When Doctors Were Invented

Doctors were invented during the birth of the industrial revolution. When factories began to emerge, people left their homes and villages to go to work – for the first time. Before this, people were working for their father or their uncle or their cousin, on their land or up the road. They ate together at the end of the day. So, if you were under the weather, your family and co-workers knew it.

When people started to work in large groups, for a boss they didn’t even necessarily see the entire day, a problem arose.

How did the boss know if the worker was actually sick on the days he didn’t show up for work? Before this, your mother or your aunt knew whether or not you were actually sick on the days you didn’t work, and probably had been bringing you ginger tea with moonshine and honey all day long.

Now all of the sudden we needed an expert. One who could meet with this factory worker, and declare that they truly were sick, and then give them the ‘doctor’s note.’ So an expert…on your body…was developed.

Now, before this, when one got sick they were given teas, herbs, and other various home remedies by their mother, auntie, cousin, grandmother or grandfather.

They also knew how to heal themselves, and relied on their inner wisdom and the messages coming from their bodies. Such as knowing how many hours they could work in the field before their elbows started hurting. And their elbow pain was treated, not as a burdensome problem that needed to be fixed, but as a warning light that was to be respected and listened to. Just a signal to make a shift.

Maybe, if things didn’t get better, they would go to the village healer. One who studied the plants and stones and animal parts as a life’s work, and who also knew the sick person probably their whole life. They knew their family dynamics, their day to day tasks, and knew what made them well, as well as what made them ill.

But, when we began to work in large groups, we became unknowable masses of people from all different parts. This newly appointed expert doctor was actually expected to know how to heal the worker within a few minutes of knowing him. And over a period of time, healing become a factory, too. Because there were a dozen people behind us in line, doctors no longer had time to get to know us. We stopped being dynamic, individual spirits with life stories, and experiences, and layers of gifts and struggles.

We became our symptoms. The focus of our relationship with our caretaker became one of pure pathology.  No longer were we asked what was going well in our lives. Only one question remained between doctor and patient, How can we fix you? And truly tragically, and surprisingly, we actually came to rely on this expert for information about our own bodies! So the disempowerment began. We no longer took the hour-long walk each night that kept our back pain at bay. Now we asked for a pill, because the walk is too much of a hassle. (But the walk was keeping you peaceful! And your body is so wise, and it knew that you needed that walk, and that’s why it created your back pain…to keep you walking. Yes, all symptoms are teachers).

Soon, doctors began to specialize, and the reductionist thinking evolved. Today, when you drive up Asheland Avenue, you see one doctor who can fix your hand, one who can fix your allergies, one who can fix your heart, one who can fix your bones and joints, and the list goes on. What is missing from this picture? Two main things: the tending to the relationships between all of your parts, and the tending to the sum of all of your parts; your greater Whole. That’s a lot to miss.

Now, going to specialists is an opaque process for the patient in which they are given various drugs and surgeries to fix their part. Like a machine…with parts. The thing about machines is that you can take one apart and spread all of the little pieces all over your yard, and then put it back together and it will work again. You can’t do that with bodies because it is the invisible relationship between the parts that creates our life-force, our spirit. The Chinese had a word for this, which is chi, or qi. (This force also connects us to everything outside of our bodies, like these mountains!)

And, so this new model was born, which is very young in the grand scope. It has only been in practice a few hundred years. It is not working.

And what I really wanted to convey in this article, is that people have become so disempowered by this. They have stopped listening to their bodies, the wisest thing they have, and now they ask the experts. They ask things like, What should I eat? How much sleep do I need? What am I to do for my aching back? I am asked these questions every day.

How the practitioner answers these questions creates the world the patient and practitioner live in. A good practitioner wakes the patient up to the fact that they already know how to treat themselves and that they are the ONLY expert there is when it comes to their unique body. This is done through specific questioning. Maybe the practitioner will suggest some experiments to put into practice in order for the patient to rediscover what they need. A good practitioner will help the patient make connections between their symptom and the rest of their life – their joys, their hardships, their family, their sleep, exercise, and stillness.

The more we answer those questions like this- “You should eat carrots because carrots cure headaches,” or “You should take magnesium, because magnesium will help your cramps,” the more the patient comes to rely on us. So there is a subtle but very important distinction between offering some practices, and being an ‘expert.’

Now here is the kicker – NOBODY knows how to cure back pain. Or sinus pain, or restless leg syndrome, or anything else. Because back pain does not exist. Back pain never walked into our clinic without a person attached to it. And so there has never been two cases of back pain that were the same. So there is no right answer, and very rarely is there a quick fix that is not just a veil. We have to actually practice to create the movement. Starting with sleep, food, breathing, rest, exercise, and water.

We are all so inundated with health information these days. It is almost impossible not to feel disempowered when natural medicine and alternative methods are exploding, as well as new drugs, diets, and research. “Experts” can certainly be found in these alternative arenas. Easily.

We can re-learn how to listen to our bodies. (My teacher used to say, Your kidney is 100x smarter than the smartest doctor in the world). As practitioners we can teach our patients how to find their own recipes for health, rather than automatically prescribing medicines. As patients, we have to be willing to practice, and work with a practitioner who teaches us how to listen, rather than fills our purse up with bottles of herbs and supplements, or chemical drugs.

When I first started seeing an acupuncturist, it changed my life immediately because it was the first time I experienced actual holistic health care. Practitioners do exist who are trained to hold everything with you. That’s what an acupuncturist actually is. This is not just Western Medicine with acupuncture needles. We are practicing just like those old village doctors. We just have a different heading these days.

So please drive a little further up Asheland Avenue, turn left, find Grove street, and be seen as a whole person again, in which all of your parts are connected, and your whole life is considered. This perspective is the key. Nothing lies outside the scope of this relationship-based approach.

-Sarah Thomas, L.Ac.

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