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Gut Feeling


ZOEY YI, HOST: And now, from our personal perspectives series. Iryna Humenyuk shows us what we can gain when we lose trust in institutions. 


IRYNA HUMENYUK, BYLINE: It was a crazy idea, sure, but what was even crazier was staying home: I was sick, worse this time, and my mother wanted to fly to Ukraine to get medical help—during a full-scale Russian invasion. What could go wrong?


I understood her logic. Socialized healthcare, in Canada, is good in theory but bad in practice. There are not enough doctors to go around, not enough time allotted to each patient, and limitations to the kinds of tests a doctor can order. It can take months to see a specialist. And by then it can be too late.


But in Ukraine—where the free market, not state regulations, rule—if you have the money, you can order whatever tests you want, get any procedures you want. And all of it is faster, more accessible, and cheaper than in Canada or the US. 

So in early May, after months of toiling in the Canadian medical system that ended with my doctors telling me they were out of ideas … I packed my bags for Ukraine. 

We spent the next two weeks cramped in my grandmother’s tiny Soviet-style apartment outside of Lviv, shuttling between medical appointments. Periodically Ukrainian soldiers stopped us at checkpoints to search the trunk for Ukrainians fleeing conscription. 

But still … for me and my health problems … no answers. I was exhausted and demoralized—ready to give up. Baba wasn’t. She had endured an oppressive life in the former Soviet Union. Her bullish persistence had gotten her through an abusive first marriage; it’s what allowed her, at the height of her career, to be the sole female owner of three separate businesses—no small feat for a woman at the time. Determination was not something my family lacked. 


And then on our last day together, Baba said: “We found him.” Turns out that the medical doctor-turned-iridologist that my grandma praised was back. He’d been in the Carpathian mountains collecting herbs.


We piled into his office a few hours later. He told us he’d take a picture of my irises, run it through some software, and diagnose me. It seemed ludicrous. My first thought was: Had baba sent me to a quack doctor? And then my second: I was so desperate to get better, I was willing to listen to anyone at that point. 


Within moments I had my diagnosis. He wrote me a prescription for a drug—and brought me two bushels of herbs he had picked “from the mountains”—to drink as tea.


The next week, miraculously, the pain in my gut started subsiding. It would be the first correct diagnosis of many. I felt seen–even if by the doctor who seemed the least credible. . And I was starting to consider that maybe the truth might be more complicated than it first appears. I promised myself: never again would I place complete trust or distrust in any one institution. It was also a day when I began to wonder, this skepticism—this gut feeling—is this what it is to be a journalist? 


BACK ANNOUNCE: Iryna Humenyuk is happy to report that her gut is slowly starting to work again–and she’s learning to trust it again too.

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