Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Treating the whole person

I’ve just read a very interesting article in the Observer with the title “Over-treatment is the greatest threat to western health”.  It ends with a quote from a “visionary American physician and social activist Hunter Adams”, who said “When you treat a disease, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.  But I guarantee you, when you treat a person, whatever the outcome, you always win.”  The article finishes with the words “It’s time for real “whole person” care.”

This is a subject very dear to my heart, as somebody who regards “whole person” care as the main factor in helping our patients regain their health and balance.  Having myself recently emerged successfully from a life-threatening condition (a subdural haematoma of the brain), with all that it has entailed of Western medical care, by far the most important aspect of the care I received was its “whole person” aspect, the love of family and friends, and the caring attention of the medical staff. 

But I remember thinking to myself when I returned back to normal life that what I had most wanted to be asked by the numerous medical personnel who surrounded me was the simple question, “How are you coping with this?”.  I was constantly asked about my physical well-being, but not about how my spirit was responding to the situation I found myself in.  And, for me, this was what was troubling me most. 

The best example I have ever encountered of the kind of question I would have responded eagerly to was that of a very junior nurse at some hospital visit a few years ago who said at the end of a diagnostic procedure I had undergone, “You hate this, don’t you?”  And I certainly did.  She had paid me the kind of close attention we should all pay our patients, and had made what in five element terms would have been considered to be an excellent diagnosis, saying just the right thing I wanted to hear.  My immediate response was relief that here was somebody who saw me and understood my needs.

This remains for me an illustration of what each of our patients would like from us.  Each must hope their practitioner will have sufficient insight to see their unique needs and have the ability to respond appropriately to these needs, as this young nurse did to mine.


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