A few weeks ago I ranted about one aspect of our dysfunctional medical system, prohibitively high copays. Since then I went to see my chiropractor*, and he mentioned that his patients have been telling him that they would be coming in more often if not for their recently inflated copays. He added that in the past, by this time of year, patients would virtually all have met their deductibles, but now deductibles are so high that 80% of them have not.
What amazes me most is that we are all putting up with this. But then, we’ve learned that we have no power within this system. Many of us have also learned that we don’t have much power over our own health. More than anything, that is what is going to have to change if we are to have any hope of getting health care on a viable and sustainable course.
Last time I gave you a link to a post by my friend James Rolwing, which he began with this crucial statement: “All healing is self-healing.” Please think about that for a moment. Does it sound true to you? Does it have exceptions? Does it feel liberating, or does it make you a little uneasy?
All any of us in health care can do, for any amount of money, is to aid the body’s and the mind’s own natural healing processes. Even in the case of the most drastic interventions, such as a joint replacement or organ transplant, the body must take what has been added and make it work, while repairing the tissue around the new portions. Surgery can remove damaged tissue or stitch it together, sometimes in truly ingenious and astonishing ways, but there is no force on this earth that can heal surgical incisions except the body’s own innate ability. We do what we can, and then we must wait.
But what about drugs, you say. Drugs make direct changes in body functions. Yes, but the body must metabolize and make use of the drugs, and individual bodies do that in individual ways.
When I do acupuncture I am acutely aware of the fact that all I can do with needles is to give signals to the body about what it needs to do to get back into balance. I can use needles to talk to the body through obviously physical means, engendering tiny electrical currents and stimulating the release of substances such as neurotransmitters and hormones, as well as the subtler energetic signaling that medicine understands less clearly. I can ask for increased circulation or for excess fluids to dissipate. I can ask for whatever I care to, but then the body will do exactly what it wants to do and is able to do, no more and no less.
This is not so much a limitation as a gift, though it can be frustrating to find the optimal way to get the body to respond. Most of the effort and cost in American health care goes to dealing with chronic and often very confusing conditions, and there is contention and controversy about how to treat them. If we say that we want people to have access to health care, what exactly do we want them to be able to access? What is our underlying belief system about how to deal with diabetes or fibromyalgia or cardiovascular disease or even simple aging? I think you have a pretty good idea of how things stand in the medical world at present. We do a lot of fixing but not a tremendous amount of healing, lots of sick care but not so much health care.
How do we find a path to health for ourselves as individuals and as a society? How do we take responsibility for our health in concrete ways? We know about fundamentals like nutrition and exercise (though even those are fraught with controversy), which in themselves could transform our lives if we would do what we know we should. There is far more that we can do, at least if we are fortunate enough to have access to the information we need and the openness to make use of it.
Here James outlines two possible ways of thinking about our bodily discomforts:
“Essentially, we have two choices of dealing with a symptom. We can drive it back below the threshold of our awareness (a suppressive approach) or we can participate with it (an expressive approach). With suppression a door is closed, and with expression a whole world opens up.
“Most of what is typically described as healing occurs as the result of suppressive mechanisms. Painkillers and antidepressants are obvious examples, but any type of therapy can employ a suppressive approach. It is often a fear-based strategy, as we unconsciously fear to examine what is underneath the symptom.
“Expressive healing describes the mechanism of self-healing, and views a symptom as an indication that something within us is asking for acknowledgement, most often trapped or repressed feelings and emotions. Relief or resolution occurs as the result of recognizing and giving expression to these underlying sources, because the symptom was only there to point us toward the deeper cause in the first place.”
While I was working on this post, my right arm and hand were giving me a lot of grief, impossible to ignore, just in time to help me think about how to apply what I was writing about. That was what sent me to the chiropractor. You might wonder why I needed to/chose to do that, since one’s physical structure ought to be able to right itself naturally. In fact, that’s an essential concept in chiropractic, the body’s innate wisdom and healing capacity. Well, I had been doing everything I could come up with on my own, and it wasn’t enough. I was still having disabling pain and dysfunction, and I needed this kind of assistance. (It’s OK to acknowledge that we can’t do everything alone; that’s not abdicating responsibility for oneself.) Getting my bones pushed back into place helped the acute situation quite a bit, though that also brought other aspects of the pattern to light, which I then needed to deal with. I still had to work with the emotional issues that had been stored in that area of my body; that is, I had to do expressive healing. It was very clear that I had to do that, and that the pain would not resolve otherwise. In the midst of it I went for an Alexander Technique session** to get some guidance in releasing the habitual tensions that were feeding into the problem and to help move the stuck emotional content. It all took a lot of time and effort, especially considering that most of it was a matter of simply letting go! I’m doing a great deal better now. Maybe I even know a bit more about how to avoid this in the future.
Here’s a case for you to contemplate:
A patient of mine who is disabled and on Medicare hit the “donut hole” recently. A drug which has helped immensely with his diabetes will now cost him $295 per month. That will be the case for four months, one third of this year, even though he is insured— all the way till next year. (This would not happen in the same way with private insurance or with Medicaid, only with Medicare.) His family makes $1000 per year too much to get any kind of extra subsidy. He’ll never get out of the donut hole, because he won’t be able to pay out of pocket up to the amount where coverage would kick in again. They might as well ask him for $2950 per month— he simply can’t afford that $295. He’s already tried the other available medications, some of which are cheaper, and this one worked tremendously better. I could see a marked difference in his condition with it, and I’m sure his PCP was delighted to see what it was doing. So much for that.
If complications from his diabetes put him in the hospital for even one day, that will cost us all more than we would pay to cover his medication for the rest of the year. Our country is being financially stupid as well as cruel to this man. And our vaunted medical breakthroughs are meaningless if our doctors can’t get them to the patients.
This gentleman is a superb energy healer himself, and he does everything as naturally as he can to take care of himself. He has had some success in the past with herbs to control his troublesome symptoms, and he is exploring herbal options again. After a period of being enraged with the system, he decided that the present situation might be an opportunity to find a better way to deal with his blood sugar. At least, he pointed out, he won’t have to worry about the potential side effects of the drug. He already does all the obvious things with diet and exercise, you understand, and with his mental attitude. We’ll see what else he and I can come up with.
Update!!! My patient has been able to get his meds through a free sample program at Presbyterian. It took quite a while before this happened, and when he first (and second and third) inquired he wasn’t told this was possible, but the system did come through for him. He was already developing preventable problems while waiting, however.
*Terence Timm, DC. I’d refer you to him except that (waaahhh!) he is retiring very soon.
** with Karen DeWig. http://alexanderabq.wordpress.com/