Two Different Kinds of Healthcare – Part 1
Our culture loves the quick fix.
The quicker it works and the less effort we have to put into it, the better we like it. We have fast food, fast internet, fast aps, and... pharmaceutical medicine.
Pharmaceutical medicine is the medical equivalent of fast food – its fast, its convenient, and it erodes our health over time.
In contrast, at-home healthcare and natural remedies are like home-cooked, real food – they take more time and effort and they work more slowly.
Over time, at-home healthcare and natural remedies build robust health on many levels, individual and collective.
Our school sores experience
Recently, one of our children had a bacterial skin infection called impetigo, or “school sores.”
It took several weeks for us to resolve it, and there was a point in time when I was not sure that natural remedies were going to be sufficient.
Everyone I spoke to told me I'd end up using oral antibiotics.
In my search for solutions I spoke to women who have dealt with school sores in their family and community, I did lots of reading, and I made an appointment with a doctor. It was the first doctor appointment I've made since well before my children were born more than 11 years ago.
Everyone I spoke to and everything I read told me that I’d end up using oral antibiotics, because that was the only alternative to a long, traumatic battle with a dubious outcome.
I'm relieved and happy to say that although we did go to a doctor and receive a prescription for antibiotics, we never had to use it.
The experience left me pondering the contrast between these two vastly different kinds of healthcare.
At-home healthcare versus the modern healthcare system
On the one hand, we have at-home healthcare.
In the case of our daughter's school sores, at-home care meant weeks of intensive full-time diligence. Washing bedding and towels daily, scrubbing fingernails, providing comfort, bathing in salt water many times per day, careful nutrition, careful observation and moment by moment awareness of what might be needed, what might help, and lengthy homeopathic consultations.
Versus, the modern healthcare system. The doctor appointment and the prescription.
One quick visit to the doctor. A little bottle of magic antibiotic pills. Back to normal social life in 48 hours. No need for washing, caring, mindful presence, taking time. On with the whirlwind of life outside the home.
The at-home healthcare option was real, messy, exhausting, and had its moments of worry.
It concluded with the deep satisfaction of knowing we didn’t only resolve the school sores.
We also built our child’s overall health and immune function rather than depleting and weakening it1, re-affirmed our personal power as the primary healthcare providers for our family, and empowered our children with a valuable lesson in appreciating mainstream medicine as a backup, but not relying on it as a first resort.
The magic-pills option would have been much faster and much easier. But except in rare cases where it’s truly called for, it seems to me that the quick-and-easy fix that the antibiotic prescription offers is delusional.
Our culture has fast food, fast internet, fast media, and... fast healthcare.
Everywhere I look in our culture, I see quick-and-easy-fixes. Fast food, fast internet, lightning fast aps on our smartphones, fast, attention grabbing media that holds us spellbound, fast shipping, fast service, and… fast healthcare.
Modern medicine excels at handling acute emergencies where a rapid, dramatic response is required. I am deeply grateful to live in a time and place where such fast, high tech medical help is so readily available.
But there are downsides to all this speed and convenience. Even, or perhaps especially, in the arena of healthcare.
In non-emergency situations, I avoid the use of modern medicine. There's more to achieving robust long-term health than relying on prescriptions like the one that would have rapidly wiped out the infection on my child’s skin, along with her entire protective microbiota2 as collateral damage.
Whole person, whole family
Imagine a culture in which it is not said, "So and so is sick," but "The village is sick."
Aside from the issue of appropriate use of antibiotics, a sick person is still a whole person – they are not reduced to just a set of symptoms and a diagnosis that can be fixed with a pharmaceutical prescription.
And a person is, hopefully, part of a family. Which, hopefully, is part of a community.
(I once read about a culture in which instead of saying, “So and so is sick,” they say, “The village is sick.” The whole village or tribe is part of the fabric into which the individual is woven, and the whole village concerns itself with the wellness of each individual.
That’s a very different picture than one in which, when a person dies alone in a city apartment, it can take days for the body to be discovered.)
Acute emergencies aside, individual health—true health and wholeness on a social/emotional level as well as just a physical level—relies on family health, which relies on community health.
So, what does the doctor visit and the pharmaceutical prescription have to do with the health and stability of families and communities?
Besides addressing the illness
Besides addressing the individual illness, the type of healthcare chosen also impacts the relationships within the family and surrounding community — positively or not.
In our case, the quick-and-easy fix of the doctor’s prescription would have had a completely different effect both within our family and also in terms of our family's connection in the community that we look to for support.
First, there would not have been the same need for me to be present, aware, focused on my child.
I could have dispensed a magic pill twice per day until the bottle was empty and continued on with my own concerns. An opportunity to connect, to care, to take time out of the busy-ness of my life in service to my child, would have been lost.
Second, I would not have had to reach out for support and advice in the same way. Tendrils of connection were built or strengthened, experience pooled, relationships reinforced, as a result of my reaching out into my local community for advice.
The fast healthcare delusion
A foundation of natural health and a strong support network are like muscles – the more you use them, the stronger they get.
None of that connecting, and strengthening of relationships, would have happened if I had just gone to the doctor at the outset and used a prescription to get us back on the road as quickly as possible.
The fast healthcare delusion says that pharmaceutical medicine will get you back up and running fast, so it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been prioritizing healthy living, and you don’t have to rely on your social network for help. Its a quick-fix in every sense.
Sometimes, you really do need a quick-fix. But relying on it every time someone is unwell undermines health and by-passes an important aspect of family and community resilience.
For true long-term health, we need a foundation of healthy living habits and a strong network of inter-reliant relationships. Real ones, not the Twitter kind.
Healthy living habits and supportive relationships are like muscles – the more you use them, the stronger they get. But if you by-pass them in favor of the quick fix, they atrophy and wither away. Then when you really need them, they won't be there.
Coming up in Part 2
How did we come to be so depended on the doctor visit and the pharmaceutical prescription?
Find out in Part 2 of this article.
- Science has made strides in understanding the role of our friendly bacteria in supporting our health. But the full range of bacteria that live inside and outside our bodies is still not known, and neither is the long-term effect of antibiotics on our health. Of course, I would use antibiotics in a life-threatening situation. But in anything other than a life-threatening situation, I’d rather not use my children as guinea pigs in the ongoing antibiotics experiment.
- A microbiota is an "ecological community of … microorganisms" found in and on humans and all multi-cellular organisms. Microbiota have been found to be crucial for the health of their host, particularly in terms of immune function and hormonal and metabolic processes.