The Medicalized Family
Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
HFF The Medicalized Family: Are We Patients or People?
Every day we can observe how we in our western modern society encounter, sometimes create, and succumb to illness through exposure to pathogens and other environmental factors (sometimes within our control, and sometimes out of our control) and lifestyle choices (sometimes knowingly and sometimes not knowing the dangers), then want quick fixes such as medications to make them go away. We want to feel better, and we have been taught that there is a pill for every ill. This practice has become habitual. This is what we know to be true. This is how we get better. Medications and professional intervention have replaced nutrition, herbal remedies, rest, sleep, family support, and play. Many of us have handed our healthcare over to others without remembering that there is infinite wisdom within our selves, in our communities, and the natural world around us.
I am not here to give anyone crap about this. I had the very same model of health burnt into me from birth, as well, having grown up in the first latchkey kid generation that was raised largely on processed foods with the promise that convenience trumped all and nutrition was not an issue. We were all too busy for that. Doing what, I don’t know. What we knew to do was plod through life, and if the wheels fell off, the doctor would get out the duct tape.
But I have learned that health is one gift I do not want to squander, and I have come to a new way of viewing wellness that does not come at the bottom of a pill bottle or in a 15 minute appointment with a professional who may not know much about me or my family except what we happen to be “sick” with at the time of our meeting.
What I am inviting you to do here is to sit back with me and observe. How much of this do you see in your own family, your self, your community, and the world at large? And I ask, does it sit right with you?
Our Medicalized Mindset (Medicalizing Ourselves)
Have you ever observed a situation like this?: Just the other day, I was chit-chatting with a family member at a potluck. She was getting sick and stuffy and had barely made it to the event because of a very stressful ordeal with her pre-teen daughter. She was drinking a sugar-filled light alcoholic drink, eating a burger filled with fillers and chemicals while lamenting about her cold and how she wished she had taken some Nyquil to knock out the symptoms.
I said, “you know, instead of the Nyquil, maybe eliminating the sugar might work in your favour so that your immune system can get rid of the cold, itself.” I just had to put it out there, but then backed off to see if she would hear the suggestion. The idea that a medication would not help but would perhaps even be detrimental to the healing process offended her and was an idea she didn’t even want to consider. She just wanted her symptoms to go away without thought or effort. So, I tried to ignore what she was eating and complaining about and just enjoy my time with her.
So, what she had effectively done was medicalized her own health, made it into a medical problem to be suppressed and beaten down, rather than the natural process of her brilliant immune system.
The health, the very bodies of our families, has been medicalized in this very way. Medical advances have come often at the expense of or in place of our inner wisdom, intuition, confidence, autonomy, and actual healing. Doctor knows best without question, and we have a tendency to stop thinking before reacting.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
Medicalizing Our Parents and Grandparents
My grandmother has had a long history of poor health and arthritic pain that has led to immobility and major health complications (high blood pressure, stroke, recurrent urinary tract infections, and sleep apnea) that are the result of her immobility and medication overusage. During one of her stints in the hospital, she was in major pain for which she was being heavily medicated, and her quality of life was very poor. When I questioned the medications and advocated for a reduction in the volume of medications she was being given, the doctors and nurses initially thought I was being ignorant and cruel.
We addressed many things while she was there, including her diet, but I also asked my grandmother one of the questions no one had ever asked her before: what kind of pain was it? And it was remarkable to note that not only was she not used to identifying what it was she was experiencing, she was also experiencing many different kinds of pain, each requiring a different intervention.
Sometimes it was joint pain, which indicated her need for interventions such as more good oils in her diet, a reduction of sugar, the elimination of gluten, more focus on an anti-inflammatory diet, and the application of anti-inflammatory essential oils such as peppermint and lavender. Accupuncture was extremely beneficial to her as was stress reduction to make the pain less amplified.
Sometimes the “pain” was actually hypersensitivity to cold, and her strong reactions to touch were actually to the cold she was perceiving. This did not need medication at all but investigation into why she was so sensitive in the first place, and simply warming our hands before we touched her made a world of difference.
Sometimes her “pain” was actually discomfort (wouldn’t you be uncomfortable if you lay in bed all day in virtually the same position?), and she simply needed to move, stretch, turn to her side, and get up even though it took effort due to her mobility restrictions. But effort is not a bad thing. It keeps us healthy and agile and maintaining our current level of health.
So, medicalizing her aging, medicalizing her symptoms of aches and pains, led to a worsening of her health, to a situation where she was immobilized enough to need a wheelchair to get around, not from an accident or any physiological abnormality, but due to pain she may have been able to manage using the wisdom of her body and an acute listening to her needs. Blanket medicating her only covered up what was happening in her body, yet the root cause was still there, and instead of alleviating the pain for the long term or at least maintaining a good level of comfort, the pain was guaranteed to come back after the medication wore off. Again and again, day after day
This is not an uncommon scenario for much of our aging population.
Medicalizing Our Children
There are many examples I can illustrate here. So so many. The child who takes Ibuprofen before every soccer game for joint pain. The child who is given laxatives for constipation. The child who is given Ritalin for ADHD behaviours. The child who is given psychotropic drugs for mood issues. The child who is given antibiotics for a cold. Tylenol for fevers and headaches, aggressive therapies and tough love parenting for behavioral issues, prednisone for autoimmunity, Accutane for acne.
And I just have to say, wait, wait, wait! There is no medication that comes at no cost. So, let’s first figure out what is causing those ailments, and what can we do about them before turning to doctor’s visits and medications?
Sometimes the answers are right in front of us, much too simple to be considered a fix or a cure. Cures lie in the causes of the ailments. Food, exercise, play, sleep, rest, joy, all things we think are weak in comparison to a medication may be just where we need to focus. We have been duped into believing that we need to be medicated or medicalized to survive. This is simply not true. The medicalized view of health tells us that we can allow our children to eat poorly and sit too much and stay up too late and then medicate when things go wrong. Our care of our children’s health has been medicalized, yet the true health of our children does not lie in medical intervention but in lifestyle practices and acute observation.
So, what might we discover when we look deeper and listen?
The child who takes Ibuprofen before every soccer game for joint pain may need more fats in his diet and a dramatic reduction in sugar. That Gatorade he drinks before the game may be part of the problem.
The child who is given laxatives for constipation may need prune juice, more magnesium, more fiber, and more nutritious food in her diet; she may also have dysbiosis that can be corrected with probiotics.
The child who is given Ritalin for ADHD behaviours may need to be tested for food or environmental allergy or taken off of sugar.
The child who is given psychotropic drugs for mood issues may have neurotransmitter imbalances caused by stress, epigenetic expression, or poor bowel health.
The child who is given antibiotics for a cold may just need to let his immune system do its job rather than knocking out the natural gut flora that is there to protect him from future infection.
Tylenol for fevers and headaches may be covering up dehydration and other more serious health problems and will suppress the immune system, aggressive therapies and tough love parenting for behavioral issues may damage familial relationships and alienate and silence the child causing deep emotional scars, prednisone for autoimmunity may open the door for cancer, and Accutane for acne may damage organs and disrupt hormone balance.
Healthcare Is Not a Medical Emergency
What is very interesting is that when we don’t turn to medications and quick fixes, we are more inclined to enjoy more health benefits, better overall health, and a more satisfying relationship and connection to our own bodies and each other. What is more than interesting, even frustrating when not recognized, is that by skirting the quick fixes, we can avoid or recover more fully from so many symptoms, illnesses, and discomfort that make our everyday experiences less joyful.
I will make a bold statement here and say that: medical intervention is rarely necessary when we shift how we understand and build health.
The point of being sick is that our bodies are healing themselves, and these processes are exhibited as symptoms. And what is more is that illness makes us turn inward, if we are willing, to slow down and to listen to what we need. If we are too quick to medicate, we can miss the entire point.
Making Shift Happen
What are some things that we medicalize?
We medicalize the process of aging
We medicalize the body’s natural immune response
We medicalize pregnancy, labour, and delivery
We medicalize uncomfortable symptoms
We medicalize mental health
We medicalize childhood ailments
We medicalize illness
We medicalize healthcare
Insert the word “medicate” into any one of the above statements, and you have our current form of treatment for each of those items.
Now, let’s make a shift. Insert the word “assist” in the above phrases, and let’s see if that changes anything.
We assist the process of aging
We assist the body’s natural immune response
We assist pregnancy, labour, and delivery
We assist (in the healing of) uncomfortable symptoms
We assist mental health
We assist (in the healing of) childhood ailments
We assist (in the healing of) illness
We assist (in our) healthcare
What might we do differently if we viewed health in that way, if we saw any intervention as assistance for our bodies so they can do what they need to do?
You might see yourself as an agent in your own healthcare.
You might turn to methods that build health and a robust immune system.
You might take back your power to care for yourself and your family with safe and effective tools found in nature that we have evolved with over the course of our entire human history.
You might just accept symptoms and aging and illness as part of life and learn how to navigate them, recover, and stop resisting the process.
You might just enjoy a healing process in your own home, an environment conducive to healing and personalized care.
Let’s do some more shifting. Consider these beliefs, and see if we can change them.
Our relationship with the professionals is a hierarchy where the medical professionals know more than I do.
Replace with: Our relationship with our healthcare team is a partnership.
Natural, lifestyle medicine is complimentary to allopathic medicine, with allopathic medicine being the go-to method.
Replace with: Lifestyle medicine will keep us healthy and prevent many acute situations from occurring in the first place, and allopathic medicine is a tool we can use for acute illness when needed.
We need medicine when we get sick.
Replace with: We need good nutrition and rest and movement when we get sick in order to build a robust immune system and prevent further disease.
The body needs help from medications and intervention.
Replace with: The body needs us to give it proper fuel and input and get out of its way.
Applying a New Approach
Many of our common ailments can be addressed using a natural approach to health which involves health building, these being just a few quick examples.
Headaches may be prevented or “treated” by drinking water (dehydration causes headaches), or taking B vitamins, or not being exposed to solvents and other chemicals.
Skin issues can be caused by environmental toxins, including the ones we put on our skin with the intention to make it softer and less dry, but the skin (an organ of elimination) is a direct indicator of health issues occurring from inside the body, so nutritional intervention and detoxification are key players in healing the skin.
Causes of gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, or constipation might be traced back to food intolerances, gut dysbiosis, or simply a poor diet devoid of fiber, and if ignored can cause an exceptionally wide array of symptoms; when those symptoms are covered up or ignored, this can create more serious disease states. Instead of relying on a cycle of medical interventions to encourage pooping then to discourage diarrhea, a change in diet may correct the entire system and prevent future disease.
Even big health challenges such as ADHD behaviours, autism, depression, and autoimmunity can often be peeled back to causes such as inadequate nutrition, allergies (as allergic responses are not only watery itchy eyes and sneezing), infection, and toxicity. Finding the root causes of these conditions may very well erase the symptoms or stop the disease processes. Medicating may impede this important process of discovery.
And fevers are not illnesses to be treated at all unless dangerously high as they are the body’s immune system doing the job of getting rid of infection and other invaders. By suppressing fevers, we are suppressing our own body’s defense mechanisms.
So, this is why there will never be a cure for the common cold, because the cold is the cure. We are meant to get sick with colds and fever because they are our body’s way of getting rid of invaders, they are how our bodies get well. Symptoms tell us that we are in distress, and it is in our best interest to stop, listen, and draw from our natural medicine cabinet in order to heal and strengthen our bodies for whatever we may encounter next time.
It is a beautiful process.
The body is brilliant.
Medicalized Family No More
Here are some things to consider when you are considering a new way to look at health and illness:
Can we work with medical staff in an equal partnership in the care of ourselves and loved ones?
Might we know more than we think about health and wellness drawing from what we can learn from our parents and grandparents, our traditional cultures and practices, natural instincts, and ways of being?
Can we slow down in order to re-learn to observe and listen to our bodies, our own thoughts, and each other?
When you or your loved ones gets sick or uncomfortable, I encourage you to think first before reaching for the Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or cough suppressant. Do ask yourself:
Is this pain or discomfort?
Is this serious and in need of acute medical attention, or can I handle it?
Do I need to numb the pain or discomfort, or can I let it inform me as to what to do?
Can I let my body do its job and rest, take in good nutrients and water, and move enough but not too much so that I can heal?
Is there something I can do to strengthen my immune system and body that is natural, safe, and even more effective than medications that will help my body heal and be stronger with a more robust immune system afterward?
And finally, I invite you to consider this: Healthcare is not a medical emergency, and healing is a process that comes naturally.
Photo 1: http://cdc.news/2016-12-06-35-of-elderly-patients-are-emitted-to-the-hospital-due-to-harmful-medication-reactions.html
photo 2: http://www.agewell.biz/drugs-and-the-elderly