Category Archives: Thoughts

On Purpose

Instead of learning about this week’s viruses and the bacteria that I should have mastered two or three weeks ago (but who’s counting when I am this behind?), I offer my dear reader a glimpse of my happily overflowing life as a first year medical student. In these past few months, my identity has been both lost and strengthened, as I am stretched beyond capacity in nearly every direction, almost daily. It’s rather wonderful. Having so little time only enhances each moment, and I drink in knowledge, friendship, purpose.

"A still life"

“A still life”

Bad days are like today: I set no alarm to let myself sleep, and wake up unintentionally at 3:30 am. After a half hour of tossing and turning, I give up on sleep and drag myself out of bed for an impromptu 4 am yoga session (the last few months of near-inactivity have me lying awake in stiffness and pain, as I prematurely empathize with my future geriatric patients…), and begin my work in peaceful, dark, silence. Perhaps sipping a cup of single-origin coffee, the sun rises and the day begins, as I rush off to somewhere to furiously absorb or regurgitate newly procured knowledge.

Good days are also like today, except I may have acquired more sleep, eaten a less mushy banana, spent more time with friends, finished the day’s lectures, and pushed myself into a deeper backbend…

Frustrations, yes. Questions, sometimes (like the differential diagnoses that float to my mind when I question: what toxins will I likely ingest from this soup of questionable age?). Sacrifice, so much (but I am constantly reminded of how much this struggle is worth. What else would I be doing with my mid-to-late twenties?). Passion, always. Passion moves me. Yes, this word is overused and I am known to indulge in its use, but passion bubbles up so unexpectedly (and with such frequency!), that I can’t help but be overwhelmed with intrigue and delight. And these little bouts of passion, if you will, reaffirm my purpose and drive me forward.

I am blessed to be living with such fullness.

(No wonder I can’t help but smile)

On “Naming My Cadaver”

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De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Andreas Vesalius (1543)

The other day, I met my cadaver. I had seen cadavers before and had even held parts of the human body in my hands, but “meeting” mine, which involved turning the body over in a vat of formalin, as to prepare for the dissection of the back, brought the situation to life (no pun intended). Lying in front of me, naked and exposed, was the body of someone who had once been alive. And I was about to cut into this body, using it as a tool to expand my knowledge and understanding of medicine.

While in the anatomy lab, I heard the question, “What should we name our cadaver?” voiced several times by various “tank groups”. I guess naming cadavers is something that medical students do, as earlier in the day, I heard an excerpt from a book written by a doctor who looked back and remembered naming her cadaver “Cherry.” A quick google search on “naming cadavers” brings up discussions by medical students attaching names to cadavers to remind themselves that they are dissecting a human, someone who was once alive. I guess some might need this extra step to “person-ize” their cadaver. Or maybe some need to soften the strangeness of the situation by attaching a name, maybe even something slightly humorous or ironic. However, the idea of naming a cadaver immediately unsettled me and, before lab, I mulled over this idea and wondered whether I would name mine (as I had named the bodies of frogs I dissected in middle school), or whether I would even have a choice in the christening process amongst my tank mates.

But back to my cadaver. Judging by his body, I can tell that he lived a long life. I hope it was one filled with love, happiness, meaning, and minimal suffering. This man lying before me had a family, friends, an occupation, favorite places and things, various likes and dislikes, a life, a name. He was a person. He had created his own life and identity.

Who am I to give him a name?

One could get philosophical here and go into the deeper and perhaps existential questions about mind-body duality, the origins of personhood, what makes us human, the existence of the soul, its origin and location, where the soul goes when the body dies, and the body (is it just a shell?). I won’t go into these questions here, as that conversation would go on for days and I doubt that I would ever arrive at any meaningful conclusions. But, I will ask, is this body lying before me, naked and exposed, still a person? Yes, I believe so. But it is also an important learning tool and I will respect both aspects of this cadaver. I am deeply grateful for this incredible gift.

However, no matter the answers to these questions posed, giving my cadaver a name seems to somehow cheapen the experience.

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De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Andreas Vesalius (1543)

Movement.

Path.jpgEarly this morning, I looked at my calendar after awaking from a restless sleep. After months of living at or near limbo, I am ready to make as much of a decision as I am able to make in my current situation.

The decision that I have become fixated upon involves taking a leap that I have dreamed of making for years but haven’t dared take—leaving Portland.

20140123-215031.jpgI have fallen for this city. In these past five years in Portland and the surrounding areas, I have explored my mind, body, heart, and soul. I have made friends with waterfalls, blown kisses to the ocean as the water gently caresses the shore, watched the appearance and progression of wildflowers signifying the arrival of Spring, chased rainbows and the rare thunderstorm, spent months buried in books, and fell in love for the first and second times.

Life in Portland has been good to me. Though I often complain mostly about rain, bearded men, and cigarettes, I enjoy what the city has to offer and the minimal amount of effort it takes to live here. I love that I live equidistant from a specialty market and my favorite yoga studio, and only a mile from a(n inactive?) volcano. I enjoy that I can get away with never changing out of yoga pants, and that I rarely have to explain my eating habits when I share a meal. Life in Portland is easy. It’s been great and has stolen more than a piece of me.

Wildflowers_Mt. Hood.jpgI am a creature that loves beauty and exploration. I thrive on change and often find myself craving movement. I haven’t yet left Portland because of its comforts and its ability to make time evaporate. I also can’t get away from the city’s proximity to the easily-accessible and jaw-dropping beauty of the Pacific Northwest. I willingly (with some moments of hesitation) gave my early twenties to Portland, but, as I progress into another phase, I now feel that I am ready for change.

As I looked at my calendar this morning, I counted how much time I likely have left here in Portland, and I picked a date.

March 31. 66 days.

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I then thought longingly about the lonely drive from Portland, Oregon to Sedona, Arizona—It will be pretty come Spring…

And I then started looking at plane tickets, made some calculations, and explored the fine lines between dreams and my early morning consciousness…

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2013: Reflections

Two-Thousand-Fourteen.

Twenty-Thirteen has come and gone in what feels like less than a moment. This time last year, I was lonely in Coimbatore but living passionately. It was perfect. I was shadowing at the wonderful Womens Center and running almost daily (in an attempt to ease heartache and train for my first and so-far-only race—the Coimbatore Rock n’ Run Marathon—where I ran a rocky and dusty 10 km and got fairly drunk for breakfast immediately following its completion).

What a life I have lived.

Dancing in a Cambodian Wedding Train

Dancing in a Cambodian Wedding Train

Asia was just fantastic and I have been recovering from the high since my April return (really in recovery since May, as the high lasted for at least couple of weeks). Travel really is a drug—I find myself reaching and plateauing at these sensational peaks—constantly in love with everything, everyone, and my own serendipitous and glorious existence. And the come down, the come down…It has lasted much longer than any hangover and leaves me longing for the constant engagement and stimulation that travel provides…

My return was difficult. It has been difficult. I moved into a transitional state (where I still linger) and I am someone who dislikes states of prolonged uncertainty (yet somehow, I am still in love with life and all its complexities just the same). My six months of unemployment were a lesson in humility, as my hopes and ego were shattered on a daily basis with silent rejections (I have since found a wonderful job that has proven to be a near-perfect fit for my brief stint in limbo). And then there was the reemergence of more-than-one heartache that I thought that I had left behind, somewhere in the bowels of Asia…

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On top of a mountain, looking up…

To the hum of this ambient whine, and most important to me as a person, was the task of applying, interviewing, wait-listing, and then finally being accepted into medical school. This endeavor has been with me constantly for at least the past year—even entering my mind while spacing out in the produce section of New Seasons Market—and has been the topic of hours upon hours of conversation. It has been a source of great stress and has tested my patience. Now that I have finally been accepted into a school where I feel that I will be quite happy, I breath. I have worked so hard for these things that matter most and everything is finally falling into place, like they often seem to do…

Twenty-thirteen has been a year of lessons. I was reminded that life is full of peaks and valleys, gives and takes, moments of delightful ease followed by months of challenge, that I will get through whatever is thrust before me, and still come out grateful for both sides of the experience.

[Change is inevitable and, as wonderful as it would be, life has no pause option (and I am thankful that just this past year has given me a plethora of pause-worthy experiences, so many that I couldn’t even begin to choose where to bask in the sun—or snow—for eternity)]

But I am ready for change and have been asking and working hard for more movement, wherever it takes me. Once again, I am incredibly thankful for the experiences that have allowed me to learn, love, and grow. I will continue to use these valuable tools to fine-tune my life.

May twenty-fourteen be stimulating, engaging, and full. May twenty-fourteen be exactly what we need.

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On Open-Mindedness

Aldus Huxley's Doors of Perception

Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception”

I like to think of myself as open-minded. We all like to think of ourselves as open-minded (If you have ever heard someone describe himself or herself as a close-minded individual…I’d be curious to meet him or her. But then again, maybe not…). We all have friends or family who identify as homosexual. Perhaps our neighbor identifies as transgender. Maybe we had black or other minority students in our college classes. Or maybe we went to a liberal arts college. We ride our bicycle exclusively (even when it’s dark and rainy and we are carrying a week’s worth of groceries). Or maybe we exclusively take the bus (after all, it builds character). We have been to strip clubs and have giggled in sex-shops (after a healthy debate, of course) and we even have a friend who was an “exotic dancer”. We may have done more drugs than our peers and feel that, because we have had these experiences, our minds are more opened (or we have done no drugs and raise ourselves above those who have—after all, drugs can contribute to brain damage). We meditate every morning before breakfast. We drink only fair-trade coffee (often out of mason jars). We eat local food. We are vegetarian, or better yet, are vegan or raw-foodists. And our bank is our local credit union.

Yes, we believe (consciously or not) that being open-minded is equivalent to the lifestyle choices we make. However, being liberal does not equate being open-minded.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo "The Vegetable Gardener"

Giuseppe Arcimboldo “The Vegetable Gardener”

Having grown up in Sedona, Arizona, and having spent the majority of my adulthood in the progressive community of Portland, OR, I have spent my life around people who believe themselves to be open-minded. However, despite having lived in these communities and despite what we like to believe about ourselves, I am confronted with close-minded “open-minded” individuals on almost a daily basis.

I argue that this closed-minded “open-mindedness” is severely limiting and can prevent us from truly connecting with others.

(from the University of St. Andrews 2013 Open Minds series)

(from the University of St. Andrews 2013 Open Minds series)

Some of the best lessons I have learned have come from “unlikely situations”, situations so unlikely that I have had to grapple with my own boundaries of open-mindedness. One such lesson came from a brilliantly loving Maori woman who was a single mother that was several months pregnant with her second child. As we worked together in the south island of New Zealand, we talked about the struggles of motherhood, the profoundness of love, and the absolute beauty of bringing new life into our world. Talking with the woman, my then-somewhat troubled relationship with my own mother began to unfold and I became overwhelmed with an appreciation for the sacrifices that my own mother had made for my sister and me. For the first time in my nineteen-years, my heart opened to the beauty of motherhood. This moment impacted my life and I remember it with warmth and fondness. I felt so much respect for this woman who had overcome so much (and taught me about motherhood).

Then we took our lunch break.

Lunch PailAs I opened up my lunch of homemade bread (baked on top of a wood stove in a Dutch oven), local cheese, and local smoked venison salami, this amazing woman who had taught me so much went over to the corner of the dining area and lit up a cigarette. And then another one. And perhaps another one. At six and a half months pregnant.

She saw me looking over at her, nodded her head at me, and genuinely beamed in my direction.

I looked down, averting her gaze. And, for the remaining few weeks that I worked at the farm, I never made eye contact with her again.

Because of those cigarettes (which at 19 I occasionally smoked myself) and her pregnant condition, I had no idea where to place my experience with her. I was too close-minded to appreciate the value of our connection and to separate her wisdom from her addiction (or lifestyle choice, depending on your view of cigarette smoking).

After deconstructing the uncomfortable feelings tangled with my reaction to my interactions with this woman, I learned two valuable lessons. The first, involving motherhood, I have already discussed. The second, and perhaps more important lesson, was to realize humanity and be more open-minded about my teachers.

So, I want to pose some questions to us “progressive” folks. (Mind you, I am known to enjoy some healthy exaggeration, especially when it comes to life in Portland, OR…)

FolgersHeart RoastersHow do we view those who drink Folgers? Or those who drink Starbucks instead of Stumptown (or Stumptown over Heart)?  How do we view those who drive their cars to work rather than spending their long commutes biking in the rain or taking multiple buses to reach their destination? Those that choose to drive a BMW over a Prius? Or those that shop at Safeway or at Whole Foods rather than the farmers market or exclusively at their local co-op? Those who still eat McDonald’s? And what about those who came from wealthy families and had their opportunities “handed” to them?

In fewer words: How do we view those who have made life choices that differ or even conflict with our own?

We all try to justify our lives and the decisions we have made to get us where we are or where we want to go, often failing to recognize that other paths and choices are completely valid. To us, our “open-minded” ways are more “enlightened” than those with differing views or with those who have made different choices. And, on many levels, I am just as guilty as my peers.

One of the things that my advocacy training has reinforced is that we are the experts in our own lives, and are not experts in the lives of others. I believe that this lesson is key to being open-minded. We must consider where others have been and where they are coming from. We must understand that there is more than one way to save the world. We also must learn that just because someone is different or has a less than savory (or too savory) background, which we find conflicting, we can still learn valuable lessons.

After all, it is conflict and difference that makes our world interesting.

Note: While this post illustrates a bit of my sense of humor concerning myself and the locals where I have spent a significant portion of my life, I feel strongly about its content and ask my readers, especially those who identify as liberal or progressive, to critically evaluate their own “open-mindedness,” including judgments which they may project inadvertently.

Reflections on Self

Paul Muller-Ortega

Paul Muller-Ortega

This evening I went to a Satsang at my yoga studio with Paul Muller-Ortega. Paul spoke about a number of things, including one of my favorite topics—the self and the formation of identity. As my college professors know, I wrote all of my papers outside Biology on either the conceptualization of the self, women, or some combination of the two (I even did an independent study one semester titled “Feminine Identity in Early Modern Europe”). With this interest, I was excited to hear Paul’s ideas on self and self-exploration (I knew he might have different insight than say, Montaigne…). Listening to him for that hour or so simultaneously made me want to go back to college, attend lectures and methodologically read books, and to silently retreat, exploring my own self through meditation.

Specifically, Paul spoke about how the self is continually being recreated, constantly reassembling itself from moment to moment. However, this recreation is not random and it is possible to influence the process and shift the patterns of self in a particular direction (free-will anyone?). Thus, we hold some power over self-creation and development (and in turn our own destinies).

This shift, however, does not occur by simply setting intentions or projecting lofty goals and letting the universe take control (although I won’t argue that positive thinking doesn’t help). Instead, in order to meaningfully direct this re-patterning of the self, a method or structure is required—a refined and appropriate method of casting. Millions of methods exist to reach any number of intentions or desires but, ultimately, nothing is given to us freely.

To achieve whatever end, we must work diligently and persevere.

Re-patterning the self (courtesy of http://www.tricycle.com)

My disappearance (from the virtual realm)

20130606-100644.jpgWell, I have finally returned to Portland after a seven-month hiatus. It has been an interesting time of transitions and perhaps why I have not updated my blog in over a month. (I’ve been figuring out some health issues, applying to medical school, applying for jobs, working on writing up a report for my research on Indian widows, catching up with old friends…)

I’ve been settling back into life in Portland. I’ve moved back into the same little cottage with the same furniture and flatware and I sleep in the same bed where I slept a year ago. Back in this reality, I’ve had several moments where I began to question if anything had actually changed in my months away. Everything looked the same. Habits that I didn’t even know I had resumed. Even my kale tasted the same. Had life just paused? Reality—Check?

Of course I had changed. My face even looks older and I am now rarely carded when I buy wine. Being back in a similar situation as before has really forced me to look at the lasting effect of my travels (or the effects of time on self-development). I’ve had to put myself into the context of this new here-and-now.

The still unfinished "self" portrait ( I assure you that I am at least 50 billion times happier than I appear in this portrait)

The still unfinished “self” portrait ( I assure you that I am at least 50 billion times happier than I appear in this portrait)

A few weeks ago I felt like painting. Intimidated by the task of starting something new, I picked up an old unfinished self-portrait from over a year ago. I set up my drop cloth where it had been and carefully placed my mirror. I sat in the exact location as before as to capture the same shadowy contours of my face. As I sat there looking at myself, I was overwhelmed with where the last year had taken me. Physically, all over (well, almost). Emotionally, I have traversed a great deal as well. Looking into my eyes—both my actual reflection and the old portrait—I saw my growth. Perhaps it took this disorienting juxtaposition to remind myself that the last (now eight plus) months actually happened and I had grown from them.

While reintegration has been a bit disorienting, I am grateful to have been granted such a unique opportunity to reflect on myself.

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New Beginnings (the journey ends)

20130416-104147.jpgMy journey in Asia has ended and I have returned to the United States where I am currently visiting my parents in beautiful Sedona, Arizona (of the countless countries and places I have visited, Sedona continues to be one of the most beautiful and special places that I have ever been. I feel so blessed to have grown up here). In total, I traveled out of the country for six months and 10 days although I could have gone on indefinitely had money and time allowed. What an amazing trip! I spent roughly a month in Nepal, three and a half months in Southern India, one month and a half in Cambodia, ten days in Thailand, and five days in Singapore. I have finally caught up on sleep and have recovered from my long and sleepless flight from Singapore, to Tokyo, to Los Angeles, to Phoenix, followed by a two hour drive north, to Sedona.

In Singapore, people were surprised that I traveled so long—especially when they found out that I did so alone. “Wow!” they would say, “did you have any moments of amazing insight?” “Shouldn’t you have those everyday?” was my reply. And I did. And I still do. But I will say it is so much easier to be “gifted” this wisdom and intense appreciation for life while traveling.

So, of course I had many eye opening experiences on my travels. Far too many to count and probably far too many to even remember! But, they were all meaningful and all served to help me stretch and grow as a person.

Now, what are these insights you might ask?

Firstly, my work in India (especially) showed me something that I already knew—that I need to spend my life working for the improvement of health and happiness in others, particularly women. We women are such incredible creatures and while the world has made enormous strides in helping to better our lives, we still have a long way to go and I would like to be part of this push. Thus, spending so much time with women in need made my conviction that I need to be a doctor even stronger because, as a doctor, I can combine all my passions and, in doing so, do so much more to improve the lives of others.

13919_10200340754134414_1825709756_nSecondly, the world is a strange and beautiful place—and my traveling days are far from over. I had so many beautiful experiences and exchanges that I cannot even begin to capture in words. However, I will try: Eating corn after a long motorbike ride on the side of a dusty dirt road in rural Cambodia while attempting to converse with the seventeen year old girl tending the shop. A little boy using me as his pillow on a bus ride while his grandmother gave me apologetic glances. Stumbling on places of such intense natural beauty that my atheistic mind declares—“Alas! God must exist!” The realization that there is just so much more to discover…

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A morning prayer

Thirdly, the sentiment that I literally constantly felt flowing through my veins of—“How lucky am I?” On my entire trip, I had next to no bad luck or unpleasant experiences. Even when it appeared that disaster struck (the loss of a rented motorbike) redemption followed (it miraculously was returned). I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunities and experiences, good and bad, that I have had and I absolutely love my life. I am incredibly grateful to be alive.

The next portal?

The next portal?

Lastly, the journey didn’t end when I stepped foot on American soil. I feel as though my life is a (nearly) blank canvas that I can fill and consciously create whichever way I choose. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to create the life that I want for myself and plan on taking full advantage of this rare freedom. I will continue to live honestly, continue to grow and expand… I have so much life and learning ahead of me—it will be exciting to see where it all takes me.

Note: I have been asked by several people if the end of my trip means the end of my blog. In case you haven’t noticed, I love writing so the answer is probably not. Anyways, I have at least two more posts about my trip that will come out at some point in the future so look out for those. Also, thank you all for your continued support!

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The Solo Traveler

On my travels, I have met and connected with many many wonderful people–both locals and other travelers. While forming connections with locals is somewhat difficult, it is especially easy to connect with and relate to other travelers as it takes a certain breed of person to travel, particularly when someone travels solo.

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A strange and “fragrant” Cambodian Market

In general, travelers are curious and open-minded individuals who enjoy the stretching and twisting of the mind and self that occurs when one is exposed to new and strange cultures and environments. They are often seekers of knowledge and experience and use travel as a means to expand, explore, and satisfy curiosity. It takes a certain type of person to travel, especially when one gets off the beaten path of the average packaged-holiday-tourist. Thus, when fellow travelers meet, they often have an instant, if somewhat limited, understanding of each other. After all, something drew each traveler thousands of miles away from their comfort zone to the same remote place.

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A solo motorbike ride to a remote jungle temple

While it takes a certain type of person to travel, the solo traveler is a whole different breed of person. They are fearless, and especially not afraid to be alone–quite the contrary, they relish it. They may love the company of others but traveling is almost a selfish act–and for the solo traveler–it must be. Others sometimes don’t understand us and, on many occasions, they feel sorry for our aloneness. I have been asked hundreds of times why I travel alone–as though my aloneness is perceived as a bad thing. I try to communicate my insight, telling them that traveling alone allows me to be selfish in a good way–I never have to compromise and can easily get whatever I want out of my travels. This explanation misses some of the reasons we travel alone but offers a glimpse of our mentality. However, other solo travelers understand and require no explanation. Thus, we have an instantaneous, mutual, and somewhat deep understanding and respect of each other. When I meet other lone travelers, I often feel like I’ve found kindred spirits.

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The wild and beautiful Ta Prohm Temple–Angkor Wat, Cambodia

In contemplating my “aloneness”, it occurred to me that I have never really thought about traveling with others simply because it has never occurred to me. (Despite having a blog, I am a somewhat private person. I love people, but also love retreating to my stillness.) My first trip abroad was to Spain when I was seventeen to study Spanish for six weeks. My sister participated in a similar program in the same city but I barely saw her. I have also always been somewhat of a loner and so while I did connect with a few of the other foreigners in my program, I preferred to spend my time alone, wandering through the streets practicing my Spanish. I loved the freedom afforded to me by my aloneness. If I wanted to, I could sit all day in front of a Dali painting and no one could complain. And I could also simply sit in uninterrupted silence and contemplate my life and self in new and changing surroundings. I quickly found that I could connect with and experience people and places in a way that would be inaccessible to me if I traveled with a group.

Addiction hit (rather hard) and seven years, later my passport is now full of stamps and visas of places that I have visited mostly alone. I’ve met many, many beautiful and wonderful people and my only regret is that they cannot all live in Portland.

Thoughts on the Future of Healthcare in Countries with First-World Problems

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Problems of the developed world

The developed world and countries with first world health problems face  difficult challenges in the future of healthcare. I believe that both the task of doctor and patient must change in order to face these current and growing challenges. Some of the major problems we face are those having to do with metabolic syndrome, including obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Other major problems I see involve issues with our mental state, including stress and fatigue (this can be both physical and mental). In most cases, these problems can be prevented and avoided completely with a healthy lifestyle. Millions of people around the world are facing these problems in record numbers and it is literally killing them–isn’t there something that we should do to change this?

From my observations of healthcare workers and their patients, I have seen many people come to the doctor complaining that they are obese or overweight, can’t get pregnant, are depressed, and feel too tired to do anything but eat and watch TV (and many are young or raising families with similar habits and problems!). I will offer my readers a common scenario of a consultation in India to demonstrate the situation (we can assume other countries with first-world problems have similar scenarios).

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Observing a consultation at a women’s health camp

The doctor looks at the patient’s chart, complete with various test results. She sees that the patient has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a BMI of 33 (the same as the patients age), and is borderline diabetic. The patient also complains of fatigue and depression. The doctor then asks the patient, “What do you eat? And what do you do for exercise?”

The patient replies with pride, “I have Kelloggs cereal for breakfast–the advertisements on TV say that it’s a balanced breakfast and a great way to start my day and might even help me lose weight (with 45 g of refined sugar and less than 1 g protein)! Then I have fried such and such for lunch and then go with my family to the buffet (oil, fried food, starches, fatty meats, sweets) or order pizza for dinner. I sometimes skip breakfast or other meals as I am trying to lose weight but I know that I am eating a healthy diet.”

Right.

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A 1998 Kelloggs ad (above) and the actual “Fat Controller” (below)

The doctor then has a difficult task of trying to re-teach someone to eat as many people, including many doctors, don’t actually know what healthy eating is. And, the doctor must do this in a way that both does not offend the patient and encourages the patient to actually take action. Unfortunately, this task is made more difficult because the patients receive their education on “healthy” eating from advertisements that try to sell them processed chemicals instead of food, with images of smiling, happy, and healthy families. And Kelloggs even tells them that eating their processed starchy and sugary cereals will help them lose weight. But the doctor says–“Eat fruits and vegetables–five portions a day!” “Cut down on processes carbohydrates and starch.” “Stop eating so much meat.” “One liter of oil per person per month.” “No sugar!” “Get your friends and go walking for half an hour a day.” “Get some exercise, you will feel much better!” “By this time next year, with healthy eating and exercise, your weight will be normal and we can see what sort of problems you DON’T have.”

The patients almost uniformly reply:

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“Doctor, I have no time for exercise or healthy eating (with a maid doing all the house work and the patient getting in no less than five hours of quality TV a day). I’m overweight, tired, and depressed. Isn’t there some sort of pill you can give me to help with all this? Or maybe some kind of surgery?”

I was shocked to hear that patients would rather suffer the risks and recovery of surgery, let alone the side effects of drugs, than make simple, healthy changes to their lifestyle. Then I realized that the majority of patients view their own health as completely out of their control or responsibility.

At this point, I remembered that I was once in a similar situation with depression (another complex problem that I believe can be solved with a great amount of effort and lifestyle changes). In my teenage years, I was deeply depressed and perhaps jealous of all the drugs that my friends and classmates were taking. The depression was so bad that I didn’t sleep for days and couldn’t attend school for a semester because I physically and emotionally couldn’t. I was fifteen and begged my parents for drugs. But, they didn’t believe in psychiatric medications and no matter how hard I cried and begged for a pill to make all my problems disappear, my parents didn’t budge. They did, however, settle on a two-week prescription of Ambien to restart my sleep cycle (which worked and was actually a key part of my road to recovery). But, without the intervention of allopathic medicine, somehow (with a lot of contemplation and exercise), I came out of the depression and spent the next several years of my life learning how to never let it happen to me again.

From this personal experience, I learned many things including these three points. One, it is always easier not to take responsibility for our problems and much easier to take a magic pill that “makes everything go away” rather than put in the effort to actually make our lives better. Two, drug or medical intervention is sometimes necessary (or even a key part of the solution). Three, good health (both physical and mental) takes effort and there is no magic pill (allopathic or otherwise) that can make everything better.

This experience also caused me to empathize with the patients that I saw and with people around the world facing similar problems. I understand that change is hard and it is difficult for us to accept that we haven’t always been making the best decisions for ourselves. But, instead of taking responsibility for our own lives, we make excuses and try to place the burden of our problems onto someone else (in this case, the doctor).

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Some people actually view this as the solution to obesity and diabetes!

Doctors exist for a reason. They are meant to listen to our problems, identify the underlying causes, help us find solutions, and guide us on our journey to better health. However, in the majority of problems that we are seeing today, doctors and the drugs that they prescribe are (often) not the solution. Thus, our idea of healthcare must change to include and emphasize the responsibility the patient has for their own health–and not just in the sense of drug compliance (will the patient take this drug 3x per day after food as prescribed?). Patients must learn to take some responsibility for their health in terms of healthy eating, exercise, and preventative medicine. However, in order to do so, patients (meaning the general public) must to be educated in such matters by someone other than advertisers. This is where public health must make an effort. Parents should be educated on healthy eating and raising a healthy family, and schools and hospitals should be required to serve actual food (and the government should stop subsidies to shit and instead support small farmers who deliver fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables). People should also be encouraged to look at their lives and look for areas where they can simplify and reduce stress, which I believe is a root cause of many of our health problems (including depression, insomnia, hormonal changes, stress eating leading to obesity, high blood pressure…) And, our doctors also need to set good examples for the population by living healthfully and avoiding (at least visibly) living out of the vending machine.

People need to learn that both health and happiness take effort, at least at first. Patients must realize that to some degree, their health is in their own hands–and the doctor must be used as a tool rather than as the solution. This proposed change in the way healthcare operates takes effort on both doctors and patients. Doctors must learn to think beyond drugs and learn how to reach patients in a way that encourages them to lead healthy lives (and public health must help support the doctors!), and patients need to start looking inward for better health. Medicine isn’t just about tablets and surgeries, and its time we realized it.

Note: I understand that many people have problems that do require drug intervention, including people with problems related to metabolic syndrome and depression. I am just hoping that the future of healthcare places more emphasis on health and education as I believe that in the majority of cases these problems can be prevented or, in some cases, solved with a healthy lifestyle. Change is hard and patients need empathy and help (from a knowledgeable source) along the road to better health.