When Open-Minded Doctor is not an Oxymoron (Part II)


            Stephen Wechsler, doctor of chiropractic, is on a similar but slightly divergent path: he is querying the past for solutions to the present.  He does not think about things; he experiences things:  Rolfing, reiki, whatever.  Do it to me, he seems to be saying, and let me figure out where it fits into the big picture.  Let me try it on for size.

            Steve learns not only by reading books but also by interviewing the people who write books.  He has a radio show and every Saturday morning he calls up authors and learns—with his audience—what’s new.

            His journey has taken him back to the beginning, to the places where mind and body were still treated as one.  Steve goes back to India, to ayurvedic healing, to meditation.  He uses the American medical industry to diagnosis, and roots and berries to treat.  Your MRI shows what?  Okay, drink this tea and take a break from riding your scooter.

            He is a major practitioner of breath work, as presented in Art of Living workshops.  Learning to breath for life has radically changed people’s futures—young guys in jail, middle-aged women with asthma—the answers are there.

            What these men—Steve Wechsler, Paul Cohen, and Nasri Ghaly—have in common with me is a desire to know, a willingness to teach, and a wish to be healthy.  They are as concerned with their own spiritual condition as they are with their patients’ physical conditions.  None of us is motivated by money.

Steve lives in a small house in the country and heats with wood; for air conditioning, he goes outside.  He loves his tractor.  Paul lives in a big house in suburbia with his wife, four kids, two dogs and cat; he’s planted the property full of daffodils and roses.  He loves his electronic toys.  Dr. Ghaly lives in the same small city house he bought when he was a resident twenty-five years ago.  He loves gambling.  I live in a two-room apartment, and really don’t care.  I love sex  (would God that I could get some).

            I have been to doctors, to those manifestations of the American medical industry who live in big houses on the tops of hills and have chandeliers in their front halls.  (I grew up with a chandelier; so what?)  What these doctors have said to me when I’ve asked medical questions (How does my body work?  What is wrong?  What will the medicine do?) is, “I went to medical school!”  Mostly, they bark it in a sort of outraged voice.  They do not tell me what they learned in medical school.  What they mean is, “I don’t know the answers to your questions; stop asking.”

            Once, when I asked Dr. Ghaly too many questions, he said, “I don’t know!”  The beginning of knowledge is the admission of ignorance.  If you believe you already know everything then you will not learn anything new.

            I finally figured it out:  “I went to medical school” is not a statement of knowledge; it is a statement of authority.  It is physicians’ declared belief that they know more than I do, and therefore I should not challenge them.  I should be obedient.  They went to medical school; they are smart; they’ve got papers to prove it.

            Paul’s dogs have paper, too.  The papers do not prove that they are smart:  they merely attest that the dogs are well trained.

Graduates of medical school, likewise, are well trained.  They are trained to make diagnoses, match diagnoses with pharmaceuticals, and write prescriptions for the pharmaceuticals.  A dog could do it, except that there is so much!  The human body is the most complicated thing on earth, and pharmaceuticals are in competition for being the most complicated things invented by humankind.  It is not that the diagnose-and-prescribe routine is so conceptually difficult; it is that the diagnose-and-prescribe routine has so incredibly many divisions and subdivisions, so many parts.  It’s hard to keep them all straight in your mind, which brings us to doctors’ minds.

            Most doctors are not very smart—certainly not as smart as you think they are.  The average doctor has an I.Q. around 120.  Mine is around 140.  They took a paper and pencil test and got certified; I didn’t.  Society pays them about a million dollars a lifetime; it pays me exactly $661 a month.  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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