I am awed by what happens in a hospital. Take a person with a major trauma – we can give blood, reattach digits, stop blood loss, and save a life. Instead of dying, people with failed kidneys undergo dialysis or kidney transplant. Electrical shocks re-start arrested hearts and drugs or catheters open blocked arteries. Defective valves are replaced. Arteries are bypassed and hearts continue to beat on. A whole army of antibiotics are used to wipe out infections. Modern Obstetrics has made maternal death rare, whereas it was commonplace just two centuries ago.
Today, many people who most certainly would have died in the past without medical intervention, walk out of the hospital after aggressive treatment and go on to lead long and fulfilling lives.
Within the last few decades astonishing medical technologies are dramatically altering peoples lives. Technologies such as organ transplant, limb prostheses, cochlear implants, insulin pumps, pacemakers, and defibrillators have revolutionized different fields of medicine. My own son, who lost his hearing at age four, is a recipient of a cochlear implant that enables him to hear and participate in spoken language. Not only as a professional, but also as a mom, I am a big fan of what modern medicine can do.
Yet, with all these skilled practitioners and incredible technologies, why are so many patients dissatisfied with the current health care system?
I believe that much of the modern day frustration with the health care system stems from the collective perception that the secret to our health and wellness lies outside of ourselves and in something the doctor must give to us. Too often, we neglect the extraordinary healing potential within while searching for an external cure.
As a physician, I have cared for thousands of people in the emergency setting. Emergency situations are particularly responsive to acute medical interventions, and it feels good to save a life. But, we must realize that providing interventions is very different from the task of healing. For example, if someone has a cut on their arm, the doctor lines up the skin edges and places sutures – providing the conditions that allow the best healing to occur. But the miracle of healing happens within the patient. The same is true if someone has a broken bone. The doctor lines up the bone fragments and applies a splint or cast. But the patient is the one who creates new bone in place of a fracture over the ensuing weeks.
Many factors contribute to the wholeness of health or the development of disease, including genetics, diet, environment, behaviors, lifestyle, and even socioeconomics. Despite all of this complexity there is this one simple truth: the body has programmed within it an amazing capacity to heal. Our bodies are continuously undertaking miracles of healing great and small. We know from experience that certain treatments help, but when a treatment helps us heal, it is still our body that is doing the healing. The treatment is often just a catalyst aiding or facilitating in some way.
Both a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry and a booming supplement industry thrive on our tendency to use medicines or supplements to try to make ourselves feel better. But health is a balance of both internal factors at work inside our bodies AND external factors coming from the environment in which we live. For example, in the case of an infection, it is the antibiotics AND the workings of the immune system that renders one healthy again. When there is a broken bone, it is the cells of the body remodeling the bone AND the orthopedic rod that the surgeon placed to set the bone that will help proper healing occur. In the case of a major wound, it is the sutures expertly placed by a skilled surgeon AND the native healing potential of the body that will result in closure of the wound.
In our current medical system, we are so busy focusing on all the external factors contributing to healing, and we neglect the critical internal factors. Most importantly, we neglect to empower people in the things that they can do in their lives to promote healing, regeneration, and renewal.
Luckily, most of the time, our bodies know what to do. There is a profound wisdom in the body and we are rarely mindful of all the healing and remodeling that occur on a regular basis.
When faced with an illness, we often must embrace a surgical intervention, conventional treatment or medication to facilitate healing. But, even in these situations, there is a tremendous potential to invite and expedite healing through the foods that we eat, the way we care for our bodies, being mindfully aware of the thoughts that we are experiencing, and cultivating both an internal and external environment that nurtures healing.