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What's wrong with conventional medicine (and what to do about it)

An insightful article on the Doctor-Patient Relationship written by Dr Lissa Rankin points out some of the specific problems created and intensified by our orthodox medical system. Rankin is searching for a more vital and meaningful way to relate to her profession, her patients and her role. In her post, she perceptively describes an enormous & paradoxical problem with what she calls Old Medicine. Lyme disease patients get to be unwilling experts in Old Medicine. Picture the doctor with his/her hand on the doorknob, nodding in your direction as you wait in your underwear on a cold table under florescent lights that are driving you mad.

From the patients’ perspective, you can boil it down to this: You want to be treated like a whole person, not a slab of meat.

From the doctors’ perspective, you want to practice medicine without losing your own health and/or being forced to put your soul on hold.

Dr Rankin shows how the rules of Old Medicine are intolerable, imposing unsustainable stresses on doctors and patients alike.  She accurately describes the ways in which ways doctors get shafted in this system. Then she turns the tables, articulating how our current cold-as-a-spectrum ‘managed care’ feels from the patients’ perspective.

What’s wrong with conventional medicine and what can be done about it

Our medical system is flawed. The question is not how bad is it, or how thoroughly can we condemn it. The question is, can it be fixed, and if so, how?

Most people are aware that there are 2 types of medicine:
1. Conventional, which treats the illness.
2. Alternative, complementary, holistic, or integrative, which treats the whole patient.

However, there is also an emerging 3rd category: Integral, which includes the first two types and treats the physician as well. I’m old enough to remember when ‘health food’ stores were totally square. Now, Whole Foods, just one example, is a billion dollar business. Our collective consciousness around health issues is constantly expanding, although not as quickly as some of us would like. There is evidence that Integral medicine is being quickly adopted by health-care practitioners around the world.

Here’s why:

Using an
Integral framework is like putting on a new pair of specs. It gives us a good look at the big picture without excluding the details. The Integral model recognizes that every event has at least four dimensions. They represent the perspectives: I, we, it and its. How does this apply in analyzing our medical system? Here’s how: Factors in all four dimensions affect both the cause and the cure of an illness. The all-too-often murky process of diagnosing and treating Lyme disease provides a classic example of why an integral medicine is necessary.

Four dimensions of medicine and why all four are important

1. Conventional medicine tends to strictly abide in only one of those four dimensions. It deals almost entirely with the physical organism using physical interventions: surgery, drugs, medication, and behavioral modification. Orthodox medicine believes essentially in the physical causes of physical illness, and therefore prescribes mostly physical interventions. Lyme disease, if caught early enough, can be greatly cured and controlled with antibiotics. The integral model doesn’t claim that this objective dimension is unimportant, only that it is just telling one-fourth of the story. (The Integral Vision, by Ken Wilber. p 92) Which leads us to the next quadrant:

2. Unprecedented interest in Alternative care makes it clear that many people (doctors included) recognize that our interior states, i.e. our emotions, psychological attitudes, imagery, and intentions, play a crucial role in both the cause and the cure of even physical illness. Conscious use of imagery, visualization, and affirmation have been scientifically proven to affect the management of most illnesses, and including these practices is increasingly more accepted in comprehensive medical care. (p. 92) Affirmations were extremely important to me while Lyme was in an acute stage. Repeating bits of positive phrases helped me focus my Lyme-addled brain and gave me a reason to believe I was eventually going to be alright, even though more than one doctor had advised me to go on disability, climb into a wheelchair and settle in for life. For me that wouldn’t have been life, but death.

3. However, this subjective dimension is still only one-fourth of the whole picture. Nothing exists in a vacuum, least of all human consciousness. We are embedded in shared cultural values and intersubjective factors that affect our state of health and our journey through illness. Cultural views and judgements affect us. In my interviews with Lyme patients over the years, I’ve noticed a significantly common thread, which is that we’ve all been told, at one time or another, that “it’s all in your head.” We may not give much credence to the dimension of cultural views, and yet our spouses’, friends’ and doctors’ subjective opinions about our health affects us (sometimes dramatically) whether we like it or not.

4. The material and economic dimension, causative factors in both disease and cure are rarely acknowledged. Yet, these factors are central to the issue, not besides-the-point. This is the Social system that delivers your medicine, sets the limits on your managed care, and accepts or declines your access to insurance. Are you wealthy? You may be fortunate enough to afford concierge medical care. Or are you in the economic class that is relegated to using the ER when things get bad enough? The Social system dimension or quadrant also includes your access to clinics and nurses and their availability in your region. In other words, if you can’t reach the clinic you need because you are too sick to drive or it is too far away, it cannot help you.

Integral medicine includes all four of the above dimensions. I’m inspired by doctors like Lissa Rankin, who intuit that Old Medicine only tells one-quarter of the story, and that in order to improve we must acknowledge the other 3 quadrants or dimensions. In the
100 perspectives we categorize our interviews, articles, and other info into all four quadrants. Integral medicine is gaining popularity around the globe, and Lyme literate doctors, because they have to deal with us Lymies on so many different dimensions of health, may be on the leading edge.
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