When it comes to healthcare, First Do No Harm is a very good standard. Unfortunately, it’s not very common.
My parents, both long dead, grew up believing the doctor was God. He (and it was nearly always a He) knew everything about the body, what it needed and didn’t need. You did what the Man said. You didn’t argue. The White Coat conveyed authority the same way a judge’s robes still do.
Of course that was back in the days when doctors still made house calls, and it wouldn’t cost your first-born’s college tuition.
My mother’s doctor was a cigarette-smoking fireplug of a man with a bulldog face named Willy Steel. He brought my brother and me into the world. A man of strong opinions, he also removed the cast that had encased my severed Achilles’ tendon when I was 19 years old. At the time I was smoking five packs a day. Like father, like daughter. Like doctor, like patient.
You Will Always Walk with a Limp
As he eased the heavy white cast off my much-shriveled peg he intoned, “You will always walk with a limp. And you won’t be able to quit smoking, either.”
The next day I hauled my carcass to what we then still called a junior high school, got out onto the track, and ran.
Or rather, hobbled, stumbled and gasped my way around 600 yards. Then collapsed onto the bleachers and cried. The next day I did it again. And again. And again.
It hurt. Nearly coughed both my lungs out.
Never picked up another cigarette. Within a few weeks there was no limp, either.
In 2011, my VA osteopath told me after a surgery on my left knee, that “you should be happy with 80%.”
Eighteen months later at the age of sixty I stood on top of Kilimanjaro with a knee that I had rehabbed and retrained back to 95%.
I sent him photos.
A year later I took a vicious fall on concrete while trying to learn to inline skate (a setup for comedy if there ever was one). My doctor declared that my hips would be “crippled forever by arthritis. You’re going to lose at least 30% mobility in both hips,” he said.
Three weeks later I had more mobility in my hips than I had prior to the accident, the result of a disciplined, daily yoga regime.
In the past year I got into wholesale verbal fisticuffs with VA urologists who insisted on invasive, dangerous procedures for a condition that I knew I didn’t have, and turned out I didn’t have. I was 63 at the time, had to pee frequently. Without asking another question they immediately decided I had Overactive Bladder Syndrome. I didn’t. They would not tolerate a patient, much less an older woman, who would not only question their authority but outright call them dead wrong. But I was right. The problem was being caused by my medications. They had wanted to inject Botox into my urethra for a condition I did not have.
Incomprehensible. Joseph Mengele, anyone?
This past year I had two female VA health practitioners inform me that a 5.9 A1C (blood glucose) number was perfectly acceptable, as long as I kept it under 7.0. At 5.9 the brain is on fire and begins to shrink. At 7.0 you have full-fledged diabetes. And besides, why were my numbers rising so fast? Medications. I’ve since cycled off all of them. Not remarkably I am one hell of a lot better. A quick visit to the American Diabetes Association site quickly debunks this “5.9 is perfectly okay” nonsense. Not for a healthy athlete it isn’t.
Last year I had an eye doctor push multiple surgical procedures. One of them I didn’t need at all after installing humidifiers in my house. A natural solution to a simple problem: dry eyes. The other was for cataracts. My neighborhood optometrist said that most 60-ish clients of his would kill to have eyesight as good as mine. Why is the doc pushing so hard for surgery I don’t need? Profits. Oh, and by the way, profits.
It’s Impossible to Keep Up
Today the amount of new medical information that comes out each month, each year, is breathtaking. It’s one reason that no single doctor can keep up, even specialists. Too many rely on old information. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America- twelve million diagnostic errors a year. Not only this, they haven’t even kept up on changes in basic injury care.
For example, icing injuries has been shown to do damage and inhibit healing. My nurse, who is a runner, didn’t know this.
I took my brain back this fall from the toxic chemicals that were slowly killing me off. My VA nurse mused with some surprise that they were “standard procedure.” She clearly had no idea of the very dangerous side effects. I gave her a link to the books I’ve been reading. To her credit, she’s ordered them. It no longer surprises me that I know more about some areas of medicine than my caregivers.
“An editorial in American Family Physician, co-written by one of the journal’s editors, noted that “a striking feature of recent research is how much it contradicts traditional medical opinion.” (emphasis mine)- The Atlantic. When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes, February 22, 2017
Who are You to Question ME?
An acquaintance who is a lifetime dedicated bodybuilder and fitness expert told me last weekend that he runs into rigid egotistical resistance all the time. When he questions a doctor about a mode of treatment, the doctor reacts in anger, and even asks, “Who are you to question (the Almighty) ME?”
Who indeed, you arrogant ass? This is my body. You don’t have to live with your mistakes.
Or for that matter, die from them.
Not only do I not trust doctors, who rarely know anything about nutrition whatsoever, but I now also question absolutely everything I’m told. I don’t accept any diagnosis without a challenge. Won’t take any pharmaceuticals without demanding to know the justification, side effects, interactions and natural alternatives. Most have no clue. All too often they take what a smooth-talking, highly-paid pharma rep tells them as gospel. They haven’t investigated the repressed or hidden test results that prove that said wonder drug doesn’t work, has horrific side effects (including death, by the way) or is about as effective as an M&M.
At least the M&M tastes good.
Like good diet, exercise, sleep and meditation feel good.
If you want a perfect case study, I have one word: opioids.
Take Nothing as Gospel
So who do we trust? Ourselves. The information is out there. Reams of it. Too much, to be frank. However through careful sifting we can eventually end up with protocols and regimes that work for us. This is not to say don’t see a doctor, don’t get tested. Do. Just take nothing as gospel. I have yet to see a doctor who is in better shape than I am at any age. Grossly overweight, smoking, out of shape, aging, dragging, stressed out. And we’re supposed to listen to you?
Question everything. Demand natural alternatives first. Exercise, diet, rest, meditation vs. Sloth, junk food, lousy sleep and medication. One route leads to health. One doesn’t.
Take a walk in any American city, rural county to see how well we’re doing.
Your doctor may have good intentions but they — like all of us — are deeply flawed. Unfortunately the MD after their names all too often conveys a holiness and righteousness that they have not earned. A good doctor learns with you. A good doctor is always in the question. A truly masterful doctor is deeply humbled by what s/he doesn’t know.
Which is one hell of a lot and more every day.
Prevention, Prevention, Prevention
If you see a doctor and ask what’s wrong, and their answer is, “I don’t know,” you might just have yourself a good doc. It’s your job to know your body and to help your doctor who doesn’t, to help you. It’s your job to question everything and assume nothing. It’s your job to do the work to get yourself healthy. Each of us is a mystery- to ourselves and to our medical professionals. The statistics, sadly, bear this out. Fully twelve million outpatients are misdiagnosed every single year (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/12-million-americans-misdiagnosed-each-year-study-says/). Some 400,000+ people die each year in hospitals from medical errors (https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-03/medical-errors-are-third-leading-cause-of-death-in-the-us). Those are now the third leading cause of death in America.
If doctors got hero buttons for prevention we wouldn’t be in this shape. There’s no money in it. There are huge profits in extreme life-saving procedures and high-cost meds. Most of which we’d never have needed had we heeded Hippocrates in the first place:
“First, do no harm.”
To ourselves, as captains of the ship. Then, the health professionals whose first and foremost responsibility is prevention, prevention, prevention.
Vibrant health begins with us, not in a doctor’s office. In our increasingly predatory health care system which pays providers to push pills and procedures before prevention, we are our own first line of defense. Fight back against arrogant declarations of our inability to heal ourselves: “You’ll never walk without a limp again.”
Not on my watch.
Physician, heal thyself.