“Healthcare,” Health, Sickness: A Brief Essay on Our Confusion in These Matters

Lotus Flower (flowermeaning.com)

In the Western world we have dissected ourselves into separate, disconnected parts: mind / body / spirit, most pertinently. We treat our bodies as we do our automobile: we maintain our body to some or no degree and when it fails (or worry about it failing) we ‘go to the doctor’ to get it diagnosed and fixed. We fail to see that our values, our assumptions about the spiritual realm (for those who accept it to any degree), our assessments of ourselves as worthy and useful creatures (or the opposite) are all part of our ‘health.’

Genetic determinants and externally caused accidents are of another matter: chance.

You know these things, but we are trapped in our culture to think and talk as if the mind and body and spirit were separate entities. The problems of body are addressed by ‘doctors’; the problems of the mind are addressed by psychologists or psychiatrists or counselors with other appellations; the spirit is the province of the church, or temple, or coven, etc.

‘Health’ is generally seen an attribute of the body or mind, mind-health being seen as affecting body-health but seldom the other way around. Spiritual health is seen as a private matter and outside the realm of the other two ‘parts.’

Outside the workings of chance, I see spiritual health as fundamental to general health. But there I go separating us into parts. I can’t help it.

In any case, we have no clear, agreed-upon definition of “health.”

Sunflower (flickr.com/photos/lucaspost/)

Our language is a problem in these matters. We are told language is an integral part, a determinant perhaps, of our culture and the way, therefore, we perceive the universe and ourselves in it (as if we could stand outside of something in which we are embedded).

“All words are lies.” I wish I knew whom I was quoting. I sometimes attribute this to G.I. Gurdjieff, but I’ll say it is mine until I find another, older and verifiable source.

It’s a significant problem for me as a writer to know that no word or words can capture and communicate the reality of direct experience.

Which gets me back to the words ‘health,’ and particularly, ‘healthcare,’ a mash-up I detest. It’s a marketing invention.

Until we define our terms (e.g., healthcare) in simple words we all can agree upon, we are going to be crosswise of each other when we go forward to manage ‘healthcare’ or to guarantee ‘proper’ or ‘adequate’ or ‘comprehensive healthcare’ or ‘universal healthcare.’

I enjoyed managing hospitals and the business affairs of medical groups. I was in the ‘sick business.’ This concept is so much more tangible and generally comprehensible and, I will argue, more useful than ‘healthcare’ or even ‘health.’

[I have ignored here, for the sake of brevity, the vital role of public health disciplines and entities in preventing sickness and accident in the general population].

Chambered Nautilus

I once worked with a physician who was my own doctor, and a friend and colleague in the management of a county hospital. If I remember correctly (and I may be conflating my memory of him with memories of other wise physicians) , he said something like this: “of 100 patients whom I may treat, 10 will get better because of my intervention, 10 will get worse, and 80 will get better mostly by themselves, through time and their own processes.” He (or another physician) said, also, something like: “the effective physician is like a ‘witch doctor,’ addressing not only the physical body, but the other attributes of mind and spirit, including the family and social circumstances.”

Another way of interpreting the two above, paraphrased quotes is: the healing mostly comes from within; the physician helps the subject recognize and effectively use his/her own intrinsic healing powers. Medicines help as allies, not the main ‘cure’.

Back to the use of words and concepts.

We are asking our physicians to fix us, but we are not recognizing that the ‘fix’ lies, ultimately, within (again, excepting accidents and other workings of chance). Whether this should be labeled a ‘spiritual’ approach is irrelevant and possibly not helpful, because it tends to narrow our vision through the preconception of what ‘spiritual’ means, if anything. Some things can be fixed, or course, like broken bones and diseased tissue. I am speaking here of those things the general physician sees most commonly in his or her patients:

The ten most common health complaints

Erasistratos discovers the illness of Antiochus, son of the King of Syria

  1. cough
  2. throat
  3. itchy or rashy skin
  4. vision problems
  5. knees
  6. back
  7. stomach
  8. ear ache, infection
  9. hypertension
  10. depression

Judge for yourself if you may really need a physician or someone to fix any the above you may encounter; or, whether you, and time, can take care of things.

Slow down.

Treat yourself with respect.

Drink lots of good water.

See a physician, of course, when you feel the need for guidance; I certainly do.