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How To Achieve Enduring Health and Vitality
John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Cost of Health Care System

The cost of illness care in terms of emotional drain on the provider (the doctor) and the consumer (you) is also great. Treatment fosters dependency of the patient on the professional. The public demands a pill for every ill, and it wants relief now! The doctor (or other health professional) is cast in the role of the Pill Fairy," a character who must possess both omnipotence and infallibility. When the pressures of this game become too great over time, professional burnout - a whole range of attitudes and behaviors, from ill temper to suicide - is the common result. The statistics for suicide, drug abuse, and heart attack among physicians reflect the dangers in this kind of situation.

The interaction between the professional and the patient often looks like the relationship between a parent and a child. Parents have power, and answers, and prescriptions. They are nurturing ("Here, let me help"), demanding ("You should do this"), and judgmental ("That's wrong"). Children have questions, feelings and needs, and compelling desires to please. They are compliant sometimes, downright stubborn and rebellious at others, and looking for both help and approval. And while this situation may be natural and necessary when one person is two years old and the other is forty, it is far from desirable, for instance, when you are fifty and your doctor is thirty.

Our current system for personal health may not be a system after all. Its orientation is toward treatment of an ailing part, a particular disease or set of symptoms, or the physical body alone. But most forms of treatment neglect to take into account that it is not a stomach that gets sick, but rather a whole person who doesn't feel well, and that human beings also have intellects, emotions, and souls, besides physical bodies. When was the last time your doctor asked you about your ability to express personal creativity in your job, your reluctance to cry or express anger, your sense of meaning and purpose in life, your awareness of the connectedness of all things in the universe?

The current illness-care system is expensive; it is risky; it discourages adults from taking charge of their own lives; it causes doctors and other helping professionals to burn out. It is limited in its perspective of life and health, and in acceptance of its own inadequacy. What it does well can be appreciated and used. What it fails to do must be assumed by another system.

This whole situation may be likened to your dealings with your automobile. You can find the best mechanics in town to fix the vehicle each time it breaks down, but they can never prevent you from abusing it and causing the next problem. A great deal of expense and effort might be saved were you to practice preventive maintenance more consistently, and exercise more care in the way you drive. There are two separate systems at work here: one for automobile repair (acute care or crisis intervention) and one for driver's education (prevention or education). Both are necessary for assuring maximum efficiency and long-term dependability of your car. The former bears a strong resemblance to the operation of our contemporary medical paradigm; the latter represents the neglected component of wellness education. It is the happy occurrence when one institution can perform both of these functions, but to demand this of our medical professionals, in most cases, may simply serve to increase the frustrations all around. In any case, the responsibility for prevention lies not with the doctor, it lies within each of us. It is long overdue that we recognize this and start reclaiming our personal power.

United States: Number Twenty-One

When the United States is compared to other countries in terms of longevity, it does poorly. The American male ranks twenty-first and the American female ranks twentieth. Infant mortality rates are even worse at twenty-third among the twenty-nine industrialized nations - a pretty poor showing for a country that spends more on medical treatment per capita than any other country in the world.*

As you read on, you may wish to refer back to this section on many occasions. Your clear understanding of this process will provide you with a simple way to describe each dynamic that relates to your state of health. Keep in mind also that self-responsibility and love are the supports of wellness, which allow this energy flow to occur most efficiently.

* Gerard Anderson, PhD, professor of health policy and management, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, using data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Doctor's Guide. See

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