Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.
It’s an odd thing to one minute be talking about your childhood and the next be telling the same person how many bowel movements you have in the average day.
Of course, the field of functional medicine — and its practitioners — are, by many, considered odd.
But having taken a mighty swing at what traditional Western medicine has to offer over the first four months of the year and come up empty …
… I decided to hack at what a new pitcher has to offer.
Her name is Dr. Laura, and she runs St. Louis Functional Medicine, not far from my humble abode. It was my wife who brought up the idea of functional medicine after listening to a podcast about it. This was a surprise because I wasn’t aware my wife listened to anything other than murder podcasts.
The radical ideas espoused by practitioners of functional medicine include things such as a strong link between the mind and the body, the crazy notion that what you stuff down your gullet might have something to do with how you feel and that it might be a good idea for physicians to spend some quantity time getting to know their patients without an insurance company telling them that’s bad.
Let’s be clear about something: The medical system in the United States is not set up to make people better. It is set up to treat people’s symptoms with drugs pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of money making sure they get paid for. The complete betterment of the patient is on the opposite end from what pharmaceutical companies need to keep pleasing shareholders. This isn’t to suggest physicians are corrupt. Most aren’t. But the vast preponderance of them just are stuck in this system that provided them optimal financial rewards for keeping the status-quo.
Follow the Money
Don’t believe me? Maybe this will convince you.
In the 2020 alone, the pharmaceutical industry spent nearly double what any other industry did on lobbying efforts — $306.23 million — in an attempt to influence a drug-friendly public policy.
Data from non-profit Center for Responsive Politics reviewed by Reuters showed that industry-run political action committees divided roughly $13 million in donations during the 2020 elections much more equal between elephants and asses than in previous elections, with Republicans getting 54% and the remaining 46% going to Democrats.
Realizing Trump’s vulnerability and the likelihood that Democratic leadership at the national level would lead to a push to control drug prices, pharma lobbyists pulled cash away from Republicans and threw it at the donkeys so those elected would be more beholden to them.
And what did that money buy? Well, at first glance, not much. President Biden, in his first State of the Union address, said:
“Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices. It won’t just help people on Medicare. It will lower prescription drug costs for everyone.”
Cue the applause.
The thing is, drug companies don’t care about the president’s words if they are not followed by action, and all the lobbying and donations seem to have bought inaction. The only provision in Biden’s American Families Plan that deals with healthcare is $200 billion earmarked for subsidies to those who purchase their own health insurance.
The amount of money aimed at reduced drug costs? Zippo.
I don’t want get all conspiracy-theory on you, but in a system with that much money being dumped into it simply to steer government action/inaction, the patient is not the customer. It’s in the patient’s best interest to be completely healed of as many ailments as possible. It’s in the pharmaceutical companies’ best interest to keep people coming back for their drugs.
Functional Medicine is Different
Recognizing that, I thought that, for me, personally — after spending so much money and taking so much time doing it the “traditional” way — I’ve got very little to lose by trying something different.
I met with Dr. Laura a few weeks back. We sat for more than an hour as she went over the copious electronic paperwork I filled out and sent back in advance so she had the time to review it. We talked about everything from childhood traumas, medical procedures, family history, diet, exercise and stress to, yes, the number of times I poop each day.
There wasn’t much eye contact happening with that last one.
Then, she made out an order for a whole bunch of blood tests. When I showed her the results from the blood tests my primary care doctor and the Longhaul COVID clinic doctor had already run, she studied them and then told me she wanted to get new values — and run some tests traditional doctors don’t.
The next morning, I went to the local lab and gave of myself in the form of 11 tubes of blood. Eleven.
Then, yesterday, I went back to talk with her about the results, to review the timeline she put together on me from the wealth of information I gave her and to discuss a plan of action.
I’m not going to go into the specifics of what she found and what we’re going to be doing about it. There are two reasons for this.
- My situation is unique. Just like yours is unique. Nothing about me is going to matter to a functional medicine doctor because they treat their patients as individuals, not aggregates. The last thing I want to do is inspire anyone to run off to their doctor with, “Well this guy is trying this so I want to try it too!”
- I haven’t actually done anything yet, and I have no clue if any of this is going to work.
What I am going to say is this: For the first time since I began my search for some sort of help with Longhaul COVID, I had a doctor sit down with me in her office, not an exam room, and say, “Hey. John. You and I have got this.”
This journey has been long, exhausting and expensive. I have given more than 50 tubes of blood now, spent way too much money on scans and injections and blah blah blah that hasn’t amounted to crap. Listen. I don’t know if Dr. Laura’s plan is going to work. But I do know this: If it doesn’t, she’s not going to hand me off to someone else to run their tests that find nothing so they can hand me off to someone else.
I’m assembling an army, and right now, Dr. Laura is my field general.
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