Autism awareness, what does this really mean? Logos, colors and symbols that represent autism awareness are prevalent during the month of April. People equate the symbols with the autism spectrum. However, being aware that autism exists and comprehending what the autism spectrum is composed of, the challenges faced by families, children and adults who live with autism 12 months out of the year is a totally different and pressing issue.
By Mark A Vacker, M.D.
Life, and the surprises that are in store for us, more often than not, is difficult to deal with.
These lessons teach us to be resilient, toughen us up, and prepare us for what is bound to be an even tougher future experience. As much as we would like to think that we have reached that mystical point in time, that we have paid our dues, and that life will be “easy” henceforth, it never does happen.
During the “prime” of my career, I was an accomplished Family Practitioner, in Southeast Florida. I enjoyed the status of being the owner and medical director of the physician group I was in, the Chief of my Department at the Medical Center where I was on staff, and well respected by patients and the community.
I believed that the only “truth” in medicine was that which was practiced in the traditional allopathic care model and that if a treatment did not have a concrete “scientific explanation” it was not real.
Unexpectedly, due to unforeseen reasons, I retired from the practice of Family Medicine at the age of 53. This left a marked void in my life, as I loved being a family practitioner, seeing patients, teaching medical students and residents and helping others. Practicing medicine was what my life was all about, or so I thought at the time.
Perhaps it was “divine” intervention, but what at first appeared to be a tragic accident, was in reality, a wake-up call. I was so busy caring for others, in reality I had neglected myself. I had lost the sense of balance which one needs in life. I was neglecting my family, not taking the time to exercise or pursue other interests in life. Weight gain led to the development of diabetes which resulted in severe nerve damage in my feet and loss of the ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium. These changes led to my sustaining a fall which resulted in a massive tear of my right rotator cuff. I underwent surgical repair of the rotator cuff tear, however, a cascade of medical issues ensued including muscle breakdown, kidney failure, and a near-death experience. The cost of being a workaholic was taking its toll. Unexpectedly, I would never return to practicing Family Medicine.
My eldest daughter developed an interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, and, wanted to pursue a PhD program in San Diego. I went with her to investigate the school and found the program to be fascinating. I learned that there was a scientific basis to what I previously considered quackery. Furthermore, I discovered the emerging field of Integrative Medicine.
Integrative Medicine was all about giving people hope and options in healthcare. It is patient-centered care which combines the most current scientifically proven evidence based traditional medical care along with complementary and alternative methods. Integrative Medicine also takes into consideration a person’s physical state, nutritional status, psychological attitude, and spiritual beliefs. The “whole person” is cared for, not an isolated body part or disease. This resonated within me. I searched out graduate medical education programs in Integrative Medicine and applied to the two-year Fellowship Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Halfway through Fellowship training I decided to concurrently enroll in an intensive 9-month program in Medical Acupuncture for Physicians. This enhanced my understanding of Eastern philosophy and medicine, which I believe only makes you a better healer.
So, for those of you who are still wondering, how in the world did I end up here? The Fellowship Program at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine has exposed me to Nutritional Concepts, Dietary Supplements, Phytotherapy, Mindfulness, and countless other therapeutic options which I can offer to people as possible avenues for treatment. I never considered utilizing these modalities before when practicing traditional allopathic care.
When the State of Florida approved the use of Medical Marijuana, it’s use was right within the scope of my current training. The endocannabinoid system in the human body modulates our immune system and well-being and also affects how we perceive pain. Marijuana Phytotherapy is a field of medicine that we are just beginning to understand and that is in its infancy. Medical Marijuana gives hope, piece of mind, and relief to those that have few, if any other acceptable options. It just feels good, and is the right thing to do, to assist and enable people to have a better quality of life while on this earth. I believe it is why I was called to practice medicine!
I “retired” from the practice of Family Medicine in 2007 after building an extremely successful Family Medicine practice in Broward County, Florida. What had attracted me to medicine was the thought of helping people to overcome illness and live a better quality of life. I found that as a Family Practitioner I had the opportunity to get to know people on a personal level and accomplish this. By establishing a therapeutic relationship with patients and their families, I was able to help them solve a myriad of problems utilizing a biopsychosocial approach. I found that learning how the patient functions and interacts with others in their environment, progressively building trust and understanding over time, and offering support and compassion were the building blocks necessary to provide high quality care that is rewarding and gratifying.
I felt my most important accomplishments were the friendships and relationships that I established with my patients. These bonds clarified and provided insight into the many complex interacting factors that contributed to the symptomatology my patients were experiencing. Furthermore, it helped me to see how I could offer solutions that would help them live with their problems.
I saw medicine undergo dramatic change during my years of practice. I had the foresight to adapt to, embrace, and prosper under the transition that occurred in the delivery of healthcare. Concurrent with running my private practice I served as Medical Director of the North Broward Hospital District’s out-patient “Family Health Place” primary care clinics. I am proud to say that I also had the privilege of serving as adjunct faculty in the Departments of Family Medicine at both The University of Miami and Nova Southeastern School of Osteopathic Medicine as an Assistant Professor. I instructed medical students and residents throughout the year as they rotated through my office.