Monday, September 20, 2010

Breaking News?


One of my favorite Capitol Hill families: Andrew, Effie and their dog.

I heard a segment on NPR's Morning Edition today that was all about the healing power of human touch. The segment was reported as if this is news. For heaven's sake.

The first piece of the segment was about a medical professor at Stanford who insists that med school graduates should know how to do a physical exam - you know, listen with a stethascope, check reflexes, look into the ears, down the throats, into the eyes of their patients. Believe it or not, taking the time to learn these skills is a controversial idea in the medical community. Why learn how to do a physical when they can simply order tests?

Of course there's a place for MRI's and such, but hearing that many (most?) graduates of med school have no idea how to listen for a heart murmur, for instance ... whoa! That line from an Elvis Costello song comes to mind: Well I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused... No wonder I avoid western medicine unless I really have to partake of it. Thank God for the Sufi acupuncturist!

The second piece of the segment was a scientific explanation (nervous system based, mostly) of the process that makes physical touch good for us. I found it quite hilarious, listening to the reporter talk about pressure receptors under the skin, etc. Though I love anatomy and physiology, I really do, mechanical explanations of the experience of being human are so inadequate as to be laughable, (which is probably why I laughed).

How is it that medicine has strayed so far away from the reality of our flesh and blood, our interconnectedness, and the ways in which relating to each other directly can be healing? What happened?


The pedal shadow at the top is green because this bike had clear green plastic pedals. Very cool.

21 comments:

California Girl said...

Hi Reya: I'd be curious to know what you think of Dr. Christiane Northrup and her approach to women's medical issues. My husband distrusts anyone who goes on the talk circuit but I read her book "The Wisdom of Menopause" (along w/ several others) and found it to be the most helpful. I also think her PBS shows are very instructive.

Reya Mellicker said...

I don't know a thing about her! Must find her book, though. It sounds good.

The Bug said...

I'm always amused when "the news" discovers something that people have known for years. It's like a baby looking at its hands: "ooh - I have hands!"

On the other hand, I know lots of people who apparently don't know anything (What do you mean if I cut down my portion sizes I'll lose weight? How revolutionary) - so maybe such news segments are for them :)

Angela said...

I am shaking my head.
Even a LOOK, or a smile, or a good word can heal, how much more a touch! How can anyone be a doctor and not know that?
I sometimes think that if we`d just walk around, smile at people and carelessly stroke them, behind us we`d leave a bunch of totally happy people!

Reya Mellicker said...

I agree with you completely, Angela. It's as if, within certain communities, we have totally lost our common sense.

Bug are you serious? Whoa.

Meri said...

The Bug has a point. The truth is, we know this instinctively, so long as we haven't suppressed our instincts to the point we can't retrieve them when it counts. Or is it that we've lost our common sense?

Reya Mellicker said...

I think we don't trust our intuition or common sense anymore. Well, not WE here in this realm, but among certain communities.

ellen abbott said...

Maybe they stopped being healers when medicine became a profession. I wanna be rich, I think I'll be a doctor.

Amanda said...

i had to laugh at this too, these doctors discovering what grandmothers have known for centuries. then i read the insightful comments from the bug and meri -- sometimes i think the human race is losing touch with both common sense and instinct.

but have faith, the cycle is turning..

northlighthero said...

I would have been more surprised by the controversy you report -- should MD's know how to personally do a physical exam? -- except for a recent hospital experience.

A friend had elective surgery. Throughout the second day she complained of feeling feverish -- and thirsty -- but according to the nurses her temperature had remained actually a little bit below normal.

When I arrived to visit I kissed her forehead, and my grandmotherly lips felt "fever about 100 or so". I suggested to her that she stop drinking icewater for 15 minutes and then we get her temperature taken ... and Lo! it was 100.1 degrees F!

The nurse had heard the patient complain of feeling warm, measured the oral temperature (twice waiting until the patient finished a sip of water), but never put so much as a gloved hand across the forehead to confirm.

And yet, fever is an important post-surgical symptom, no?

Elizabeth said...

Don't you just want to do a great big Homer Simpson DUH!!!!
when you hear all this scientific twaddle..........
I think massage, a dog, and good friends can ward off lots of bad stuff. Not broken legs --but ordinary sorts of stress-related things.
God, I hate tests.
You always cut to the quick of things.
Love you, Reya!
Happy beginning of fall.....

Linda Sue said...

Interesting isn't it... if someone touches someone they can end up with a lawsuit or in the slammer...They can be misconstrued as "sexual"- a hug, an invitation? F-ed up, I say and I do agree with Elizabeth- A dog or kitty is the best we can do ...besides, of course, your profession, Healing touch of goodness, pure of heart- you make the human experience all the better.

Nancy said...

I don't know, but it has.

Reya Mellicker said...

Love you too Elizabeth!

Amanda, I believe you - about the tide turning. I feel it. I do. Here in the midst of the turning, though, sometimes it gets a little bit crazy!

Karen said...

Dear NPR: Well, DUH!

(This is how I imagine you/me/lots of people posting a comment on the story...)

Well, I have my theories on how we got here--fear of the body, our own vulnerability; veneration of science and a strange belief that it is something away from the truths of our bodies; training doctors to be more like scientists than healers (thus the lab tests instead of actually touching a patient). It's all too depressing, really.

What I love is that a lot of people (Anglo/American/European) have discovered what other people on the planet know: that true healing is not separate from anything else. You can't just write a prescription and expect everything to be hunky dory. Mind you, I do appreciate antibiotics when I really, really need them, but I no longer believe in the "just give me a prescription" way of being a patient. Our human selves are complicated and intertwined with everything else!

Rock on, Reya.

Pauline said...

Marlo Morgan's Mutant Message Down Under shows just how far we've come from a belief in the healing power of touch in modern society and how important a return to ancient knowledge is.

Reya Mellicker said...

Well, Karen - how beautiful. You, too, Pauline.

Maybe we are returning and that's why it's news on NPR. Hope so!

Some of us never forgot the healing power of touch.

willow said...

What a lovely couple. Just looking at them made me smile!

Reya Mellicker said...

They are a wonderful couple, Willow. Good friends, too.

Liza said...

that last paragraph Reya, bang!

Reya Mellicker said...

Snap!