CARRIE STEELE has been thinking about what she really needs from her new doctor.
My GP just retired. I’ve been seeing him for 36 years. From age 17 to age 53 is quite a long time to know someone. He was the probably the last of the ‘old breed’, the true family GP who never turned anyone away if they really needed to be seen. Accordingly, he worked long hours and only in very recent years did he reduce them.
While he definitely practised typical allopathic medicine (medical practice that aims to combat symptoms and disease by use of remedies – namely drugs or surgery), in recent years he was always understanding of my desire to follow another course, and I think he came to respect and admire my determination to do so.
In all the years I was his patient, I never left his office without giving him a hug. It was something I started early on and never stopped doing. To me it was a way of reinforcing our connection, and he understood that and warmly responded. He was a caring, generous man with a great sense of humour and I shall miss him.
I don’t often see a GP, but there are times when one needs to and I’ve been thinking a lot about what my ‘ideal’ practitioner would look like. My perfect scenario would be a doctor who practises a different kind of medicine, the holistic type of medicine, who is of the belief that “all the properties of a given system (physical, biological, social, etc) cannot be truly determined or explained by its component parts alone. Instead, the system as a whole determines how the parts function together”.
I’ve seen enough health-related documentaries now to know for sure that these doctors do exist, but in my home town? Not that I know about. So, what is it exactly that I’m wanting from my new doctor? If I were to be specific? This ‘letter’ sets out my thoughts.
First things first: In treating me, I’d like you to refer back to some of the original principles of the first ever Hippocratic Oath. Though I know it has been ‘modernised’ many times, I’d like us to agree to sticking to some of the principles. Fairly important stuff, such as “first do no harm”. I’m also quite keen on the principle that says you “won’t treat me with poisons”, and that you’ll “view and treat me as a human being and not just as a growth or disease”. And let’s not forget this one, that you will “strive to prevent disease whenever you can, for prevention is preferable to cure”. In a nutshell, I’d like you to follow the advice of Thomas Edison (who wasn’t a doctor, but was a very smart man), who said “the doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”
Now that we’ve covered the main points, I’d also like you to promise to let me talk, and to listen to me. I’d like you to recognise that I am not one of those patients who will come to you lightly, and that when I do come, I need your help. I acknowledge that I may not be your easiest patient that day, because I will come with my own ideas and my own strong beliefs and we will have to find a way to work together to accomplish our goal. But if you listen to me, it will be easier, because the information I tell you will help to make the most of the five or 10 minutes you will have me in your office. Consider that I may have spent several days prior thinking about what may be helpful for you to know. That is because I accept that you do not have that time; time to think about me before I arrive, or after I have left. Please ask me questions about things such as what I eat, how much I exercise, and the environment I work and live in. If you don’t know these basic facts about me, how can you know me?
When it comes to looking at any test results, for instance bloods, please know that I’m not striving to be ‘average’. I don’t find ‘average’ reassuring. I’m fully aware that having ‘average’ test results is not something one can be too blasé about. I know for instance that half of the people who have heart attacks were not previously considered to be in the ‘danger zone’, and that being pre-Diabetes means high blood sugar levels are already causing cellular damage, though the person isn’t considered to be bad enough yet to be eligible for drug treatment. I also know that the best ‘treatment’ for that condition is lifestyle and diet modifications, and that most doctors aren’t giving their patients that advice. I know this because I have personal (although not first hand) experience of seeing this happen; pre-Diabetes test results being either ignored or brushed off, simply because it’s so common for people to fall into that category these days.
My Grandmother was one of those people. Eventually, she started having little brain bleeds and developed dementia. It wasn’t coincidence. If it were, then Diabetes wouldn’t have been noted as one of the causes of death on her death certificate – and it was. What’s more, I know it won’t be the last time I see that sort of occurrence, which I find terribly sad, because it’s a curable condition. Another example, my Dad’s death certificate listed ‘metastatic cancer – duration: years’, though he was diagnosed in January and died at the end of March the same year.
It might be good for you to know that’s the sort of thing that troubles me, the sort of ‘mental baggage’ I carry around, so that you won’t make light about any test results with me. You’ll understand that if something doesn’t look great, I want to know about it, and that I’ll be asking you what I can do to make it better. I’m one of those patients. When we look at any of my test results, please remember that my aim is that they be ‘optimal’, not ‘average’, and that I will need your help and expertise to interpret them and to plan any course of action.
Please understand that when I come to see you, it is not my aim to leave your office with a prescription for drugs. I am the patient you can safely tell if I need to drop a few pounds, or exercise more, or eat more or less of a certain food – so long as it is plant based that is, because you will be open-minded enough to know and understand that I can live a healthy life on a whole food plant-based diet. You do not need to be worried that I will leave your office and go find another doctor if you suggest that I participate in my own recovery – instead, I will salute you for your honesty and wisdom.
Finally, dear Doctor, if I haven’t lost you already, I would like for you to recognise early on that I am one of those patients who will never “go gentle into that good night”, but rather, will always “rage, rage against the dying of the light”. CARRIE STEELE