Health care: Your choice


Health care: Your choice


Sunday, January 26, 2020

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FEARED highly among humans, sickness and disease have long wreaked some of the deadliest horrors visited upon man. In the face of the deathly duo, many resort to medical treatment in the hope that relief for self or family comes at the quickest possible time.

But where exactly should one turn in the perennial sea of advice on health?

To consider, it is well-touted among oral traditions in many quarters of our island that a good bowl of cane rat soup effectively treats whooping cough. Not to mention what one should do if “tinkin toe” gets stuck at one's throat.

But if oral tradition isn't enough, documented in the first-century medical encyclopedia of Dioscorides is a supposed remedy for jaundice, namely, ingesting a potion that comprises wine and goat excrement. Surely, we know now that all these purported remedies are likely to multiply the sufferer's woes instead of alleviating them.

Myth and medicine

With no monopoly on illnesses, humans are still learning about diseases and how they operate, even as we seek to wrench ourselves from the myth and superstition to which our forefathers and the ancients tied them. Rupturing ties with a tradition that positioned the gods as the fountainhead of all illnesses, the little understood was the distinguished and eminent Greek figure, Hippocrates, attributed the title Father of Modern Medicine, and the one to whom medical tradition in our Western world owes the Hippocratic Oath.

Though this has undergone radical revisioning, it bears noting that in its original iteration, the first words of the Hippocratic Oath reads: “I swear by Apollo Physician, by Asclepius, by Hygeia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses…”, effectively giving medicine a foundation in myth.

So while Hippocrates, in a landmark investigation, debunked long-held philosophical tenets on health that tied illnesses to the gods of his time by demonstrating the operation of the true cause of illnesses — viruses and bacteria — the physician's practice still depended on a mythology of how the body, they felt, worked, and how the inner organs were thought to have been connected.

The myth largely became medical reality through experience, but, truth be told, there was no systematic research or dissection of the human body in Hippocrates' time. So, his writings, while seeming wise and correct, were shrouded in the world of conjecture and the unknown.

Weigh your way carefully

Because a drowning man clutches at a straw, people tend to want to put faith in every little thing or the first word they hear — even without evidence sufficient for the claim — as they forage for advice, in desperation for cure. But who wouldn't want to weigh his steps before taking them, or looking before leaping?

Surely, as we have seen, not all medical treatment that claims to offer help offers help. This is so, as some are medically sound while others walk along lines of the fallacious, myth, mystery, superstition and even fraud. Given that our ever-growing tree of medicine had roots in myth, good judgement is critical, since a lack of it can unnecessarily expose one to risks.

Additionally, a treatment helpful to one person could prove ineffective or harmful to another, as each human body is both complex as it is unique. Watch your body's response to a treatment that you have conscientiously decided to embark upon. And in the face of a medical choice you have made, wisdom demands that options would have been weighed carefully instead of blindly believing every word,

Arriving at an active consciousness of health directives requires seeking and researching reliable information that will put one in a position to make an informed choice. One should never overlook getting a second or third medical opinion on a particular choice.

Guard against contraindications

This arises when a drug, procedure or surgery can harm the individual, and hence should not be used.

Contraindications are of two types. Relative contraindication calls for caution in the simultaneous use of two drugs or procedures, which the medical field may consider acceptable only if the benefits outweigh the risk. Where a person takes warfarin, for example, to thin the blood, aspirin, a popular blood thinner, should not be taken at the same time. Absolute contraindication, on the other hand, means that a procedure or substance could occasion a life-threatening situation, in which case, the procedure or medicine in question should not be used. Be aware of your allergies and state them clearly along with any current health issues, as some medical treatments may bring about unwanted or dangerous reactions in people with allergies, high blood pressure, and those who are pregnant.

Take, for example, isotretinoin. This acne prescription drug is a no-no for pregnant women, given the risk of birth defects. Similarly, some decongestants are to be avoided by people who suffer with high blood pressure.

Reacting realistically and reasonably

Concern for the state one's health is in is proper, and reasonable attention to our physical wellness and overall well-being demonstrates the value we accord to having good health. But like a funambulist or tight rope walker, concern over health requires balance — that single mantra we do well to adopt in all facets of life.

Obsessive preoccupation with health can occasion undue anxiety which, in itself, can set the stage for a series of ills in the body. This over preoccupation may cloud other things of import in life and may lead to desperation, which, in turn, may cause people to spend all they have with, still, some left with worsening conditions and heightened frustration. Such an experience, common to many, highlights the limits even of medical science, and the need, therefore, to be realistic in our expectations.

Your health is your wealth; protecting this fortune is a step all should take to enrich one's life. The choice, at the end of the day, is yours, but one you should not make before weighing the pros and cons amid a superfluity of options related to health.

Warrick Lattibeaudiere (PhD), a minister of religion for the past 22 years, lectures full-time in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

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