If you’re anything like me, you remember watching The Wizard of Oz as a kid and trying to be brave alongside Dorothy and her friends as they confronted the Wizard. With trepidation, you too may have cowered in your Superman pajamas, wondering what this great, revered, mysterious, magical Wizard would say.
If you made it past the smoke, intimidation and fear, you may have also felt that same nervousness turn into a wave of relief. Yet almost as quickly – for me, anyway – that relief turned to… disappointment: “Oh, that’s not really anything magical, just some old guy pulling levers behind a curtain, trying to maintain the status quo.” Okay, I didn’t know the words “status quo” as a kid, but I got the concept nonetheless – the whole mystique of the Wizard was gone now that I knew the truth about him.
Another experience you may share with me is a heart-rate elevating visit to the doctor’s office where you await word from an older, presumably wiser being, whose next few sentences may explain the situation with your health and at the same time have reverberating implications for your life. Yet perhaps you, like Dorothy and myself, have an inquisitive side to you. Perhaps after you heard the words from the doctor, you also dared ask a question requesting a deeper explanation than what he originally offered. Perhaps you said, “Wait, wait, before we talk about treatment options, can you tell me…what causes that, doc?” or “Why does my body have that problem?”
Where you may have felt a disconnect is here: In general, we have this lofty idea that conventional medical doctors are trained to tell us why things go wrong with our health. They aren’t. They are trained in Allopathic medicine, a discipline that treats our symptoms with more symptoms. That’s not to say that’s always a bad thing, but it’s past time we recognize that the “conventional” medical approach is a highly reductionist one to health that veils itself behind a curtain of “science”, fancy Greek and Latin words and about a century’s worth of time as the apex of our healthcare edifice. All of this is thanks largely to the push to the top provided by the tsunami of scientific discovery during a period of time we call “The Enlightenment”.
Because of the Flexner Report of 1910, Allopathic medicine was able to out muscle all the other healing approaches of the day (and there were many) to establish itself in our collective minds as the only truly “scientific” approach to healthcare. Since our culture worshipped at the altar of science (and in many ways still does), in the years that followed, Allopathy became our culture’s Wizard at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. Allopathy (a fancy Greek word that literally means “other suffering”) took over the top spot long enough that we today call it “conventional”. By claiming the word “conventional”, the subtle implication is that everything else is some sort of fringe therapy, not mainstream accepted care. Fair or not, that’s the reality.
Thinking back to your visit to the doctor, perhaps after he answered your “why” questions with something general about diet and exercise, you too had the realization that after all the fancy testing is over, he can’t tell you why your health is failing – at best he can tell you how. While that’s not a bad start, it’s far from an answer.
In reality, asking medical doctors to address the why of an illness is like asking a mechanic to explain all you could have done to your car in the past that blew out your transmission. How could he know that? Think about it for a second. Figuring out why a person’s health is failing is infinitely complicated because there are so many variables. Each person has differences in genetics, exercise habits, nutritional needs, dietary discipline, hydration levels, sleep patterns, mental outlook, chemical and emotional stressors, environmental factors and more. Because these facets are so synergistically interrelated, they cannot be studied with a reductionist approach to science that tries to eliminate variables. It is not only unfair of us to ask such science to do so, it is also irresponsible and betrays how little we know about the strengths and limitations of conventional medicine and about how our magnificent bodies work. Chemically manipulating one enzyme, hormone or gene – as conventional medicine does – is not the way to produce the synergy required for good health.
Despite the lack of fairness in asking reductionist science to trigger a cascade of synergistic health benefits, that has not stopped us from walking for cures for just about every major disease you can think of so we can throw more money at reductionist research. At least by walking, we feel like we are doing something to help solve our growing health problems. Are we? While our intentions are honorable and we want so badly to believe major breakthroughs in conventional medicine are tantalizingly close, they’re not. Never will be. Searching for a cure (singular) to synergistic problems makes about as much sense as asking our government to come up with a cure for crime. Do we really think there is a cure for such things? While reductionist research has taught us many wonderful things, maybe it’s time we realize it is not deserving of as much faith as we have in it.
Perhaps it would help to think of it this way: Medicine is first a business, not a science. Medical science is a tool used to help healthcare professionals be better at business. (Think harder on that if you don’t believe me.) There’s nothing necessarily wrong with using science as a tool for business, but if we’re going to see conventional medicine as it is, it’s time we pay attention to that “man behind the curtain” who we have revered for so long, and ask intelligent questions about what he can actually do for us. Is the best the way to help others with their health to add some “other suffering” to the suffering they already have? To me, that’s not healthcare, that’s sickness management. And that, dear friend, does not bring about wellness, no matter how badly we want to believe otherwise. I don’t think for a second that I have all the answers, but I also think that modern medicine has been understandably reluctant to tell you what’s really behind the curtain.
Look behind the curtain with me and you’ll see that the answers the Wizard can offer you when it comes to a chronic illness or disease:
- Temporary band-aids that produce side-effects (drugs)
- Monitoring (is this really moving us forward with our health?)
- Burning (radiation)
- Cutting out parts of us that are not working very well (surgery).
In that light, fully aware of what the Wizard is actually offering, at least we might have the courage to take that ever-unpopular mantle of “personal responsibility” and put it on. Chances are, with a bit of research and introspection, we could discover where our health got off track, as well as discover all those “unconventional” options waiting to help us. No doubt it will take more work than clicking our heels together and reciting a mantra, but do you like the options the Wizard has for you any better? Sure, you can pop a pill and your reflux may go away, but what are you doing about the bone loss caused by the pill? And what about the root cause of the reflux in the first place?
Don’t get me wrong – not everything in conventional medicine is smoke and mirrors and people with power trying to find more power. There are countless genuine health practitioners, some very worthwhile therapies, and Allopathy is exceptionally good at trauma and emergency cases. But maybe – just maybe – if we can see the Wizard for what he is, if we see conventional medicine as one option of many, run by people just as imperfect as we are, using an outdated, reductionist way of thinking about chronic illness, we just might be a few clicks closer to home on a long rewarding path of personal growth where we were can help others along the way. Where would you rather spend your time?