Life’s Work: Striving for Understanding

Photo is a headshot of Montserrat with her hair in a bun with bangs, dangling earrings, and a white blouse.
Dr. Montserrat Andreys, DC, MS

Last week, I continued the Life’s Work series and shared with you the story of my colleague and mentor Inés Maturana Sendoya in Life’s Work: Bridging Worldviews. This week, I am moving forward in this series with a profile on Dr. Montserrat Andreys, DC, MS. Of all the people I presented to you thus far, I have known her the longest. She is my older sister’s friend whom I have known since my childhood.

She has provided very thoughtful, thorough, and introspective answers in connecting the dots between different facets of her life’s work. Learn how Montserrat strives for understanding and honesty in her service to patients, in her community with friends and family, and in her presence with herself.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity.

Tell me about yourself.

Oh goodness, this question feels like a Rorschach test. Do I describe myself and my environment, do I highlight my intersections, is this an existential question?

I am a cis cinnamon hue Latinx fem with sparkly silver and black hair. I am a Mexican and Honduran colonialist mix of African, Indigenous, Spanish, Italian, and who knows what else, because we were made to forget by design. 

My soul is curated by the love of friends and family, delicious food, social justice, adventures, dance, and art. 

I have earned a license in massage therapy, a bachelor’s degree in dance, and another in biology. I have a master’s degree in sports and exercise science, and a doctorate in chiropractic medicine.

I live in Portland, OR, where I am sitting in a sunroom surrounded by plants on the fourth month of a global pandemic, and in the 57th day since the murder of George Floyd.

I love homemade food, and I don’t restrict my bubble tea intake because YOLO.

What does the term life‘s work mean to you?

When I hear the term life’s work, I hear, where do you spend your time and what do you focus on when you are there? 

When I am in the clinic, my focus is to pay deep attention to the person in front of me and what their greatest concerns are. 

In my initial intake, I often ask patients “What is your goal, what would you like to see happen as we work together?” Once they are an established patient, I share with them what my plan is for that day’s treatment, and get their consent before we start. 

It sounds like it has to be ceremonial or grandiose, but it doesn’t. I just say something simple like “This is what I have planned for us today. Does that sound good?” The tone of their reply will usually help me know to proceed or ask more questions. 

There are so many power dynamics at play in healthcare. I try to demonstrate to patients that they have agency and say over how their treatment plan evolves. My job is to be prepared with a treatment plan, but be flexible with what is most important for the patient when they walk in the door. 

It is my life’s work to be in service of my patients needs. 

When I am in community with my friends and family, I focus on understanding them. I don’t concern myself so much with agreeing or disagreeing with them, but I strive to understand their perspective, their point of view, and how they arrived at their conclusions. I like to ask a lot of questions, and I love long-winded answers. I want to know who they are and why. 

It is my life’s work to know my loved ones deeply. 

When I am with myself, I strive to be honest with myself. I try very hard to not judge how or why I am doing/thinking something, but to be honest with myself about it. It’s not even for anyone else to know. It doesn’t mean I have to share those thoughts and feelings with anyone else. It is impressive to me that even though I have been trying to do this for decades now, I will still catch myself trying to give myself socially acceptable reasons for my actions/thoughts. I find it wild that I still have moments when I am not being honest with myself, but the continuous effort is worth it. The only one that has to know my motivations and true feelings about anything is me. 

It is my life’s work to be honest in my own presence.

Do you have something or some things you consider your life‘s work?

Everything I do is my life’s work. If I am involved with something, I am 100% in it. My values, my ethics, and my humanity are with me no matter where I am. Sometimes I am in more of a leadership role, sometimes I am in more of a supportive role, but my integrity stays the same.  

How has your life impacted your work?

My abuelita (grandmother) Lucy used to encourage me to take advantage of any opportunity to learn anything. 

She would say, “No one can ever take away what is in your brain.” Nothing was out of range, or a waste of time. She encouraged and celebrated thirst for knowledge. 

In addition, I have also always tried to figure out how things work or how they are made. My mom has told me stories of us being out when I was a little girl. She would find me studying an object. Then when we got home, I would try to recreate it from memory. 

Those two qualities—being open to learning and trying to figure out how things work—have been a very helpful way to navigate the world. I approach things with a lot of curiosity and frequently connect the dots between things later. 

It has been very helpful as a doctor. I have a large inventory of things to reach into to help patients, but I am also willing to tinker until I work things out.  

On a social front, the more I learned about wellness and medicine, the more I began to believe that general health and wellness information should be free and available. 

Culturally, we simultaneously belittle traditional medicines and home remedies, making people doubt the wisdom of thousands of years of cultural wellness. Then we hold Western medicine as an elevated model while restricting its access. All models have a place in the continuum of healthcare. 

Don’t get me wrong, if I were bitten by a snake, I would be in the emergency room looking for antivenom, because that is a strength for allopathic medicine. But if I have a muscle ache, my grandmother’s intervention of giving myself a massage with arnica has more wisdom than organ-damaging or addictive medications. 

It is for this reason that I put so much free wellness content on social media. I want to empower people to do what they can for themselves.

I have been around artists all my life. What I have witnessed is that artists are agents of change and revolutionary thinkers. They help us process challenging experiences, they show us how to communicate in verbal and non-verbal ways, they digest the world around us and present it to us in a way we can understand, and they have the ability to access what is in front of them and create something new. These qualities make them indispensable in our society, and I go to great lengths to focus on keeping them healthy.

How has your work impacted your life?

My work has brought me a joy I never would have expected. I love being in service to my community.

What do you consider to be the highlights of your life‘s work?

I think that will be for others to determine. I think we can make efforts to do things that are meaningful and have impact, but it’s really for the folks on the receiving end to decide if that is true or not. 

On a personal level, one of my greatest achievements was dropping out of university and then returning when I was ready. 

My grandmother was the first in our family to go to college, and she was valedictorian of her class. My mother and father were both equally brilliant and accomplished academics. 

It was an unwelcome shock to my family when I decided to leave the university after my first year. Something wasn’t right and even if I couldn’t name it at the time, it prevented me from continuing. 

I had a whole other career, I danced in a dance company, and I ran a business by the time I decided I wanted to go back to school. 

But this time school was there to fulfill my needs. I needed to be equally an artist and a scientist. So I got my undergrad degree in dance while I studied pre-med before going on to a master’s degree in exercise science and a doctorate in chiropractic school. 

Getting an education on my own terms was the greatest gift I have ever given myself. 

What have you learned through your experiences?

Potential means very little; desire, determination, and perseverance are more important.

Everyone has a right to safety, agency, equity, and love.

No one knows my body, life, or experiences the way I do. I am open to people illuminating, but not telling me my experience.

Therapy should be normalized and be a part of general hygiene, like taking a shower and brushing our teeth.

Many of us crave understanding more than agreement.

It took me a while to discern what friendships to nurture. Now I nurture the relationships where I feel I can be 100% myself, where I feel at ease, safe, and loved. People that will challenge my beliefs, encourage my growth, but will be with me through the process. I like a lot of people, but these are the qualities of my friends. 

I have learned that for me, dance makes everything better. 

There are a lot of important advances in medicine, and science will continue to help us prevent and manage disease; however, medicine will never be above looking someone in the eye while you listen to them, the healing received by the touch of someone that loves you, and laughter.

What do you hope to experience in the future?

This answer is very colored by the pandemic and shelter-in-place experience.

I am looking forward to giving my friends and loved ones hugs.

I am really looking forward to having rowdy, laughter-filled dinners with friends all crowded around a table that is too small, but where one more always fits. 

I am looking forward to the magic of being in the presence of live performance. 

I am looking forward to the unexpected learning and expansion of my perspective that comes with travel.

How do you hope the workforce evolves in the future?

The pandemic has really brought new information to light about our expected ways of working. 

Suddenly corporations are allowing ways of working that accessibility advocates have been asking for for years. 

The role of service jobs and their value to society helps people understand the argument for a living wage in a new way. 

Many people are experiencing the down sides of having healthcare tied to employment and understand the argument for an unconditional healthcare model.

I think many of us that have been slowed down in our work are seeing the reality of the effects of an insatiable capitalist model. 

My hope is that if we have to go through something this horrific, affecting every part of our lives and with so many fatalities, that the least we can do is take the lessons and make systems that were not working better. 

What action steps can you take now?

As a contractor, I am fortunate to have control of my work schedule and times. I learned during shelter in place, that without an alarm, my body consistently wakes up between 8:00-9:00am, and that I like the bigger meal of my day between 2:00-3:00pm. So when it came time to go back to the clinic, I changed my schedule to now start at 12:00pm, and I have my lunch between 2:00-3:00pm. I am honoring my body’s rhythms even though I have returned to work. 

On a political level, I will continue to support the efforts of advocates for universal healthcare, living wages, accessibility, and radical rest!

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