I had plenty of time to board the plane, so I casually lounged around in the airport, waiting for the last call to board. He, on the other hand, was frantic because he thought he was going to miss his connecting flight. He barely made it onto the plane, and this is when two worlds collided. I had plenty of time to spare, while he was in a time crunch — this represents the first contrast in a story about contrast.
I found out that he was returning from vacationing in Mexico. This was the first thing he said to me. I replied with a typical pleasantry about how hard it was to return to cold weather. He nodded in agreement. Dressed in his very fine navy blue suit and gold tie, garnished with probably one of the world’s finest fragrances, he pursued the idea of conversation. He asked boldly, “So, what’s up in your city?”
“Oh, I couldn’t tell you, I’m a student and don’t get to explore the city in full.”
He soon discovered that I was a medical student, and at this, remarked, “Oh shit, I feel so sorry for you, man. That’s just the worst.”
I reassured him, “Oh no, nothing to be sorry about, I’m excited to be a doctor.”
Almost immediately, he rephrased his previous comment. “I feel pity for you, man.” At this point, I wasn’t sure what was going on. He proceeded to ask what I wanted to specialize in. In preferential order I told him I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, pediatric neurologist or an internist.
Seeing that he had some inclination or knowledge of the medical profession, I pried into his interest. “Are you in the health care profession?”
He exclaimed enthusiastically, “Oh yeah! I’m a doctor myself.”
On learning that he was a naturopathic doctor (ND), I eagerly told him about my shadowing experience at Cancer Treatment Centers of America and my appreciation for the field of naturopathic medicine. His response? “Oh man. I’m glad you’re able to temporally take the veil off all that stuff they teach you in medical school about how there are no other doctors but MDs.” Basically, he called bullshit on my comment about appreciating NDs. He then quoted historical dates, educated me on alternative medical approaches that have been shunned by allopathic doctors, and recounted the battles that alternative medicine professionals have waged and lost against MDs.
He seemed to hate medicine.
This marked the second contrast between us. From his statistic-quoting and high level of medical and naturopathic knowledge, I knew I was not yet well equipped to engage in a battle of words on this topic. It was certainly not a battle for a first-year medical student.
My new friend informed me that he has been involved in the political scene for quite a number of years, and has garnered support for several bills in Congress to allow naturopathic medicine to be recognized on the same platform as allopathic medicine in his state. “On every occasion, these bills have been shut down by you people: the MDs.” He always used the phrase “you people” to denote allopathic doctors in a clearly negative tone. It wasn’t long before I turned my gaze away from him and toward the window, allowing him to talk to the back of my head. He continued to talk in hate. Eventually, I even feared that he might punch me — he was a well-built man.
Because I still needed to study for histology, I turned around and ended our conversation with a smile on my face. “I’m going to study now.” This was about five minutes after he started his rant, and he had been talking, half the time, to the back of my head.
I wanted to let him know that although I disliked his method of presentation, I didn’t resent him as a person. Thus, after about 15 minutes of studying in silence, I resumed small talk. I lamented that I had not done any studying over the break. He offered a few tips on how to memorize facts quickly. Politely, I let him know that memorization had not really been a problem for me so far. I returned to my studying.
After about an hour, I completed the Lymphoid 1 lecture notes. Before we landed, I decided to revisit our conversation by asking him if he had ever worked with MDs in a clinical setting. His answer was vague. I suggested, “They’re hard to work with?”
“Y-y-y-eah,” he muttered, “both fields of practice are entirely different and I can never see them working together.”
At this point, I decided to share my raw thoughts with my co-passenger. “In our conversation today, all you’ve done is point out differences and disagreements between the fields of practice. I don’t think that will ever be a winning strategy for putting naturopathic medicine on the map. You’ve failed to recognize my sincere appreciation for the field of naturopathic medicine. My grandpa studied allopathic medicine in England and went back home to Nigeria, incorporating alternative and allopathic medical practices, and he never lost a patient.”
He tried to interrupt me, but I persisted, “Just like any other battle, such as the civil rights movement, you must be willing to keep fighting for what you believe, and if what you believe is true enough, someday, changes will happen. Battles like these take years to fight — way more than a couple of years. And you have to be willing to approach it from a perspective of working together.”
He gave a long apology for coming off very distastefully and explained that his comments were not directed at me because I have had no say in the politics of health care. Rather, I could only be accountable for the future of health care. He revealed that he was just fined $50,000 by his state’s “Some Board of Something Health-Related” for referring to himself as a “doctor” on his website.
Despite his apology, he was compelled to add one last distasteful comment. “But you know, I do love medicine for the emergencies and the surgeries. You people are good at reductionist approaches that can save lives. But in terms of general practice, forget it. You know, just forget it.”
Attempting to change the conversation, I asked, “One last thing: what brings you to the city?”
“Oh, I have my own radio show here that I do.”
“What’s the title of your show?”
Gazing intently into my eyes, he responded with the name of his show — a name that completely and succinctly embodied his feelings towards allopathic doctors. There was nothing I could say except, “Oh nice, I’ll have to check it out.”
As we exited the plane, we exchanged names. “It was nice to meet you,” I offered.
As he strode passed me, I took out my phone and Googled his radio show. Lo and behold, I discovered that he is an international figure in the field of naturopathic medicine, well-known in the battle for recognition as a legitimate medical profession. I had sat next to him and talked to him without having any idea. I began to watch a few of his YouTube video clips. This image of him in these clips was all that I had left, for when I looked up, he had walked far beyond where I could still see.
This man left me many things to think about. It’s likely I had the same effect on him. What I am trying to accomplish with this story, I’m not entirely sure. But I hope this will, at the very least, inspire you to keep an open mind in everything you do. Talk, have open conversations. As I’ve heard it said, everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.