A friend came to me for treatment last week. She has struggled with health issues for as long as I’ve known her, going to doctors, getting a diagnosis, dutifully doing what they tell her, not getting better. Repeat, and repeat again.
She’s got a new diagnosis, which seems to encompass all her symptoms, and as I listened to her tell me why this was really it, I was stunned.
My first thought was how there always seems to be a new syndrome (how does anyone keep up??), which seems to be a collection of mostly related symptoms swept together and given a name. “The symptoms don’t quite fit those of MS? We’ll put them together in a different way, add a few that seem to be hanging out on their own, and call it fibromyalgia.” Or chronic fatigue syndrome. Or lymes syndrome. (That’s a particularly good example, something that has morphed from a disease to a syndrome as newly recognized symptoms that seem to be connected to the spirochete explode all over the place.)
I’m suspicious that this is done less for clinical reasons, but more to assign a diagnostic code, then insurance can be billed for treatment. Which makes some sense in these chaotic medical times, since the recommended treatment for this syndrome is amazingly expensive. Jaw-dropping, in fact. Assuming her doctor has her very best interests in mind, and I think most of them do, he will want her – one of the 99% – to be able to have these treatments.
My second thought was connected to some of the realizations I’ve had since I started studying Chinese Medicine nutrition: every single symptom you bring through the door to your acupuncturist is a sign of an imbalance in the intricate-beyond-belief system that is you. Some of them are connected to each other, some are kind of like random spin-offs because other things are out of whack. Acupuncturists are trained to look for the connections, the patterns of disharmony, and address those. (That’s why some headaches are treated with a Gall Bladder channel point on the foot. And you thought the headache was, erm, in your head.)
It is unbelievably easy to get caught up in treating to relieve symptoms – which is a very Western med way of working (and a western way of thinking). And I’m not altogether against that approach. Sometimes I just gotta treat the back pain so you can go back to work, and I’m very glad to do that. And isn’t it wonderful that you can get lasting relief without pills, remain clear-headed AND get a good night’s sleep.
But if you keep coming back with the same symptoms, or you’ve added some to the original complaint, or we can’t seem to make a change in how you feel, well, that’s’ because we’re not addressing the marvelous complexity that is you. This is the difference between treating the branch of a condition and treating the root of the condition.
What does this mean for my friend, who deeply, sincerely longs to be well? Perhaps it’s good that she’s seeking help from complementary modalities. Perhaps it’s good that she’s working (and has worked) to be as holistic as it is humanly possible to be to sort this out. It’s certainly good, I think, that she’s not crazy about the idea of the expensive treatment as she knows it will be hard on her to receive it. She’s taking her time to look at all the angles before she decides to go there or not (smart woman). She’s not a coward, my friend, and she’s really getting tired of this. So we’ll look for the patterns, support her body, mind, spirit whatever her decision.
This same friend said to me ‘I bet 100 years from now, we’ll look back and think how barbaric our medicine was’. Bet she’s right.
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