Diagnosis: The One-Word Disaster
I think that one of the disasters of modern medicine is the allocating of a name to a condition. People want to know what they “have.” What people don’t know is that this is not always the result of positive tests. Sometimes it is the mere nomenclature of an observation; an opinion if you will.
Recently, a patient came to me with a rather weird group of symptoms. It was termed by a large group of doctors, mainly neurologists, as epilepsy. No lesions in the brain were found, but the effect seemed epilepsy-like. They said it must be in the temporal lobe. She was given some medications that had no effect except to cause some side effects like nausea and sleepiness.
Diagnosis, A Wonderful Identity
When she came to me, I found lots of problems that could lead to this blockage in the meridians. This resulted in a lack of energy getting to the head, leading to deficiencies that took place over time. When she asked me what it was, I said it was blockage in the meridians. In her history, we traced it back to a succession of stresses about twelve years earlier. Its progression to this point seemed to obviate itself.
We then got into this long discussion. It was about western man and western medicine’s romance with the single word, definitive diagnosis. “It always sounds profound, doesn’t it,” I said. “Always nice to know that we belong to an identifiable group. There's a sense of familiarity and reassurance, history, and most of all an identity.
Furthermore, it gives us hope.” We are always thankful to the doctor for identifying us. We have to appreciate that even in our aberrant state that we have a niche in this world. That is even if the solution was the same pain medications we were taking when we walked in the door. However, what it does do by being so definitive, is declare this as our identity thereafter. And it is interesting that in some strange way we mold ourselves and our lives to fit that diagnosis.
Treat the Disease, Not Me
Sometimes when a person comes in for a diagnosis from me, they bring this same disease name in with them. I can almost see the entity of the disease sitting in the chair next to them. As if they would rather I talk to their disease than to them. I talk to many family members of these patients who wish they could return to having a life with the person. But, sometimes they have to address them as this diseased person or speak to them in light of their disease.
Talk to My Disease, Please
Where it starts out that “having” fibromyalgia, or arthritis, or Lupus or Epilepsy is you with the addition of a disease, it soon starts becoming a syntax such as, ”my arthritis" or "my Lupus" keeps me from doing as much as I used to before it happened. In so many cases we become the disease first, and the rest of our lives just develop around it.
Seeing the Diagnosis in Another Way
I have to make it clear to the potential patient that it is dangerous to see your illness in this light. This is where I have to jump in and seize the moment. I have to elucidate the history of the disease. We must start showing them that it is an abnormality in their normal healthy makeup. We have to reveal to them that it developed over time and from certain demarcations in life. It is very important to dispel the nature of this beast that has taken over their lives. Often, if they insist on this close identity with the disease. Sometimes, their disease identification is so strong that I have to relent any of my own influence to help them take responsibility for their health. In the end, it may cause a disconnect between myself and the patient.
In western medicine, we seem to indicate that the disease is just there. What has to be done about it is just to follow the protocol. You must fall in line with taking certain medications, going for follow-up tests or just accept yourself as being defined by a name. In this way has a very strong mystique that can be self-defeating and our first instincts are to live with this disease.
So Many Questions
I am always surprised at the number of people who are ready to accept that a shoulder or knee joint is simply deigned to have arthritis. First of all, 'arthritis' is the easiest thing to say about a sore joint that seems to be getting worse. But, where did this supposed arthritis come from? And why is it on one side and not the other? Most of us don’t bother to go there. Do we think that arthritis just falls from the sky? Are we just the random victim of the arthritis monster? Didn’t we just go off track somewhere?
Treat the Person, Not the Disease
It is very dangerous to treat the disease and not the person. Years ago I had a patient that was quite certain that the reason for his breathlessness was because he had worked in a paint factory during college. His doctor had diagnosed him with a lung condition called sarcoidosis. I asked him if he had had his heart checked because I felt that it was more to the center of the problem. He was quite insistent that it was, in fact, sarcoidosis. He asserted that he should know because he had lived carefully with the condition for twenty years. About a half a year later, I got a very contrite letter from him that told me of how he woke in the night, struggling for breath. He was flown to Vancouver, where they replaced a faulty valve with a pig valve. This had since given him a new lease on life and more breath than he had had in the last thirty years.
Perhaps most importantly in all this, is that any two people with the same disease name will not ever have the same exact set of symptoms or causes. So at best, it is important to regard most disease names as categories. Or just think of them as sortable bins in a warehouse. Ultimately, we are treating “Bill disease” or “Jane disease” and all the variables that they entail from their history to the present cycle. When you come here you are asking us how you reverse the disease and not what medicine you should take to help mask or cope with the symptoms.
For the average North American this is a matter of a re-education of concepts. In alternative and traditional medicine, we always believe that the body is supposed to heal itself. That the disease you got, did not necessarily happen because of the strength of the pathogen. It might have been because of the imbalance and lack of strength in the body itself. These are old-world and time-honored concepts are being reintroduced to the world. Maybe we can stop treating people on a level of mass crisis management and start treating for what dis-ease they particularly have.