Treat the symptoms when that’s the best you can do

After getting no help from physicians, I recently decided to try an herbal cough syrup to treat my chronic bronchitis. After just a week, the symptoms that had been pestering me for a year began slowly to subside. Although the problem has not completely cleared up, already I feel much better . My singing has also improved—bronchitis is definitely not good for one’s voice.

Looking back on the many visits I have paid to doctors in the past year, I am struck by a pattern: almost all of the activity during my doctor’s visits centered around performing tests to determine the cause of the problem, and very little attention was paid to treating the symptoms. I had chest X-rays, blood tests, a CT-scan, allergy tests, lung capacity tests, an asthma test, and even tests of potential allergens collected from my home. None of these tests revealed the cause.

No medicines were prescribed, because the tests revealed no problems. “Your lungs look perfectly healthy,” several doctors told me. Ok, fine. Then why do I have to cough every day? No one could give me an answer.

Yet after just a week of taking a Swiss herbal remedy every day, my symptoms had largely vanished. Why didn’t any of the many doctors and nurses I spoke with ever recommend ways to treat the symptoms? Not one of the doctors and nurses I saw ever recommended anything other than further tests.

I’m afraid that this could be an example of the sort of thinking that turns many people against traditional medicine:
If a condition cannot be explained, it’s not a real problem.
If a treatment is not well understood, it’s not a real treatment.
Of course it may be just a coincidence that I’ve begun to improve only now. Perhaps my body needed a year to repair the damage caused by last year’s bout of pneumonia. Maybe the cough syrup was as much placebo as real cure. Maybe changes in lifestyle, activity, or weather affected my health in a positive way. It’s hard to know. I hasten to point out that I too prefer to understand the reasons behind things. On the one had it seems logical that better understanding of a problem will lead to better solutions most of the time; but on the other hand, this too might be a form of self-delusion: it feels good to have an explanation that fits within one’s accepted way of thinking.

For me, a scientific outlook is such an integral part of who I am that I too was very much engaged in the search for an explanation to my problem. Did I unknowingly contribute to the decision to overlook possibilities for treating the symptoms? Was I so set on understanding the problem that I ignored potential solutions? It’s an interesting question.

Still, I’m frustrated that the medical professionals whose help I sought gave such short shrift to treating the symptoms. I feel a deepened sympathy now for those who have much more serious problems than I, and who are neglected in part because their conditions are not well understood.

1 comment:

Dimple said...

I have the exact same issues and TCM helps me a lot. The TCM doctor doesn't spend time trying to find out what is the problem, but during the appointment, he is active. Prescribes herbs and teas, massages, acupuncture. This wolved a few of my health problems, while I had paid more to traditional doctors who just keep on saying I have nothing... (although it hurts badly)