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Doctor Shopping

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The growing dissatisfaction with modern medicine has created a new difficulty for the patient of present times. The medical world today presents itself as a market where health is sold as a commodity in colourful packages of a variety and range as perhaps never before. Faced with choosing one among many, the patient often finds himself in an uncomfortable situation as each system of therapeutics claims its superiority over the others. Each presents its case before our ignorant consciousness like a crafty lawyer highlighting the successes and ignoring or explaining away the failures. Then there are claims of magic cures, wonder drugs, a pill for every ill and all that appeals to the popular and sensational mind of man. The choice that a patient makes is often negative based upon his dissatisfaction with other methods rather than a positive faith in the one that he prefers.

Beyond Systems

It is not easy to compare different therapeutic systems. Each is a product of the human mind and hence cannot capture the total truth of the healing phenomenon. For healing is a complex process that goes beyond the doctor and the system. Factors known and unknown, measurable and immeasurable, are at constant play in the human body. These factors are often interlinked intimately and observer bias often chooses to see one facet only while ignoring the other. This unconscious observer bias is further complicated by a perverted and conscious bias arising out of economic considerations as selling a drug in the market. Systems which are more holistic are liable to misinterpretation. For it is difficult for minds trained in analytical thought to readily adopt and efficiently function with a synthetic and total comprehension of things as demanded by holistic systems. Thus there is a ‘doctor-system’ mismatch which further complicates the role of a therapeutic method.

One solution could be the encouragement and revival of indigenous healthcare systems. However, any such indigenous healthcare system is commensurate with the traditional habits, lifestyle and value-systems of a particular culture from where it has evolved. The indigenous healthcare systems cannot be effective if there is a radical change in the habits, lifestyles and value-systems of that culture. This ‘patient-system mismatch’ is very evident in the case of the Native American Indians who have lost their traditional healing capacities. On the contrary, the people of Kerala, in spite of coming into contact with the Western culture, have not themselves become westernised. They still value their tradition. Perhaps that is why their age-old habit of using a rather high cholesterol diet has not resulted in an increased incidence of heart disease. It is also interesting that the indigenous systems of medicine continue to have a stronghold in Kerala.

Yet, whatever their outer differences there is one common meeting ground for all healing systems. It is in the patients psyche. For all systems, including modern medicine, are in agreement today over the issue that a patient’s psychological state has much to do with the healing process. The synthesis therefore of the diverse and often contradictory systems is to be found not so much in the theories but rather in the consciousness of the patient. This applies not only to hypertension, asthma, peptic ulcer and ischaemic heart disease but also to everyday injuries and infections as well as cancer and AIDS. It is therefore important that we as physicians become generous and broadminded. To question a patient’s faith in any particular system out of a false sense of superiority only reflects on our own ignorance. After all, truth is not limited to our understanding of things. Each system has glimpsed a certain truth of Nature but the working out of this truth is neither limited nor dependent upon the system that we choose.

The Physician’s Role

The real task of the physician is to induce the patient to recover himself. The condition of a patient is much like that of the man who went from door to door looking for fire carrying a lantern in his hand. It needed someone to point out that he himself was carrying fire in his lantern all the while. The primary role of the physician is to awaken the healing capacity latent in every person. The Mother observes that, “The chief role of the doctor is, by various means, to induce the body to recover its trust in the Supreme Grace.”(1) Certainly the best way to induce the body to recover its trust would be if the doctor himself has that trust. Qualities like faith, courage and cheerfulness are as infectious as their opposites. For the patient, the mere fact of having been seen by a doctor generates faith in his recovery. Few patients realise that the choice of a right physician is at least as important as the choice of a system of therapeutics. The right physician is not necessarily the one who is more qualified but one who can inspire hope, courage, faith and peace in the patient. The role of the family physician is well known to most of us. As children, free from a host of conflicting opinions and information, we received the healing-touch of the family physician. He was not only a healer of the body but knew our beliefs, attitudes and psycho-social make-up as well. His red tinctures and pink mixtures did equally great wonders as costly, colorful compounds today. This family physician has been replaced by sophisticated diagnostic systems where every symptom assumes a manifold connotation. We are told of all that the illness can do in terms of damage but are rarely told what our own bodies can do to get rid of the illness. A drug seems to stand between our life and death. Our minds agree but our hearts revolt. When a patient trusts a doctor, he appeals to the latter’s `larger than life’ image rather than in his degree and his system. It is necessary therefore for the patient to choose his physician in an enlightened way. The Mother points out, “To go from one doctor to another is the same mistake as to go from one Guru to another. One is on the material plane what the other is on the spiritual, you must choose your doctor and stick to him if you do not want to enter into physical confusion. It is only if the doctor himself decides to consult another or others that the thing can be done safely.”(2)

A good doctor by his patience, power of suggestion, providing an understanding of the illness, creating awareness in the patient regarding his own healing resources, generating faith and with the use of drugs and techniques creates in the patient conditions most conducive to self-healing. All healing, in a certain sense is self-healing.

The Healer Within

The human body is a great marvel. It has enormous reserves. The heart utilizes only a fraction of its optimal capacity. Only 2% of the brain function is usually tapped. The muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels have their own way of coping with stress. The blood vessels develop anastomoses around a blocked area (nature’s by-pass surgery!) while dead tissues are automatically thrown out. The body has its own set of analgesics, sedatives, antiviral, anti bacterials, antacids, antihypertensive mechanisms and even anti-cancer cells and processes. It should be possible, through a regular and methodical effort to activate and develop this latent body consciousness. Besides the mind and life energies normally flow in unregulated channels. If one could also learn to develop a harmony of thoughts, feelings and will through a process of self-development, many human maladies would disappear. Within the body are subtle centres of consciousness which could also be opened by a process of concentration and purification. Then one could be linked to the great cosmic rhythms. There is also the soul principle which when developed can bring a spontaneous sense of well-being. The contact of the patient with the physician and the system is only an occasion to awaken himself to the touch of the healer within.
References:

1. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1978.
2. Ibid.

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