I was first exposed to the healing approach known as Homeopathy as a young adult while studying music in Paris in the 1970s. After a few months of living abroad, I started to feel a bit blue, and my French roommate offered to take me to see her physician. After a brief interview, the physician (an M.D.) diagnosed me with mild depression and prescribed a homeopathic remedy called Pulsatilla. The remedy consisted of tiny white globes which I was instructed to place under my tongue where they would slowly dissolve. They tasted like sugar. I was to avoid eating for an hour both before and after taking the remedy. Though nothing else about my life in Paris changed, after taking the Pulsatilla, the depression lifted in a matter of days.
Once back in the United States the following spring, I applied to graduate school and, while waiting for a response, temporarily set aside my piano studies and looked for a job. I was eventually hired as cashier at an organic food store where I became intrigued by customers’ keen interest in nutrition and herbs. I bought every book the store sold on these topics. (Luckily, in 1977, there weren’t the hundreds of books on these topics that there are today or I would have gone broke in short order!) Six months later, when I was accepted into the Master of Music program at the New England Conservatory, I left my job to re-immerse myself in the piano.
My brief tenure at the store filled with daily conversations with the store’s customers and fellow workers about nutrition and herbs, combined with my exposure to homeopathy while living in Paris, whetted my appetite to learn more about alternative approaches to healing.
A decade and a half later, in 1993, I found myself exploring alternative healing again, this time on behalf of my son, whose fatal prognosis due to cystic fibrosis could not yet be altered by conventional medicine. Homeopathy was still a novelty in the U.S. and I had no idea how to find a homeopath. (There was no “H for Homeopath” in the Yellow Pages nor was there an Internet!). So I started by asking friends and acquaintances if they had heard of any homeopaths practicing in the D.C. area. Most of the people I asked didn’t even know what a homeopath was, but among the few that did, the name Ioana Razi came up repeatedly as a wonderful homeopath who specialized in children.
I soon discovered that Dr. Razi was a conventionally trained Board-certified pediatrician who also used homeopathy in her routine care of children. Her medical practice was so popular that it was sometimes closed to new patients for years at a time. My friend, Ginger, offered up Dr. Razi’s name to me like forbidden fruit. “She’s terrific,” Ginger said, “but I fear you may never get in. Her practice is usually filled.” When I called Dr. Razi’s office to request an appointment, the receptionist confirmed Ginger’s prediction and discouraged me from calling back. “It’s unlikely that Dr. Razi will be accepting any new patients for the foreseeable future,” she said.
I was determined to try homeopathy as part of Russell’s healing plan, and I wanted to take him to a seasoned practitioner. After hanging up the phone, I sat down and wrote Dr. Razi a long letter describing Russell’s dramatic medical history with a closing plea to help us. A week after mailing the letter, I received a call from Dr. Razi’s receptionist who expressed her own surprise that she was calling me back to offer us an appointment. The caveat was that Dr. Razi’s care would be limited to providing homeopathic care only; she would not be able to serve as Russell’s general pediatrician. That was fine with me since we already had a wonderful pediatrician, and I was perfectly happy to stick with her for Russell’s primary care.
In mid-May, I drove an hour south from our home on a farm in Montgomery County to Dr. Razi’s home office in Washington, D.C. for our first appointment. I was very excited! I parked our car in a tiny parking space in the alley behind her house in D.C.’s upscale Georgetown neighborhood and woke up 9-month-old Russell who had fallen asleep during the ride. He complained sleepily as we wound our way through a backyard lush with flowering bushes and a jumble of red wagons, hula-hoops, and child-size vehicles that caught Russell’s eye.
The waiting room was just as inviting. There was a huge comfy couch, overflowing bookshelves, and toys scattered in all directions. What a difference from the impersonal and sterile hospital environment where most of my child’s appointments took place! Dr. Razi soon emerged from her office with a little girl and mother, hugging them both warmly as they said their goodbyes. The doctor’s brightly colored skirt and profusion of curly black hair suggested an exotic heritage (which turned out to be a mix of Greek and Rumanian), but I was mostly struck by her warm smile and strong maternal presence.
As soon as Dr. Razi saw us, Russell garnered all of her attention. She whisked him out of my arms, turning to introduce herself to me almost as an afterthought as she led the way back to her exam room. She nodded to a chair for me to sit in and gently lowered Russell down onto the fresh blanket that was already spread out on the floor to begin his physical examination.
Russell stared up at Dr. Razi with a look of baby wonder, clearly entranced by this beautiful stranger who was treating him with such tenderness. She talked to him quietly and smiled reassuringly as she began her examination of his entire body. She gently placed her hand on the still-open “soft spot” on the top of his skull. She listened to his lungs and palpated his abdomen all over, and she looked closely at his fingernails and toenails—cooing to him the whole time. After she finished her exam, she replaced his wet diaper with a clean one, gently kissed his forehead, and placed a toy or two within his reach to keep him occupied. I was mystified by her loving approach toward my baby—something none of the doctors at the hospital had ever displayed. I found myself observing a health practitioner who took a very personal, almost intimate approach to health care and healing.
Dr. Razi then sat down at her desk and, turning her full attention to me for the first time, proceeded down a long list of questions. Every once in a while, she glanced back at Russell who was happily engrossed on the floor with an assortment of toys, as if to weigh my responses against her own observations. Dr. Razi asked me all about him—his likes, his dislikes, his sleeping habits, his energy level, his moods. Her questions went far beyond what a physician would normally ask.
“How is he with his older brother?” she asked at one point.
“He adores him,” I responded, “although he recently bit down quite hard on Gus’s nose…”
“Oh my,” she said, “and what did Gus do?”
“He didn’t do anything—he was remarkably restrained.”
“That’s impressive for a 5-year old!” she said.
“How is Russell around animals?” she asked, continuing down her list. “What does he like to do the most?” “Are there any activities that he shies away from?” “What kind of food is he most drawn to?” Her questions about physical symptoms came last, and I got the impression that they were only a part of what was important to her regarding Russell’s health status. She had a general knowledge of spina bifida (his first diagnosis, at birth) but clearly knew quite a lot about cystic fibrosis (his second diagnosis, at 8 months). She was especially intrigued by my reports of the constant changes in his hair and skin color, and asked for a lot of detail about his recurring ear infections and cough, colic and crying fits, diarrhea, mood swings, growth trends, and the constant ups and downs of his appetite and energy level. She listened carefully to each reflection that I shared and kept asking additional follow-up questions until she was satisfied that she had been given a thorough answer. I found myself sharing observations about my son that I hadn’t even realized I had made until this interview.
Just as our appointment was drawing to a close, I mentioned to Dr. Razi that Russell was experiencing trouble swallowing his enzymes (prescribed by the cystic fibrosis or CF specialist to support his ability to metabolize breast milk and solid food). He had only recently begun to eat solid food, and the strangely-shaped enzymes that the CF doctor had prescribed to help with digestion often caught in his throat, causing him to gag. She immediately asked me if I knew what true choking looked like.
“Oh sure,” I responded proudly, “we took ‘Baby Life’ classes.”
“How long ago?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Four years ago, with our first child,” I said.
She ignored my lame vote of self-confidence and went on to describe in detail the difference between the mere unpleasantness of gagging versus the life-threatening act of choking. In the event that he should actually choke (turn gray, stop breathing, and go limp), I was to perform the infant version of the Heimlich maneuver. She took Russell out of my arms again and sat back down to demonstrate. Turning him over onto his stomach on her lap, with his head tilted downward at a 90° angle over her thighs and knees, she pretended to whack him forcefully in and down on his back (i.e., “up” towards his lowered head).
She looked up at me and said firmly, “Lindsay, you’ll need to hit him hard if he’s really choking.”
I was dutifully traumatized and we went back to discussing solutions to his harmless gagging. Most of her advice was filled with reassurance directed at me that I was doing a good job as his mother—something I was starving to hear. Her sympathy brought me close to tears. She assured me that she would be back in touch soon, after she had had enough time to lay out an individualized plan of homeopathic remedies.
At home the next morning, Russell sat in his highchair in the kitchen watching my every move as I tore off a small piece of bagel for him in his ongoing exploration of real food. He took a nibble, happily mouthed it for a while, and then swallowed. The swallow was arduous and somehow incomplete. As I watched in horror, he turned from his normally very pale skin to gray. He didn’t cough or make any sound at all, and within seconds, he stopped breathing. Seemingly right on cue, he was manifesting all of the ghastly symptoms of true choking that Dr. Razi had described the previous day. When he began to go limp and faint away, I came to life. Ripping the tray off his high chair, I positioned him on my lap face-down at an angle just as Dr. Razi had directed, and whacked him. Nothing happened. I made a flash judgment that a cracked rib was preferable to having him die and, begging his pardon, I gritted my teeth and really whacked him. Out popped the morsel of bagel and Russell gasped for breath. As soon as his lungs refilled with air, he began to wail. I clutched him to my chest for a long time as we both sobbed and trembled. Dr. Razi’s instructions from the day before had literally saved his life. The irony of it all—that here Russell had two life-threatening conditions but could just as easily die from choking on a stupid bagel—was not lost on me.
UP NEXT: Treating a Baby with Homeopathy
This essay is an excerpt from Dr. Beane’s memoir, Embracing the Dragon: Using Alternative Healing to Reclaim Hope, which chronicles her combined use of conventional and so-called “alternative” medicine to treat her son’s cystic fibrosis. See also previous essays: ACUPUNCTURE (Parts 1 and 2).