Improve your well-being by focusing on promoting health instead of preventing illness.
H.C. Moolenburgh | October/November 2011 Issue
Many billions have been spent on cancer research in recent years. So you would think by now we’d have a good idea of what cancer is, why it is the most crippling disease of our civilization and what structural measures we should be taking to battle it.
True, research has unveiled a great many facts, but remarkably, we still lack an overarching vision. There is, of course, a marked difference between knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is the direct consequence of sensory perception, which is supplemented these days by our amazing instruments and laboratory data. But understanding is about seeing through all that material, creating an all-encompassing vision that allows us to grasp the true nature of the facts, as it were. That is the meaning of diagnosis. Instead, we lack a general philosophy, such as existed in the time of Hippocrates, the father of medicine.
Medicine is not just science, but art. A good doctor is also an artist, unless he or she practices a largely technical type of medicine, like surgery. The “Hippocratic doctor” sees every patient as a unique case. He works like a painter with a large palette who carefully chooses his colors. Treating each patient is like completing a new work of art, whereby the artist is aware that the art is not his own achievement but a gift.
Such doctors realize that different patients who appear to be suffering from identical illnesses often require different medicines from these doctors’ huge arsenals. And of course, not only is every patient unique, but so is every doctor: One leans toward watercress while the other has an aversion to it. It’s like forming friendships: We might become fast friends with one person, form a bond over time with another and remain acquaintances with -someone else. In Hippocratic therapy, treatments cannot be captured in a protocol. Done correctly, each treatment is a one-off creation made by the doctor-patient team. And the patient is never an object; this is the real art of the medical practice.
We were trained—even drilled—at university in the so-called disease model. All our actions were based on the symptoms; once those symptoms disappeared and the lab values returned to normal, the job was done. Suddenly we realized that while this approach was effective in acute medicine, it didn’t work for a majority of the cases we treated in our practices. We knew we needed a completely new model, namely a health model.
Why do people get sick? What is health and how can you maintain it or regain it? What changed in the patient? Why have we been seeing a spike in the number of children suffering from allergies and chronic ear, nose and throat conditions? What has been causing the flood of cancer, heart disease and new illnesses like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome? Every doctor over age 60 has seen this trend unfold. We know it is not about people living longer, which makes them more vulnerable to illness and disease, in part because these problems are increasingly seen in younger age groups.
So we began to move away from seeing illness as something that happens randomly to our bodies and started seeing it as a disruption to our health. We began asking why the patient’s system had become unbalanced. That stimulated our thinking, our feel for the situation and our actions.
Our focus on attempting to remove the symptoms at all costs faded, making way for a vision of the individual as a whole. Once again, being a doctor—which these days so often ends in burnout—made sense. It was exciting. The question “how do I get rid of the illness?” became “how does the patient regain or her his health?”
Cancer is a disease that is so pervasive and so significantly affects all parts of the human structure that only a comprehensive approach can lead to a so-called restitutio in integrum. Loosely translated, this Latin expression means “a recovery of the original state of health”—not learning to live with disease, but truly regaining health. It is as if the doctors who undergo this second development after their university training experience a kind of rebirth of their own.
Basically, this alternative approach to medicine focuses not on illness, but on health. Its paradigm dictates that when an individual manages to create the most favorable circumstances for his or her body, the body’s inherent and miraculously strong ability to heal are awakened and self-healing has an opportunity to clear out most illnesses. It is medicine from the “field,” which entails both the patient as a whole and his or her surroundings.
In conventional medicine, certainly in hospitals, the patient presents a body for repair (much like dropping a car off at the garage) and is not expected (both in the hospital and at the garage) to be involved in the process. By contrast, this alternative medicine expects the patient’s complete commitment. While many patients opt to take a passive approach, it appears that if they supplement conventional treatment with complementary medicine, they gain a sense of control over their situations—perhaps for the first time. And this helps heal the immune system.
Conventional and Hippocratic medicine do not rule each other out, but are complementary, as are the “hard” right and “soft” left sides of our body. We must never lose sight of the distinctions: An inflamed appendix must be removed; a broken leg must be set or screwed in place; a cataract must be operated on; a cancerous growth must be removed; and a child with diabetes must be given insulin.