David Kupfer’s interview with Dr. Andrew Weil [“Vital Signs,” January 2011] identified the solution to our nation’s healthcare problems. I have worked in alternative healthcare for the past nineteen years and have seen how much better patients respond when they are encouraged to draw on their innate healing power and balance the visible world with the invisible one.
Disease is bankrupting this country. Pharmaceuticals are prescribed for our mental health just as frequently as for our physical health. We are seduced into believing we need more drugs, and we do not balance this obsession with the natural, animate, living world.
I was exposed to alternative medicine almost thirty years ago due to a running injury. A Western doctor informed me I would not run again without surgery. I didn’t believe it, so I sought out an acupuncturist, who said I would be running again in two weeks with no pain. It worked, and I never looked back.
I became a nurse long before pharmaceuticals were the answer for every sniffle. Medicines from the environment, like digitalis and aspirin, were safe. Nurses, instead of insurance companies, ran hospitals. Physicians vowed to heal rather than get rich.
After forty years of voicing my opinion at nursing universities and associations, I have given up on politics and gone back to speaking directly to young families. With enough education, we can become our own healthcare agents.
Dr. Andrew Weil’s talk of how consciousness can modify reality transported me back to my Peace Corps days. I lived in a small-island culture whose views on medicine, magic, and reality were different from ours, and I partook of local medicine, using the four leaves at the tips of guava-tree branches as a treatment for diarrhea, for example.
The Jesuit priests used to tell me how the islanders would bring aspirin dispensed by the hospital to them to be blessed before taking it home to give to a loved one. The priests felt this was superstition. They were not capable of seeing how, for the islanders, their blessing would add to the healing property of the aspirin.
Some of the interview with Andrew Weil was informative, such as his statement about the NIH study that revealed Zoloft works no better than a placebo. But some of Dr. Weil’s other ideas are questionable. He makes the claim that there is an “invisible world” and regards it with some importance, yet he offers no proof of its existence. If you are going to make incredible claims you want people to accept, you have a responsibility to provide empirical evidence. If you cannot, your idea is no better than pronouncements like “Jesus rose from the dead” or “Indra lives in the clouds around Mount Meru.”
If we are to communicate on the important subject of healing, the conversation needs to be based on something more than one person making an unsupportable statement and others accepting its veracity.
Andrew Weil says that the root problem with our healthcare industry is the high cost of care. I would add that the real reason for the high cost is the absence of an effective pricing mechanism: a rational process by which consumers and providers agree on what something should cost. In healthcare there is most often a third-party payer involved: the insurance company. When consumers do not bear the cost, they become indifferent to the price. If I’m insured, I don’t care if a doctor charges me $450 for a twenty-minute examination, because my out-of-pocket expense is only $50. For medical procedures where insurance does not pay, such as cosmetic surgery, inflation is tame, and costs are more reasonable.
To those who believe the answer is for the government to pay all costs, I say that there would still be a pricing mechanism at work; it would just move from an individual to a societal level. There are no free MRIs.
I was stunned when Andrew Weil stated, “I take a very low dose of Lipitor and two baby aspirins per day. I used to take red yeast rice to lower my cholesterol, but, given the history of heart disease on my father’s side, I wanted to get my LDL cholesterol lower, and Lipitor works well for me with no side effects.”
There is no such thing as a prescription medication with “no side effects.” Dr. Linus Pauling regarded aspirin as “poison,” and Dr. Jay S. Cohen, author of What You Must Know about Statin Drugs, says the same regarding Lipitor (a statin drug).
I am no medical authority, but I believe, at sixty-five, that no one can take better care of me than I can. My self-care does include vitamin supplements and some herbs, but I would rather die of natural causes than take any pharmaceutical medication.
Andrew T. Weil responds:
Principal side effects of Lipitor and other statins are disturbances of muscle and liver metabolism. I have had neither of these on a daily dose of ten milligrams of Lipitor for the past five years. I’m very aware of the potential toxicity of this and all pharmaceuticals and decided to go on it only after self-care and natural remedies failed to get my LDL level low enough.
Your January issue featured photographs of a woman undergoing chemotherapy. One picture showed her mastectomy scar. According to the note on the cover, the reason this woman had her photograph taken is that she wanted people to see what cancer is, even though “no one wants to look at it.”
Shouldn’t such preferences be respected? We all know about cancer; we all dread it; we will all deal with it if and when we have to. Why rub it in?
Wolf Pascoe’s Essay “Going Under” [January 2011] reminds me of the time I was admitted to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago more than fifty years ago. My appendix had ruptured, and I needed emergency surgery. A hospital staff member took the time to talk with me, a seven-year-old, and calmly explain that I needed surgery. This took away some of my fear. I decided years ago to leave Children’s Memorial something in my will — all because someone decided, as Wolf Pascoe did, that it was important to talk to a child.
I found it hard to believe Alan Craig’s claim, in his essay “Everything’s Going to Be OK” [January 2011], that he and his friends are in their sixties. From his descriptions of all their illnesses, mishaps, and near-death experiences, I thought surely they were at least in their eighties. How will he manage to survive if he actually does reach that age? He’ll be lucky if his wife hangs around that long to listen to his whining. I have no sympathy for a person with such an intolerant attitude toward his mother’s request to drive her to her doctor. Where is his compassion? Hopefully she doesn’t read The Sun.
Alan Craig responds:
Reading Goldman’s letter caused me to laugh, mostly at myself. It’s worse than she thinks: I won’t be sixty for another couple of weeks. I’m sure if my old friends Roger, Jason, and Eddie were still around today they’d beg Goldman’s pardon for dying so young.
As to my lack of compassion toward my mother, I can only say that I try to be a good son and that I fail much more often than I’d like. If Goldman is free of all ambivalent feelings when it comes to her own family members, I congratulate her.
I don’t know how I’ll ever cope with being really old if and when the time comes. It’s an excellent question, and the point of my essay.
As a parent of an autistic child, I was offended by Brian Doyle’s “What People Say When They Mean Something Other Than What They Say” [January 2011]. I understand the poem’s intent is to read more deeply into what people are going through, but making an implied comparison between having an “autistic daughter” and being in a halfway house or contemplating suicide is ignorant at best. Although raising a child with autism has its challenges, most are not that different from the challenges of raising a neurotypical child. Many children with autism possess traits that make them exceptional. Doyle needs to make sure he knows what he is talking about before he writes.
Brian Doyle responds:
But, I say politely, I wasn’t making such a comparison. I was trying to listen to what people said to me, and that was said to me. I was trying to write down what’s under the words people use.
As I read for the second time Jenny B.’s Readers Write on “Medicine” [January 2011], my own experiences with inappropriately prescribed drugs came flooding back to me: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1995 and had a psychiatrist who changed my medication every three weeks. Like Jenny, I was on an endless series of meds — Tegretol, Seroquel, Geodon, Zoloft, Ativan, Topomax, lithium, Depakote — many of which made my symptoms worse. I was veering from depression so severe I could not shower, work, or take care of my child, to a state of agitation and aggression in which I accused my family of terrible imagined slights and erupted into violent anger.
Finally, after eight years, my mother made me an appointment with a psychiatrist who weaned me off the damaging drugs. Step by step, he found a regimen of medications that helped me return to my old self. He even accepted me, once I was stabilized, as a partner in treating my own illness. I will always be bitter about my first inept psychiatrist, and eternally grateful to the one I have now.
The problem with reading The Sun on the bus is that crying multiple times during the ride is usually frowned upon. But I am willing to take that risk every month.