medical alternative medicine

being able to say “fuck big pharma” and avoid taking prescription medications in lieu of alternative medicine is a privilege

being mentally or physically healthy enough to boycott pharmaceuticals is a huge fucking privilege so please get off your high horse when shaming chronically ill, mentally ill, and disabled people for the medications they need to take in order to function

let’s criticize the institution rather than the people who need to take part in it in order to survive

Why You Should Reconsider Being Premed

You know, life has a way of surprising you and turning everything upside down when you least expect it. When I was 9 years old my mother gave me a copy of Mosby’s Medical Encyclopedia, and I would read it every single day. I’d take it to school, read it at the park, pull it out when a big fancy medical word popped up on the news, etc. I was fascinated with medicine at a young age. This was probably destiny, though. I have five doctors in my family; an orthopedic surgeon, maternal-fetal medicine specialist, dermatologist and two psychiatrists, one of whom was my father. I have been in ORs, watched the broken be cut open and put together again, knew how to suture before I entered middle school, memorized all those damn acronyms when I should have been studying for the SAT, etc. I still have that same medical encyclopedia.

Today, I find myself a university student majoring in Anthropology and Communication Disorders, and pursuing all the required courses for medical school. My GPA is a 3.8, I’ve done the obligatory volunteer work, tutored Deaf and Deaf/Blind kids, worked as a peer and academic counselor, got the EMT license, organized the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the homeless, done enough research to fill a textbook and I feel nothing. The passion, the spark has faded. The more I work in the hospital, the more physicians I shadow and the more I read about the state of healthcare and medicine worldwide, the more disenchanted I become. You read all the surveys asking physicians if they’d pursue medicine if they could do it all over again, and, on average, less than 50% say they would do so. In fact, the average is 41%. However, is this as much of a surprise as it sounds? Is it shocking that there are articles called “$1 Million Mistake: Becoming a Doctor” out in the world?

Everything I thought I loved about medicine has become dull and gray. The magic has been cast aside by the harsh light of reality. It takes around a decade beyond your BA to become a physician (4 years medical school + 1 year optional internship + 3-6 year residency + 1-3 year fellowship), you graduate medical school with around $160,000 in debt, start earning a decent salary roughly 10-12 years after the rest of your friends from university have already secured their careers and promotions, spend almost half your day doing paperwork as opposed to hands-on patient care, often have time with your patients limited to 15 minutes, etc. BUT! This is not why we go into medicine, right? We don’t care about the time it takes, the money we may make or lose, etc. We care about the patients. We care about being compassionate healers who touch the hearts and souls of those in need, and give them hope when all seems lost. But is medical school worth it?

I’ve interviewed several healthcare professionals and medical scientists. The most miserable: physicians. The happiest and most satisfied: those who passed on medical school, or went into research. I met those who went to medical school and decided to change careers, those who dropped out of medical school, premeds who changed their mind, etc. The physician assistant was happier than the neurosurgeon, got to see his family every night, interacted with patients more often and spent less time on paperwork. The nurse knew all of her patients by name and history without having to look at a chart to remind her, commanded more respect and ran every protocol while the ER physician watched. The epidemiologist traveled to more than 9 countries, prevented the spread of over 20 infectious disease outbreaks, did more hands-on patient care than any physician I’ve ever seen and had time to do and publish research. The medical anthropologist flew to a different country every few months, built wells for clean water to prevent waterborne diseases, built health clinics in Sudan, set up rape and abuse education programs in 3 countries, wrote 3 books and had time to pursue EMT licensure, certificates in HIV/AIDS education, an MPH and raise 2 kids. The pathology assistant earns almost as much as the pathologist he worked for, did more autopsies (his preference) and has the freedom to do almost everything his superior does.

What is the point of all of this? It is not to discourage anyone from pursuing medicine, a career in healthcare, etc. It is to remind us all that medical school is not the only option. We become so fascinated with the “MD,” “DO,” ND,” etc. that we forget there is a whole world of opportunities passing us by. We stay awake until 3am reading about orgo nomenclature, watching Greys Anatomy to keep us inspired (you know you do it) to the point where we forget that reality is not the same as TV. Personally, I think reality is better, but it is also worse. Ask yourself this: Is there something more I could be doing? Could you become a nurse, physician assistant, drug researcher, Peace Corps member, medical anthropologist, health/medical interpreter, speech language pathologist/audiologist, podiatrist, forensic scientist, professor, genetic counselor, clinical herbalist, massage therapist, physical therapist, pathology assistant, chiropractor, bioethicist, public health official, epidemiologist, entrepreneur, expert in sustainable health practices, diagnostic sonographer, therapist, dietician/nutritionist, naturopath, geneticist, biotechnologist, anesthesiologist assistant, pharmacist, dentist, etc.? Do you want to join the system or change it? Do you have an idea that could change the face of healthcare, medicine and medical education? Are you putting it off for 10 years until you’re an attending with an average of 4 hours of sleep? Are you ready for the debt that comes with medical school when the very specialized career you want has a shorter and cheaper path?

Whatever you choose, you can do it. I have faith in every single one of you. You are all brilliant and have the capacity for excellence. Just be sure to educate yourselves and experience as much as you can before you commit to anything. Feel free to ask me questions. Cheers.

PS: I will be pursuing a dual degree in Linguistics and Anthropology, and becoming a conference interpreter. I plan on interpreting for human rights campaigns, the medically underserved, NGOs, the UN, EU, etc. :)

Witchy Lifestyle: Safe Practice (Pt. I)

There’s a topic that I don’t often see floating around the web in regards to witchcraft. Amid all of the encouragements and inspiration, talk of gods and spirits, and beautiful aesthetic, we don’t often see much of the more unsafe parts of being a witch…

Now before I go any further, I am not trying to make it seem like being a witch is a bad thing. That would be awfully hypocritical, coming from a witch who’s been practicing for a little over half his life. Rather, I want to address something that everyone who practices or wishes to practice should know: witchcraft is not inherently “safe.” This is in regards to the more mundane aspects and the spiritual aspects. I’ll address some of what I can, as well as give some recommendations for safe practice.

And don’t fear! Even if you’re brand new to witchcraft, you can still practice. As always, what I’m recommending is to educate yourself as much as possible and to explore with confidence and humility.

Mundane: Burning Shit

Fire safety may seem like a no-brainer. But there are those out there who neglect fire safety for the sake of a spell or rite. Under no circumstances should you ever neglect proper fire safety. Just like in D&D, the gods aren’t going to save you from stupid.

1) Ventilation: Whether it’s incense, offerings, or a candle, always burn in a well-ventilated area. This prevents smoke and ash buildup in an area, and also voids “hot spots.” The flame will be able to breathe without spreading, and there’s less risk of catching something else aflame. If your flame is open (such as on a taper candle) keep hair and loose clothing tied up or well away from the flame, and avoid placing it near walls or curtains.

2) Containers: Always burn the substance in a heat-proof container. Using a heat-proof container prevents melting, scorching, or spreading flame. Plastic is unwise because if scorched or burnt, it can release harmful chemicals (not to mention melts and makes a horrible mess). Glass is advisable if it is tempered and designed to be heat proof. (If it is not, you risk cracking - or worse, shattering - the glass). Other safe substances (be sure to read labels and warnings!) may include ceramic, terra cotta, cast iron, and brass.

3) Substance: One of the biggest peeves I have when it comes to reading about DIY incense or burnt offerings and such is when such herbs as mugwort or rose petals are included. ALWAYS do your research before burning plants. Some (such as rose petals) will simply smell horrible. Others have toxic chemicals that, when released during burning, can cause symptoms ranging from burns or rashes to inflammation of the respiratory tract, neurological damage, or even death depending upon the plant being burnt. To an extent, many of these can be avoided simply by burning in a well ventilated area. Others should only be smoked/burnt in moderation (such as mugwort, which can be a neurotoxin in doses that are too high and too frequent). 

4) Supervision: Many spells call for allowing a candle to completely burn down. While practical for quick-burning candles (such as birthday candles), it’s hard to remain in a room for hours on end, waiting for that seven-day candle to burn down. Some traditions aren’t too finicky about burning down the candle. But for those that are, be sure that you are ALWAYS around and aware of the candle flame so as to prevent accidents. Keep water or an extinguisher on hand (just in case) and if the worst happens, do not hesitate to call an emergency line.

Mundane: Consumption of Herbs/Substances

Let’s face it. In witchcraft, there is a lot of eating and drinking. Many of us include a “cakes and ale” or “communion” in our rites. Still others of us have an emphasis on cooking, or on making herbal teas and infusions. And, of course, there are plenty of witches out there (myself included) who may partake in the smoking of or eating of different types of herbs (such as tobacco or cannabis).

One of the best things anyone can do if they see a spell or recipe calling for a substance they’re unfamiliar with is to research that substance. Learn as much as possible: its preparation, health benefits and side effects, history, et cetera. This has a couple of positive benefits. First, you become knowledgeable about what you are eating or smoking. Second, you avoid consuming something that may be toxic.

Take elderberry, for example. Many people have it growing right in their backyards. But it’s dangerous to use it without the proper knowledge. The berries can cause stomach upsets if unripe, and the wood should never be burnt or ingested for any reason (this includes making whistles and the like) while still wet and green because it is toxic. Furthermore, if you’re unsure of the distinction between elder and water hemlock, you run the risk of consuming the hemlock - the whole of the plant being extremely toxic and deadly.

So always be sure to know what you are putting in your body. Even something which seems safe enough may have unexpected or dangerous side effects (if you suffer from anxiety, for example, you should be careful of what strains of cannabis you smoke or eat, because some strains can trigger panic attacks and heightened anxiety).

If you are working a spell for health or healing which calls for certain herbs, be sure to look into what medications you’re taking to avoid any harmful combinations. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU USE MAGIC OR HERBALISM AS A REPLACEMENT FOR MEDICAL TREATMENT. Magic and alternative medicines are meant to be supplements rather than replacements. To neglect your physical condition is dangerous, and your physician should always be addressed if you’re feeling ill.

Smoking anything should be done with caution, and should only be done legally. This means learning local ordinance and laws regarding the substance and acquiring the proper permits if necessary. Some places put age restrictions on substances such as cannabis and tobacco. Others have it outlawed completely (as in the case of cannabis depending on where you live). In addition, smoking anything can be harmful to health due to tar and ash entering the lungs.

IN NO WAY DO I CONDONE UNDERAGE SMOKING OF ANY SUBSTANCE.

Do your research, and be careful, please.

Mundane/Spiritual: Sex and Body Fluids

This is something that (luckily) many witches are very careful to warn about. In large part, this is due to the fact that the community is largely built of strong and empowered women or feminists. But when new to witchcraft, it is still important to address.

The use of body fluids in magic (i.e. blood, menstrual discharge, semen, saliva, et cetera) can make a spell particularly powerful and bound to the witch working it. However, body fluids are a great way of transmitting diseases, as well. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU SHARE OR EXCHANGE BODY FLUIDS WITH OTHER PEOPLE. This includes if they’ve been dried out. So if you’re putting together a spell sachet, for example, don’t feed or anoint it with blood, saliva, semen, et cetera. Instead, perhaps add a strand of hair or a fingernail clipping if a taglock is completely necessary.

And when working with body fluids, be sure that you know what kind of magic you’re using, how it works, and why. Offering any body fluids to a deity or spirit is something that should be done cautiously and only with a spirit with which you’ve developed a strong and beneficial relationship.

Sex magic is not uncommon. While some shy away from the topic, it’s important to understand that magic has various ways of being worked. Intense emotion or some sort of trigger to set intent is often used. This can be done through meditation, but it can also be done through achieving orgasm.

Some covens or couples will also make use of sex to reflect fertility aspects of their deities.

Whether straight or LGBTQ+, always practice safe sex. This includes the use of condoms and contraceptives, engaging in physical acts only with those you trust completely, in a legal manner (including age and location), and while completely clear of mind (no drugs, alcohol, et cetera).

To Be Continued…

There is more to go over. But as I’ve said, let this article not deter you from practicing witchcraft. Part of practicing witchcraft is being sensible, safe, and educated about what you’re doing. Always be well prepared!

Blessed Be! )O(