I’ve been musing on matters medical lately. For years I took a diuretic as part of a program to control my hypertension. In the last, oh, six months, it seemed the diuretic was messing up my electrolytes, so I went off it and began to take electrolyte supplements. Everything was fine until I took magnesium, which gave me embarrassing and difficult digestive problems in the extreme. It seems to me that my health problems are caused by medicines given me and not by my own physical state of well-being. My mind jumped back to the early osteopathic teachings of Andrew Taylor Still, with his insistence on looking at the whole man (holistic medicine as a concept was around long before Still pounced on it) and his firm belief that the natural state of man is health, not disease.
But there’s another side to the story. I’m not sure health is a natural state for people in our current culture, not even all those who work out religiously. We have to consider factors such as the stress of our fast-paced world, genetics, pollution, the foods we eat—even if we try to avoid them, we’re consuming preservatives, additives, too much sugar and salt. All that may well have contributed to my hypertension which, left untreated, would most likely have killed me by now. Perhaps as modern culture has evolved (not always for the best), so has modern medicine. Makes me want to retreat to the woods with Thoreau for a life lived deliberately…and simply. Though my brother the doctor points out that in A. T. Still’s day the average life span was much shorter.
Still, recognizing all that, I cling to the idea of holistic medicine and the belief that health is the natural state of man. A friend recently went to a hip and knee clinic, fell, and broke his ankle. He was sent to the ER, had surgery by a physician who apparently knew about ankles, but when he went back to the hip and knee clinic to have his cast removed, the staff threw up their hands and said they knew nothing of ankles. How can you treat hips and knees if you know nothing of ankles? Doctors should be treating patients, whole people, not pieces or symptoms or diseases. Reminds me of jokes about physicians referring to “the gall bladder in Room 305” or “the heart attack in Room 221.” Sad but true—such conversations happen.
I recently wore an orthopedic shoe for six weeks because of a spontaneous fracture in my foot. Even before I was allowed to discard the shoe, my ankle was complaining, especially when I went down stairs. It had stiffened up and adjusted to a whole different way that I walked in that shoe. The doctor who treated me, an osteopathic physician, acknowledged that and said give it time. It’s been a week and a half and my daughter told me last night I still walk with a limp, especially when I first get started. The broken bone didn’t happen in isolation.
One of my sons-in-law thinks my medical theories are screwy (along with many of my other beliefs) and he said he wouldn’t want anyone working on his ankle who didn’t know about ankles. He missed the point that if you’re working on hips and knees you should know about ankles—seems essential to me. That same son-in-law has had a stiff neck since Christmas (when circumstances and his seven-year-old forced him to sleep on the floor). He went to our doctor and came away with an order for an x-ray and talking about a pinched nerve, which is I’m sure a term he has heard but doesn’t understand (nor do I). I think he needs an old-fashioned osteopathic or chiropractic treatment, a hands-on bit of medicine that can detect muscle spasm and the like. A. T. Still also believed the body had to be aligned correctly for health to dominate.
Good thing I’m not a doctor. I’m dangerous enough having been on the fringes of osteopathic medicine most of my life.