Today I want to tell you about a time in my life where everything was one big question mark. I was sick, with no diagnosis in sight, to the point where I could hardly walk, use my hands (or anything for that matter), and my mother admits she worried if I’d make it. I’m sharing this with you, not to get sympathy, that’s the furthest from my intent. Rather, to share with you my exact experience with our healthcare system, and why I’m so adamant about the way we do things at DPT. 

I had just graduated from PT school at USC in Los Angeles. I had accepted a job in Santa Monica, and moved in with two of my classmates who would later move here to Arizona with me to start the “best physical therapy company in Arizona” We found a great little place a block away from the shore in Redondo Beach. Aside from my 1.5 hour commute (2.5 hours on Friday afternoons), things were pretty rosey for a while. 

Gradually over my first month of working I started to notice swelling in my elbows, I couldn’t extend them fully, and shortly after that it started in my hands. Within a week or two, my knees and feet were also affected, to the point when I took off my dress-socks the swelling in my legs created a 1-2 inch difference in thickness above the sock-line. This is called edema, and it was the pitting type meaning if I pushed into it, I’d see an indentation where my finger was for the next few minutes. 

Eventually, I couldn’t open jars, work on my patients with my hands, or use the stairs very well. We lived in a 2-story condo with the common area upstairs, and my room downstairs. At 25 years old I found myself planning out what I needed to do upstairs, because it was the only trip I’d be making that day. I consulted a physician that was under contract with my insurance plan and he ordered x-rays and gave me some anti-inflammatory medication. When I returned after my x-rays which of course showed nothing, I could see the swelling around my joints. The physician looked me straight in the eyes, and said “You have arthritis, and you’re just going to have to learn to live with it.” Are you kidding me? I was at the point I was wearing gloves with a tacky grip on the palms so I could grip the steering wheel to turn it…

Every day people are given terrible advice like this, I hear it straight from many of our clients. I wasn’t willing to let the conversation end there, so I pushed back and asked for a referral to an infectious disease doctor, or a reumatologist, then he said “Pick one, I won’t send you to both.” I couldn’t help but think at that moment, if this is what it’s like for me, someone with a degree in healthcare, how difficult is it for the everyday person to get heard? He pushed a prescription for celebrex (a powerful anti-inflammatory) across the table and begrudgingly wrote me a prescription for an infectious disease doctor. 

Over the next several months I underwent a lot of testing, all the while popping celebrex like candy so I could work semi-comfortably on my patients. Test after test coming back negative, testing for things as obscure as “Chikungunya” virus. We tried everything and it all came back negative. 

On a trip back to New Mexico I visited an acupuncturist who prescribed a special tea he made, that tasted like literal dirt. I drank that tea, along with burning matcha sticks and letting the smoke roll over my joints, and doing this belly bowl thing – I mean I was really reaching! So when our clients come to us exhausted, feeling like we’re the last resort, and like they’ve tried EVERYTHING…I’ve been exactly in that position, and I take that responsibility seriously. 

This went on for 9 months, nothing worked…One day a leak sprung in the house I was living in, and I had to vacate for a week. While I was outside of the house, living in a hotel, I started to feel a bit better over the week, and when I went back to the house, they had opened up the wall, dried out the areas behind the drywall and patched it up. Suddenly, over the next month, nearly all my symptoms vanished. I didn’t put two-and-two together at the time, I was just happy to be feeling almost back to normal. The only things I had to deal with after this was a 3-5 year journey to fix my gut-health, and work to regain all of my lost muscle mass. It wasn’t until a few years later, thinking back on this, that I realized there must have been mold in that wall and I had had a severe response. Mold toxicity though, was still very much not recognized in mainstream medicine. The gut issues that I dealt with were also not recognized as leaky gut, and there was no solution other than elimination diets and medication. 

Eventually I succeeded at finding someone who could help with my gut issues, and I’m happy to say that I’m mostly back to normal. Over the past 5 years of owning this clinic I have tried my absolute best to make sure situations like this are NOT what our clients experience. Let’s look at the breaking points: 

  1. A doctor who doesn’t have time for, and has no interest in treating the whole person. 
  2. A medical system that doesn’t know what to do when we don’t fit into a known diagnosis. 
  3. No communication between doctors. 
  4. Prescription pills used to manage symptoms rather than find the root cause. 

This is why I stress to all of our staff and clients that we’re different for a reason. It’s not because it’s easier to not take insurance. It’s simply impossible to provide great care under the constraints of our current payer system. My promise and guarantee is that: 

  1. All of our clients will feel heard. 
  2. We collaborate between ourselves and other providers in difficult cases. 
  3. We establish goals that are important to our clients, not insurance companies.
  4. We work to find the root cause, and try different paths if something doesn’t work.

At The Doctors of Physical Therapy, we’re not only working on our clients, we’re working on creating an approach, which we call the PHIX approach, that can improve outcomes for people who are struggling everywhere. Thanks for being a part of our DPT Family, your success means the world to us. 

Live Life Today,
Dr. Tom