Thursday, March 31, 2005

Whole People

When we (me, SO, and Stepkid) were at Whole Paycheck awhile ago, Stepkid wanted to know why the store had "Whole People" signs--were some people not whole in some way? Could only people who were whole check out in that lane? (If so, I suspect the line would be shorter in that lane . . .) FloatFans know that the proprietor over there, kStyle, is studying to become a Zen Shiatsu practitioner--related, in some ways, but not in others, to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Both approaches have a "geography" of the body. (Today kStyle notes our preference for simple solutions, which is relevant to what follows.) One of my yoga teachers talks quite a bit about nadis--energy channels--prominent in yogic thought. I go to a gynecologist for a yearly exam, and a "regular" doctor if I'm sick with something more serious than a cold. Awhile ago I combined minor surgical intervention with TCM and acupuncture to treat a bothersome condition. (I don't regard only theTCM/acupuncture as "complementary": I think the treatment styles complemented each other.)

What's interesting to me about these methodologies is that each of them has a different paradigm of the body--what it is, how it works, how it gets out of whack, how to heal it when there's something wrong, how to keep it healthy, what counts as healthy. They probably overlap in important ways, and they probably even overlap in ways about which practitioners are unaware. What distinguishes some of them, however, is whether they consider the whole person--including his/her environment--or whether they focus on a particular area of the body and/or condition, as well as what they recommend as treatment. On one hand, when I saw a doctor for what I suspected was strep throat, I wanted and needed two things: confirmation that that's what it was (I was right) and a prescription for antibiotics to take care of it. There may be other ways to treat strep throat, but I'm not going to experiment. On the other hand, for conditions whose manifestations aren't as (apparently) life-threatening, the "healing" process may be a little different and may require different responsibilities on the patient's part.

In the strep case, my responsibility is to get my throat to a doctor and then take the medication that will get rid of the infection. But take the case of the ex-husband of a friend. I don't know what the ex's underlying pathologies are at this point, but the symptoms and conditions include alcoholism (even though he's occasionally been abstinent for years), and, likely, some abuse in his childhood. He's never done anything about any of this except to drink heavily and blame other people for his unhappiness. He's over 50, and 30+ years of this (self-)torture have taken a toll on him. He's moving into an apartment of some kind, with the help of my friend. I showed her this post before I put it up, to make sure she was okay with it, and she noted, "He's in a dreadful position. The living situation is "nice" enough, I guess, but you cannot imagine how terribly sad this is. It is very difficult to see this man with whom I spent 34 years of my life, left with essentially the clothes on his back and the 45 dollars I put in his pocket. No friends, no community, no phone, no nothing."

He's got some mental conditions, though no one is entirely sure what they are. He takes medication, usually, but, like many people with mental illnesses, when he starts feeling better he stops taking the meds (some people do this because side effects are unpleasant). He apparently has auditory hallucinations, at times. In short, he is--and, for a long time, has been--a candidate for the kind of deep, focused therapy that enables people to make sense of their lives and maybe move on. It may be too late for him by now. He avoided it all along, in part because that kind of therapy requires that the patient actually participate, by engaging with his/her own issues, goals, foibles, etc., and the ex has steadfastly refused to do exactly that. This all leads to the latest ludicrous situation. He told my friend that he needed to get a fan. Why, she asked. Because his doctor suggested that the noise of a fan would drown out the voices in his head.

I suppose that's one way to deal with it, but I think it comes uncomfortably close to sticking one's fingers in one's ears and chanting "la-la-la-la-la." Which is as close as one can come to a metaphor for his whole situation.


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