and I didn’t know each other long, and I never grew to trust her. She kept me waiting for 25 minutes, then spent five minutes with me and referred me to a neurologist. “Goodbye,” she said as she slid out the door. There had been no time for questions or discussion. She was gone.

For the neurologist, I waited 45 minutes, shivering in my underwear and a paper gown in the exam room. Eventually, a med student came in to ask questions and perform preliminary tests. When he left, I sat shivering for another 30 minutes before he returned with the neurologist.

Wearing a shirt and tie under his white lab coat, Dr. Silver asked the same questions as the student and performed the same tests: follow my finger with your eyes; stand on one foot; walk a straight line heel-to-toe. Then he pulled out his prescription pad and ordered a half dozen blood tests and told me he’d order an MRI, too; that I should call the imaging center to set up an appointment.

Dutifully, I followed directions.

I went to the lab and gave what seemed like a lot of blood and went to another hospital where, after a couple more hours of waiting, the medical technician brought me to the MRI room, settled me into the enormous machine, and told me to stay still. She disappeared, and I heard knocking and banging as the machine captured images of my cervical spine.

I hated the MRI room and was happy to get out, thinking the worst was behind me — right until Dr. Silver called. He called me at home on a Saturday and quickly got to the point. “I’ve looked at your MRI, and the most likely cause for your symptoms is multiple sclerosis,” he said.

Multiple sclerosis. Serious. But before I had a moment to understand what that meant, he launched into a speech about all the good drugs they have now, and how people tend to do pretty well on them. “You’ll only have to inject yourself once a week,” he said.

“I have one patient,” he added, “She’s about your age and she continues to work, full-time, I think.”

The worst was not behind me. Most definitely, this was worse than the MRI. As he chattered on, I silently vowed that I would never dutifully follow any doctor’s direction.

We hung up, and I think I remained in shock for a couple of weeks before I remembered that I was a journalist. “Oh yea,” I thought, “I ask questions. That’s what I do.”

I booked another appointment with Dr. Silver and arrived with a legal pad loaded with questions. He entertained some of them and batted most away as if they were irrelevant.

They were relevant to me.

Instead of answers, Dr. Silver gave me one-page fact sheets on each of the standard drug protocols and told me that he, of course, had an opinion but that I should consider my options too.

I went home and cried. Crying turned to sobbing which turned into all-out bawling, partially because I thought my life would go straight downhill and partially because the doctor had treated me so poorly. He acted as if my questions were a waste of his time and that I was, too.

Within a few days, that hopeless feeling morphed into anger bordering on rage. I jumped on a track to get a second opinion, and once on the track it was tough to get off. I didn’t know what was causing the pins-and-needles sensation in my fingertips, and I didn’t think Dr. Silver did either. I figured when two doctors agreed on one explanation, I’d have my answer.

But the second doctor disagreed with Dr. Silver, and the third disagreed with the first two. The fourth had another idea altogether, and the same for the fifth and sixth. Every doctor, whatever their area of expertise, found something horribly, dramatically wrong with me within that narrow area of expertise.

At first, the experience was terrifying. Eventually, it became funny in a dark way. I didn’t feel like I was about to drop dead, and yet the accumulated diagnoses sounded so dire.

Finally, twelve months and tens of thousands of dollars later, I found my doctor, Nita Desai — a physician trained in Western techniques who also studied and practiced ayurvedic medicine.

A friend recommended her, so I booked an appointment for a month out. Dr. Desai’s assistant sent me paperwork and a lengthy questionnaire. She asked me to write down everything I ate for a week, and to send all my previous medical tests. I had a stack of them.

When I met with Dr. Desai, she’d read my file — all of it. She knew a lot about me when I walked in, and she wanted to know even more. As she reviewed the questionnaire, she added other questions. “Have you been traveling out of the country?” “Are your feet usually cold?” “Do you get hungry mid-morning?”

After 45 minutes or an hour, she asked, “Anything I’ve missed?”

I couldn’t think of anything, so she started the physical exam. She measured my height and weight, checked my reflexes and listened to my lungs. Then she took one wrist, felt for a number of pulses and jotted notes on the clipboard in her lap. She took my other wrist and did the same, then asked to look at my tongue.

Eventually, Dr. Desai had me sit in the waiting room while she analyzed all the information. When she came to get me a few minutes later, I could barely wait until we were inside her office to blurt out, “So what do you think? It’s not MS, right?”

The original diagnosis still traumatized me, more than a year later.

Dr. Desai smiled and said she didn’t think it was a neurological issue, a cardiac one, or depression — all diagnoses I’d heard. She believed it was an intestinal issue, which I hadn’t heard before, even from the doctor who ordered the nutritional panel that showed I was deficient across the board.

Dr. Desai thought there must be a disconnect, because I was eating a relatively healthy diet — real food, not too much, mostly plants, like Michael Pollan advised — and yet I was severely deficient in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B and D, which are critical for nerve conductivity among other things. She suggested an elimination diet to see if a food sensitivity was causing the problem.

But she wasn’t finished. After running through a Western-medicine-based explanation of my health, she explained it in ayurvedic terms.

“You’re equal parts Vata and Kapha,” she said, “which surprised me.”

It surprised me too. I’d never had an ayurvedic doctor examine me, but I’d read about the doshas and taken simple online questionnaires. I knew I was Vata — I have trouble gaining weight; I walk fast and travel light; and when I’m stressed, my mind races. I figured after that, I was Pitta, because I can be fairly direct in language and that crazy, curly hair, mostly brown with some red, seemed sort of fiery.

And Kapha always sounded like other people — like those calm, patient people who hold the same job for years and years. I hardly knew them. Yet, Dr. Desai assured me that I was, in fact, mostly Vata and Kapha.

“For most of your life, your Kapha has kept you healthy,” she said. It allowed me to endure constant travel, a mostly raw diet and the high desert winds of Denver, where I was living. Eventually, however, all these things knocked my Vata so far out of balance that symptoms arose.

Dr. Desai and I met several more times — biweekly at first, and then monthly for awhile. She led me through an elimination diet, which showed that gluten was a serious problem, despite the negative results from a blood test for celiac disease that an earlier doctor prescribed. She also led me through a series of herbal remedies — different blends of herbs that I’d mix with water and drink several times a day for two weeks before moving on to another mixture.

And finally, Dr. Desai wrote a list of prescriptions that were unlike any of the scary pharmaceuticals that earlier doctors advised.

Dr. Desai prescribed a Vata-pacifying diet, daily meditation, yoga and abhyanga a couple of times a week. Five years later, I’m still dutifully and gratefully following her direction.

And my health is better and stronger than ever.

What’s the takeaway, you ask? According to Alan Marks, CEO of vpk® by Maharishi Ayurveda, “Each of us is a unique combination of the three doshas, and understanding our Prakriti, our underlying lifelong dosha makeup — and more importantly, understanding our Vikriti, our current state of balance or imbalance — is the place to start. Understanding these two, we can start to tailor our lifestyle in a direction of balance through simple life changes and the use of ancient — truly ancient and time-tested — herbal formulations.

“Empowering yourself through this basic knowledge is simple. Good health doesn’t have to be defined by a traditional Western model of drugs and side effects. Seeing an ayurvedic expert is a great start. In lieu of that, you can learn a lot about yourself and the doshas here.”


Disclaimer
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.