Digging Up a Rose Bush is Like Being a Doctor

It would be a stretch to say that I hated the rose bush in my backyard, but not a big one.

The rose bust would send its thorny branches out between those of the nearby laurel, snagging the skin, clothes, and hair of many an unsuspecting houseguest.


How I (Laboriously) Removed the Rose Bush

It was an unusually warm evening and a jolt of determination overcame me. “I’m gonna go tear out that rose bush by the roots!” I resolved as I headed out to the yard. I could picture it perfectly: I’d put on my thick working gloves, grab ahold of the base of the plant, give a good tug, and be done with it.

Turns out the bush had other plans.

Upon finding the bush, I realized that I would become caught in a cage of its prickly branches if I reached for the base of the plant. So I rummaged through the garage to find the clippers and started cutting back all the thorny branches.

After the first few clips, however, I realized that I couldn’t remove the freshly-severed branches, as their thorns were clinging to the leaves of the adjacent laurel. I started pulling on them to try and force them out, but then thought better of it, realizing that once the branches gave way they would likely swing back and hit me in the face.


This wasn’t going so hot.

I took a step back and stared at my yard. I realized the laurel was pretty overgrown. There was no way I could pull those rose branches out without first pruning back the laurel into which they’d grown. I also realized that I couldn’t even see the base of the rose bush through the leaves of the laurel.

(Enter string of four-letter words muttered under my breath.)

But I was determined! I switched gears and carefully pruned back the overgrown laurel. It felt like a step sideways – or backwards, even – but understood it needed to happen for me to progress.

After much pruning, the laurel was cleaned up and the branches of the rosebush were exposed. I was able to quickly cut the rosebush back to its base.

Finally! I could reach the base of the plant. I grabbed ahold and tugged, but wow! Those roots were going nowhere.

I grabbed a shovel and started digging around the base of the plant. At last I could sink the blade down deeply enough to get under the remains of the rose bush, and applied all my body weight to the handle.

I heard a crack, felt a give, and then saw two large roots come up.


I dug around some more to make sure I didn’t leave any major roots in the ground. Satisfied, I cut up the branches and put them in the compost bin. There was dirt on my forehead and my back ached from the work, but I was happy as could be. It was harder than I’d thought, but I did it!



Digging up a Rose Bush is a lot like Treating Disease

We feel unpleasant symptoms – thorns, if you will – and so we want them gone as quickly and easily as possible.

Conventional allopathic approaches are akin to cutting back some of the branches, but its just a matter of time before they grow back and wreak all the same havoc. (Think about taking Prilosec, for example. It doesn’t fix why you had the reflux in the first place, so it will come raging right back the minute you forget a pill.)

Functional medicine seeks to remove illness as its core – to find the source of disease and pull it out by its roots. And when the disease is small – like, say, a common dandelion – it’s pretty easy to grab it at the base, tug, and be done with it. Anybody who took a couple of weekend courses in integrative medicine could do it.

When it comes to healing complex, chronic illnesses, however, that little “weed” is more like a rose bush with 9-foot long branches largely obscured by a neighboring plant.

It’s cavalier to assume that this type of “cure” can be accomplished with a simple tug.

Before I could even properly cut back the branches of the rosebush (manage the symptoms), I first had to prune back the laurel to let me more clearly see what I was “treating.” I had to remove the obstacles and clear out the workspace, or “terrain.”

This is the step that patients sometimes argue with me over, as it can seem like I’m getting distracted from their chief ailment. But clearing obstacles is not only important; it’s essential to a successful treatment.

Examples of this include when somebody comes in with thyroid issues and I focus on balancing their stress levels. Or when a parent brings in a child with eczema and before of treating the skin I emphasize healing the gut. It feels like a digression, but it’s actually an essential step to help us get to the root of the problem. Cutting back the laurel took much more time than digging up the rosebush, but I couldn’t have done the latter without the former.

Then there’s the matter of trimming back the branches, a lengthy process in and of itself. In medicine, this often entails cleaning up the diet, improving sleep quality, learning meditation or other mindfulness practice, and adding in exercise. This is not a quick and easy step, but rather a series of small steps, all of which bring us closer to our goal.

We also need to clear out and properly dispose of the branches that have been cut back. This is much like enhancing the body’s natural detoxification processes.

And then – finally! – we can see the roots. That is when – and only when – we achieve a cure.

The rose bush reminded me to approach healing with patience and perseverance.

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