Dr. Hippy: A “Non-Western” Medicine Experience (part 1)

While I am not originally from Seattle, I have to admit that I have begun to develop the classic characteristics of a citizen of the PNW: we’re a self-righteous, passive-aggressive, health-obsessed bunch. We’re super into the idea of a combination of “Western” and “Non-Western” medicine. The following is part 1 of my recent trip into the world of supposed non-traditional medicine.

Since this is the last year I can be on my parents’ medical insurance plan, I decided to compress a bunch of checkups into the next few months. I’m talking the whole shebang: dermatologist, dentist, endocrinologist…you name it, I want it. Draw some blood, give me that vaccination, peep into that orifice. Am I aware that you cannot store up health checkups? Yes. My main goal is to rule out any glaring issues that might crop up until I can once again get health insurance–namely, and since it’s sooo in style right now, FOOD ALLERGIES (if you haven’t seen Portlandia’s allergy pride parade skit, you must). Oh yes people, I decided to drop $400+ on food allergy testing despite no signs that indicate I have food allergies. But there’s always the possibility, which is the main defense of us hypochondriacs.

Seeking a provider who could solve some general health concerns, I decided to talk to my cousin: a Registered Nurse who works in Olympia, Washington and who suffers from gluten intolerance. What I wanted was a doctor who could check my thyroid, prescribe me some antidepressants, and test for food allergies. So, on the advice of my cousin, I decided to see a doctor (whom we’ll call Dr. Hippy) whom she described as concerned with a combination of Western and non-Western approaches to solving health concerns. The doctor came highly recommended by several other nurses who had gone to see her. They all said that she primarily looks for the cause of symptoms rather than simply treatment of symptoms. I consider nutrition to be preventative medicine and this sounded legit to me so I picked up the phone right away and dialed the office number. I told the woman who answered that I had concerns with the functionality of my thyroid.

“Oh, well Dr. Hippy specializes in thyroid care,” the woman on the other line said pleasantly, “and it looks like we have availability tomorrow.”

“Sweet,” I replied, surprised that a doctor was available in so short a time. “What do I need to bring to the appointment?”

I didn’t have my insurance card on me but promised to call back and give the information. She told me to bring ID and my health insurance card. I called back shortly to give her my information and ask again to make sure I didn’t need to bring anything else.

So the appointment was scheduled for 2 p.m. and I showed up at 1:30 p.m. so that, barring any crazy paperwork, I’d be early (interjection: I used to work as a Medical Receptionist so I know how much things get messed up when people show up late). I knew there was a problem when I arrived and the receptionist looked at me alarmingly to inquire where my paperwork was. I told her that all I was asked to bring was ID and insurance card. She handed me a book of paperwork and told me to start filling it out ASAP, which I did. I was mid-paperwork when they ushered me into the vitals room where the Medical Assistant proceeded to check my blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and weight. My temperature was 100º on the first check, which didn’t make sense to me, so I told her to check it again. It was 99º the second time.

The Medical Assistant tisked a little and then told me the deal: “Normal doctors have you stay in the exam room and then they come in to talk to you. That’s not how Dr. Hippy does things. We bring the patients into her office and she stays there all day. Is that ok?” When I assented I was immediately rushed into Dr. Hippy’s office and told to sit down.

As Dr. Hippy looked over my (unfinished) paperwork, I had time to examine her. She was wearing a polar bear sweatshirt+sparkly leggings; had long, stringy, unkempt hair; and a vague stoned look in her eyes.

“I see here that your temperature was 100º and that you’ve been feeling fatigued. Do you think you’re fighting off an infection?” she asked in a hushed, dove-like voice.

“Well I’m mostly here to get my thyroid checked out because of some weight fluctuation. I’m not sure about the temperature thing.”

“Did you drink hot liquids before you came here today?”

“No.”

“Did you run here today?”

“No.”

“Based on what you’ve written here I might guess you have Mono.”

I looked at her skeptically. I’m no medical professional, but I definitely don’t have Mono. That feels like a danger that you leave behind once you graduate from high school. She started typing things onto her computer and asking me questions about fatigue and heart palpitations.

“I’m very concerned about your temperature. It almost seems as though you caught something in November. I’m really curious about it so I’m going to order you some lab tests.”

Granted 99° is a little above average, but it’s not like I was hallucinating and pitting out. As she typed away I tried not to be obvious as I looked around to find her certificates–there is always a wall of them in any doctor’s office. I discovered one to my left: a degree in Anti-Aging from a school I’d never heard of. That was the only thing on her wall.

Since I didn’t respond to her Mononucleosis diagnosis, she started asking me about my other concerns. I ran through the various mild symptoms I’ve been experiencing the past couple months. As I talked she wrote maniacally and frantically on three separate notepads.

“Have you considered taking a food allergy test?”

“Yes actually that was one of the things I was interested in.”

“You know one of the worst panic attacks I ever had was food allergy related.”

“Oh?” I asked, “What happened?”

“I got really mad that I wasn’t Chinese.”

“You got mad that you weren’t Chinese?”

“Yeah because there are so many Chinese people in the world. Why wasn’t I born Chinese?”

Around this time the Medical Assistant entered the room again. She was accompanied by a large 2nd-grade-teacher-looking woman in butterfly-themed scrubs whom she described as her job shadow. Dr. Hippy handed the three notepads to the Medical Assistant with the instructions, “please combine all of these notes.” I had to wonder to myself why she hadn’t done that in the first place.

Then Dr. Hippy perked up and said, “When it comes to your energy levels, I would suggest trying the product Xtra®.” She said it almost as if she were in an infomercial. She cracked the top off a tiny bottle and handed it to me.

I peeked inside and saw a purple liquid. “Do you want me to drink this right now?” I asked.

“We’ll all have one!” she laughed and handed one to the Medical Assistant, who immediately chugged hers. We shared an awkward silence as we sipped our free samples of supplement. I checked out the ingredients label: water, sorbitol, and beet juice. In that order. That’s definitely something I can make myself.

As soon as I finished my tiny beet beverage Dr. Hippy pointed to the exam table and told me to take a seat. I asked if she wanted me to put the paper down and she said that I still had my pants on so it wasn’t necessary. I believe this was a joke but there were no other indications that Dr. Hippy had a sense of humor. She used her stethoscope to listen to my lungs as she told me to breathe. Then she did the knee jerk reflex check and told me to sit down in the chair again.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Dr. Hippy asked.

“Yes I was wondering what your approach is.”

“What a good question!” she started scrawling on a notebook again. Ten seconds later she held up a drawing of a seesaw. On one side it said “repair” and on the other it said “damage.” She indicated with arrows that you want to repair side to go up and the damage side to go down.

Dr. Hippie's drawing
Seesaw of Medicine

Then she gave me the seesaw drawing. Perhaps as a souvenir. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” Dr. Hippy inquired softly.

“Well I was hoping you could treat the depression,” I said.

She immediately poised a pen over a prescription pad, “What would you like to be ON?”

I felt uncomfortable. Again, I’m no medical professional but I know it’s not at all legit to ask a patient what prescriptions they would like. I squirmed in my seat a little and looked over at the Medical Assistant and her Shadow who both avoided eye contact with me. The thought of requesting Adderall briefly crossed my mind.

“Well I don’t really know…” I trailed off.

“Oh…most patients know what they want to be on,” she chirped. “I’ll just prescribe you some Celexa.”

I stopped her to tell her that my sister had bad reactions to Celexa and had warned me against using it.

“You didn’t write that on your family history form!” she glared while shuffling through the paperwork. I squirmed some more. I could tell she was in a rush but I didn’t want her to just throw some random antidepressants at me. They’re antidepressants: things can go really wrong. She ruled out Wellbutrin, landed on Zoloft, jotted it down, and tossed the prescription at me. The Medical Assistant then proceeded to actually shoo me out the door. Another patient was waiting angrily in the hallway.

Butterfly-Scrubs wandered off down the hallway towards a waiting room stuffed with cranky looking people who were glaring at their watches.

The Medical Assistant and I returned to the original room where she had taken my vitals.  She proceeded to ask whether I would like to be tested for food allergies. I thought about it for a moment: yes $400 is an excessive amount of money for what is essentially investigational. But then I considered how I had just paid $130 for the most bizarre, brief, and baffling health examination I’ve ever experienced. I thought to myself “I better get something useful out of this visit beyond a Zoloft prescription.” I was curious and I considered how it would actually be a relief to find out that I wasn’t allergic to anything. Also, remember the insurance thing? So I agreed.

On the way out the door, as I was still pinching a cotton ball to my blood-drawn inner elbow, the receptionist hissed “here’s your paperwork for your next appointment. DO NOT forget it this time.”

I immediately drove over to my cousin’s house to explain in full detail what had just happened. “It sure felt like Western medicine to me. Except for, you know, the lack of reason…and the added mid-checkup infomercial for trademarked beet juice.”

I have an appointment in two weeks to get a follow-up on all the random blood tests. Strange as it seems, I do plan on going to the follow-up and seeing what this doctor has to say. Now that I’ve dipped my toes into the pool of unusual medicine, I kind of want to get 2nd, 3rd, and 4th opinions.

And on the up side I now know the highly complex recipe for Xtra®.

Read Part 2

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