In my experience as a patient with mysterious chronic illness, I have witnessed the astounding failure of both western and alternative medicine. By western medicine, I mean the established medical community, primary care doctors, specialists, hospitals, institutionalized “care”, etc… By alternative medicine, I mean the diet industry, supplements, vitamins, nutritional therapy, and specialists outside of mainstream medicine, such as acupuncturists, Chinese herbalists, and counselors.
Western medicine treats the chronically ill patient with drugs that cause a myriad of side effects, often without bothering to understand the patient’s underlying problem. Western medicine does very little to intervene in the Standard American Diet (SAD) because it is of the same for-profit nature as the corporations that dominate the food industry. Doctors consider alternative treatments to be signs that the patient is “crazy” or “witch-like,” prone to magical thinking.
Of course, there are some doctors open to alternative treatments. Some of them practice integrative medicine, which includes both alternative and western approaches. Some doctors do more to help patients with their diets than others, but even alternative approaches are deeply flawed.
Alternative medicine is also profit driven. Supplements and services claiming to cure the chronically ill abound. Foods that offer “health” are higher in price and increase the profit of corporations like Whole Foods and other “community” health food stores engaged in the process of gentrification.
One advantage of western medicine is the availability of resources to fund new studies and support health care decisions with scientific research. Western medicine offers some definitive tests through blood, biopsy, or scans. It sometimes provides patients with a diagnosis, which can help them find resources for healing even if those resources lie outside the scope of western medicine. However, many chronically ill patients cannot be understood by scientific inquiry because their illness is difficult to study or because the medical community doesn’t anticipate a profit from their proper care. A patient’s experience of being under scientific study is often highly objectifying, dehumanizing, and humiliating. Proponents of western medicine point to the scientific quality of medicine and the fact that it has research supporting it while ignoring a patient’s continued suffering and obvious discrepancy with their treatment protocol.
One advantage of alternative medicine is that it emphasizes the patient’s relationship to themselves and their environment. Changing one’s diet is usually less risky than taking a toxic medication. Patients do their own research if they’re able to and try a variety of approaches, which may emphasize one’s connection to nature and prove to be a rewarding and spiritual journey. However, alternative medicine doesn’t care about the patient either; it is similar to the democratic party in that it pretends to care about you, but really it’s a facade to serve capitalist interests.
I wish to distinguish between alternative medicine and patients who take the rocky road of trying to heal. These patients do not represent capitalist interests, for it is in their best interest to heal. Not surprisingly, some of the most useful information for chronically ill patients on the internet comes from patient forums.
Beware the poor handling of chronic illness by both alternative and western medicine communities. As a patient, you deserve so much better. I am slowly finding my path, using mostly knowledge that I gained from alternative medicine, but it has been a difficult relationship to deal with such capitalist interests when I am trying to rescue myself from the private hell of my body.
Remember that in your healing journey many people will criticize you for “disturbing” them. The failure of both forms of medicine is triggering to many who have to push out that reality from their consciousness rather than do the work that it takes to have solidarity with people who are chronically ill. One thing that alternative medicine is right about is that nutrition is an important topic, and we live in a society that has a nutritional crisis, which has nothing to do with the mythical “War on Obesity” (People have always had different bodies) but has a lot to do with the corporate, GMO, for-profit production of food at the expense of everyday people’s health.