TORONTO — In 1994, Dr. Alvin Pettle began to learn to disentangle himself from ego – no small feat for anyone, let alone a popular, in-demand physician.
He’s part Jewish mystic, part gynecologist, and all soul.
Alvie, as he’s known to his many friends and patients, has a deep love and respect for women, and his life and career reflect that.
His personal journey shifted in 1994 when he began yearning for something more. At the time, he was chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Etobicoke General Hospital in Toronto, where he had delivered more than 10,000 babies.
But one day, he suddenly walked out of the busy office he ran with his wife, Carol, a nurse, saying, “I need to go for a walk.”
He didn’t come back for six months.
Carol and Alvin headed to Sherwood Forest, a Toronto park that has become a place of healing during certain times of their lives, “We just sat there. And I listened to the deepest part of my soul,” he said.
Listening would be the key to his future. “When the student is ready, the teachers appear,” he said, quoting the Buddhist proverb. And they did, in the form of people and every book he could get his hands on.
Pettle said he felt a sense of renewal after his awakening, and he knew it was time to break away from traditional medicine and move into a more holistic approach.
“I could sense being told, ‘Now I’m going to show you how to really take care of women, and they will tell you what they need.’”
The fact that menopausal women were taking horse’s urine through hormone replacement therapy (HRT) didn’t make sense to him at all.
So the Canadian pioneer began to introduce bio-identical hormones to help women enter menopause. “Bio-ids” are made from botanical plants such as soy beans and yams. The human body can’t convert soy or yams directly into natural hormones, so the natural plants are pharmaceutically processed in a transdermal cream.
His medical knowledge and his passion to understand hormones allowed him to help women in ways he hadn’t been able to at the hospital. Now he’s spends more time talking to his patients.
“Now I ask questions I never dreamed of asking before, like, ‘Have you ever been abused?’” he said. “This is important information to gather for the well-being of my patients.”
Pettle started to write prescriptions and figure things out. “I realized that some allopathic doctors are stubborn, educated by drug companies. Oh, God bless the drug companies, they do a lot of good, but they don’t do [plant-based] hormones.”
In the ’90s, Pettle, as well as others in the medical community, said that “women must stop swallowing synthetic estrogen and stop taking synthetic hormones.”
That was a risky move for the renegade doctor who was told to watch his back.
He recalled that fellow doctors contacted him, asking, “Alvie, what’s wrong with you?”
To which he replied, “I’m trying to help women. We need to re-think this.”
A young professor wrote him a note, asking, “How could you prescribe bio-identical progesterone to a woman without a uterus?”
Pettle replied, “You forgot she has breasts and organs that receive progesterone as well.”
Although he doesn’t take credit for it, Pettle’s paradigm shift led to a sea change in the thinking of the medical community in which he was working. That took courage.
He has co-written two books with Lorna Vanderhaeghe, A Smart Woman’s Guide to Hormones and Sexy Hormones. He’s currently writing a book called What Women Have Taught Me.
“Women have taught me a lot, not the least of which is that it’s time to turn our society from a patriarchal one to a matriarchal one,” he said.
“Under our patriarchal society, there’s too much testosterone. None of us would be here if weren’t for women. It’s time we begin looking into each other’s eyes with a mutual respect.
“When people have respect for each other, magic happens.”
At 66, Pettle said he feels better than he did at 35. Ever the philosopher, he muses, “Life is about seeking the truth in everything we do, and following your heart for the answers.”
Pettle followed his heart all the way, as he puts it, from “self-destructing, moving too fast in the world of 24/7 medicine” to finding his place and peace among the women he clearly loves.