On Saturday, November 30, naturopathic medicine lost a legacy.
It’s still so vivid in my mind, my last in-person interaction with him. After spending a little over a week shadowing him last April (one of my favorite weeks ever, might I add..), I left a card for him on his desk, which I meant for him to find after I left.
But he ended up coming into the room while I was still there and seeing it. He asked if he could give me a hug, of course I accepted ~ it felt like a big, warm grandpa embrace ~ and then after a few parting words, I walked out of his office. (I obviously snuck into his dispensary on the way out, though, for one last look. SO amazing!) It was the end of the week, a Friday, and my last day in Connecticut. Earlier that day, he had said, “I can’t believe you’re driving back to Jersey today.” I couldn’t either, I wasn’t ready for my time with him to be over. I don’t think I’m flattering myself (ok, maybe a little ..) when I say I’m pretty sure we were both a little sad to see me go that day. (Though me most likely much more than he..)
Earlier this fall, I reached out hoping to spend some more time with him (I couldn’t get enough! And he had soo much wisdom, knowledge, experience to share. Just being there and letting some of it rub off would’ve been enough for me!). I told him I had plans to start another program in the new year, this time studying TCM, and he asked, “so that’s what you want to do now?” I reassured him rather inarticulately that my intention in this new program is to learn a few more modalities, and ultimately to understand the vital force better. He agreed that learning about the vis/Qi from a culture that had studied it so long sounded reasonable, and I hoped that meant he’d given me his blessing .. but I wasn’t sure I fully got the message across that NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE is what I feel I’m called to do, what I feel my vocation is, what I find to be so real and so inseparable from truth. (I’ve heard Dr. Sensenig say a number of times “never does wisdom say one thing and nature another.” They are one in the same, they are truth.) It IS the body. It IS healing. And it is, I think, the life I live and the medicine I aim to practice. Anyway, though ~ he was busy when I was free (this fall), so we left it open for possibilities in the future. And that was the last time I spoke with Dr. Sensenig.
Dr. Sensenig taught, vouched for, practiced, and embodied the real naturopathic medicine, its essence. A deep, true, profound and profoundly effective medicine that seeks to uncover and correct the underlying cause of imbalance and dis-ease in the body. A whole-istic medicine that sees the whole person, that works with the entire being: body, mind, spirit. A medicine that treats people, not illnesses. A medicine that seeks not just to relieve symptoms for the sake of a more comfortable life, but rather helps remove obstacles preventing each individual from living his or her best life at his or her highest potential.
In just over a week, Dr. Sensenig changed my life. I will forever be inspired by him. He made medicine look so simple ~ and truly, he was one to get back to the basics of nature, truth, and the essentials of what the body and entire being needs to thrive. A true vitalist, a gifted physician. I may no longer have the opportunity to continue to learn from Dr. Sensenig in his Hamden, CT office ~ but I will do all I can to help keep his legacy alive, to practice the art of true, vitalistic medicine and recognize the incredible inherent self-healing capacities of the body in doing so, to continue to listen to and be inspired by the lessons and teachings and messages of his which I’m so grateful have been recorded and can remain even though he is not here in person to deliver them.
In just over 71 years of living, Dr. Sensenig fit in more than most people could hope to accomplish in multiple lifetimes ~ and yet, even if his work here is done, I for one, don’t feel ready to let him go. Still, I know it’s not up to me, and I do wholly believe that there are no accidents ~ that all, even our exits from this world, happen with perfect timing.
In the time I spent with Dr. Sensenig, it was clear to me how much this man had on his plate. The very first patient we saw together was the only one I saw him draw blood from; we went into a small room all the way to the right of his office, which we didn’t use again for the rest of my preceptoring time. On the wall was a calendar with a picture of a beautiful (and admittedly very appealing) beach .. and right after the patient left he hinted at the fact that he’d really like to be there ~ if only he could catch a break.
Dr. Sensenig had much going on these last few years, apart from all his naturopathic involvements. The week after my preceptorship ended was his birthday, which this year fell on a Wednesday, his day “off” ~ and yet, even before I left his schedule was already filled with responsibilities and commitments, even on his special day. On the last full day I spent with him, a Thursday, we had some time between his last patient and a free talk he was to give at Thyme & Season, a beautifully stocked health food store just down the road from his office in Hamden, so he toted me around for some errands, mainly surrounding getting his house back in liveable condition after being largely destroyed by a tornado (yes .. a tornado .. in CT) the year before. And yet, while those errands and that time were centered around non-ND things, they were actually some of my most cherished moments with Dr. Sensenig. In his office, patient after patient and even lunchtime calls and distractions (his office was SO busy ~ unsurprisingly when considering the exemplary care he delivered) kept us from really having the opportunity to just sit with one another, neither one of us immediately consumed by any other task, one on one. He asked about the naturopathic program I was just about to finish, and my experience in the clinic. We agreed on the challenging fact that it could be difficult to see the effects of our medicine played out within the confines of 13-week shifts. It was clear how important it was for him to work toward true vitalistic medicine in our naturopathic schools, and to make sure we upcoming physicians have confidence in and experience with its effectiveness. My time with him, just seeing him in action, and hearing patient success story after success story even if their conditions seemed against all (conventional) odds, was enough to re-affirm and re-instill this confidence for me. I told him how easy he made the medicine look, that it seemed he could do it in his sleep. And that was true; no sooner had a patient gotten their first foot out the door that he was already onto a completely unrelated topic (usually something about politics..) ~ but with not an ounce of medical care, attentiveness, or effectiveness lost. It was as if the only thinking he had to do around a patient case was contained completely within the visit, and that was it. Hands washed, problem solved. He told me it wasn’t always that way; it took him a while to reach that place. When I asked how long, he replied, “I knew you were going to ask that. 25 years.”
It’s a good thing I didn’t know ahead of time how achieved and accomplished Dr. Sensenig was, how key a player he’s been in our profession, before signing on to shadow him. Otherwise, I would’ve been nervous and intimidated. Not that he was imposing or intimidating to be with; on the contrary, I felt totally comfortable and familiar just hanging around him and his office while I had that privilege. So our lunchtimes, typically consisting of a short, shared walk to the deli next door, and our car chats, and the other opportunities I had to exchange a few sentiments with him, were times I just enjoyed soaking in as much as possible from this incredible doctor rather than me feeling I had to live up to some certain expectation in the presence of such a larger than life man.
At the same time, I wish Bastyr would’ve known him as a community ~ not just the few of us who were fortunate enough to happen to cross paths with him. His lessons and messages, his clear, direct, articulate expression of the spirit and foundation of our medicine, should be for all to hear, know, take to heart, be refreshed and reinspired by, and ultimately implement into the way we live, teach, and practice the medicine.
I know personally that I returned to my last quarter of naturopathic medical school completed renewed, with a revitalized passion for the medicine, feeling like, while I still had lots and lots to learn, there could be no one who walked through that clinic door for whom I couldn’t do at least something. I voluntarily covered extra clinic shifts and jumped on the opportunity to take extra patients, just to see how what I’d learned with Dr. Sensenig could help them. My time with him reminded me to get back to the basics of medicine, which are actually the essentials. This was something I’d been saying for years ~ but I don’t think I completely understood the truth of it until my time with Dr. Sensenig. Somehow, in just over a week with this man, he touched and changed my life so deeply. In addressing health concerns I’ve recently found myself asking, WWJSD? (“What would Jim Sensenig do?”)
While I only knew Dr. Sensenig for the last 8 months of his life, I couldn’t have imagined him any way other than I knew him. Helping patients heal, teaching and preaching the medicine, working for positive political and systemic change. Maybe, if he would’ve had the choice, this would’ve been how and when he would’ve chosen to go. He truly lived and breathed the medicine right up to his last.
And .. though he’s physically gone sooner than perhaps most of us would like him to have been, we don’t really have to let him go. He left the world with such momentum that it’s only possible for the forward motion to continue. Dr. Sensenig lives on in all of us ~ in the impact he’s had on our lives, in the ways he’s made lasting marks on the profession, in the way we practice the art of our amazing medicine. Life continues. His ~ in different form ~ and ours. Our mission continues. There are no endings; transitions and transformations, but nothing lost. And as we all transition into the continuation of life without Dr. Sensenig physically in it, may we still marvel in and appreciate the fact that, from here on out, in every moment, he will be with us ~ all of us ~ in spirit, until we all meet again. Go outside and gaze toward the setting sun or the full moon, or feel for him in the wind; I have already found him there. (And he’s probably also already on that beach by now, too …)
Let’s honor and celebrate Dr. Sensenig by keeping his legacy strong, by continuing to live by, practice, and teach the true naturopathic medicine that he so strongly represented and embodied. I’m grieving with all of you, with his community ~ but beyond that, after remembering and honoring him, I’m certain what he’d ultimately have us each do is to continue spreading vitalistic medicine, and his/our message, and the true, deep healing it contains and effects, far and wide.
Dr. Sensenig, rest peacefully now. For the health of our patients and the world, and for YOU, we go on and continue. Thank you for the inspiration and impetus, for the impact you’ve had and continue to have on each of us and on so many. For the incredible contributions you’ve made to your patients, to naturopathic medicine, to my life, to the world. May we keep the medicine alive, and you in it ~ and may we make you proud. You will live on always.
I’ve uploaded a few photo momentos of my time spent with Dr. S to the photo section of this site.
The note I left for him on that last day of my preceptorship, on the desk we usually ate lunch at. His deli meal, my little snacks. Fun fact: I thought there were only 2 kinds of clam chowder until he was eating it one day, I asked him about it, and he informed me that there are actually 3!
Some footage of his INCREDIBLE dispensary (the walls and walls of homeopathics are the real show-stealers… Remedies you’d never heard of, and Dr. Sensenig made them each up from blank pellet vials for each of his patients. A true homeo superstar, he was.).
Him getting ready for his Monday night class at the University of Bridgeport, where he himself founded the naturopathic program. Zoom in close to see him in that one. It was a philosophy of naturopathic medicine course and I’m so grateful and honored I could sit in.
Him delivering that free educational talk at Thyme and Season. He spoke on the importance of nutrients in the body, and how depleted our soils (and thus crops) are ~ something I heard him speak of multiple times. Ever since my time spent with him, after seeing him recommend Tangy Tangerine 2.0 to numerous patients, I have my family and me on it religiously .. and I think of and thank him every time!
It was a beautiful, enlightening, reinspiring time spent with this incredible doctor and man, and I feel so so forever fortunate for every minute of it.. for him. Dr. Sensenig, infinite thank you.