Most of us have heard horror stories of mistakes made in a medical setting; I recall one about a surgeon leaving a pair of scissors in a patient’s body after sowing her up. But the shocker was reported in the BMJ on May 3rd:
According to surgeon Dr. Martin Makary, the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is error committed by medical professionals. 700 lives a day snuffed out because of a lapse of consciousness is no small thing. Annually, it amounts to 251 thousand souls; 9.5 percent of all deaths in the U.S.
So, after heart disease and cancer, medical error is most likely to kill you. My own response to this situation: If at all possible, stay away from medical personnel and institutions. Of course, that would mean taking responsibility for our health.
Simply by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, and doing some mental practice, anybody can improve their health. What’s lacking is the discipline to do it. Unfortunately, most of us lack of what I call voluntary intelligence (so-called ‘will power’). But that, like our emotional and aesthetic skills, can be worked on and improved. See, for example, The Act of Will by Roberto Assagioli.
Alternative paths to wellness are available to explore. The goal is to become custodians of our own bodies, aiming for minimal or zero contact with the medical-industrial complex.
The latest findings about fatal medical errors suggest the need for a new paradigm that emphasizes the virtues of self-healing. The good news is that there is much evidence for our latent self-healing potentials.
Take the underrated mystery of the placebo effect, the proven fact that our beliefs can have physical and emotional healing effects. For example, the positive virtues of anti-depressants are only slightly more effective than placebos.
In view of all the placebo evidence, why not train ourselves to use our health-giving beliefs as an active part of our lifestyle? In place of automatically relying on conventional medicine, why not learn to cultivate healing beliefs, attitudes and expectations that promise to enhance our well-being?
A revolutionary book by Dr. Lolette Kuby, Faith and the Placebo Effect (2001), makes a sustained case for the thesis that all healing is at bottom self-healing. Kuby is a poet and English literature professor, a Jewish woman who claims to have been healed of cancer as a result of a vision of Jesus. Her ideas about God and self-healing are original and inspired by her own unique experience.
The important fact is that under the scientific heading of placebo effect, we have masses of evidence suggesting our potential for self-healing. The books by Larry Dossey, physician and author of One Mind, are especially useful in this regard. In light of the news about the third leading cause of death, all this is important. Could anything be more nightmarish? The place you go for healing becomes your charnel-house.
We sometimes hear stories of cancer patients with unexplained remissions. Dr. Kelly Turner decided to study and compare such cases. She wanted to find out what if any were the key variables involved (Radical Remission, 2014). Many physicians apparently avoid talking about such cases. Turner saw them as opportunities and sought to identify the factors that might account for the remissions.
From her research she distilled nine factors that seemed key to bringing about the remissions. Two were bodily, a radical change of diet and the use of certain food supplements. The other seven were mental, involving changes of consciousness.
According to Dr. Turner, the people who beat the odds against cancer trust their intuitions; try to release emotions they suppressed while freeing up positive emotions; come out of their shells and accept the support of others; talk of a new life-enhancing spiritual connection with reality; and, finally, have and feel deep and attractive reasons for living. All this sounds to me like a plan not just to remit cancer but to live a healthy life.
I’m throwing out ideas for an escape-plan from the dangers of the medical-industrial complex. It’s a bizarre fact -- the very place we go to for medical help harbors a high risk of accidental death.
The conclusion? Take care of yourself as best you can, and try not to play Russian roulette with the American health-care system.