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DR. STEMMLER'S MONTHLY TEACHING ROUNDS

Winter, 2007

THE MAKING OF YOUR DOCTOR

(COPYRIGHT STEMMLER, 2007)

Many of you know me as your family physician. Others think of me as their doctor-acupuncturist, or their holistic physician. And some of you seek my help to resolve emotional distress, guide you during life-changing events, or help you make complex medical decisions when you are struggling with too many conflictive medical opinions. Few of you, though, are completely familiar with the kind of physician I have evolved into, since I graduated from medical school in 1972. So often I hear patients say, "Oh, Dr., I didn't realize that you also did this or that…" Since I do not advertise or promote myself in my community, each patient constructs an image of me within the context of their personal needs, or based on what they might have heard from friends who recommended me to them. Now, 35 years later, it might be time to review some of my professional history and philosophy, so that you may more clearly understand who you have chosen as your physician, and all that you can expect from me.

How it all started

I went into medicine out of compassion.
From an early age, I was aware that being sick was a hard place to be; our western societies being geared to the young and healthy. I wanted to bring joy, laughter and hope back into the lives of patients, stop their pain, and help them become themselves again. My volunteer work at hospitals in my teens ripped my heart as I watched the hurried pace of physicians, and the sick stripped of their dignity, demoted to being just a case, or the carrier of a particular disease or syndrome.
Growing up as a German in Buenos Aires, and speaking several different languages at home, taught me to respect various cultural values and derive enjoyment from diversity.
The ethics of hard work and a well done job were instilled in me at home, while the more laissez faire of the Argentine culture was a perfect balance for the Germanic strive for perfection, providing me with a broader and more flexible foundation on which to build my life philosophy.
Living in Berlin for one year as a teenager, before The Wall was built, gave me a close look at the damaging effects extreme ideology, power, and restriction of freedom can have on human beings not just in the realm of government, but also when similar situations are occurring in a doctor's office or in the hospital setting.
My exposure to several religions taught me tolerance and an understanding that all faiths are to be respected and valued; guided by goodness and acceptance of others, people of different religions are pure and faithful in their spiritual beliefs, even though they may worship in different ways.

 

The Schooling Foundation

My 6-year medical school curriculum in Argentina was a real education at the bedside. Having only a fraction of the technical support we have in this country, we relied 90-95% on the patient's history, our physical exam, and our intuition for formulating our diagnoses. Even today, with all the technology that is now available to me, I still rely heavily on what I learned then, using laboratory and radiological tests only to confirm my clinical diagnoses, when necessary. With a growing tendency in health care to instead rely on computer printouts, often even before evaluating a patient, much of this art of medicine is being lost. In addition, such trends in medicine are contributing to staggering health costs, and expose patients to potential risks, long, anxious waits for tests results, and often have little to offer over a thoroughly formulated clinical diagnosis.

 

The Exodus and New Frontiers in Training

When Juan D. Peron returned to Argentina, I left.
I did not want my own children to sing the patriotic songs glorifying this dictator, as I was forced to sing in school in the 1950's. I immigrated into the land of the free in 1973.
My first stop was at the Dorothea Dix Hospital in N.C., where I became a Psychiatry resident. I then continued my training as a Family Medicine resident at Duke University, and later as a full time faculty at the same academic center. The 1970's were exciting times; a real shift was taking place in the fields of Psychiatry and Psychology. While still in training at Duke, I sought out further training with the giants of that movement, such as Milton Erickson (the father of Clinical Hypnotherapy), Jay Haley (Strategic Psychotherapy), Salvador Minuchin and Virginia Satir (Family Therapy), and Bandler and Grinder (NLP, Neurolinguistic Programming), among many others. I studied with them on any weekends off, vacation time, or specially arranged time off for furthering my education.
At Duke I began using hypnosis as an analgesic for certain procedures, such as the insertion of IUD's, and soon we were using hypnosis in labor and delivery.
I arrived in Houston in 1981, served on the faculty at the UT Family Practice Program, and then, in 1984, I opened my solo practice of what was then called The Center for Family Medicine. But I was still searching for a holistic model in medicine, a similar breakthrough to what I had found in the Behavioral Sciences in the decade of the '70's. Soon I would find out that the 1980's would take me through a second and even larger paradigmatic shift, when the announcement of a course in Medical Acupuncture for Physicians, held at UCLA, crossed my desk. I signed up that same day, and within a few months of finishing my course, I was traveling back and forth between Houston and L.A., teaching physicians coming from around the country, and across all specialties. In 1993, I became the second president of the AAMA, the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, a national physician-only organization. I met some of the most creative and inquisitive colleagues during those years, and I have chosen one of those brilliant men to be my own acupuncturist and "energy physician", even though his practice is not around the corner. While I get my treatments at his Malibu office, I look out his window directly onto the Pacific ocean (beats the SW Freeway view from my treatment rooms!). It was not long before I added Korean Hand Acupuncture to my medical bag, an incredibly effective system, based on Chinese medical theory, but done only on the hand, which contains a holographic representation of the whole body, with every meridian and acupuncture points as described by the ancient Chinese physicians.
Combining Chinese Medicine with Western Medicine allowed me to see the patient in two different medical systems at once; where one was weak, the other one was strong, and together, these two systems interlock in perfect harmony. While Western Medicine focuses on parts, on diseases, and on a linear relationship between cause and effect, Chinese Medicine brings to light the uniqueness of each patient, as it influences their health and disease. Chinese Medicine, even though several millennia old, has always understood that we, humans, are complex microcosms within a vast universe. And that we obey the laws of Nature, just like a tiny ant does, as it takes a stroll on a blade of grass. They understood energy, as the force that moves our bodies, mind and spirit, yet Western Medicine is still based on Newtonian Physics, even though Quantum Physics has replaced it since the beginning of the last century (Max Planck, 1900; Albert Einstein, 1905; Erwin Schrodinger, 1920, and on). We know now that all is energy in the universe, our thoughts, the propelling force behind our body functions, and even matter is simply a condensation of energy, and that the oneness in the universe cannot be divided into parts, since such a division will lead to an illusionary image of reality.
Back in the late 1980's I stood up at a staff meeting at what was then SW Memorial Hospital, and asked to be granted hospital privileges in acupuncture. Had I said that a new world war was about to erupt, I could not have generated more uproar in that room with about 60 physicians. As we walked out of the meeting, one very irate physician intercepted me," Christina", he said almost out of breath, "you better decide if you want to be a family physician or an acupuncturist!" My response to him was," I can be both". Then, at the door, a former president of the AAFP (American Academy of Family Practice), but also a man who appreciated my work, smiled at me. "Christina, you're really pushing the envelope!" And I was. I formulated the criteria for granting physicians hospital privileges in acupuncture and since then, those criteria have been used nationally at various hospitals. After I had these privileges approved in this hospital, I had 2 more hospitals in Houston do the same, becoming the first physician in Houston to be able to practice acupuncture in a hospital setting. My patients coming into the ER with a throbbing headache no longer depended on a shot of Demerol. My post-operative patients who had Big Mac attacks 2-3 days after abdominal surgery, because they could not be fed by mouth until they had bowel sounds (functioning bowels), would start having them immediately after surgery with a simple acupuncture treatment, sometimes before I even finished putting in my needles.
Many of my hospitalized patients recovered faster and had excellent pain control without the use of narcotics.

 

The Last Decade

The late 1990's and the turn of the century have been intellectually as exciting as the 2 decades before, with the added bonus of building on the foundation provided by all this previous training. A new shift has again taken place in the development of what is now known as Energy Medicine. Chinese Medicine just being one aspect of this new awareness, new modalities such as Thought Field Therapy (TFT, Roger Callahan, PhD., Tapping the Healer Within) have surfaced as effective ways of treating difficult problems such as anxiety, phobias, anger, grief, post-traumatic conditions and a variety of common emotional disturbances in a short period of time, often just within one or two visits, taking an average of a 15-30 minutes session to resolve.
Bruce Lipton, PhD. (The Biology of Belief), a well known cellular biologist, has scientifically proven that our beliefs, being energy, construct the world as we individually see it, and that every cell in our body is affected by our thoughts. With impeccable scientific cell research, Dr Lipton demonstrates that genes and DNA do not control our biology, but that DNA is controlled by signals from outside the cell, including the energy contained in our positive and negative thoughts, leading to the new science of Epigenetics.
Having trained with both of these scientists has been another mind expanding experience, which guided me to yet another level of energy work, as I further trained in PSYCH-K, developed by Robert Williams, M.A. (PSYCH-K…The Missing Peace in Your Life). This is a direct application of Bruce Lipton's research, by which negative beliefs can be changed into beliefs that would be more beneficial to us for our life accomplishments, including our health and our recovery from disease. Our subconscious beliefs establish the limits of what we can achieve or think we may, or may not be able to do. PSYCH-K is a technique that creates a balanced communication between both sides of the brain and, during this whole brain state, the negative beliefs in our subconscious mind can be changed into new positive, self-supporting ones.
Other healing techniques that I have incorporated into my practice are mindful breathing, meditation, and the full enjoyment of the present moment. The power of music, love, gratitude and compassion can have a tremendous beneficial effect on our minds and spirits; apply them daily in your life.

 

So what can I do for you? A lot, just ask.

I wish you all a peaceful and loving 2007 and, as you begin to shift into positive thoughts about yourself and the world around you, your life will be the best it has ever been!

 

Christina Stemmler, M.D.


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