Disease as Our Teacher

by in Diabetes, Diarrhea, Kitchen Sink, Naturopathic Theory, Neck Pain, Pain Management, Preventative Medicine, Reader Questions May 8, 2009

By Dr. Nicole Sundene
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week Everyone!
Who is Your Teacher?
Did you know that even adults have teachers?
We may not knowingly be matriculated into the curriculum, but LIFE is teaching us so many things.
In my opinion, disease is an amazing teacher.
Whether chronic or acute, disease is the only way the body can send us messages.
My friend with diabetes refers to her diabetes as her “teacher.”
Anyone with diabetes who is reading this can commiserate at what a challenging life lesson having this disease can be.
Pain is also one of the most common signals that the body sends to us when it wants to teach us a lesson, but we often miss the other hidden messages, the otherwise less pronounced teachers,  those substitute teachers….you know? The ones that NO ONE wants to pay attention to,  and they are known as SYMPTOMS.
Symptoms are a lot like substitute teachers because no one wants to listen to them.  They are going buh-bye in a day or two. Yippee! We can do whatever we want….
But we can’t.  What we need to do is listen to that inner wisdom of the body…pay attention to those symptoms.
Wow….symptoms are our teachers too! How amazing is that to think about? The body is trying to tell you something when you are spending hours on the toilet with The Swine Flu (or nature’s Spring Cleaning as I like to call it.) We know that this virus causing gastroenteritis is upsetting the digestive system, and the body is smartly shooting it out of us as quickly as possible (no puns intended…I promise with all due respect.)
Same thing happens when we get a bad cough, or when we have to sneeze…..and maybe boring yawns even have something to teach us.
Speaking of yawns, bear with me here for a second while we transport back in to time….
Picture it– Issaquah High School 1993:
When I was in high school, my best friend and I had this substitute teacher who eventually became our full time teacher.  He was fresh meat out of grad school, and not much older than we were. Smelling his fear, everyone in the class acted like the typical high school students that knew more than everyone else in the world (let me tell you when I was 18, I was the smartest I will ever be in my entire lifetime. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I will ever know.)
It seemed that everyone in the class had fun taking turns making his day a nightmare.  We were a bunch of arrogant Honor Society Students.  We were used to receiving “A’s” for thinking out of the box and leaving a tiny dot on a science test that asked us to draw a scientific model of a geographical system, and the teacher gave credit.
We had been tested, we had applied to schools, we already knew where we were going for college, many had full ride scholarships, we had it made….
In all nerdy honesty, I was just taking the Advanced Physics as an elective because I almost failed small engines, and in the 17 years that Mr. Endicott taught his curriculum, he never had a group of students not have their lawn mower run.  He even took it apart and put it back together again, and it still didn’t work.
He never had a group of students like us, who thought we were taking the class for an easy “A,” kind of like the “nerd” in “Breakfast Club” who wanted to kill himself with a flare gun because he couldn’t get his elephant lamp to work. Anyway, I got a C in the small engines class, the worst score I had ever received, and never had to work harder to almost not fail.  My BF and I would stay up late with flashcards talking about “tulip valves” and memorizing auto parts. To each his own genius right?
I digress….
In advanced physics class we refused to listen, we had already had six months of physics and thought we knew more than the teacher. We caused trouble just to cause trouble. We made our poor teacher work a million times harder than necessary. We chatted loudly amongst ourselves while he was forced to just yell louder and louder over us to gain our attention. In guilty hindsight, I’m quite certain we must have driven him to drink. I think he may have even given up teaching.
One morale of this blabbering story is that: He kept yelling louder and louder….and we didn’t listen. Hmmm…sound familiar? Pain and other disease symptoms can keep yelling louder and louder too….when we aren’t listening.
I think many of us that now work with super scary teenagers wish that we could flash back in time and apologize to or thank a particular teacher who worked really hard to make us better.
Teachers are some of the most under-appreciated professionals in the working world in comparison to what they are asked to do, and how much they are asked to give.
As a doctor, I have grown to accept that disease is one of our best under-recognized teachers.
Why else does the public speaker develop laryngitis when he does, or the athlete sprain their ankle? Why do most people have heart attacks at 8am on Monday mornings? Why does the skin problem finally show up on your face where your own vanity is forced to recognize it? Why do we get sick when we get sick? Why do we get sick with the things that we get sick with?
Why does our body choose the particular messages in the form of disease that it chooses to communicate with us?  Why aren’t we listening to the inner wisdom, or in Naturopathic Medicine we call it, “The Vis Medicatrix Naturae” or “The Healing Power of Nature.”
We recognize that although their is no cure for the common cold, for instance, the body manages to still recover.
The problem with symptom suppression is that we are ignoring the body’s inner wisdom. Obviously there are times when we have to ignore this “inner wisdom” and intervene to do what is safest, such as in the case of a high fevers! But let’s stop and think about what the purpose of a low grade fever is before we choose to immediately suppress it with acetaminophen.
When the immune system first interacts with a virus or bacterial particle, a message is sent to the brain to increase our thermostat. When the body has a higher temperature, it makes oxygen more available to white blood cells that kill the very bugs that are making us sick.  This is the immune system equivalent to the President giving a report that then gets distributed and the captain of the ship then says, “Computer–activate our shields.”
Sorry once a Trekkie always a Trekkie.
When we ignore our teachers, and assume we are better than our teachers, we are not quite present for life’s lessons. We miss the growth opportunity in the challenge. When we don’t listen to the messages sent by disease, disease just shouts back louder at us. What is that cold really telling you? Why did you have a heart attack? What is your chronic heart burn telling you?  Why does your back really hurt so bad?  Why do you do more nurturing for other people than you do for yourself?  Why aren’t you taking care of yourself?  Why aren’t you listening to your teachers?
Today is the day to start thinking about these things.
And, if you happen to be the 6th period Advanced Physics teacher at Issaquah High School in 1993, I would like to offer my sincerest apology!
God bless all of our teachers!

  1. Doc, this was painful to read. Disease, particularly diabetes, teaches us well, though sadly, at times, the lesson kicks in very late.
    Diabetes creeps up on one, doesn’t smack them in the face like other diseases.
    Next thing, a diabetic is in deep trouble as body parts fail, or get whacked.
    Joe’s last blog post..Caption Winner Announced

  2. I read this article and I think it’s beautiful… we definitely purposely ignore the signs that lead us in directions of insignificance… we will always believe what we want to believe and ignore truth that lies beneath the lies… i hope that’s not true for the most of you…

  3. Great read and so true. I am trying to break the habit of going and going at break neck speed until I drop and starting all over again. I am learning to rest before I completely break down.

  4. Super post, Need to mark it on Digg

  5. Wow!! I love this article. I could have written what Alicia wrote in here comment. It is a hard one for me to learn when there are so many demands on me lately. I think what you wrote here, Doc, is beautiful. This whole article stopped me in my tracks and really resonated with me. Thank you for grounding me again. It is very timely for me. Sending hugs and love, Robin
    Robin Easton’s last blog post..Do You Dream Music?

  6. Thanks for all the great comments 😀

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  8. […] Tell everyone to investigate and TREAT THE ROOT CAUSE of their health problem. Remember that “Disease is Our Teacher” and symptoms are the only way the body can send messages that something has gone […]

  9. Great article! The sooner we start paying attention to our bodies, the healthier we will be. When we keep putting off doing something about those symptoms, they generally just get worse!

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