As more and more people whip themselves into a frenzy over health care reform, sometimes losing their cool and potentially their credibility, I wonder what drives us to berate each other over something that most of us consider essential – our mental and physical well-being. To be honest, I have been known to lament exorbitant insurance rates and threaten in my frustration to “move somewhere where they care,” specifically Canada or pretty much anywhere in Europe. But I’m beginning to wonder whether it matters at all, considering the quality of the medicine in the States and how incredibly spotty and often shoddy that it is. Why would more people want access to something that doesn’t really make you any healthier? How can such a flawed system be any better anywhere else? After all, they are all run by us. The humans. Scary, isn’t it?
Now that I’ve dispensed with the hyperbole and rhetorical questions, a bit about where I come from in all this. I am 27, at my ideal weight, eating mostly organic, eating out maybe three times a week in total, whole grains, plenty of exercise, almost no processed sugar, and with health insurance. In fact, my parents are there to pay in case I need to go see a nutritionist, or an Auriculomedicine specialist, or a N.A.E.T. practitioner on top of my PPO plan.
But I am disillusioned with both the standard and alternative medicine markets. And here’s why: No one really knows anything, or if they do, they are so in demand that they end up being overworked and making mistakes. Yes, this is a gross over-generalization. However, in the past few years I have personally witnessed medicine helping, and medicine hurting.
A friend went for a routine test only to find pre-cancerous lesions and have them removed. That was a success. Another friend went to a doctor, “the best in his field,” to get some surgery done, except the doctor misdiagnosed the problem and ended up taking more than was necessary out of my friend’s body. That was clearly a failure.
In both cases, cancer was a threat. One was prevented and the other didn’t exist, but it became clear to me that medicine is more art than science sometimes and that a doctor’s intuition can lead him/her down the wrong path as well as the right. But it is not the doctor that suffers the physical repercussions when they take the wrong road.
So what about other ailments? What if they can’t cut it out? In my experience, diagnosis is tricky. Maybe your doctor finds what’s wrong with you, but maybe they don’t. So you amble from doctor to doctor until one day, someone mercifully tells you – you have this! And of course, you can’t cure it, so it’s either take pills that destroy your liver for the rest of your life, or drastically change your lifestyle. Sometimes, all you get is a, “Take care of yourself.”
Then there are the alternative doctors. They are just as smug as the regular ones. They have the answers, and they can help you where the other doctors failed. Sure, there are plenty of people who say, “This person saved my life! You must see them!” And you go, although not particularly sure why, as you have already been told that you must live with you disease.
So they hold your hand and listen to your pulse and tell you what your body does or does not need. They put needles in you, adjust your vertebrae, and give you bottles upon bottles of expensive, natural pills. You gorge yourself on 20, 30, 40 pills a day, religiously, until you can’t anymore. You get a lecture. You take your pills to a new practitioner who tells you that most of them are useless. They of course give you new pills. So you take those, religiously, until you can’t. Because in the end, you’re no longer sure what is actually wrong with you. Did they tell you you were sick or did you tell them? Did you feel this way before or after? What’s in these pills anyhow?
And then you stop, and think, and wonder whether having health insurance (and paying a ridiculous amount for it) is worth it. Or having access to these “doctors” who tell you to stop eating soy and corn while charging you an arm and a leg.
This is where I am. I understand why people don’t go to the doctor now. You have no idea what you’re going to get because medicine is an imprecise science, or at least when it comes to healing the human body. Sometimes they are right, often they are not. They always want to do a test, sometimes extra tests, and stick you with the bill, only to find out that what they thought was wrong with you, is not. Medicine is more like educated guesswork. Like walking around in a dark room you’ve been in a few nights. You sort of know where things are, but there’s a good chance that you’re going to bash your knee on the coffee table.
Medical professionals might be agog, or even indignant, but it’s time to face the truth. So many symptoms overlap, some are misleading, and others don’t even show up. There are people out there who are intelligent and thorough and get the job done well, most of the time. And then there are people practicing medicine who don’t know how to spell basic things, or don’t know how to administer an Insulin blood test, or who can’t tell the difference between milliliters and centiliters, even though all of that is part of their job. The people who pay for those mistakes are not the people who made them, they are the patients. Because naively, we expect precision. We expect those of you with training to know better than us. And when the precision and the knowledge isn’t there, and instead you mess up, or treat us like we’re an inconvenience, we get angry.
This is where I am. Not angry, but lost. I don’t trust any of my doctors fully, only to the extent that I think they know what they’re doing, and that they are not working to keep me coming back. Oh, and if their support staff is not incompetent.
As I write this, there are going to be no more pills and no more doctors leading me around by the nose. I am taking matters into my own hands. Perhaps I will be proven a fool, but I am starting to think that disease is just a part of life. That at some point we are all going to die, and worrying about every piece of food, quantifying your health, and spending your time evading death through pills and procedures and surgeries doesn’t really make your life better, it just makes it longer, and probably more stressful. I want to be healthy, but I’m not sure that even exists. We are crawling with bacteria, viruses and fungus. There are toxins all around. We cannot escape death, and in our pursuit of eternal life, we only enrich the medical establishment.
My aim in this blog is to talk about health – standard, alternative, and my way – and the way I have seen those work, fail, and surprise. I am seriously considering enrolling in a nursing program, not only to gain knowledge, but to see how they train nurses, what they actually teach, and the kind of people who come out at the other end, ready (or not) to administer effective health care.
I do not think the whole system is corrupt, just that it is driven by profits, human nature, and yes, the desire to help others. I listed them in order of importance. There isn’t enough time and enough money to find a perfect doctor, because I’m sure that he/she does not exist. There is no panacea. There is only life and death and the path we take from one to the other. I’m trying to find out if it really matters whether we’re healthy in between and what “healthy” really means.