Issue 15 – What I’ve Learned about Holistic Health

My husband is currently in Asia having his teeth attended to. He has endured a lifetime of drama with his teeth, due to the childhood administration of a medication that was used to treat a nasty, though thankfully now, preventable disease.

We now get dental and other medical treatment in Asia after spending lot of time there building our cross-border health company, Meditrav. His current experience reminded me of the significant differences between the medical care provided across Asia, versus that provided by our own overworked and under resourced General Practitioners here in Australia.

During my husband’s procedure there was a complication, and doubt as to whether one area would be strong enough to take the implants he required. But, instead of just saying they couldn’t do it or sending him home for weeks while they worked it out, his US trained and qualified Dentist called in the troops.  In fact, the CEO of the implant manufacturer, another implant specialist and a gum specialist all came into the clinic, the next day. Consult conducted, problem solved. He will have the work completed. 

This approach was no surprise to us as Asia is the place for medical collaboration. Teams in clinics and hospitals are engaged to complement each other and work collaboratively for the benefit of patients. Hospitals are set up to allow patient families to stay with them. The system is set up for fast, efficient and quality healing. Most hospitals even have wellness centres attached to include mind and spirit work in recovery.

Not so much back at home. Indeed, I am flabbergasted by the lack of integrative care and the constant contradictions in treatment (another reason it is imperative we ‘own our own health journey’). Something that’s been glaringly obvious during recent treatment for chronic pain. Pain that I have managed since a fall from the top of a grandstand at a swimming carnival in Byron Bay when I was about 12. Pain that, at the time, was indescribable. Even the simple task of getting in and out of a chair was unbearable for months. Regardless, no scans were ever taken due to the cost, and eventually the pain subsided and it was forgotten. 

Fast forward to my mid-twenties and the pain returned and finally, scans were taken. Thus followed 30 years of maintenance via Osteopathy/Chiropractic care, acupuncture, exercise, corticosteroid injections and over-the-counter pain meds. But as my over-the-counter medication – where my local chemist monitored my useage carefully –  is now prescription only, I’m being treated like a junkie for even asking for them to provide it. Seriously, asking doctors for access to a packet of Mersyndol twice a year is like asking them to light my ice pipe!  

It’s contradictory and short-sighted, creating greater issues, for both patient and doctor. If I keep some close, I can hold the debilitating and excruciating spasms at bay. A single dose is usually enough to calm it down overnight before the need to call an ambulance and start what is a painful and expensive (for both the government and me) process of being admitted to hospital, undertaking more unnecessary and expensive scans, and take up a bed in hospital for days so they can administer a LOT more meds than I would have taken had I stayed at home.  

It’s like our time poor and exhausted medical professionals are not seeing the wood for the trees. Health care has become, reactive, not at all proactive and our medical carers seem to have been so overburdened by a system designed to work against them, and us, that many of us are falling between the cracks because it is easier to say no than to deal with the paperwork.

It’s no secret I strongly believe in adopting a holistic approach to health which means if pharma is required, then so be it. But, preventative medicine is a far more proactive approach to reduce the need to take pharmaceuticals in the first place.  Pharmaceuticals that often result in even more health damaging side-effects, dragging out treatment and healing. 

It begs the question… When did natural therapies that have proven effective over centuries become ‘alternative’? Holistic health, which addresses the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – has been ditched for the pharmacological cauldron, and it is easy to point the blame at profit, but let’s drop the cynicism for the minute. What I think the real issue is that it’s simply the easy way out of having to get to know a person well enough to assess their holistic health needs thoroughly. 

Instead of telling someone ‘No one will give you this forever’ or ‘yeah, that’s what all drug addicts say’ (I kid you not!), how about providing some real support to help me work through the pain? 

When I told my doctor that I do Pilates, physio, cycle, walk my dog, swim and now see a myotherapist (she had no idea what that was!) to help manage my pain, it still wasn’t not enough to avoid insulting accusations. In fact, it felt like, ‘come back when you need a wheelchair and we’ll talk about it then’. 

So, I’m asking you to take this op ed as a reminder to step up and speak up when it comes to your health. There is no one size fits all and, we can’t rely on our esteemed, yet overburdened, medical practitioners to thoroughly examine and listen to us even when we provide an in-depth history, so we absolutely need to take back ownership of our health journey and care.

While my chronic pain will require medical input, as I await my place at the Persistent Pain Clinic, for all else it’s up to us to explore all the options when it comes to our health because no one knows it better than we do. We just need faith and the confidence to own it.