For Wise Health Care: Add a dash of Love

How wise are you in your health care decisions? You can check against a list of suggestions from a special health toolkit.  Since February is National Wise Health Care Consumer Month it’s a good time to stop and consider what makes sense.

Here are the highlights: it includes choosing your care providers carefully; communicating, sharing concerns and being comfortable asking questions; knowing when to treat yourself at home. Following these would presumably lower the cost of health care and increase health outcomes.
Let’s say you’re already wise. Can you be wiser? Consider these true stories of wise health care consumers. Could you benefit from them?

Love as best medicine.

Love as best medicine.

Story #1 concerns close friends Bill and Caroline who faced a seriously daunting health challenge. Bill was bitten by a tick, and when he sought treatment other alarming but unrelated symptoms appeared—problems with his kidneys and auto-immune system. One doctor after another sought to cure the problems through various diagnoses and treatments, but none worked, and Bill was suffering.

Caroline researched their options, asked for other opinions, considered new approaches. They tried a regimen of holistic medicine, but it was ineffective and expensive. Eventually they went to the Mayo Clinic, and doctors there advised a return home to consult with a local specialist.

Finally the couple’s persistence paid off.  Out of fierce and protective devotion to her husband, Caroline became a powerful advocate for Bill, taking careful notes, asking the hard questions, encouraging him to take one step after another until they were led to the expert who found the answer. It was a low-grade B cell lymphoma, and there was a drug for that. Now it’s wonderful to see Bill strong and well again, with no sign of the former suffering.

Story #2: A famous doctor, heard on NPR’s “The People’s Pharmacy” and TED talks, pleads for a change in the diagnostic process for patients. Dr. Abraham Verghese laments that computers, tests and technology have taken the place of the doctor’s simple observation and conversation with the patient. He’s actually coined the phrase iPatient, or virtual patient on the screen, as the focus of everyone’s concerns– instead of the live flesh and blood person waiting on the diagnosis table. Patients feel the inattentiveness of their practitioners, he says, as the bedside chat and healing touch disappear.

Verghese has discovered a powerful, poignant subtext in the few words from his patients. Each one is essentially as a little child, pleading, “Daddy, Mommy, help me. Tell me it’s going to be all right.” And the only acceptable physician’s answer, he believes, should be, “I will abide with you…I will never let you down.” In other words, “I will care for you.” 

His conclusions about caring are backed up by research. Love is good for your heart and blood pressure, reports psychologist Brooks Gump through ABC-TV. Love makes us live longer and happier, notes Dr. Dean Ornish, medical editor of HuffPost. A Google search of Good Health and Love yields many other such studies. Yet Ornish observes that loving connections often go “unrecognized as a health behavior.”

Story #3: Many years ago, I had an experience which showed the power of a relationship with my care provider. Living alone at the time, I felt suddenly unwell. I had an important meeting that night, and I was to be the main presenter. Hours of preparation had gone into this event, and now I had illness to deal with on top of the stress I already felt.

I needed a solution quickly, and I yearned to go to a parent. I prayed– my first step when dealing with illness. I asked my Father-Mother God to give me the help I needed. I felt his presence and care. I thought of a friend who was experienced in this work and familiar with the event I was about to take part in. I called him and explained my plight, asking him to take over my duties at the event. 

His kind reply was so reassuring that it was more than a mere Yes. After we hung up the distressing symptoms immediately began to lessen and then disappeared. When he had concluded the event, my friend hurried to the phone to ask if I was better. I assured him I was entirely well.

In each of these three instances, wise health care choices were apparent and available.

But I believe there was more than wisdom going on here. There was love. Whether it was the love of a wife for her husband, the love of a doctor for his patient, or that of a friend for a friend, there was love. This love far exceeded mere human affection or kindness. It reached to a source outside of human ability. Some might call that source divine Love, or God.

Maybe something else is needed on that list of wise health care components: the giving, receiving and accepting of love.

(Cynthia Barnett is the Media/Legislative Representative for the The Christian Science Committee on Publication, NC.)


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