Is Conventional Medicine the Wizard of Oz?
Updated: Apr 8
For all our amazing advances in medical technology, and countless ways we can peek inside the human body, it's surprising that 1) for all it's clout, Western medicine offers so few answers and 2) that it is still called "conventional."
Let's look closer and what we're getting...
If you’re anything like me, you remember watching The Wizard of Oz as a kid and trying to be brave alongside Dorothy and her friends as they confronted the Wizard. With trepidation, you too may have cowered in your Superman pajamas, wondering what this great, revered, magical Wizard would say.
If you made it past the smoke, intimidation and dread, you may have also felt that same nervousness turn into a wave of relief. Yet almost as quickly – for me, anyway – that relief turned to…disappointment: “Oh, that’s not really anything magical, just some old guy pulling levers behind a curtain, trying to maintain the status quo.” Okay, I didn’t know the words “status quo” as a kid, but I got the concept nonetheless – the whole mystique of the Wizard was gone now that I knew the truth about him.
A COMMON "DOCTOR-VISIT LET-DOWN"
Another experience you may share with me is a heart-rate elevating visit to the doctor’s office where you await word from an older, presumably wiser being, whose next few sentences may explain the situation with your health and at the same time have reverberating implications for your life.
Yet perhaps you, like Dorothy and myself, have an inquisitive side to you. Perhaps after you heard the report from the doctor, you also dared ask a question requesting a deeper explanation than what he originally offered. Perhaps you said, “Wait, wait, before we talk about treatment options, can you tell me…what causes that, doc?” or “Why does my body have that problem?”
Where you may have felt a disconnect is here: In general, we have this lofty idea that conventional medical doctors are trained to tell us why things go wrong with our health. They aren’t.
They are trained to treats our symptoms with more symptoms. No. I didn't mistype. That's how the system works. In Western medicine you attack sickness. You don't focus on building health. That’s not to say that’s always a bad thing, but it might be time to look at “conventional” in a different light.
HOW WESTERN MEDICINE EARNED THE TITLE "CONVENTIONAL"
As a result of the Flexner Report of 1910, two major things happened: Not only were researchers and professors removed from the burden of working directly with patients, it also deemed all approaches to health that were not Allopathic (a fancy Greek word that literally means “other suffering”) as "unscientific."
Remember, the context of 1910: America was still riding the coattails of the Enlightenment. Since our culture worshipped at the altar of science (and in many ways still does), in the years that followed, Allopathy out-muscled all other approaches to health and became our culture’s Wizard at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. And it did that by touting science. It did that long enough that we today call it “conventional.”
By claiming the word “conventional,” the subtle implication is that everything else is some sort of fringe therapy, not mainstream accepted care. Fair or not, that’s the reality. With all the money that flows to this model, you can be sure it is not interested in giving up its title anytime soon.
NOW, BACK TO YOUR DOCTOR'S VISIT
Thinking back to your visit to the doctor, perhaps after he answered your “why” questions with something general about diet and exercise, genetics, or "I don't know" you too had the realization that after all the fancy testing is over, he can’t tell you why your health is failing – at best he can tell you how. While that’s not a bad start, it’s far from an answer.
To be fair, asking medical doctors to address the why of an illness is like asking a mechanic to explain all you could have done to your car to blow out your transmission. How could he know that?
Think about it for a second. Figuring out why a person’s health is failing is infinitely complicated because there are so many variables. Each person has differences in genetics, exercise habits, nutritional needs, dietary discipline, hydration levels, sleep patterns, mental outlook, chemical and emotional stressors, environmental factors and more. Because these facets are so synergistically interrelated, they cannot be studied with a reductionist, scientific approach that tries to eliminate variables.
WE HAVE TO STOP BEING UNFAIR TO SCIENCE
It is unfair of us to think we can use the fabulous tool of science to create chemical or surgical solutions to synergistic problems. That's not what science is for, and certainly not what reductionist science can deliver. Chemically manipulating one enzyme, hormone or gene – as conventional medicine does – is not the way to produce the synergy required for good health.
The problem I see, (well, one of them) is transparency. No doctor explains this reality to you during a typical visit. They (well most of them) simply present their options as...the option. Sure, you can do see another specialist (what I like to call a "partialist"), so long as it's a medical specialist. They'd like you to believe everything else is risky and suspect.
SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE WALKING FOR A CURE?
Another example of unfairness to science is that we have not stopped walking for cures for just about every major disease you can think of. An objective look at the ROI of that spending would make any sane person think we could probably come up with a better way to spend billions of dollars. Yet we keep throwing more money at reductionist research.
Well besides the fact that cancer research is big business (see the documentary Pink Ribbons), my guess is that by walking, we at least feel like we are doing something to help solve our growing health problems. Are we? While our intentions are honorable and we want so badly to believe major breakthroughs in conventional medicine are tantalizingly close, they’re not. Never will be. That, unfortunately, is outside the scope of practice for reductionist science. Bet you didn't hear that on the news.
Searching for a cure (singular) to synergistic problems makes about as much sense as asking our government to come up with a cure for crime. Do we really think there are chemical solutions for such things?
While I'm a big fan of science, and reductionist research has taught us many wonderful things, maybe it’s time we realize it is not deserving of as much faith as we have in it.
MEDICINE IS A BUSINESS. NOT A SCIENCE.
Perhaps it would help to think of it this way: Medicine is first a business, not a science. Medical science is a tool used to help healthcare professionals be better at business. (Think harder on that if you don’t believe me.) There’s nothing necessarily wrong with using science as a tool for business, but if we’re going to see conventional medicine as it is, it’s time we pay attention to that “man behind the curtain” who we have revered for so long, and ask intelligent questions about what he can actually do for us.
Is the best the way to help others with their health to add some “other suffering” to the suffering they already have? To me, that’s not healthcare, that’s symptom warfare. And that, dear friend, does not bring about wellness, no matter how badly we want to believe otherwise. I don’t think for a second I have all the answers, but I also think that modern medicine has been understandably reluctant to tell you what’s really behind the curtain.
PULLING BACK THE CURTAIN
Look behind the curtain with me and you’ll see all four buttons the Wizard can press when it comes to a chronic illness or disease:
Monitoring - fancy testing and waiting for your symptoms to get bad enough that they can use one of the three other options below
Medications - symptom-suppressing cocktails (drugs) that produce "other suffering" known as side-effect
Burning - (radiation)
Cutting out parts of us that are not working like they should (surgery)
That's it. Those are the only options you get.
In that light, fully aware of what the Wizard is actually offering, we might at least have the courage to "think outside conventional" and maybe even go one step further and take that ever-unpopular mantle of “personal responsibility.” Chances are, with a bit of research and introspection, we could discover where our health got off track, as well as discover all those “unconventional” options waiting to help us.
No doubt resolving what's ailing us will take more work than clicking our heels together and reciting a mantra, but do you like the options the Wizard has for you any better?
DO YOU REALLY WANT TO MEDICATE THAT SYMPTOM?
Sure You Can...
Pop a pill and your reflux may go away, but what are you doing about the bone loss caused by the pill? And what about the undigested food, and root cause of the reflux?
Stop yourself from having a period or getting pregnant, but what about the hormonal problems you develop, the low libido, and the fact that they can cause cancer?
Artificially lower cholesterol levels with a statin, but did they tell you that also depletes CoQ10 which is intimately involved in the health of muscle--by the way your heart is a muscle.
Take an SSRI (anti-depressant), but do you think taking a medication that causes weight gain will make you happier? Did they tell you how hard those drugs are to get off, or that "numb" and "not sad" are a far cry from happy?
LET'S BE FAIR
Don’t get me wrong – not everything in conventional medicine is smoke and mirrors, broken systems, and people with power trying to find more power. There are countless genuine practitioners, some very worthwhile therapies, and Allopathy is exceptionally good at trauma and emergency cases.
But maybe – just maybe – if we can see the Wizard for who he is, if we see conventional medicine as one option of many, run by people just as imperfect as we are, using an outdated, reductionist way of thinking about chronic illness, we just might be a few clicks closer to home on a long rewarding path of personal growth. I sure hope so.
Here's to you making the most informed choices you can about your health,
PS. If you know the medical (and even alternative) healthcare isn't getting the job done, and you want a more holistic, whole-person approach to health, healing, weight loss, and more, check this out. It may be just what you've been looking for.