When the Mayo Clinic announced that nearly 70 percent of Americans were taking prescription drugs, with painkilling opioids, antibiotics and antidepressants heading the list, red flags should have been raised all over the medical establishment, including me, a doctor of 35 years. Instead, many Americans just saw it as a sign of a successful health care system with a pill for every ill, which certainly pleased the drug companies. When faced with the fact that, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 290 people in the United States are killed every day by prescription drugs, many people think it's worth the risk, just as long as those irritating symptoms -- distress signals from the body -- go away. Even though, each year, about 4.5 million Americans visit their doctor's office or the emergency room because of the side effects from their drugs, in this land of freedom, we certainly don't want to be bothered by anything as trivial as illness, preferring to continue our unhealthy lifestyles, without ever having to change one thing; just pop our pills every day.
The proposed health reform -- Affordable Care Act -- will mean more people will be insured and therefore able to receive health care. Yet this inevitably will mean more prescriptions and more side effects from those drugs resulting in more deaths, unless we recognize that the change needs to be far more sweeping. We need to see illness less as something that needs to be "fixed" or "suppressed at any cost" and more as a messenger urging us that something in our life needs to change NOW. And before we rush off for an expensive exploratory test, the message isn't difficult to read. Body wisdom is clear and straightforward: Who is the pain in the neck? What can't you digest in life (indigestion)? Where is your heart no longer in your work (heart disease)?
Our body is our most reliable friend. It serves us faithfully without complaint until it senses we've passed the tipping point of wellbeing and then it generously sends out warning signs such as pain, stiffness or dysfunction, advising us to pay attention, just like the car's flashing red light. But over the past decades, patients have been dissuaded from listening to these inner messages by those who have a vested interest that you buy into their system. They say, "We don't know what causes your illness, and it has little to do with you (other than your genes or unexplained chemical imbalances). But don't worry, we have the perfect surgical procedure or drug, to make you as right as rain again."
Admittedly, the usual suspects are always paraded when causative factors of disease are discussed such as smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet and excess alcohol intake. But rarely do we talk about the fact that the commonest time for a heart attack is on a Monday morning when the thought of work drains the joy out of an individual's heart or that 60 percent of blood cholesterol is a positive response by the body to help you deal with stress or that 30 years ago heart disease was almost unseen in women before menopause and now it's one of their greatest killers.
Holistic health, which emerged in modern times in the late 1970s, was advertised as treating simultaneously the body, mind and spirit. With it came the understanding of how our emotions, beliefs and perceptions, influence the wellbeing of our body, in particular the expression of our genes. Research into spiritual wellbeing looked at the power of prayer, the benefit of different methods of meditation and the value of practices such as yoga.
But none of these address the deeper instincts of the individual, something which may be viewed as the intuitive call of the soul. If illness is seen less as a problem and more as the path to a balancing of the soul -- a solution (soul -ution) -- then it would require every physician and health care professional to stop perceiving illness are a miscreant and more as a gift.
True health reform is not about spending more money, taking more drugs or having more tests. It's about a collaborative relationship between the patient, their body and health care professionals, all of whom are focused on what is best for the patient and not only on financial advantages. It talks about quality of life and not quantity and listens to the soul of the individual rather fear based statistics. Illness is not the enemy to be battled against, struggled with or suffered from. It appears when we already have a clear, yet often unspoken, sense that our life is out of harmony. When I ask a client: "What was going on when you became ill?" The commonest, spontaneous answer I receive is: "I know why I have cancer/heart disease, etc." Why do most practitioners fail to ask this question? Until healing professionals step beyond their known agenda, let go of the erroneous belief that they have all the answers and truly listen to the inner knowing of the patient, we will never achieve the health reform our patients deserve.
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