When You Hear Hoof Beats Think Horses and Not Zebras

It was an interesting week in my practice, as there were an unusual number of patients coming in with extreme symptoms that were addressed and resolved using the “when you hear hoof beats, think of horses and not zebras” practice model. If you are a practitioner and don’t know this one, it’s worth while exploring.

Having been in medicine and health care now for almost 40 years, (I’m as old as trees as my children like to tease me), there is no doubt that medicine is focused on looking for the zebras. That is, looking for the pathology, the disease, the exotic condition, something to diagnose instead of recognizing that most “hoof beats” are made by horses. This simple, practical and common sense approach to practicing health care has been lost within today’s fast paced, “expert” based practices and has even begun disappearing from “alternative” health care practices, as well.

Here is an example from one of my recent patient visits. A very gifted, integrative health practitioner called me up after having intractable muscle pain for a week. He could not lie down, could not sleep was in great discomfort and was also concerned about what this could mean. He had spoken to a wide variety of practitioners who normally deal with musculo-skeletal conditions and at the end of his exploration was still in pain and becoming rapidly more concerned.

When this happens to us we start to think, “do I have something really wrong with me?”, if you’re older you think “this must be what getting old is about”, or if you are an active, healthy person who takes care of yourself you might ask, “how could this be happening to me, I take care of myself.” This individual said he called me because he “didn’t know where else to turn” to understand his pain and condition and isn’t this what I did in my practice – figure things out about cause and effect?”

Being a Whole Person Health Care practitioner, I started with the basics:

> what specifically had he been doing prior to this onset?
> where is the specific discomfort?
> what makes it feel better?
> what makes it feel worse?
> did he experience any other symptom along with this pain?

He explained that he just joined a gym and was working out for the past week, but that he wasn’t doing that much exercise to cause this discomfort and it wasn’t just in one muscle, it was all over his body. He is in very good physical condition so the idea of the mild exercising causing this full body pain didn’t resonate.

He reported that he hadn’t changed his diet, work habits, taken any unusual supplements, changed beds, changed shoes or had any upset or stress over the past week. He tried a series of natural remedies and treatments to no avail. He was both personally and professionally stumped and so were the practitioners he had spoken with about his pain.

Having been called the “Sherlock Holmes of Whole Health”, I knew the task at hand was to find out the missing piece of information that would unlock the cause of the problem. So we discussed his new membership at the gym. Logic told me that there was something connected to his activities at the gym that was the casual factor in his pain experience because it was after joining the gym that his pain began. It was just a matter of putting our finger on it.

After a few minutes of detailed review, one factor that surfaced seemed the right solution to the problem. After his work out, he went for a swim in the gym’s pool. Interesting.

Now some of you who are practitioners reading this might think, “Ah ha, he has a virus from the pool water”, or ” His immune system must have had a toxic reaction to the chemicals in the pool”. Sorry, but no cigar – these are all zebras.

Having a comprehensive, evidence-based, whole person health education is critical to truly serving our patients and clients and being able to empower them with the knowledge they need to take control of their health.

What does chlorine do to our body? It leaches minerals, most importantly calcium and magnesium. Because chlorine has double negative bonds it is wildly attracted to double positive bonds, as found in calcium. What minerals are significantly involved in muscle function? Ca & Mg – correct!

I recommended that he go to Whole Foods and purchase A to B Calm calcium and magnesium powder, take a dose and see if that helped. I received an e-mail about 24 hours later with the subject title “WOW” – it completely took away all his discomfort, he got a great night sleep and felt excellent. He is swimming away, but mindful to take his calcium/magnesium after each swim.

This is the perfect example of thinking horses and not zebras in our practices. I do hope you found this helpful ~

With all good wishes,
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