Have you ever thought about how mislabeled our medical system is? Do you ever go to the doctor when you’re healthy? Maybe you do occasionally if you need a yearly physical, but is visiting a health care provider once a year enough to stay healthy? The thousands of Americans sitting in various hospital rooms across the country probably don’t think so. In calling our medical care in the US health care I think we are doing ourselves a disservice. While this medicine is important – extremely so in many cases, it is sick care. It he would tell his fixing people who are sick or dying and is not always concerned with getting people well. Last year at this time, my Mom was in the hospital. Without the doctors, nurses, and staff who took care of her she would be dead right now. There is no question that the only thing that kept her alive was the hospital care she received and the surgery that was performed. Three days after the surgery her hospital internist, who had been working closely with us as well as her other teams of doctors (she has a lot of those), came into her ICU room and very calmly stated “We are sending you home today.” She and I were both floored since she had been very close to death a few days earlier. His rationale was “A hospital is no place to get better so you need to go home and heal.” He was right. A hospital is for sick people but it is not a great place to be if you’re trying to recover.
So what is health care? What do you do every day to keep yourself healthy? I had a chemistry professor in acupuncture school, who had a wonderful way of looking at health care. In addition to teaching acupuncture and chiropractic students, she also ran a successful chiropractic and nutrition practice in a large integrative health center in New Yorker patients, preventative health care is temporary if you are willing to do the following things in your life, every day. Eat only whole organic foods, drink no caffeine or alcohol, sleep 8 hours a night, meditate 30 minutes a day, exercise one hour a day, and have no stress in your life. Now, I don’t know about you, but as much as I admire those goals, I have heard the Dalai Llama admit that sometimes he gets annoyed so I’m going to guess I’m not the only one who sees those goals I mentioned as a little unreasonable. So what is a reasonable alternative? My professor saw regular acupuncture, chiropractic, and other self-care as an integral part of keeping one’s self healthy. I agree.
I am not saying one has to spend thousands of dollars a month on daily massages, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture treatments, and meditation retreats. That would be more than a little self-serving. What I am saying is taking care of yourself, honestly trying to do what is best for yourself each day is the most basic form of health care. If you have the normal stressors of life, including emotional stress, questionable eating habits, sporadic exercise patterns, a sedentary job environment, or any combination of the above, acupuncture can be a part of the plan of action you employ to keep yourself healthy. Acupuncture is a great way to help your body function optimally before you get sick, to prevent illness, not just as a reaction to illness or pain. We are human, perfect in our imperfection. We all make excellent and not so excellent life choices. I see people every day who are all trying to do what is best for themselves and some choices work better than others. I am just as human as my patients and there are times when I leave the office at the end of the night and the last thing I want to do is haul my tired butt to a yoga class or take a three mile walk around the local park. I know those things will help me feel better, but sometimes the lure of a slice of pizza and lounging on the couch watching the Phillies lose (again) is just too strong. We have also been conditioned to only think of our health in the most superficial of ways, what our bodies look like, unless something starts to break down.
So what is health care? My professor’s recommendation, while perhaps extreme, is a good place to start. Health care is taking care of your body, mind, and soul before you get sick. To do that you eat good food, exercise your body in a gentle moderate way, and calm your mind by expanding it. Sounds easy! It is, as long as life doesn’t get in the way too often. The reality, unfortunately, is somewhere in the middle. What can you do to keep yourself healthy? Don’t wait to take care of yourself. You aren’t doing yourself any good in suffering through whatever ailment you have. Take the time to heal yourself. Do what is necessary to keep your health a priority. One of the most challenging lessons I have learned is that you cannot water flowers from an empty watering can. You must keep your own well of health full if you want to help others take care of themselves.
By Ann Kirby, Licensed Acupuncturist