As a primary care physician, I am responsible for trying to heal the whole person, both physically and mentally. I was well-trained in the methods of conventional medicine, yet, I have come to learn that sometimes conventional methods fail. This often occurs due to social factors that are outside the reach of medications. In short, there are some things that need to be fixed for which I do not have a pill.
One of the most painful maladies for which I don’t have a pill is chronic unforgiveness Unforgiveness breeds bitterness, anger and strife within the person who harbors it. Often people will come to me because they are anxious, depressed, and can’t sleep, and they want a pill that will make them better. While I do have a medicine which can tranquilize a person to numb the anxiety and anger, those feelings are usually lying in wait come morning. I have antidepressants that can help rebuild brain chemicals depleted as a result of chronic stress, but in the end the root problem cannot be fixed with medicine. I have had the fortunate opportunity to help some patients find forgiveness in their life, and the peace and joy I see from that goes beyond anything I have achieved with medication.
A second malady for which I do not have a pill is chronic sleep deprivation. To put it simply, our body was not made to work 12 hour days, come home to a lot of extra housework or yard work, help the kids with their homework, volunteer and take care of our parents. It is honorable when parents work two or three jobs to provide for their family. And it is appreciated when people assume leadership roles in their kids’ schools and the community. But our body was never designed to do many of these things at the same time. I have had patients come to me over the years asking for medicine to “give them more energy” when it is clear they are just plumb worn out. I have also had patients ask for medicine to “give them more focus” so they can juggle an unrealistic amount of responsibilities. We do need to investigate medical problems to explain fatigue and inattentiveness and treat those conditions if they are found. But often the best solution is stress reduction and more hours of rest per day, and I don’t have a pill for that.
A third problem for which there is no medical cure is social isolation. I understand patients often develop medical problems in their elder years, which make them less likely to have a job or volunteer and less likely to safely drive. Often their children are raising children of their own and are too busy to visit as often as desired. There are many memories in the homes where some people live, and the person does not want to move. Yet, the physical and emotional toll I see from social isolation is very sad to watch. Yes, I have a medicine to help replete the brain chemicals that get used up as a result of chronic sadness, and I have a tranquilizer to help sleep away some of the boredom. But in the end, the best treatment would come from having the courage to change the social environment, and often people are unwilling to do this. I would love to see more affordable retirement communities built in East Texas, enabling patients to courageously step outside their comfort zone and develop more social interaction with their neighbors. The benefits would be better than anything I have in a pill.
And finally, I don’t have a pill to fix spiritual crises. Often when bad things happen, it is natural for people to question their personal world view. It is not my place to favor one religion over another or one source of faith over another. Yet if something bad happens to a person and they get “mad at God,” that is a true crisis indeed. If we lose a loved one, how can we focus on being grateful for the time we had rather than resentful of the time we lost? If we get a bad diagnosis, how can we be grateful for the time we have left rather than resentful of the time that will be cut short? If we develop a disability, how can we be grateful for the things we can still do rather than angry about the skills we lost? The people who have the best recovery rates from illness often are the ones that have the most positive outlook on life. Oh, how I wish I had a pill for that.
To summarize, some of the maladies that affect a person’s quality of life the most will require a change of perspective and restructuring of a person’s priorities, social situation or mindset. Unforgiveness, chronic sleep deprivation, persistent loneliness and spiritual conflicts affect the quality of life tangibly and painfully. Medication can sometimes ease the pain of these problems. But if a person is looking for a true cure for these ailments, I don’t have a pill for that.