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Learning & Healing Are Intrinsically Connected (05/20/2022)
Content Warning: This article repeatedly touches upon the topics of injury and illness. Please note that none of this is to be construed as medical advice.
There Is No "Teacher" & "Student" Dichotomy When We All Learn Together
Life is constant learning. One would think that the more that a person's knowledge and skill increase, the more humble that they would become as they also gain a deeper awareness of how many different ways there are to approach the same ideas. No one can "know everything" and everyone has a unique perspective that can increase our ability to learn together. For example, a child might seem to "lack experience", yet say something insightful in their honesty. Arrogance always seems to be rooted in some sort of disparity, of someone thinking themselves "greater" and others as "lesser" for whatever reason.
Arrogance often leads to arguments and makes it harder to learn about each other and the world. A person might become so stubborn that they refuse to acknowledge the insight contained within another's experiences. They think themselves "intelligent" and use that as an excuse to treat others poorly. Some gloat about "how hard they work". They become selfish with information instead of trying to speed up the learning process for others through the sharing of their first-hand experience and accumulated knowledge in a way that is considerate. They have the idea that "if they want it, then they will have to earn it just like I did". While it is true that we may not be able to induce the desire for learning within someone else, to purposely withhold that which is beneficial helps no one and slows our progress. We reinvent the wheel unnecessarily when we are unaware of what has already been done.
Sometimes the words created to condense concepts into brief statements become a means of control. For example, instead of using it to provide clear explanations, some intentionally use jargon to mystify others, to put on the appearance of "being well-educated" in order to manipulate. For the time that it takes someone to say, "Oh, you don't understand what I mean? Pity. Guess you should study harder!", they could just as easily share a meaningful explanation. Entire disciplines become cliques that divide us when people choose to act in that manner.
The greatest wisdom is love. This includes being able to interact with others with humility and grace, to help one another simply for the sake of being helpful. What good is information if it cannot be applied lovingly? Is it more important that something sound impressive or that it make sense and be useful to you?
Physician, Heal Thyself
The amount of schooling required for one to become an M.D. is enormous (anywhere from 8-12 years), and then on top of that, several more years are spent on internship/residency in a hospital. Therefore, relatively few people have the opportunity to pursue it. We can see this reflected within statistics (e.g.: as of 2018, there are about 3 doctors for every 1,000 people in the U.S.; many countries have even less). The mental-emotional demands of medical practice are quite strenuous as well, not only because of lack of doctors, but also for what they encounter on a regular basis. Keeping one's composure when people are so vulnerable with you is no small task. Likewise, dealing with death can be difficult, especially if one feels partly responsible for the cause of it or feels incapable of saving someone from it. Some people become callous in order to try to cope with it.
Couple all of these aspects to the ways in which the insurance and pharmaceutical industries operate, and it sometimes becomes less about helping people find health within themselves and more about trying to gain status and wealth at the expense of it. These are general human problems and one could bring up similar situations in regards to many fields of public service (like the police, the military, etc.). Some people involve themselves with these fields because they genuinely care about helping others, but that good intention can be undermined or become warped if they are not vigilant.
Ethical codes of conduct have been a fundamental part of the healing arts for a very long time. But where did the strong emphasis on schooling come from, and by extension, the heavy reliance on pharmaceuticals? One significant influence was the "Flexner Report" of 1910. On the one hand, this document helped lead to the widespread adoption of rigorous scientific methods in the study of health by associating medical education with institutions that had laboratories. This lessened the existence of the "snake oil salesman", persons who tried to make money off of fraudulent cures. On the other hand, it has also lead to the outright dismissal of a lot of information that was useful or could potentially be of help because it (or the people practicing it) could not be exploited in some manner by those with a financial stake in the manufacture of synthetics or in the operation of biochemical laboratories.
In short, the history of modern medicine is deeply tied to the development of chemical companies. That is not to say that "all drugs are bad", but how often has that conflict of interest lead from one "snake oil" simply being exchanged for another? Have we become too dependent on medication in some instances? And worse, how has the chasing of endless profit lead to careless business practices that maim or kill, and made vital medicines prohibitively expensive for those that literally cannot live without them?
In my opinion, some of the greatest achievements of medicine are those that highlight the importance of sanitation and nutrition in daily life, as well as the approaches that have been developed for handling emergency situations, such as severe injury. These have saved countless lives. Some of it is easily learnable and doesn't require any sophisticated equipment (e.g.: basic "first aid" like how to control bleeding, give CPR, perform the Heimlich maneuver, etc.). Other aspects are complex and require a large amount of technology and/or training to do effectively (e.g.: the surgical techniques required to transplant a vital organ).
Despite these successes, there are general aspects of healing that I think are incredibly useful, but are not always acknowledged within every medical practice. We must take into account:
• The entire context [what we might call "environmental medicine"]
Symptoms are like signals that the body gives off to let us know that something is causing a problem and needs to be corrected if we want it to survive and thrive. If we only focus in on altering the body under the assumption that its current condition is the only relevant factor, we may unintentionally disregard the environmental influences that might be creating or compounding those symptoms in the first place. Much of modern living is characterized by high stress levels and exposure to toxic substances, including within "affluent" and "well-developed" societies. Knowing what to avoid to reduce sickness is just as important as knowing what to do to increase wellness.
• The entire person [what we might call "psychosomatic medicine"]
There is a mental-emotional component to many ailments, not only in the sense of our thoughts and feelings motivating us to take particular actions that can impact our bodies, but also in the sense of directly changing the structure and functioning of our bodies over time. For example, chronic stress can lead to excessive "cortisol", a hormone that can cause health complications when there is too much of it in the body.
Our mental-emotional habits can have more broad effects as well. For example, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the "Placebo Effect" is:
...a beneficial health outcome resulting from a person's anticipation that an intervention will help. How a health care provider interacts with a patient also may bring about a positive response that's independent of any specific treatment.
Inversely, there is also a "Nocebo Effect", where extreme anxiety can lead to less effective treatments. It can be tricky to find a balance. People cannot make informed decisions without full disclosure of the risks, timeframes, or probabilities involved in handling diseases and injuries, yet at the same time, holding onto hope can make a difference when it comes to trying to find healing from them. Purpose gives life.
Is The Glass "Half-Empty" Or "Half-Full"?
While the difference is subtle, interpreting illness as an indicator that the body is "broken" and needs to be "fixed" is quite different from trusting that the body has an inherent ability to heal itself and doing everything that we can to try to facilitate it. We can have a profound effect on our health in the present moment and into the future by the self-responsible lifestyle decisions that we choose to make moment-by-moment. A comprehensive and in-depth approach to regaining and maintaining health includes careful considerations of hygiene, diet, rest and exercise, aiming to detoxify from harmful influences and providing ourselves with healthy alternatives throughout. Redirecting our habits towards something more constructve is a worthwhile endeavor.
However, there are a couple of serious issues that are very important to keep in mind:
• Some things (like childhood trauma or abusive relationships) can distort one's ability to fully understand what the signals of the body are telling them, or create an obsession with trying to achieve an unrealistic concept of "perfect health". For example, sometimes people harbor an intense worry about having or developing an illness because they have been lead to believe that there is something "wrong" with them, when in actuality, they are perfectly "normal". This tendency is called "Hypochondria". When people intentionally fake an illness or make themselves sick in a desperate attempt to receive attention and care it is referred to as "Munchausen Syndrome".
• Distinguishing what we can do for ourselves and when it would be more appropriate to get some help is not always obvious. Some doctors have written books that cover how to realistically do this kind of "self-care", such as:
Vickery, Donald M., and James F. Fries. Take Care of Yourself. Addison-Wesley, 1997.
Jacobs, Michael B. Taking Care. Random House, 1997.
While they overlap to some degree, these are different from first aid manuals intended for the general public, like these:
The Family Emergency Handbook. Playmore Inc., 2003.
Thygerson, Alton L. National Safety Council First Aid Handbook. Jones and Bartlett, 1995.
And from first aid manauls intended for specific circumstances, such as being a medic within the army or navy:
US Army First Aid Manual FM 4-25.11
US Army First Aid Manual TC 4-02.1
International Medical Guide for Ships (2nd Edition)
Ship Captain's Medical Guide (22nd Edition)
These latter publications often have procedures that require some level of training to do safely. Continually learning how to take care of ourselves better is an essential part of living, and getting help from others can be a part of that process sometimes. By supporting one another, we all benefit.
Accessing The Inaccessible
Unfortunately, there are many places where healthcare is almost non-existent, such as within "developing" areas. If one is lucky, there might be useful systems of "traditional medicine" there, but this is not always the case.
Some organizations, like Hesperian, have produced manuals that try to show simple things that people can do if they find themselves within such an area. One of the most well-known is "Where There Is No Doctor", but they also have books on other topics, like dentistry, women's health, children with disabilities, etc. A couple of doctors have written a similar manual dealing with mental health as well.
In the most extreme of circumstances, one must do whatever they can to live. For example, when medicines are ineffective, scarce, or unavailable, one might rely on herbs. Like first aid, basic knowledge of "herbalism" is handy to have:
Chevallier, Andrew. Herbal Remedies Handbook. DK Publishing, 2021.
Chevallier, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. DK Publishing, 1996.
Dangers arise from one being "too close" to their personal problems to be able to properly diagnose themselves and/or not knowing enough about a treatment to apply it without causing harm (e.g.: administering the correct dosages, handling side-effects, etc.). Even beneficial things can become poisons when we are not careful.
We sincerely hope that this has induced a willingness to learn and share, and thus helped you to find healing within yourself and your relationships.
Thank you for reading! Much love ❤️
• Mike Love - Humble (Live from California Roots 2015)
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