My illness, myself

How the Medical-Industrial Complex Turns Patients into Consumers

The ideal medical consumer suffers from one or more chronic ailments that are treatable but not curable with drugs. They want to convince them that they will need these drugs for the rest of their lives. The medical-industrial complex in the United States is a disease-management system rather than a health-care system.

Pharmaceutical corporations want us to embrace our diseases, cherish them, find comfort in support groups, treat them forever but never banish them, never shed the identity bound up in the phrase my disease. They have given sexy names, like Erectile Dysfunction and Overactive Bladder, to certain unmentionable symptoms, promoting them from mere symptoms to full-fledged diseases. Join the Type 2 Diabetes Fraternity with B. B. King (RIP). Solve, but don’t heal, Your Acid Reflux Disease. Find Friends and exchange stories of misery in the Society of Migraine Sufferers.

“Me and B. B. King have a lot in common,” says this appealing round-faced adolescent. “He has diabetes. I have diabetes.” B. B. King strums his famous guitar and laughs paternally. Testing becomes a ritual of bonding between the aspiring guitarist and the master. There are reasons to treat diabetes, to invest in sexy little testing devices, but there is no motivation to seek a cure. Diabetes is who they are. There is no mention, of course, that there are people like Marc Ramirez, who reports that he and his wife Kim reversed Type 2 diabetes by adopting a whole food plant-based lifestyle. It’s more fun to share an illness with an idol.

This middle-aged woman calls herself “a problem solver.” However, she tells us, she has not succeeded in “solving” what she calls “my acid reflux disease.” Solving. Not healing. Not eradicating. She goes back to her doctor, although we are not told when or why she went to him in the first place, nor why the doctor didn’t tell her the whole truth to begin with (“over time, the esophagus is eroded”). So, with a little prodding from this enlightened patient he prescribes Nexium. “I don’t just feel better,” she says in closing, “I AM better.” Better. Not well. Not over it. Not healthy. She is not just grateful for that little purple pill. It will be as much a part of her life as her acid reflux disease*. The ad does not, of course, direct us to articles like this one: Plant-Based Diet Alleviates Reflux as Effectively as Medications. She doesn’t want to know. Acid Reflux, by the way, is a symptom, not a “disease,” but Acid Reflux “Disease” is who she is, and Nexium is her drug.

Elizabeth Moss makes it painfully clear that her character is A Migraine Sufferer. It is her identity. If I am equally miserable, she invites me to join her. Migraines will always be part of who she is, and Excedrin is her drug of choice. Don’t tell her about the Physicians’ Committee Plant-Based Prescription for Migraines because she–or her character, anyway–is well on her way to becoming a good little profit generator for pharmaceutical companies.

Apparently, in spite of dire warnings of death and permanent damage in the ads themselves, people are embracing the “my disease” lifestyle, and there are big bucks in it for pharmaceutical cartels and a bloated medical establishment.

Curanderos

Maybe everyone grows up with a narrow framework for deciding what is normal, what is exotic, and what is abnormal. I certainly did. When I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, in my early twenties, there were many things about life there that seemed exotic to me. Some things, like mangoes and papayas, became normal to my expanding Texan mind, but wherever I look, even after many years, there are sights to see, foods to try, experiences to have, and ideas to explore that still amaze me.

Back in North Texas, sweet iced tea was the only tea I knew anything about, and home remedies were limited to merthiolate and mentholatum. We went to the doctor for just about anything that couldn’t be treated with those smelly substances. The doctor would prescribe dreaded shots, pills, or terrible-tasting liquids in mysterious-looking bottes. If all else failed, he (the doctor was always a “he” when I was a child) would put you in the hospital, cut some part of you open, do some sort of magic, and then sew you back up.

In Mexico, even though my husband was a medical student in a conventional medical school, I learned about a surprising number of alternative remedies that didn’t involve a health professional. In addition to Vicks Vaporub in Mamá’s ropero, there was manzanilla (chamomile) tea in the kitchen to relieve tummy aches and te de tila (linden flower tea) to calm down an overwrought family member. A savila (aloe vera cactus) plant in the patio was snipped as needed for healing gel to treat burns from the sun, the kitchen, or naughty kids playing with matches. American cough syrup reeks of eucalyptus oil, but in Mexico you can buy dried eucalyptus leaves in the mercado and make a potion to drink or gargle as needed. Common cooking ingredients like vinegar, cinnamon, and onions, do double duty as home remedies for all kinds of ailments. Agua de jamaica (hibiscus flower water) has medicinal uses, like lowering blood pressure, but it is more commonly just cooled, sweetened, and served as a beverage.

There is renewed worldwide interest in ancient healing practices, as chemically distilled herbs and other substances, what we call medicines, start to let us down. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and drugs with side effects worse than the diseases they purport to remedy make headlines and cause professionals and laypeople alike to wonder if we maybe threw out a lot of proverbial babies with the proverbial bathwater of old-fashioned remedies. Modern surgical techniques indeed work miracles, but at their very finest, they are alarmingly crude and risky and always leave a scar, no matter how imperceptible.

With renewed interest in healing foods and herbs comes a revival of interest in ancient healers throughout Latin America and wherever remnants of ancient cultures are kept alive. This revival has created a burgeoning industry of shaman-seeking tourism, and with it flourishing business opportunities for neoshamans and faux shamans. Nevertheless, among Mexicans, many city people and most rural residents know where to find at least one authentic curandero. I was shocked to learn that my educated cosmopolitan Mexican friends and family members, whom I saw as perfectly normal and modern by my small-town Texas standards, thought nothing of scheduling a limpia (cleansing) before moving into a new house or after a run of bad luck, and they knew exactly which shaman, or curandero, of their acquaintance could do it.

Armando Gonzalez-Stuart, a researcher at The University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) has published a beautiful, informative, and useful book with the title Plants Used in Mexican Traditional Medicine. It has a brief history of traditional medicine in Mexico, an alphabetical list of plants used for healing, with their scientific names, some of their common names, and photographs of most of them.

Television

Roald Dahl (1916-1990)

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

Roald Dahl was a British novelist, short story writer, poet, screenwriter, and fighter pilot. His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. His Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is enjoyed all over the world.

Military parade

MILITARY PARADE

God bless the people who are doing what they can to help. Shame on us all for allowing the USA to become the Land of the Free and the Home of the Homeless.

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