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.

Induced dementia: a letter to just about everybody

I’m going to tell you straight up what is driving me crazy. It is the very thought that Donald John Trump could be elected President of the United States of America AGAIN.

Many people innocently thought the seemingly harmless rich guy who played the role of Boss on a reality-TV show might be capable of solving some of our country’s problems. They were not much aware of his real-life past, or if they were, they optimistically told themselves and each other that he had grown up or maybe found Jesus. Three years ago, I didn’t know one-tenth of what I do now about Trump’s dubious morality, pathetic ignorance, failures at business, fiscal irresponsibility, pathological narcissism, tenuous grasp of reality, and lack of any qualification whatsoever for leadership, but I already knew enough to make me skeptical. I now have heard and seen terrible things from his own lips, gestures, tweets, and plea-bargaining lackeys, things that even People magazine could never have dreamed of. I don’t, however, blame those who three years ago said, “Let’s give it a shot.”

Throughout my life, I have disagreed with a lot of people on a lot of subjects, important and trivial, but we have shared a core of common perceptions about reality and the words we used to describe it. I have been lied to, and the lies have been denied, but when real-world events could no longer be denied, the lie was acknowledged, however grudgingly. Not all lies in my life have been uncovered, of course, but after all is said and done, there has been a working agreement with even the most despicable characters and scammers as to the difference between truth and untruth.

When a loved one, who was suffering from dementia, said she had never seen me before in her life, I could not agree or disagree with her. She was not lying, but neither was her statement true. Those of us who loved her had tried to argue with her about some small inconsistencies in things she said until finally we had to acknowledge that her realities did not match ours. She was trapped in a nightmare, and though she crossed back over occasionally into the world of the awake, we could not penetrate her nightmare reality when she was in it.

I am not disappointed in Trump. My expectations and hopes were extremely low, leaving little room for disappointment, but I have been surprised and shocked at the depth and breadth of his revealed and even bragged-about cruelty, sexual depravity, greed, ignorance, and–why not say it–mental illness. I AM, however, beyond disappointed by a shocking number of his co-dependents with whom I cannot agree or disagree in the same way that I could not agree or disagree with my loved one as she crossed over into a reality of her own that I couldn’t penetrate. I am beyond disappointed. I am disconcerted and alarmed, and I have no idea what to do. I feel as if I am in one of those nightmares where you scream and scream but no one hears you.

It is painful to face harsh realities, but there have been benefits and out-of-the-comfort-zone growth. Trump and his enablers have driven me from reading and believing hagiographies about the USA and its founders and leaders to researching and trying to grasp history, including those episodes that make my tribe look bad. They have made me doubt everything from democracy to capitalism to free enterprise to evangelical Christianity, where my roots ran deep. They have made me look beyond “good” words like liberty and homeland and “bad” words like socialism, beyond utopian IDEALS to practical IDEAS (regardless of their deserved or derisive labels) that might solve problems.

The religious among those co-dependent enablers who now embrace so many things they once despised and preached that I should despise, like adultery, lying, meanness, and naked Ladies, whether First or farther down the line, drove me to really study, with curiosity and an open mind, the Bible that I had professed to believe for so long and from which they were thumping out so many contradictory “truths.” They made me suspicious of any religious fellowship, leaving me to seek God on my own rather than cling to a community and trust members and leaders of that community to clarify right and wrong for me.

But there are times when I would like to be proven wrong, to wake up from this demented reality and find that it was just a nightmare.

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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