By Susan Beausang / Divine Caroline
At no other point in history has medical science included the tools, technology, and pharmaceutical medicines that today not only prolong our lives but allow us to survive in the face of life-threatening disease. Our doctors and nurses study long and hard to master the tools of modern medical science so that they can direct our medical treatments with the deeply valuable goal of preserving our lives.
Such mastery often requires deep specialization, making Western medical specialists leading experts in their fields of specialization, but what have we given up in this quest for specialization? As a society and as a hemisphere, it seems we are gradually coming full circle in realization of what we have given up in our quest for more medical technologies and specialization. While grateful for what western medical science does for us, we are less and less satisfied with a medical paradigm that too often focuses on the disease and ignores the emotional being who is carrying the disease.
If you’ve ever been to a doctor, you know what it feels like to be patronized, to have your thoughts or feelings dismissed, or worse, to simply be handled in such a rush that you feel as if you’ve come and gone essentially unnoticed. It often seems that we are simply empty vessels or machines that either need fixing or do not. Once upon a time, our healers were not wed to specific organs, specialization, or treatments—they were wed to us, the patients. Among our most successful and trusted healers, their specialty was hearing us, seeing us, understanding us, and empathizing with us in a mutual effort to address our ailments. While few among us would opt to go back to a point in time or place in which disgruntled ancestral spirits might be identified as the cause for sudden paralysis, we do want to be listened to, to be seen as an individual with valid concerns or wishes. We want our medical specialists to acknowledge that while we may not be lung specialists, we know ourselves and our bodies better than they do. We want to be approached as humans, as adults—as real people first and patients second. We want our medical specialists to work with us, not on us.
While we may not want to return to the past, more and more of us are seeking what we have lost, what we have given up. We are holistic beings and we want to approach our health in holistic ways. While we do not expect our medical specialists to be specialists in everything, we do not want a medical system that only sees our diseases. We want a medical system that treats the patient with the same passion with which it treats the disease. As potential and actual patients, we are the leaders of this revolution in medical care. Only when we take an active role in our own healthcare will we see the changes in the directions we wish for. Fortunately, there are more and more of us leading the way, remembering what we have lost and reuniting the patient with their healthcare.
Below are some links to some great sites to help those of us coping with disease and in healing:
urbanzen.org —This foundation works to further the best possible outcomes for patients and their loved ones by working towards a medical system that treats the patient with the same passion with which it treats the disease.
cancerhopenetwork.org —Cancer Hope Network—Provides one-on-one support for cancer patients from survivors who know firsthand what a diagnosis really means. Founded on belief that when newly diagnosed patients meet health survivors, they will know that their disease, the therapies, and the side effects can be overcome and successfully managed.
cancercarestore.com—Book: Chemo Cat by Cathy Nilon. Breast cancer survivor Cathy Nilon chronicles her own family’s journey with cancer and offers families a starting place for talking about treatment and recovery.