I could be antivax. Why am I not? Why do some people become antivax and others do not?
I have all the markers. I have been hurt by medical professionals. I have had issues with medical professionals that could have led me to mistrust them all completely. I was a vegetarian for a while. I was very crunchy, in my early parenting years. I shopped only at the organic food coop for years!
I have been harmed by doctors and had my health compromised by their actions.
I had a bad reaction to the MMR.
I had an anaphylactic reaction to an antibiotic once.
My second child was birthed out of the hospital, at a free-standing birth center, with a midwife. I have used naturopaths for healthcare. I once questioned whether aluminum adjuvants were safe. I once thought chicken pox vaccine was not necessary. I once thought flu vaccine lowered our resistance to infection and led to more illness in flu season. I have been, in the past, prescribed too much medication and that led to immune dysfunction. A naturopath helped me heal my gut.
Why am I not antivax?
It is because of this guy.
René Descartes (1596–1650) was a creative mathematician of the first order, an important scientific thinker, and an original metaphysician. I am not being pretentious. I was a math major in college, for a while, and then got a BA in sociology because I love the way math, rational thinking, statistics, and the study of humans intertwine. I minored in French. I am extremely rational, to the point of often not getting jokes or sarcasm. I read numerous of Descartes’ writings as an undergrad and as a graduate student in education. Descartes is considered the “father of rational thinking” for a reason.
And by that, I mean that regardless of what I went through I kept thinking rationally about it and that is why I never became antivax or anti-medicine, despite my negative experiences.
Let’s visit the back story.
First of all, I was a really healthy kid.
Yep, that is me with pooka shell necklace in 3rd grade. Look at that tan. In the 70s, we didn’t realize tanning was dangerous.
I was a healthy California beach kid. I spent most of my time, other than at school, outdoors, mostly barefoot. We roamed the hills, we played with gourds and thistles and we were gone from home as much as possible. Mom fed us mostly whole grains and fresh food. Occasionally, she would buy us Oreos or Ding Dongs but that was rare. We were eating bulgur wheat and brown rice and whole grain bread as soon as we had teeth. Mom never bought us soda or sugary cereal except on rare occasions when camping in summer. And I was a healthy kid. I had chicken pox twice, as a kid, but never broke any bones. I was in the ER for stitches a bunch as a toddler (I was incorrigible) but was never hospitalized nor had anything serious happen to me, ever, as a child. I had a few ear infections or cases of bronchitis, in elementary school, but nothing very serious. And, I had been fully vaccinated more than the standard schedule because I lived in Central America as a young child. So, unlike most California 70s kids, I had smallpox and other travel vaccines on top of regular vaccines.
But, I was a healthy kid!
As a teen, I was also healthy. I ate healthily, was slim, played sports, got a few sinus infections, but was mostly healthy. Rarely missed school.
By age 18, I was accepted to University of California Irvine, I was done with varsity tennis, I had passed the AP English and Biology exams, and I had a job as a Lancome counter girl at the local department store. I was working out almost daily. I was an advanced skier. I was very fit and healthy. I worked out daily, either running or ballet or a the gym for aerobics. I was an almost vegetarian and rarely ate junk food.
In early August 1984, I got infectious mononucleosis (EBV) and I was very sick. I ended up bedridden for 6 weeks, I had hepatitis, I had to quit my job, I had to go to the MD weekly for blood work, I was inches away from being hospitalized, according to my family MD. I was in so much pain from hepatitis I could not stand up straight. I had so little energy that I needed help getting out of bed and getting downstairs.
It took about six weeks but I recovered from EBV and started my freshman year of college and thrived except that I started having allergy issues. By mid-year 1985, I was referred to an allergist and started allergy shots and meds. I developed a few sinus infections and, once, had an anaphylactic reaction to the medication ( sulfa drugs). I lost trust (long story) in the first allergist but I trusted our family doc and he sent me to another allergist.
The new allergist handled every bad cold the same way. I would get an x-ray, he would confirm sinus infection, and he would prescribe antibiotics and steroid nasal spray and prednisone. The two years I spent with him, I went through this routine an average of 7 times each year. So, in two years, I went through 14 sinus x-rays, 14 rounds of antibiotics, 14 rounds of steroid nasal spray, and 14 rounds of prednisone. It is a wonder I was still able to work and be a full-time student and even live in France as an exchange student, but I did all of that and maintained a GPA of 3.8 and I graduated cum laude.
By 1987, I was immune compromised, had systemic yeast infections, had chronic thrush, and was sicker than well. I managed to get through graduate school, while working full time but was still suffering from chronic infections.
In 1991, there was a measles outbreak on my university’s campus and I had to get another MMR. I had a bad reaction to it and ended up with my arm in a sling for a week and on pain meds. My arm swelled up like there was a tennis ball in it, at the injection site. It took a week to go away.
By 1992, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome.
At this point, I could have become anti-modern medicine. They certainly were not doing anything to help me get better! They never had answers for me, just pills for my symptoms.
In 1994, I got married. My husband and I wanted to have children but he worried I was on too many medications. So, I decided to give something new a try – a naturopath. At the time, we lived in Seattle which was then home to the Bastyr University clinic. Growing up in California, I had never heard of a naturopath. Believe it or not, Washington state is much more liberal about licensing alternative healthcare practitioners than California. Being literally desperate, I gave the Bastyr clinic a try. I ended up with Nooshin Darvish, who was amazing and helpful and very respectful of me putting limits on the scope of her practice. To this date, I credit her with helping me be alive today and have two children. She was wonderful.
Okay, okay, you are wondering how the hell I could speak positively about a naturopathy. They are so wooey! They practice pseudoscience! Well, Nooshin did two things with me that solved pretty much everything. She sent me for bloodwork and she had me get a sample of my poop and tested it. I had been to multiple medical doctors, over the years, and no one had ever done either of those things. I even had a camera put down my throat and a barium enema xray and no one ever analyzed my stools for anything. With the bloodwork, Nooshin discovered I was anemic and had very low thyroid. With the stool sample, she discovered that I had yeast overgrowth in my digestive system. Given the fact that I still occasionally got thrush in my throat, this was not a surprise. She put me on iron supplements, probiotics, Synthroid, and had me go on an elimination diet. I discovered that corn and wheat products made my digestive system ache so I avoided them, as well as alcohol and sugar not related to a few servings of fruit a day. I ate this way for about two years. I probably didn’t need to go that long on this diet but I was afraid to stop because, within six months, I was feeling well again! She also introduced me to the neti pot and sinus lavage. By 1996, I was healthy enough to start thinking about having children! We bought our first house and, instead of having kids right away, we spent 5 years fixing up a major fixer, but I was healthy again and that was the point. Also, nothing Nooshin did with me was super wooey (at my request). I purposely avoided homeopathy and acupuncture and anything I felt was not well supported by published studies.
But, again, at this point, I could have gone into the deep end and become anti-medicine and anti-vaccine. It is really only through my insistence on paying attention to evidence that I stayed the course. I always asked her to give me evidence for whatever she wanted to do and we would discuss it. After she graduated and I switched to a private practice ND, Dr Paris Preston in Seattle, I stayed the same course – evidence first. There really are some good naturopaths, you see, ones that base their ideas on scientific evidence. (some can be found at NDs for Vaccines). I no longer live in Seattle and my children and I see a family doctor for our healthcare now, but I do credit naturopathy for where I am today.
So, my question is, why do some people stay rational and others stop? Why do some people become antivax and others do not? What can we do to stop this or help them?
Remember to think for yourself!