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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

To Your Health, but which way?

Today was a classic example of the frustration with conventional western medicine trying to unite with a form of naturalistic care.

We had my mother to a chiropractor for sciatic nerve pain. Within ten minutes of checking out her overall condition he states that she is dehydrated. Apparently, the number of medications many senior citizens are taking increases their need for fluids.

My mother proceeds to tell him she thinks she is getting yet another bladder infection. He then explained to her the importance of drinking more water and eating fresh rather than processed foods. Of course, she knows all this but as is typical, when people don't have to cook for a family any longer they often eat out more or eat frozen or processed foods. Once a person lives alone, their eating habits often seem to go downhill because all the effort involved in meal preparation, from planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning up, just becomes just too much of a bother. People just aren't up to it any more. They're tired, often depressed, and the likelihood of anything changing is unlikely.

Doctors understand human behavior enough to realize that they can lecture all they want, people may try for a while to improve their lifestyle but usually slip back into the old ways. Patients come into their office expecting good health to return to them through medication. Symptoms may or may not be alleviated but often as is the case, those symptoms are only masking an underlying condition. If we don't listen to our body's form of communication it'll go deeper into the body and surface with some new ailment. Often people don't turn to alternative methods until after suffering the side effects of various prescriptions playing havoc on their systems. They soon find out that alternative therapy isn't a quick fix, it takes effort, it involves lifestyle changes, it's expensive.

In our western society, we have little need for physicians until something goes wrong. We go to the doctor to be fixed. The doctor's job is to address the complaint of the patient and prescribe the correct medication. Anything beyond the family doctor's expertise is referred to a specialist in that field. Rarely do those specialists work together to put all the pieces together to understand what this one body is really telling them.

We as the patients comply with what we are told because doctors know what is best and if we have medical insurance the costs are covered. Simple as that. It is only after the frustration of continued lack of vitality and returned health that people turn towards alternative therapies. Only out of desperation are we willing to pay out of pocket.

Then we open our minds to these new ways of thinking about health and get further frustrated when we sit there and hear how many of our prescription medications are doing more harm than good. They are only treating the symptoms of an underlying cause. What is good for one thing is contributing to another.

So who do we listen to? One opinion is telling us with medication "the benefits outweigh the risks", while another is telling us to get off the merry-go-round of drugs and focus on lifestyle change. We're given a list of supplements to buy and therapies to try, none of which is covered by our insurance.

Having a chronic condition myself I can attest to trying to blend both ways of thinking. I know I shouldn't, but I often just don't mention to my specialist what alternative therapies I incorporate in my lifestyle. I just had too many negative experiences with doctors poo pooing natural methods believing it makes no difference (as he hands me a renewed script) and says come back in three months. Perhaps if I knew years ago what I do now about how to maintain a healthy mind and body in the first place, my system wouldn't have succumbed to a chronic autoimmune disease.

So the next day mother makes an appointment at her family physician to see if she really has an infection stirring again. Though her urine was tested for bacteria and white cell count, nothing was said about dehydration. The appearance and odor should have told the nurse plenty but the subject wasn't brought up and my mother didn't ask. The discussion was what was on paper as lab results. Something about sitting on that exam table makes a person feel inadequate and childlike and all the intelligent questions that should be asked don't occur to us until after we leave. We trust what our doctors tell us without question and are afraid to do anything without permission.

So she was given yet another script for an antibiotic and sent home. I'm sure medical professionals get frustrated as well when they can see down the road as one prescribed medication is given to counteract the effects of another necessary medication, and the snowballing continues. What to do when these people say they don't ever feel good anymore, knowing full well there is more going on than just the effects of age. People don't want to just be kept going, they want to live again.

But physicians have to protect themselves too, they prescribe the FDA approved medications known to treat certain conditions and comply with insurance companies. Their job is to keep people alive and these medications are often successful. Patients are informed of potential side effects and make their decision. I've often wondered how doctors advise their own families after documenting countless patient cases.

The chiropractor may not approve of the medications my mother is on and he certainly doesn't want to be held responsible should she refuse to take these drugs and her heart fails. He'll do his best to offer her advise about food choices, supplements, exercises and spinal adjustments to keep things in alignment for good energy flow and less pain.

He knows how fickle people can be when they don't get instant results and there is a chance his patients may not have the energy, time or money to continue with him and possibly even say alternative methods don't work anyway.

Ignorance is certainly not bliss when it comes to our physical and emotional health. We have to treat our bodies with respect, not take things for granted while young, and realize the body won't always just bounce back from mistreatment. With the information available out there to educate oneself, it is paramount that people take charge of their own health and make their own decisions before willingly hopping on the merry-go-round of pharmaceuticals because once you get on it is very difficult to get back off.