Saturday, November 17, 2007

it happened back then, too

I'm reading a book set in the 14th century when monks were the doctors and nuns were the nurses and people who needed medical attention were either treated by these monks and nuns or by the barber/surgeon who knew how to fix things like bad cuts and broken bones or the "wise women" who knew about potions for pain relief, bellyaches, etc.
Since the Church sanctioned the monks and nuns and not the barber surgeons and wise women, guess who were considered the experts? Of course, monks and nuns. But, just as today, as 80% of people in the US are using some sort of alternative or complementary medicine, like supplements and herbal treatments and chiropractors and naturopaths, and many others too numerous to mention, people in the 14th century had their own opinions about the experts and the braver or more rebellious of them voted with their feet and went to the alternatives for their fixes.
The monks at that time "bled" people and felt that would cure illnesses by releasing "bad humours" and probably like today, people got well despite their treatments, rather than as a result of them. Poultices with goat dung and other ingredients were applied to wounds and burns to "bring out the pus". It's so easy to criticize that ancient method of bad medicine. But it was the prevailing theory at that time. Some physicians from muslim countries were figuring out things like contagion and sanitation, but of course they were "heathen" and their treatments were regarded as such.
Fast forward to today, where the standard treatment for a common problem, high cholesterol, is a medicine which causes a deficiency of coq10 which weakens the heart muscle so the patients die of heart failure and not the high cholesterol. Or the medicine causes problems in thinking in the elderly, a population with enough problems thinking without the help of medicine. Superbugs are being "created" and then the hungry media eat it up and scare people into thinking every pimple is a deadly disease.
But the current medical establishment is very much in favor of a pill for every ailment and a test for every symptom, and even with no symptoms, a screening test to look for problems you might not know you have. All this with the assumption that man can fix all of his problems as long as he has a diagnosis. And that diagnosis can probably be blamed on someone or something which you can sue or at least blame for your condition.
So, 600 years ago the medical establishment offered bleeding and goat dung poultices in the name of science, and now we offer statin drugs and antibiotics and mri's and genetic screening tests in the same name. My wife is very wise and says that what we are doing is the best that we can do with the information available, but are we? John Mayer, a singer-songwriter of a younger generation, has a line in a song that says 'if you trust your television, what you get is what you got, 'cause when they own the information they can bend it all they want'. In the 14th century it was the church that owned the information, and today it's big medicine and the media, and together, wittingly or unwittingly, they are making people sicker, or so it seems to me, and the brave and rebellious are seeking help outside of the "normal" channels and are questioning what we, as medical practitioners, are doing. Are people getting well because of or in spite of what we do?
I like to tease a naturopathic doctor of mine that we have our box of treatments and tests, and that "they" have theirs, but that over the years we, as allopathic "western" physicians, have taken things out of their box and made them ours and take credit for them, whereas they are limited by the lack of prescriptive privileges from stealing anything out of our box (if they even wanted anything out of it!). Examples are probiotics, omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, just to name a few of the "newer" more popular things now touted by md's who a generation ago said they were hogwash. And I'm not innocent here, lest you think I've known this all along.
More to come on this most definitely radical thought.

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