Complete Wellness

A Place for Healing MindBodySpirit


Going to the Doctor

I’m a conventionally trained Western medical doctor. I know a ton about anatomy and physiology and diseases and medicine. What I really know is that I don’t know much relative to the miracle that is the human body. Western or conventional medicine sometimes assumes that it has figured out how the human body works. When I was in medical school, way back when, a wise professor told us to learn the principles because the “facts” will change. He said that about half of what we “know” will become obsolete every five years in the practice of medicine.

You’ve seen it. The recommended optimal blood pressures keep getting lower, as does the upper limits of recommended blood sugar and cholesterol. It used to be that pregnant women were given cigarettes and diet pills to control weight gain. The recommendations for which medicines to use for hypertension is in constant flux. We have shifted the diagnostic criteria for illnesses like bipolar disease and autism making an incredible jump in the incidence of these disorders. And don’t get me started on hormones….

The point here is that modern conventional Western medicine is not a fixed, concrete science. It doesn’t have all the answers. The few things we do know about how the human body works are like “a few shiny shells on the seashore of ignorance.” (I borrowed that lovely phrase from Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.) The crude way I make this point to medical students who come into my office to train is to tell them that if I had a pizza delivered to Harvard Medical School, arguably the smartest people in medicine, they could not make poop. And we do it all the time without even trying. The innumerable incomprehensibly complex things our bodies do without our effort or even consciousness is mind boggling. 

No one, not your naturopath, your chiropractor, your acupuncturist or anyone understands the intricacies of the body. Anyone who goes into a healing profession with good intention can help people. As in any other field, there are good and bad practitioners. 

Honestly, people do not go into medicine to get rich. The training is too hard, physically, emotionally, and intellectually to be worth it. The current climate of insurance companies, consumer demand for the latest and greatest, immediate gratification, the constant shadow of malpractice threats makes it increasingly unattractive for bright people to go into medicine. Frankly, I’m a little worried about who’s going to be taking care of me in my dotage.
Your doctor should be your partner in your healthcare. You should feel that you are being cared for. You can help that along. Be smart. Be prepared. Most people stay healthy most of the time. Young (your interpretation) healthy people should probably go to a doctor for a simple check up once a year or so.
Babies should be seen frequently because they change so much so fast. You really need an objective trained observer to periodically assess your child, even if you are going to decline vaccination.

Vaccination is one of the things I think Western medicine does well. How brilliant to use our bodies own amazing immune systems to prevent illness! Vaccines use a piece of a virus to give our immune systems a heads up on what to avoid. It’s like showing a picture of a criminal’s face so the police know whom to attack. 

Being ready to go to the doctor for a simple, straightforward problem is not really necessary. If you have a more complex problem, especially if you are seeing a specialist, it would behoove you to be prepared. I’m telling you the harsh truth when I tell you that if you walk into most doctors’ offices with a legal pad and printed out WebMD articles and textbooks, they will stop listening before you start talking. I recommend getting your story to fit on one side of a 3x5 or 5x8 card. On the back side of the card have a few important questions. Bring a pen or borrow one from the doctor and write down his or her answers. Feel free to read the answers you wrote back to the doc to make sure you understood the response. If you tend to get fidoodled in situations like this, bring someone with you. Another brain and set of ears is a good idea. (Not another mouth. Be very clear of the role of your companion. Minimal to no speaking.)

There was a study done gauging how people felt about going to the doctor. It turned out that some people began to feel better by just picking up the phone to make an appointment to be seen. Some more began to feel better upon getting a prescription handed to them. The well documented placebo effect is definitely in play. It is very real. Having the feeling that you are being taken care of, makes you feel better.

Conversely, if you get the distinct impression that you are being disrespected, ignored or disregarded, that can really make you not feel better, even if you are receiving the appropriate treatment. 

Go forth. Don’t settle. Be your own advocate. Remember, the doctor is working for you. Good luck.




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