When Conventional Medicine Falls Short
It’s not uncommon for the proponents of conventional and of holistic systems of medicine to feel that they inhabit competing camps in the war to alleviate human suffering. In fact, Western and Eastern medicine are essential branches on the great tree of scientific knowledge. Many of us are working towards the ideal of a continuum of care that provides the very best treatment to all patients. Western medicine has achieved remarkable triumphs. Vaccination against many infectious diseases has greatly reduced their incidence; science has eradicated smallpox and come close to doing the same for polio. It has saved millions of children from the scourges that once prevented so many from reaching their fifth birthday.
The specialties of surgery and emergency medicine save countless lives every day.
After decades of clinical practice I still wonder; Where does Western medicine fall short? In the promotion of lifelong wellness; in the diagnosis and treatment of complex disorders; in the unnecessary or excessive use of pharmaceutical drugs; in safe, effective, ongoing pain management.
We’re certainly making progress in bringing these two branches of medicine closer, for example; acupuncture has been proven to offer effective pain relief and increasingly accepted in medical pain clinics, and it doesn’t carry the risks associated with drug-based analgesia. Integration of auricular acupuncture in addiction clinics is another measure of its success. There is worldwide recognition of acupuncture for anxiety and stress particularly in cancer treatment, post traumatic stress disorder amongst veterans, and its potential value as anesthesia during surgical procedures.
I have always found that it is necessary to treat the whole person, and not just deal with an immediate crisis or what presents as their most significant symptom. I wanted to share this story (to ensure anonymity names and certain details have been changed).
Ria’s Story- “Please… I Just Want the Pain to Stop”.
In the hospital waiting room Ria’s stomach churns and twists once again sending shooting pains throughout her body, followed by a cold sweat. Over the past six months, she’s seen six different doctors; has endured repeated blood tests and other procedures. No one has been able to offer her a definitive diagnosis. After each visit, she’s sent home with different prescriptions but no effective treatment for the repeated, alternating bouts of diarrhoea and constipation, sometimes nausea too. Pain medication doesn’t bring any relief. Her husband Pete feels equally anxious and frustrated.
Visits to six different doctors, blood tests and investigations all have proven to be unhelpful – there is no definitive diagnosis. Each time she is sent home with new meds, pain medication doesn’t work, one tells her that she is stressed and emotionally disturbed and prescribes her antidepressants another says there is some inflammation in her spleen, but nothing else. Ria is desperate, her symptoms are worsening.
Ria is beginning to doubt herself; wondering if it really is “all in her mind.” She’s afraid to eat because everything just makes her feel worse, and she’s now two sizes smaller.
After yet another round of tests, Ria’s new consultant is also perplexed by her symptoms. His examination of her shows nothing significant. He’s ruled out cancer or other serious disease; all her other results are relatively normal. But fortunately for her, this doctor takes the time to listed to her and has a positive view of complementary therapies; he understands that functional disorders often underlie a patient’s stress and anxiety. He knows that food intolerance is increasingly common and is often very hard to properly pinpoint. He asks her if she would be willing to accept a referral to a holistic physician. Ria has always had an interest in complementary therapies and gladly agrees. He also gives her advice on juicing and enrolls her on to a mindfulness course.
As a holistic practitioner, I see Ria’s physical and emotional distress to be strongly interrelated, but requiring individual attention, with this in mind I begin acupuncture treatments. Almost immediately, they help to ease her distressed state and bring some relief for her stomach pain.
Over a period of months I guide Ria to make changes to her diet. Together we develop a plan to identify problem foods. She learns about carbohydrate intolerance and how the FODMAP diet can help. Ria finds the mindfulness course very effective in relieving her anxiety. She began to realize her physical and emotional distress began years before the manifestation of painful bowel dysfunction.
Six months after starting treatment, Ria has made great progress. She knows it will take time to regain the good health she thought was out of her reach, but she is no longer frightened and discouraged. She is starting to take pleasure in eating again. She and her husband are now enjoying what they thought might never be possible again–everyday pleasures.