“You saved my life, and you ruined my life!” :)

In 2014, I experienced a sudden illness which rendered a week-long hospital admission. Deemed a medical mystery, I was eventually sent home on conventional medications with no diagnosis or definitive care plan for restoring my health. I was merely informed by a ‘specialist’ that I would likely “declare” a debilitating illness down the road. This was obviously unsettling, and as a holistic-minded Family Nurse Practitioner I knew I needed to seek out other options. Dr. Jim Sensenig was recommended to me by a friend who had heard him lecture at The Graduate Institute. I felt encouraged by the opportunity to work with a naturopath, but I had no idea that THE vital force of naturopathy was a 10-minute drive from my home. And I had no idea how this healer was going to enter my life and completely change it from the top-down, inside-out, in order of importance and in reverse order of occurrence (Hering’s Laws of Cure– one of the first of many lessons Dr. S taught me).

I was broken in so many more ways and pieces than I had realized when I entered his office in Hamden, Connecticut for the first time. And at that time, I did not realize how intertwined each facet was in the bigger picture of health and dis-ease. But in less than one month, I not only had a viable explanation for my illness, but a tangible and realistic plan to achieve and preserve wellness in all its facets. Over the five blessed years that I spent seeing him in his office, Dr. S helped me to heal every ailment I ever presented to him, gave me tools to soften every moment of grief and loss I experienced (of which there were many), and taught me how to strengthen every ounce of my well-being while coming off all my medications, one by one. I saw him at least once a month, sometimes more frequently. I saw him more than I saw some of my best friends.

As a testament to our work together, in 2017 (three years after the onset of my prior illness) I successfully hiked 19,341 feet to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Thanks to Dr. S, I had the highest pulse oximeter readings of anyone in my group throughout the nine days on the mountain. He found this particularly interesting– he said that it was the first time that he had been given tangible data as to the positive results of the naturopathic regimen he recommended for altitude. If it weren’t for him, I do not believe that I would ever have been physically capable of hiking that mountain in the first place.

Sitting on the opposite side of his desk quickly became something to look forward to, even if I was there because I was not feeling my best. It was in that seat that I learned what a ‘healing crisis’ is and why I should embrace it; it was there that the power to heal myself was returned back to me; it was there that I began to recognize the pitfalls and misguided theories of “my world of medicine”, as he cynically referred to it; it was there that I learned that naming the disease was not the point at all; it was there that I learned a multitude of “fundamental” concepts far beyond my wildest expectations. And it was in that seat where I felt a shift in my soul. Very few people had ever sparked my brain the way he did. The scholarly depth of our conversations was extraordinary due to his immeasurable intelligence. And our visits were capped off with a smile and a hug, which I appreciated and came to expect.

His impact on me was realized in one defining moment, about six months after we started working together: I went for a post-hospitalization follow-up appointment with my conventional ‘specialist’ who declared, “Well, we don’t know what you had, but we cured you.” I was appalled that 1.) Any ‘healer’ would be content with not understanding WHY illness occurred, and 2.) Any ‘healer’ would believe that it was a short course of chemicals that actually “cured” me. I recalled Dr. S quoting Voltaire: “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” In an instant, I realized that my illness had been a gift—it was how I found Dr. S, it was how I took my power back, and it was how my entire mindset changed in alignment with my soul.

Dr. S told me at the beginning of our journey together that I should be prepared for my conventional medicine philosophy to be turned on its head. He was not kidding! I used to jokingly tell him, “You saved my life, and you ruined my life!” because as time went by I found it to be more and more difficult to practice conventional medicine; it felt as though I was working against my moral grain. It had become painfully clear that I needed to seek out other avenues in which to practice medicine, the way I now realize I was meant to all along. I investigated enrolling in a naturopathic medicine program but unfortunately this was not logistically feasible (which annoyed Dr. S to no end, as he had tried lobbying for accelerated bridge programs for conventional practitioners). With his guidance and after years of painstaking research, I found the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine Fellowship program. He felt confident in this program’s curriculum because of the professionals who are associated with it, many of which he knew personally. I started the program this past April. Dr. S and I would spend a large portion of my appointment time discussing what I was learning, which would always expand to a philosophical and often political conversation that spanned a variety of topics. I was supposed to do my clinical preceptorship with Dr. S after New Year’s. We were both very excited about it; I am shattered to have lost the opportunity to work with him in that capacity.

Together, we worked on what he taught me as being the three basic legs of naturopathic healing: Building up the blood, optimizing getting the garbage out, and conserving the vital force. He gave me the power, knowledge and support to achieve the first two legs. The latter leg was achieved in the last quarter of this year when I finally decided to change jobs to one with less moral conflict and less stress while I continue my studies. He was very pleased with this, as he saw it as my having “one foot out of the conventional door”.

As tears fall while I write this, I am completely devastated by the passing of my personal ND, professional mentor and unexpected friend. Not only did Dr. S literally save my life from debilitation, but he saved me in so many other ways that I could not have foreseen when I met him five years ago. As an APRN, and as a human being, he opened to me a new and better world of health, wellness, and medicine. He gave me my power back. And he led me to the path that I was meant to travel. I have absolutely no earthly idea how I will continue this journey without my guru—right now it feels like a lonely voyage—but I will do so with him at the forefront of my mind and in my heart. I will be forever thankful for this genius who became my mentor, and I will do my very best to carry on impeccable care for patients in his honor. I will miss our philosophical chats, ‘Jim-isms’, mutual respect, genuine laughs, warm smiles and bear hugs.

One of his favorite poets, Rumi, wrote: “This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First, to let go of life. In the end, to take a step without feet.”

Dr. Sensenig, I am so grateful for you. Much love to you and THANK YOU with all my heart. Fly well.

–Cheryl Cuozzo, MSN, NP-C, APRN, North Haven, CT

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