A recent bout with shingles gave me an opportunity to both try out a variety of complementary medicine therapies and to set a few misconceptions straight. We had planned a long-awaited weekend getaway – a relaxing, rejuvenating few days on the beach in Rhode Island without phones and internet, badly needed after not taking a break for many months.
The day before we were supposed to leave, I noticed that what I had assumed were a few bug bites on my chest had spread with alarming speed overnight, and I also had some weird stabbing pains in my ear on the same side. Thinking it was a heat rash and muscle spasms, I went to see my Dr. who told me I had shingles. Great. Weekend cancelled. She prescribed an antiviral, which I started taking immediately. For a few days though, it just kept getting worse, burning, aching, and spreading. Wearing clothes hurt, even having a strand of hair hanging down over the blisters hurt. I kept taking the medication, and also (after reading up on things):
- Apis mellifica (indicated for shingles with swelling and stinging pains that improve with cold and become aggravated by heat)
- Elderberry syrup for its strong anti-viral and immune-strengthening properties
- Licorice root, also a strong anti-viral, licorice extract topically, licorice powder and licorice root tea internally
- Made up a 50/50 mixture of Tamanu oil (Calophyllum inophyllum) and Ravensara essential oil (Ravensara Aromatica) to use topically. Ravensara is another strong anti-viral and nerve tonic, the Tamanu known for skin healing properties, and this particular blend is a much recommended aromatherapy treatment for shingles (although some recommend a weaker dilution, 25/75 or so)
The Tamanu / Ravensara helped immensely with the burning and stiffness as soon as I applied it (and smelled really good!). The licorice extract (which I alternated with) made the inflamed look of the blisters subside and it made them smaller quickly too. The Apis really seemed to lessen the shooting pains, and the licorice root tea, licorice powder and elderberry were delicious and presumably did their part internally as well. I was very pleased with the results, and thought it was an excellent example of how “alternative” therapies can complement allopathic medicine.
I Don’t Hate Western Medicine
The misconception I mentioned earlier was that certain people, who know that I am very interested in complementary medicine and blog about it were indicating that they thought the fact that I took a prescription medication rather than relying solely on these natural therapies was proof that I don’t believe in alternative medicine, that I was all talk and when it comes down to it, go running to allopathic medicine and ditch all this “hocus pocus” (most of these are people who either smile condescendingly or scoff at any mention of non-Western medicine anything). There was an air of “I told you so”.
This both surprised and upset me. I have never said that I think allopathic medicine is useless or does not have a place in healing – of course it does! But it was a bit of an eye opener, and really drove home how important it is for those who practice complementary therapies to explain to people that they are exactly that: complementary. When an animal is ill, owners should not call us instead of their vet, they should call us (if appropriate) after they see their vet! We should all work together, using whatever tools are available to us, to help heal both ourselves and our animals. The goal is not to show that one therapy doesn’t work, to prove the other wrong; the goal is to maintain health, alleviate pain and cure illness.
The view on how to do that obviously differ depending on which angle you come from, but if you close your mind completely to certain therapies, you are doing yourself and your clients / patients a huge disservice. Isn’t it exciting how much ancient wisdom, traditional natural healing knowledge, and modern science we have available to us? Isn’t the wealth of healing tools out there something to be explored to the fullest? If I had been told that chemo would cure my Sadie, would I not have gone that route? Of course I would, but I would also have combined it with complementary therapies that could help with the side effects, boost her immune system, etc. And when she was well again I would have looked at what needed to be changed in her diet and environment, and researched natural supplements and complementary therapies that could have helped her remain healthy and prevent a recurrence.
I’m not saying that I don’t love or believe in natural therapies – I most certainly do and always take that approach whenever possible. But you have to know when to say, ok this is not working; to realize when a condition is getting worse in spite of your efforts; when it’s time to see a doctor. That doctor may be a homeopath, naturopath or allopathic Western practitioner, what you choose is up to you, but it is important to know when to ask for help.
Remember, nobody has all the answers, not even a Nobel-price winning physician. You have to be your own and your animals’ “health advocate”. It is up to you to research all possibilities and decide on what preventative measures to take, which therapies to try, when to say “enough”. We can all give advice, but nobody else can tell you what to do.
As for me and my shingles, I think it was a good wakeup call to slow down a bit and give myself permission to take a day off every now and then. And adopt a more relaxed attitude about everything and not get so stressed out. So I am starting by going home to Sweden for a few weeks. 🙂 Luckily, this happened just before an already planned vacation, so I will have a chance to take it easy and just chill out.
I hope you all are having a very relaxing summer and remember to take time out to enjoy life. As I keep reminding myself: It’s ok to not do anything for an entire day. Afternoon naps are healthy. A day on the beach is a fabulous gift to give yourself.
All images © Cattie Coyle