Healthcare isn't Perfect

Today's post is inspired by a conversation amongst some of my yoga students yesterday. The topic was vaccinations: laws and standards of treatment in different countries, the number of vaccines given to children today, how effective they are, and what the possible drawbacks are.

One person was angered by what she believed to be government misinformation regarding the safety of vaccines containing mercury

While the vaccine debate is beyond the parameters of this blog, her emotions are understandable: she felt betrayed by an authority that she believes is not acting in the best interests of the people it serves. 

And yet, are those authorities ever reliable?

The fact of the matter is, government authorities are not 100% correct all the time. The scientific research public health policies are (hopefully) based on encompasses an enormous amount of information that is ever-changing. Not only is the information in constant state of flux, opinions about the meaning of that information and how it should be acted on can vary widely, even among experts in the same field.

The only information available at a particular time is the only information available at a particular time. Future research can and does upend long standing paradigms of care at any time, and even those paradigms are not universally agreed upon. The best solution we have one day may be considered harmful the next, or vice versa.

For instance, take the example of hand-washing. A standard today, it was initially rejected by the medical community. This practice, attributed to Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweiss, was pooh-poohed by his colleagues because of a lack of scientific evidence and was only later adopted when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ hypothesis. It could have saved countless lives had it been embraced earlier.

Not only is the world of medical research not consistently reliable, but additional issues arise when scientific hypotheses filter out to the public. Media coverage, lobbies, corporate interests, money, miscommunication, the failures of both bureaucracy and individuals can all contribute to less than accurate information being dispensed, either willfully or unintentionally. 

While we supposedly have a right to health care (article 25 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights - not that a single one of those is universally respected,) 

Healthcare will never be perfect.

While that may seem obvious, saying it highlights that flawless healthcare is often an underlying, unexamined expectation in our society. We put our public health organizations, research institutions, and health care providers from the fields of allopathic, alternative and complementary care on pedestals, expecting the impossible, and feel angry when they fail to deliver.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to hold organizations and individuals to the highest standard possible. It's just that the highest standard possible often isn't good enough, and who's to say what the highest standard possible is in the first place?

* * *

In my experience with my health challenges, I needed to adjust (not lower) my expectations. Once I realized that no one was going to rescue me, and that my success was dependent largely on my actions, I stopped looking for the magical individual who could provide me with the perfect cure. I slowly started a long process of learning how to accept where I was while still moving forward.

I do and will continue to make mistakes. None of the self-care and healthcare choices I make are perfect. I have a health problem that is poorly understood and little researched, and therefore most of the choices I make are made based on paltry information, guesses, and shots in the dark. So it goes.

Somehow, through a long twisting maze, I managed to get better anyway.

For me, accepting that healthcare is part of the mystery of life reduced the burdensome anxiety so common with chronic illness, and supported me as I imperfectly worked to improve my situation.