Dr. Gladys McGarey is an expert in the benefits of holistic medicine — both because she was a pioneer of the holistic movement, and because she’s over 100 years old. Tune in as she and Mayo Clinic integrative medicine expert Dr. Larry Bergstrom share their wisdom and explain how their approach to medicine and wellness differs from conventional Western practices.
We talked with:
- Gladys McGarey, M.D., is a pioneer in allopathic and holistic medical movements and continues to practice medicine even now that she is over 100 years old. She is a founding diplomat of the American Board of Holistic Medicine. She is the cofounder and past president of the American Holistic Medical Association. She lives and works in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has cared for thousands of patients and people all around the world and across all life stages from birth to death, where she inspires what she calls living medicine.
- Larry Bergstrom, M.D., is an assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Arizona in the Division of Consultative Medicine. He is the past chair of general internal medicine in Mayo Clinic in Rochester and moved to Mayo Clinic Arizona 2006 to start the integrative medicine program. Dr. Bergstrom sees patients for whom conventional medicine has had insufficient answers, including those with chronic fatigue, chronic pain, autoimmune disease. He tells his patients that he is not so much focused on treating their disease but rather trying to find ways of helping them become healthy.
We talked about:
In this episode, Dr. Millstine and her guests discuss:
- The limits of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine can be passive, Dr. Bergstrom says: You go to the doctor and get a prescription. Dr. Bergstrom and Dr. Gladys believe in empowering their patients, engaging with them and giving them tools to improve their wellness.
- A personal approach. Stress has important negative effects on health, but you can’t simply direct someone to “Be less stressed.” In fact, Dr. Bergstrom says you can’t address stress until you fully understand someone’s story: Who they are, how they got there, what’s happened to them, and how that’s affected their ability to live.
- Finding your “juice.” Dr. Gladys wants everyone to recognize their “juice” — her term for your reason for living, your source of joy and purpose, and what gets you out of bed in the morning. Physicians often shy away from addressing this aspect of spiritual wellness, Dr. Bergstrom says, because it’s messy. But it’s essential to understand for whole-person wellness.
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Read the transcript:
Dr. Denise Millstine: Welcome to the “Read. Talk. Grow.” podcast, inspired by conversations with my own patients about what they are reading. On“Read. Talk. Grow.,” we discuss health by talking about books — especially fiction, memoir and creative nonfiction books — that portray or explore health topics. We use reading to better understand how it is to live with or navigate these conditions. In the same way that books can transport us to a different historical time or into a less familiar culture, they can draw readers into various health experiences.On the show, we connect authors and experts to talk about health issues, including those often considered hard to discuss.
I’m Dr. Denise Millstine and I’m an assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where I practice women’s health and also direct the section of Integrative Medicine and Health. I’m the host of “Read. Talk. Grow.” and the medical director for the Women’s Health Blog through Mayo Clinic Press. I am always reading and love discussing books, so let’s get started.
Our book today is “The Well-Lived Life: A 102-Year-Old Doctor’s Six Secrets to Health and Happiness at Every Age” by Dr. Gladys McGarey. Our topic today will be whole health, integrative and living medicine and sharing wisdom to living your best lives. I am so excited about my guest today.
The first is Dr. Gladys McGarey, who is a pioneer in allopathic and holistic medical movements. She continues to practice medicine, even now that she’s over 100-years-old. She is a founding diplomat of the American Board of Holistic Medicine. She’s the co-founder and past president of the American Holistic Medical Association, which is now the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine. She lives and works in Scottsdale. She has cared for thousands of patients and people all around the world and across all life stages, from birth to death, where she inspires what she calls living medicine. Dr. Gladys, welcome to the show.
Dr. Gladys McGarey: I’m delighted to be talking with you and to you.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Thank you. We’re joined today by Dr. Larry Bergstrom, who is a pioneer of his own right. He’s one of my colleagues here in integrative medicine at Mayo Clinic. He’s an assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Arizona in the Division of Consultative Medicine. He trained in general internal medicine at Mayo Clinic, where he has been on staff since 1987.
He’s the past chair of General Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and he moved to Mayo Clinic in Arizona in 2006 to start the integrative medicine program here. He sees patients for whom conventional medicine has had insufficient answers, including those with chronic fatigue, chronic pain and autoimmune diseases. He tells his patients that he is not so much focused on treating their disease, but rather trying to find ways to help them become healthy.
Our book today is “The Well-lived Life,” which is part memoir, part health promotion and part self-help book. Self-help books are historically a very popular genre, which is continuing to grow. With so many in print, it can be really hard to sort out which ones to move to the top of your to-be-read list, but in this episode we’ll be discussing “The Well-lived Life” by Dr. Gladys McGarey, and I am hoping our conversation will convince you to move this book to the top of that stack.
So, Dr. McGarey, integrative medicine is such a confusing term for people. It means different things to different people, and you have seen it change over your 80 plus year career. It has a formal definition. Dr. Bergstrom and I use that all the time, and we’ll get his input as well. But can you talk about what is integrative medicine, what is living medicine, what is holistic medicine? Give us your operating definition for those terms.
Dr. Gladys McGarey: Well, when we started the American Holistic Medical Association, the focus and the reason we started it was because we were well educated in how the body works and how the mind works. But where in the world was the connection between body, mind and the person and their spirit? We couldn’t find that. That’s when we started the American Holistic Medical Association, and it took us two years to figure out how to spell holistic, because the word that we were looking for as a base word for holistic was health, healing and holy.
In other words, that connection to the inner aspect of our being, which is love, and that is the great healer. So that was the start of the Holistic Medical Association. Bringing love into the healing process as the greatest healer of all time. It was that whole process. One time, about six, seven years ago I was in the Safeway store down here in Scottsdale, and it was over the loudspeaker that came the announcement from the hardware store down the street announcing itself as a holistic hardware store. I said: “Well, there you have it.” I said: “We’ve got to come up with another name now, to take it to the next step.”
Of course, the name for that for me was one I was already using. The word “living medicine.” Because that to me really activated and brought together all of the desperate aspects of healing for those who were in this field, were juggling and trying to find places for. The fact that life itself was so dependent on love, it was essential. The concept of living medicine became central, and that’s what I’ve been using now.
Dr. Denise Millstine: I remember the first time I met you, Dr. Gladys. It was about 15 years ago, and you really struck me talking about how the health system looks at fighting disease or stopping aging. You really promote life and love. This living medicine is really changing the focus and shifting the perspective away from that. From being at odds with the body, to being in harmony with the body.
Dr. Gladys McGarey: It’s not the modality. This is what I’ve learned. It’s not the modality itself, it just depends on what’s going on. But it’s the way in which that modality is presented to the patient in a way that can be accepted in a loving body. And it’s that the process of love, which is the healing aspect in the whole process of healing. That’s why a momma kisses her baby’s boo-boo.
Dr. Denise Millstine: So, Dr. Bergstrom, when you came to Arizona at Mayo Clinic to start integrative medicine, you were kind of the unusual guy in the corner because your approach to medical care was very much aligned with Dr. Gladys’s. Can you talk a little bit about integrative medicine, how you explain it to patients now and maybe a little about that evolution?
Dr. Larry Bergstrom: Yes, when I first came to Arizona, I think everybody was quite suspicious about what I was going to do. They wondered if I was going to sell crystals, I like a Mayo Clinic guy. So I think that helped my credibility while I was here. I got into this because I think the same reason is that conventional medicine doesn’t have all the answers.
The Mayo Clinic is famous for people coming here trying to figure out what their disease is, and there are many people who come here feeling bad, but will go through all of their testing, and it’s normal. Not a very friendly way of looking at it. I realized they needed more tools, and the integrative medicine program at the University of Arizona gave me that. Then one of the administrators in Arizona asked if I would be willing to move from Rochester to Scottsdale to start this program, and I did. It’s 120 degrees out there today, so some days I question that decision. But this has been a wonderful career change for me.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Wonderful. You truly practice whole person care. Let’s talk about the book, Dr. Gladys “The Well-lived Life.” It’s not your first book, but it is a true compilation of your wisdom, your experiences. It includes many remarkable anecdotes from your life and also from your practice. Who were you picturing reading this book as you created it?
Dr. Gladys McGarey: When we were trying to come up with a title, people were coming up with titles I didn’t want until the people that I worked with said, “Well, we’re not talking about your life. We’re talking about the lives of the people who are going to read it.” I said: “Yes, that’s what I’m looking for.”
So that’s why I said, OK. The other books that I have written prior to this have all been directed strictly towards medicine. I mean, they were not about life or anything, but this book for me was the essence of what it was that I was feeling and working with the patient and so on, and life itself as I was working through my life and specially directed towards medicine. But it’s not a directed medical book. I don’t give diets specifically or anything like that, which are all important in the work that I’ve done before. This is kind of how I feel about what’s going on. What my purpose here is. Kind of trying to identify the purpose that I came to Earth at this time.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Well, you have impacted so many lives, and I’m going to push back on you in not suggesting diets because there is one dietary recommendation that you make very early in the book, which is to eat cake.
Dr. Gladys McGarey: It’s good for your soul. Yeah.
Dr. Denise Millstine: You say there’s nothing to add to your smoothie, but every once in a while you need to eat cake and enjoy it. Larry, I’m going to read a quote from the book and have you respond to it. Dr. Gladys writes, “You’re forging your own path in life. Your soul is on its own sacred mission, housed in your unique and brilliant body, and only you can direct that process.” I think this is a nice summary of how you give your messaging to your patients. What do you think?
Dr. Larry Bergstrom: Conventional medicine is practiced in a very passive way. If you go to the doctor, then the doctor tells you what to do; here, take this, do that, we really don’t involve the patient, and I think patients need to have some empowerment to help themselves. That’s what the message is.
I give patients tools. I tell them, “This appointment’s about giving you tools, which have exercise, nutrition and stress reduction,” which doesn’t sound like very much, but quite a lot for them to do. But it gives them agency so that they can help themselves.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Let’s slow that down. What were those tools again?
Dr. Larry Bergstrom: Exercise, nutrition and stress reduction. So exercise is 30 minutes a day of something, which is pretty easy to do. I give everyone a Mediterranean diet or an (anti) inflammatory diet, and the stress reduction involves the patient’s story and I need to understand who they are, how did they get here, when did things happen and how has that affected their ability to live right now?
Dr. Denise Millstine: Dr. Gladys, I feel like Larry is talking about some of the secrets here in that summary of his tools. Of course, to learn all six secrets our listeners will have to read the book themselves, but one of the first is about your juice. What’s your juice?
Dr. Gladys McGarey: The juice is your very life force. It’s what you came to do, it’s what makes you sing, it’s what makes you cry, it’s what makes you realize that, “Wow, I’m alive.” May I tell a story?
Dr. Denise Millstine: Of course. Please.
Dr. Gladys McGarey:
My oldest son is a retired orthopedic surgeon. And when he’d finished his training, he came through Phoenix, on his way down to Del Rio to start his practice, and he said to me: “Mom, you know, I’m real scared. I’m going into the world with all this training and everything, but I’m going to have people’s lives in my hands. I don’t know if I can handle that.”
And I said, “Well, Carl, if you think you’re the one that does the healing, you have a right to be scared, but you have this amazing training, which if I have anything really screwed up in my body, an orthopedic surgeon could work with, I want one that knows what they’re doing.
You’ve got the training. That’s what you’re bringing to your patient who has within them, your colleague and your colleague is the physician within them. Once you contact that colleague with love and start the teamwork, that always goes right with deep healing within a person, you’re on your road and it’s not your responsibility to be totally in charge of how the healing works. In other words, we’re all in this whole process together and there isn’t one of us who isn’t important in the whole process.
Dr. Denise Millstine: You talk in your book about the unique shape of each person, not their physical shape, but their juice, their soul, and how they fit and how they are meant to be that shape. I think it is truly inspiring, especially in a culture where we have so much messaging that we’re supposed to be forced into some shape dictated by the outside or some standard dictated by the outside that’s measuring us.
One of the quotes about juice in your book is: “The juice is our reason for living. It’s our fulfillment, our joy. It’s what happens when life is activated by love.” I think that’s really a powerful statement. I use the term “spiritual core” when I’m talking to patients. “What’s at your spiritual core?” And some of the terms you mentioned are phrases you mentioned I say as well. “What gets you out of bed in the morning? What makes you feel like you’re alive?” Larry, how do you ask about juice or spiritual core? How do you term that?
Dr. Larry Bergstrom: I have a tool that I use when I see patients. I draw a circle that has four quadrants. There’s a physical quadrant, which is conventional Western medicine, based on testing and measurement. There’s an emotional part of your health which I define as your sympathetic nervous system. That’s the part of your build to do fight or flight.There’s a mental part of your health, which is the chemistry in your brain, which is more along psychiatry, depression and those sorts of things. And then the fourth corner I define as their spiritual health, and what I’m asking them is what gives your life meaning or purpose? That’s a very important part about health and we as physicians never want to go there because that’s always a messy discussion.
But I think it’s essential, especially for people who have become disabled, because of their illness, because suddenly the purpose of their life isn’t possible anymore. Even retirement can do that. I always tell people you need to retire to something. You can’t just retire from it.
But we always need a reason to get out of bed every day. So that’s kind of how I look at spirituality or the juice.
Dr. Gladys McGarey: One thing in line with what you’re saying, when we tell a patient to go home because whatever, they need to rest. I’ve had patients who took that to mean they were done. Go home and rest. And they decide that they don’t have anything to do. But the thing that I have to repeat to them is that when I say go home to rest, that’s doing something.
It’s not saying go home and do nothing, because your whole life is ahead of you. But if you understand that to rest is actually doing something, you’re going to go to rest and when the rest is over you’ll be up and around. Reclaiming.
Dr. Larry Bergstrom: What I tell patients is I’m giving them permission to take care of themselves because that rest is really for them. It’s not for everybody else. Many patients I see, I call them people-pleasing perfectionists with an excessive sense of responsibility. They’re just taking care of everyone around them and they never take the time to take care of themselves.
Dr. Gladys McGarey: Absolutely. They never understood the importance of themselves. So they don’t really respect who they are and what they are and what they’re doing in the scheme of things.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Your book talks about self-love and not in a way that’s just shallow. Go love yourself, but really examining some messaging maybe from earlier in life, or some beliefs that are formed that never get reexamined. But Dr. Gladys, you make the point that self-love is really the first step and is sometimes really difficult for people, right?
Dr. Gladys McGarey: Oh, yes. It took me a long, long time. I didn’t really respect my voice until I was 93. I was doing all this talking and constantly looking for somebody to validate what I said. It was like I really did not, at a depth level, trust my voice. And I think that started when I was starting school, because when I started school, I was, well, nobody diagnosed is dyslexic, but I was the stupid one in the class.I had to repeat first grade both years. I was a dumbbell. The teacher thought I was a dumbbell. I thought I was a dumbbell. I would fight about it. Fortunately, that was school.
But in my mind, I could get home because we were living in the Himalayas, and I had a mile up a hill, a thousand foot climb to get up to where we lived, and in that process I was able to drop off school and claim life and this wonderful second mother of mine, who had no teeth, spoke nothing but Hindustani, couldn’t read and couldn’t write, but she was sitting there waiting for me to come up to the top of the hill, on the ground looking for me. And as soon as I got to where she saw me, she stretched out her arm, with the shawl that she wore, and she said: “Come here.”
I would go and climb in under her and sit there until my life came back into focus, and then I could go and do what I wanted to do. I still have that shawl. It was that scar that I was carrying all my life about the fact that my voice was not something that I could really trust.
Every time I asked somebody else to check what I was doing, I was in essence, denying what I was doing to myself. When I was 93 I had a dream, now I’ve worked with dreams all my life, but this time I woke up because I knew it was a Sunday morning and I was singing and laughing when I woke up. That’s when I started to really understand the fact that what I had been saying and what I had been talking about really was a valid message and I accepted.
I think it’s possible for people to come to that understanding a lot earlier. I think I’m kind of a slow learner. But you know something funny, when we started American Holistic Medical Association, there were ten of us one day, doctors sitting around the table, and as we got to talking, we realized that of the ten of us, six of us were dyslexic.
We looked at each other and said: “Well, we had to look for another way of seeing life and getting on with our life.” And I think that’s a really good way of approaching it, if you are coming at it from a different angle.
Dr. Denise Millstine: It drives creativity and innovation to figure out how you’re going to do something. When you have a learning difference. But you had that dream when you were 93. One of the points you make in your book is “it’s never too late.” If you are coming to this process and start by thinking “I’ve wasted so much time,” or “Why am I only coming to this at this point in my life?”You heard it here that Dr. Gladys realized how important her own voice was at 93. And yes, I hope our listeners come to that realization earlier in their process than waiting for nine decades. But Dr. Gladys, you also have said that many people will make the comment to you that you’re so positive, you’re so loving, you’re so happy.
You must have had an easy time of it. But you’ve just described a really painful time from a very young age, and in your book you talk about several other challenges. One of the secrets is, maybe the hardest secret, is how everything is our teacher. Can you talk about that?
Dr. Gladys McGarey: Oh, absolutely. One of the mistakes that we’ve made in conventional medicine is the fact that we are trying to get rid of diseases and rid of pain. But there are patients who have diseases who they cannot get rid of. I mean, they will have the rest of their lives, but it’s there for a reason. And to try and get rid of the disease is kind of a waste of time because it’s not going to happen probably.
But if you really can accept, “What is it that that disease is teaching me? What is my body saying to me or my mind or my spirit? What is it saying to me?” Like me and my voice, that there are things that really need to be changed and looked at. Sometimes it’s a simple thing.
I had a patient that I’ve been working with for quite a long time and she was complaining of shoulder pain and it was like no matter what I suggested, or what we talked about, or where we were went with this, she still came back and she had shoulder pain. But this one day I watched her as she picked up her purse to go out.
She had a really heavy purse that she picked up and put over her shoulder and she’d been coming into the office with that purse, but I hadn’t seen it and she hadn’t thought about it, but sometimes it’s a simple thing like that. However, very often it’s some deep seeded problem. Like for me it was dyslexia. So when patients say to me: “Well, Doctor Gladys, you wouldn’t understand it, you’ve always had it so easy.”
My answer to that is, “Honey, if you only knew.” Because life wasn’t meant to be easy for us necessarily. We’ve got lessons to learn. And if we learn the lessons from them, oh, boy does that work well.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Larry, you talk with patients a lot about past traumas and how it has impacted their health and can be used. Can you talk about that practice?
Dr. Larry Bergstrom: Well, just as an example, I think about two thirds of the women I see were sexually abused as a kid. At least a fourth of them have never been asked that before. And there’s many studies that correlate traumas of your childhood. There’s one test called an A.C.E.S test, Adverse Childhood Experience study test which I use to help people get at that.
But those things can affect your health later on, and patients don’t always think that that’s important, so you have to encourage them in some way to talk about that, just to make them realize that that is important. And I’ve had many patients, after we’ve gone through this process, who say that: “In a way I was glad I got sick because that’s how I got well.” Because it helped them realize. It made them stronger. It made them who they were.
Dr. Denise Millstine: There are some gifts to be had, not that anybody deserves to be sick or have illness, but it’s often what helps to shine a light and make you even healthier. I think we see that very often in the cancer practice, that it is often a wake up call where people rework their life. Dr. Gladys, you look like you’re ready to add some comments about that.
Dr. Gladys McGarey: I’m also thinking about something that just happened a couple of weeks ago. I had a wonderful neurologist friend of mine and we were talking about — he works with residents here, and he went with one of the residents to see a patient. They got to the door and she was just standing at the door and he said, well, let’s go on in, and she said, “Why would I want to go in that room?” And he said, “What do you mean?” She said, “He has Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t understand anything that I say. I’m talking to somebody that has no consciousness of what’s going on.” He said, “Wait a minute. In that room there are two patients. His wife is there and he’s there. You have to understand that both of them are your patients.”
The understanding – and Larry, you talked about this too – the understanding of our relationship to each other personally, plus how our patients relate to each other. In my scheme of things, life has to move, and life moves when love is activated.
If it doesn’t it gets stuck, and when it gets stuck, we’re in trouble. It’s that reality of what the world’s doing around us and within us, and for us, and by us. All of that. We’re like this huge jigsaw puzzle. We’re a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Nothing else fits. I’ve tried pounding other pieces that don’t work. And if you’ve done a thousand-piece puzzle and you lose one piece, you drive yourself crazy.
It’s the importance of each one of us in totality, doing what it is that we came to do that makes our lives sing. I have a take on what life’s about.
So we took it and we said, “Oh yeah, we got it.” And look at what we’ve done to Mother Earth and our whole environment. What we’ve done to it. Now we have 120 degrees outside. But really that helps to put things in context for me for how important our individual decisions are as far as the whole universe is concerned.
Dr. Denise Millstine: I want to highlight what you said about leading with love, that this is really the core of how you’ve practiced medicine, how you’ve raised your children, how you have developed as a wise person who has such an impact on the world. Leading with love, I think is a great place for us to wrap up. The book is “The Well-lived Life.”
Clearly, Dr. Gladys has had a well-lived life and she wants her readers to be inspired by her secrets to do that as well. I’ve been joined by Dr. Gladys McGarey and Dr. Larry Bergstrom to talk about whole health, living medicine, integrative medicine, and I want to thank you both for an inspiring conversation.
Dr. Gladys McGarey: Thank you. Thank you.
Dr. Larry Bergstrom: Thank you.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Thank you for joining us to talk books and health today on “Read, Talk, Grow.” To continue the conversation and send comments, visit the show notes or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Read. Talk. Grow.” is a production of Mayo Clinic Press. Our producer is Lisa Speckhard Pasque and our recording engineer is Rick Andresen.
The podcast is for informational purposes only and is not designed to replace the physician’s medical assessment and judgment.Information presented is not intended as medical advice. Please contact a healthcare professional medical assistance with specific questions pertaining to your own health if needed.
This episode concludes our second season of “Read. Talk. Grow.” Thank you for joining us to cover topics from menopause to hospice, from autism to alcohol. Today’s episode is a teaser for topics to come.Our next season will feature topics from integrative medicine, which is critically important to me and my area of practice. We’ll look at natural healing practices and clinical situations where integrative medicine should be considered and probably incorporated.
As always, if you have ideas for books we could feature on “Read. Talk. Grow.” email us at email@example.com which you can find in our show notes. Keep reading everyone.
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