Updated: Mar 4
It's been a minute since I wrote a blog post here; I've been away in the US for a month over the holidays, traveling down the east coast to visit family and friends (a likely upcoming post: how to maintain your health while traveling!).
After returning to Munich, I went straight to the naturopathic hospital for ten days in-patient (in German, Krankenhaus für Naturheilweisen). My general practitioner was basically out of her depth with how to move forward with me and referred me there - during the last quarter of 2018, I experienced numerous infections, a nasty EBV (Epstein-Barr Virus) flare, and struggled emotionally with C-PTSD. Let's just say it wasn't pretty :)
I didn't have any knowledge of this hospital, but was hoping to learn something new (like most people with chronic illness, sometimes I feel like I've tried it all). It's really lucky that the entire stay and all treatments are covered by German social health insurance. Finances can be tricky when you've got persistent health issues; there are SO many things out there to try, but the most interesting ones are usually not covered by insurance. No single person can afford to take a chance on every treatment in hopes that it could be the silver bullet, so I've often had to pick and choose (neural therapy thyroid injections, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, just to name a few), to the detriment of my bank account. If you're frustrated seeing Instagram stars broadcasting treatments that have changed their lives, but are just insanely expensive, I can totally relate. I was really lucky to have this opportunity and wanted to share my experience for anyone who might be interested - naturopathic hospitals aren't so common. So here we go!
Organizationally, everything went suspiciously smoothly, but maybe that's just coming from an American. Within one short phone call, the appointment was set up with no questions asked and very little wait time. I received a list of things to bring and that was it (I was a little curious about a bathing suit being on the list, but I let myself be surprised). The entire stay will be booked to my insurance, aside from a marginal daily fee for the hospital room.
Intake and Program
One of my floor's doctors did a quick intake with me and developed a ten-day program. From the research I did about the hospital beforehand, (because of course I did research), it seems they are very good with patients with chronic pain, which (luckily) isn't me. In the hospital, I learned that the majority of patients were a) much older than I, and b) women. The second point isn't so surprising, as women are much more likely to end up with inflammatory diseases than men (boo).
From the dietary lectures, relaxation and fitness classes included in my program, I got the sense that much of it would be innovative for the average person. However, being a yoga teacher and holistic nutrition consultant, as well as having managed my own illness for ten years, I found myself being more excited about the homeopathic medicine, whole-body hyperthermia, and craniosacral treatments as the things that might make a noticeable difference for me.
Homeopathy. It's a word thrown out in conversation along with naturopathy and acupuncture, but do we actually know what it means? And do we "believe" in it?
Homeopathy is the treatment of ailments using teeny doses of the things that cause the ailment. The idea is that a substance that causes certain symptoms in large doses can trigger the body's own healing mechanisms to cure those same symptoms when given in small doses. Now let's take a beat to process that weird sentence. Ok. So, it's considered to be a pseudoscience, but is widely used in Germany (where it was developed) as well as other countries like India. The medication takes the form of tiny white balls called globuli, which are usually prescribed 5 at a time. These little guys are meant to dissolve on your tongue.
I've never tried homeopathy before, though I've been curious, so I was excited to have the opportunity to put it to the test for free. As I noticed a general bettering of my condition while trying so many things at once, it's hard to say how much of it can be attributed to the globuli - typical research fail, too many variables.
Whole-Body Hyperthermia Treatment
This one was a surprise for me. I've usually at least heard of alternative treatments, but not this one. Hyperthermia has been shown to trigger the immune system by creating a fever, provide oxygen to the cells, as well as the usual by-product of sweating: detoxification (the skin is the largest detox organ!). The body will be heated to at least 38 degrees celsius over the course of two hours. The temperatures are generally higher for cancer patients, and for longer durations. I received a brief introduction in the hospital, but again researched away to find more information. In cancer patients, hyperthermia treatments have been shown to slow tumor growth, and in some cases reduce tumor size or heal tumors altogether (see here and here). Some, including the Anthony William, the Medical Medium, have suggested that Epstein-Barr Virus sometimes goes hand-in-hand with systemic Streptococcus infections (because why not?), and strep can be killed at high temperatures during hyperthermia (!). I was particularly excited about this part because I have had recurring impetigo (on my face, very cute), which is a topical strep infection - yeah, that's a thing. Hyperthermia can help kickstart that weakened immune system that usually goes along with recurring EBV. Some studies (here for example) have shown that hyperthermia may also help to treat depression and PTSD! There are obviously possible contraindications (reasons someone may be unable to use this therapy), but if one can, there aren't many reasons not to.
Oh wait, except that you're basically trapped in a little tent over your bed in crushing heat for two hours. You might think it sounds like a nice sauna session - it's not. My "tent" looked like the one to the right, except my head was also enclosed - so if claustrophobia is a thing for you, you might think twice. I had three sessions within ten days, each one getting progressively warmer, peaking at 39.2 degrees Celsius (around 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit). During the first session, I didn't bring anything to do, but quickly learned my lesson. I tried to meditate but it was actually too uncomfortable (and I've done a Vipassana retreat, so I have a pretty high tolerance for "uncomfortable" during meditation). I needed more serious forms of distraction: thank goodness for true crime podcasts.
Following the session, I was wrapped in what was essentially a tarp and left to bake for another half hour, during which my body temperature would continue to climb slightly. Afterward, I was not allowed - and not able - to walk, so the little tent was removed and me and my bed were carted back to my room. I would basically lie around the rest of the day, waiting for my body temperature to return to normal and chugging all the water. I would usually receive a vitamin C infusion during this time too. Headaches and dizziness were the only side-effects I noticed, and those are pretty common (especially for me). The doctors and specialists told me that I would only notice the effects after at least a week, and now, about 10 days later, I really am noticing a difference in my energy.
Cransiosacral therapy comes from osteopathy, a complementary form of medicine that involves healing through manipulation of the skeleton, joints, muscles, and spine. Like most alternative forms of medicine, it received skepticism at first but has gained more respect in recent years. Craniosacral therapy specifically focuses on the skull and sacrum. It's thought to be useful not only for physical pain, but also things like emotional stress, trauma, IBS, and fibromyalgia. It was recommended to me recently but is usually pretty expensive, so I jumped on the chance to get it for free in the hospital - though only one session was provided due to the cost.
My session must have been only around 40 minutes, but it was fantastic. Just from examining my body, the therapist could tell deep things about my personality and energy imbalances (he was sometimes infuriatingly accurate), and while holding my head, very quickly put me into a meditative sweet spot between sleeping and waking. I left feeling like I was floating on a cloud. Safe to say I'm looking for a way to afford to continue this therapy.
Almost Two Weeks Later...
Overall, I am feeling noticeably better - and that's big for me (small victories, am I right?). Of course, to say the least, it was ten days with a lot of rest; I slept SO much and had zero work-related stress. It's hard to know what exactly helped, or if the improvements will hold as I return to full-time work. At the same time, I had multiple treatments within a short period of time that reach very deep into the body. It has been an emotionally heavy time, and I can feel a lot of things cracking open from my past. The primary take-away from my managing doctor was that these treatments may help with symptoms, but ultimately, the real healing work will take place as I explore and deal with past trauma - a truth that, while a bit daunting, provides a clearer picture of where I should devote my energy. But for now, I feel much more energized; I've been able to pick up activities that I love that I've been too exhausted for, like dance, more intense yoga, and even just spending time with friends after work. A few months ago, I couldn't even manage going to work, nevermind activities outside of work; it's been an eat-cook-sleep-work life for awhile for me. But I feel a bit more optimistic about my health prognosis for the first time in awhile, and I encourage anyone who's interested in craniosacral therapy or hyperthermia to give them a try or contact me with questions!