Netflix “Afflicted” Ep. 2 Doctor Speaks Out

My name is Dr. Glen Zielinski. You might know me from episode two of the Netflix series “Afflicted.” I am a Chiropractic Physician and Board Certified Functional Neurologist, which is a fancy way of saying that I help patients who have chronic, sometimes difficult to understand symptoms that negatively affect their daily lives. I have been helping chronically ill people in my practice for decades, as well as teaching Functional Neurology and Functional Medicine all over the world. I use my extensive training and the wide range of clinical tools at my disposal to find the root causes of symptoms often overlooked by conventional medicine—and then I address them by attempting to fix the consequences of the patient’s pathology on a neurological level.

Very often, long-suffering patients come to my practice incredibly frustrated, voicing that they feel “unheard” by other healthcare providers from whom they have sought care.

I’ve been told by a great number of patients that they feel discarded and abandoned because their symptoms don’t fit a common medical diagnosis or because typical treatment protocols were ineffective. Some of these patients had already given up, and others were ready to give up on ever finding relief. Many of them had resigned to using pharmaceuticals to cover up their symptoms when they were unable to find an effective treatment for the challenges they were facing.

Every patient is an individual with a different history, trauma and pathogen exposure. For a variety of genetic and experiential reasons, there are some patients who are significantly more sensitive to trauma, diseases, and environmental toxins. For these people, exposure to chemicals and toxic molds, often have profoundly negative impacts on their health. In order to help these people, they first need to be heard and understood. The care necessary to rebuild their lives requires individualized attention to every detail of their history.

As a healthcare practitioner, I have to listen to the patient, and have developed the depth of knowledge necessary to understand what the patient’s signs and symptoms reveal. It takes research, and oftentimes it takes more advanced treatment approaches to provide lasting, effective results. With preventable medical errors (such as missed diagnosis) being a leading cause of death in the United States, it should come as no surprise that when a condition is challenging to diagnose, it will often be misdiagnosed. What doesn’t help these individuals is to be dismissed, ignored, or falsely categorized. If a patient is suffering from a set of confusing symptoms, the last thing they need is to be pigeonholed, told how they feel, or to be treated as though their suffering is psychosomatic, without proper evaluation and respect.

When a new patient comes to me, my team and I work together to objectively assess and quantify the function of the patient’s entire neurological system. We use advanced, gold-standard neurodiagnostic tools to evaluate the function of their brainstem, cerebellum, vestibular apparatus, cerebral cortex, and cerebrovascular systems. We can identify and localize dysfunction in these systems by their effects on eye movements, balance, cognition, and so on. We dig deeply into their medical history, to properly understand the interaction of all the factors that brought them to their current ill health. We also perform comprehensive laboratory testing on patients to see if there are other conditions creating their signs and symptoms. The first appointment takes several hours—and our treatments typically take longer, because we are focused on determining what is going on in the nervous system, and how that affects every system in the body.

With respect to the individuals featured on Netflix’s “Afflicted”, we help patients with similarly complex cases all the time. My practice is consistently filled with people suffering from all manner of chronic neurological illnesses, including the conditions featured on the program. When I met with the producers, I was led to believe that their portrayal would be a sympathetic and educational one. I was filmed for my work with Star on two separate occasions. Everything seen of me in the episode came from the first session. The second was a long interview wherein I provided important context for understanding Star’s condition and our treatment. I discussed the genetic basis of Star’s dystonia, spoke about her prognosis, and discussed all of the complicating factors impairing her recovery. I stated my firm belief that her condition was not a psychiatric disorder, and discussed how frequently movement disorders are wrongly diagnosed as psychogenic conditions by untrained or inexperienced practitioners. None of my second interview material was used in the episode.

I am dismayed to learn that the people portrayed on the show feel their stories were edited in such a way as to cast their problems as psychogenic conditions, rather than suffering from legitimate chronic illnesses. It helps no one to perpetuate the misconception that if a patient does not fit a more simplistic medical diagnosis, they must be crazy.

As a functional neurologist and functional medicine practitioner, I am sure that I do not stand alone when I assert the following:

• The unseen environmental toxins that we are all exposed to can cause significant damage to the nervous system. Some of us respond much worse to these environmental toxins than others.

• Conditions such as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Mycotoxicities / Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, and Lyme Disease are real conditions that are well supported in peer-reviewed, published scientific literature.

• The diagnostic strategies and treatment modalities taught in conventional medical school do not adequately address these conditions. This lack of awareness in no way invalidates the reality of these conditions or the very real consequences for the patients that suffer from them.

• Many pharmaceutical interventions treat symptoms but do not address the underlying pathology creating the condition.

• Psychosomatic illnesses are real conditions. I am often referred people with psychogenic conditions that other providers have failed to properly identify. I treat these people with respect and dignity, and refer them to intelligent psychiatric providers trained in properly diagnosing and treating people with these conditions.

• Far too often, conditions that exist beyond the limits of a doctor’s education lead to inappropriate psychogenic diagnoses. These can be more damaging than simple misdiagnoses. They belittle and denigrate the patient, and inflict lasting harm upon people that are already fragile and who have been marginalized or abandoned by other health care providers.

• Inappropriate psychogenic diagnoses destroy relationships and reputations, and negatively and profoundly impact patient socioeconomic status. They create barriers to access for the personal care and healthcare these people desperately need. The providers needed may refuse to help due to mistaken beliefs of psychiatric causation.

• The stress that develops from an inappropriate psychogenic diagnosis often leads to a significant worsening of the patient’s condition. Stress can provoke inflammation, and can aggravate autoimmune conditions that are often misdiagnosed.

• If your doctor doesn’t know how to help you, it doesn’t mean you can’t be helped. It means your doctor doesn’t know how to help you. Don’t lose hope.

My practice has always been, and will continue to be, a safe place where all patients who are seeking a solution to complicated issues are welcome. If I can play a role in their recovery I do so proudly, and if I can point them to another quality provider for a better result, I do so enthusiastically. I am honored for the opportunity to help people find their path back to a healthier and happier life.