I think it’s fair to say that the majority of us who experience on-going pain will seek relief from medical practitioners. Four years of repeat presentations in excruciating pain, to GPs and emergency departments, and the medical profession were unable to diagnose my son. Being a skinny young Māori musician, they labelled him a ‘drug seeker’ instead.
When someone doesn’t fit into a prescribed box, shouldn’t you look further?
My son was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2016. The ‘drug seeker’ label was dropped, and he was prescribed more opiate-based medication. These caused severe seizures and a speech impediment. Then anti-depressants were prescribed, as ‘muscle relaxants’, and he experienced a psychosis as a result. DHB (District Health Board) physiotherapy appointments were cancelled at short notice, and not rescheduled. Counselling was never offered.
I can see why you’d want to give up after that.
Every day I thought of my son, on a benefit, living in damp, rundown and expensive Auckland accommodation, trying his best to manage the condition. It gutted me. So we researched, and he tried several bodywork modalities, rongoā Māori and naturopathic medications. These had positive results, but were unable to be accessed conjointly due to my limited financial resources.
What we came to know was that fibromyalgia required careful management, with a wide focus including tinana, hinengaro, whānau, and wairua.
My interest in holistic healthcare came about from having cancer between the ages of 18-36. I know first hand how constrained the medical model can be with managing chronic pain. Holistic models that included Te Ao Māori resulted in a significant improvement in my health over time.
Now when I say ‘holistic’ I imagine some eyes rolling. But why is that?
As Māori, a multifaceted perspective is intrinsic when dealing with any problem. There is nothing ‘new’ about holism. It respects people, looks past the obvious to the whakapapa of what we may carry, and explores creative solutions. And it makes complete sense.
When I heard of Rotorua’s QE Health Wellness & Spa through a friend, I did more research. Since World War II, QE has had a solid reputation for providing holistic rehabilitation and pain management programmes. It seemed the best opportunity to help manage the fibromyalgia.
Since we live outside the QE catchment area, I looked at other options. A successful application to the NZ Music Foundation (Musicians in Need Fund) enabled my son to be funded for three weeks of treatment (as a day patient). The Foundation was incredibly open to him accessing a holistic treatment programme, an attitude supported by their recent surveys that show NZ musicians often have higher rates of chronic pain and mental health issues than the general population.
QE Health Wellness & Spa was welcoming, professional and supportive. The induction process was inclusive and I (as whānau) was encouraged to visit at any time. From Monday to Friday, a comprehensive individually tailored treatment programme occurred. This included: nutrition, physiotherapy, mud treatments, mineral pools, mindfulness techniques, counselling, pyretic treatments, massage, gym, medication reviews and education sessions covering pain management, goal setting, communication, lifestyle balance, sleep hygiene, breathing techniques, posture, energy management, problem solving, and relaxation.
When flare-ups inevitably happened, a skilled team of people supported my son. They didn’t throw more medication his way, but provided space to kōrero, and encouraged him to listen to his body, and utilise the treatments that had worked for him.
QE provided a superb holistic team of well-qualified professionals, who validated, supported and reassured their patients.
After three weeks of treatment, my son left with a clear understanding about his experience of fibromyalgia, up-to-date research, and the development of a realistic routine to manage the condition.
I believe it is long overdue that Aotearoa looks at chronic health issues from a wider holistic perspective.
Medical practitioners would benefit from being equipped to investigate holistic treatment options for patients. There should be DHB funding available to facilitate this, thereby empowering people to self-manage their wellbeing whenever possible. Furthermore, a great deal could be gained from supporting indigenous holistic models of health and wellbeing.
Patients are individuals, who experience pain relative to their own bodies, minds, spirits, and environments. These things cannot be fractured off from one another, and to leave them out when making diagnoses seems negligent.
I am incredibly grateful we received funding to enable my son to access QE, contrary to his GP’s belief that it would have any effect. From our whānau perspective the positive results speak volumes. My son was ‘treated like a human being’ and actively engaged in a treatment programme that has been in operation for over seventy years and which draws on both indigenous and conventional medicines.
For us, it is clear. There is no other way to manage fibromyalgia than to think outside the box and treat it holistically.
Iona Winter (Māori/Pākehā) has a Master of Creative Writing and is a published author of fiction and non-fiction. When she’s not writing her ‘day job’ is a holistic psychotherapist.
Photo credits for Rotorua mudpool, Rotorua jetty and Rotorua trees: Iona Winter.
Find more information on QE Health Wellness & Spa here.