Chatty CATIE: Doctor Who?
Interviews by RonniLyn Pustil
Do you swear by your naturopathic doctor? Would you go mad if your psychotherapist retired? Is your massage therapist the best thing since sliced bread? We asked five PHAs: Who, besides your HIV doc, is your most valued health care provider? Read all about the “other” health professionals in their lives.
DARRELL MARTIN, 38
Artist, New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
Diagnosed with HIV: 1991
I’ve been seeing my PSYCHOSYNTHESIS THERAPIST every other week for the past year. I think mental health plays a big role in someone who has an illness. Your psyche is very important. It affects everything about you.
A psychosynthesis therapist is someone who really gets inside you and brings you out. She doesn’t just nod her head and take notes. She gestures and makes eye contact. We share, grieve and talk about pain. Sometimes we do meditation and breathing. During meditation the sound of her voice and what she’s saying bring all these emotions to the surface. She says there’s no reason to feel afraid, intimidated or ashamed to let my emotions show — if I feel like screaming, crying or swearing, I should let it out. It really makes me feel so much better.
Our sessions are in her living room. I sit on the couch, there’s a fireplace and it’s a very relaxing, inviting environment. Another plus is that she’s a woman. I get along with women better than men. I find a woman therapist very nurturing. I’ve had male therapists and there always seemed to be tension and conflict and some level of homophobia.
I’ve seen other therapists before but they didn’t do a whole lot for me. I had so much bottled up inside and wasn’t able to bring it out. I’d belly ache over minor situations and not get to the root of the problem. My current therapist has a way about her that’s very sweet and caring, but there’s no beating around the bush. She’s very direct and she challenges me in a good way. She gets me to where I need to go, if I choose to.
For the longest time, I didn’t trust anyone. I was cynical, bitter and defensive. I had a lot of negativity in my life regarding my HIV status. When I was diagnosed at 25, my life basically stopped. I was downtrodden and started getting involved in bad relationships. I felt suicidal. I was keeping secrets and held a lot of guilt and shame. My therapist has helped me let go of that and learn to move on. She’s helped me heal some of my wounds.
I met my therapist through my partner. He suggested I see her because our relationship was falling apart. Actually, I was falling apart and getting into situations that weren’t good for me. So, I gave her a call and I’ve been seeing her ever since. Now I talk more with my partner about my emotions and feelings.
Therapy has made me feel better about myself. My therapist is a real confidence builder. I’ve learned to have some self-worth and self-esteem. It’s really helped me get out there and do some great stuff. I’d never shown my artwork before because I never had the confidence, but last week I had my first show, which was great.
At the end of the day, you have a choice: You can live or you can die. I’m choosing to live. Now I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I never thought I would.
ROD MICHANO, 41
Public speaker/HIV educator, Toronto
Diagnosed with HIV: 1987
My TRADITIONAL HEALER has helped me understand more about my illness by applying it to an Aboriginal context and relating HIV to the medicine wheel teachings. I started traditional healing in 1996. One day, my cousin back home in Pic River, Heron Bay, got a spiritual message from my sister who had passed to the spirit world. My sister told her that I needed help, as I was beginning to get very ill. The next day, my cousin called and asked how I was. She mentioned that a traditional healer, Diane Longboat, was coming to Pic River.
I went there and offered her tobacco — one of the four most sacred medicines Aboriginal people use. By offering tobacco, you’re giving respect to our culture, to Mother Earth and to the Creator for allowing us to have this day. Diane explained that my cousin told her I have HIV. She was going to give me my traditional name through a ceremony, as part of my healing. Your traditional name comes from the Creator. It came to Diane right away — Shining Thunderbird Eagleman.
Diane doctored me and looked me over. She told me I needed to go to the sweat lodge. Days later I went to my first sweat lodge ceremony. My aunt was praying outside. She said when I went in I looked like an old, sickly person, but when I came out about an hour later, I looked reborn. I felt different, like I was alive again. Before I went into the lodge, I had no appetite, I could barely sleep, I had headaches all the time. After I came out, I had a feast. My headaches were gone and for the first night in ages I had a good sleep.
Soon after, I got very sick. I wound up in Casey House for six months, wasting and bedridden, and didn’t go to the sweat lodge at all. I started combination HIV therapy and got horrible side effects — you name it, I got it — so I had to stop. The meds were really doing a number on my liver. But when I combined the Western medicine with traditional healing, I stopped getting the side effects. Using the sweat lodge and doing traditional medicine to detoxify and cleanse my body allowed me to take the meds again. Now I’m undetectable and experience very few, if any, side effects or illness.
I go to the sweat lodge once a month. My partner and I attend a lodge in Toronto specifically for Two-Spirit people, with Wanda Whitebird, a traditional counselor at Anishnawbe Health Toronto (416.360.0486).
If I didn’t have the lodge, I really think I wouldn’t be here today. The sweat lodge has gotten me through a lot. It’s like being back in your mother’s womb. You’re cleansed — it takes out all the toxins, especially after you’re doctored by a traditional healer.
RANDY SAMPERT, 34
Chairperson of Living Positive, Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta
Diagnosed with HIV: 2002
My most important health care provider is my GENERAL PRACTITIONER (GP). When I moved back here from Vancouver last year, my original GP had lots of experience with HIV. But, unfortunately, he passed away last February, so I had to find a new GP while dealing with HIV and Kaposi’s sarcoma cancer.
I interviewed one doctor who was taking on new patients. We discussed the issues I was facing and I gave him a brief medical history. I was his first patient with HIV. In that meeting, he said, “It sounds like you’ll be a challenge to work with, but I’m up for it.” And he has been.
There was a lot I needed to learn in terms of understanding the lab work, drug interactions and potential side effects. My GP and I were learning about all this at the same time. We discussed potential medications that could help me deal with peripheral neuropathy side effects. I would sometimes bring him information that I found while researching on the Internet and we’d discuss different options. He finally put me on amitriptyline to reduce the pain from the neuropathy. This drug has started to give me back some of the quality of life that I’d lost.
My GP is a compassionate doctor who spends extra time listening and talking to me, as he knows I’ve struggled with depression. He’s there to help and support me until I can get to see my psychologist. While applying for medical disability I was feeling quite depressed, and the overwhelming bureaucracy led to further depression. As usual, my GP was there for me to lean on.
After a year of chemotherapy, I am considered to have the cancer in remission. I can now get my life back in order.
BRADFORD McINTYRE, 53
AIDS awareness educator, Vancouver
Diagnosed with HIV: 1985
Along with my GP and AIDS specialist, my NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR (ND) is a valued partner in addressing my health issues. My ND spends a great deal of time with me explaining my health condition and he gets to the root cause of the problem. Often, he has answers for me where my medical doctor does not!
It is important to understand the immune system and what it needs to be able to carry out its functions. It’s necessary to have knowledge about the cells, nutrients and what the cells require to be up and running to maximum capacity. The digestive system and organs all have their own needs to be met. My ND teaches me and emphasizes specifics in diet improvement and healthy lifestyle changes and approaches, which recognize the importance of a healthy body, mind and spirit. There are few other physicians who are able to take the necessary time with me.
Recognizing the ability of the body to heal has prompted many people to choose a naturopath. My ND has played an important role in addressing diarrhea, nausea, neuropathy, irritated skin and rashes, wasting, fatigue, loss of appetite, and immune suppression. With the aid of homeopathic remedies and vitamin replacement therapies provided by my ND, I have successfully boosted my immune system, reduced drug side effects and increased the efficacy of the HIV drugs. The neuropathy and my quality of life have improved in numerous ways!