Last week I posted an article that raised questions about the validity of the data being used to promote the flu shot. This post led to a great deal of interesting debate. It quickly became clear that the article in question had been largely discredited. However, the response on both sides of the issue points to different issues at play.

I want to state up front that this is not an anti-vaccine article. Though I do have questions about the timing and intensity of the normal course of vaccines, I did get my children vaccinated. I did not however, get them, nor myself, flu shots. Friends of mine who work in the science and medical fields expressed a great deal of anger towards those who raised question about getting flu shots. It would not be a stretch to say that these people expressed contempt towards people who said they’d didn’t want to get it. Those who had gotten the flu, or had children who had, pointed out that there are “no atheists in foxholes”. While I understand the frustration that they feel, I worry that the tone of the discussion wasn’t helping matters.

While this discussion was taking place another friend shared a link with me that highlighted the fact that Americans have a lower trust of the medical system than most other nations. This made me think about another study I recently saw in which researchers were able to make very accurate predictions about which couples would stay together after seven years of marriage based on a short interview with the couple. The primary indicator of the dissolution of the marriage was signals of contempt. Simple cues that were sometimes only visible on a very slowed down playback of the videotape, such as the rolling of one’s eyes, were indicators that there were deep problems with the relationship.

As I expressed on my own thread I have not had the best experiences with the medical community. As an example, when I had increasingly severe back and leg pain 10 years ago, I knew from my family’s experience with Dr. John Sarno that the problem was stress related and psychosomatic. Still, I was unable to stop the increasingly severe pain, so I went to my primary care physician. At the time we had just started shooting a documentary that had me walking on icy roads for 3 months and shooting for 10 hours a day. It was an unfunded project that was started on the heels of a frustrating experience with our previous film. We were making a film about a communities’ fight to save itself from a predatory government, bent on helping out a billionaire developer. It was hard as hell on me emotionally and physically, but based on my knowledge of Dr. Sarno’s work I focused on the emotional aspects. I was unable to stop the process.

The doctor insisted that the problem was physical and that I needed to get physical therapy. He also lived a couple of blocks from where I was shooting the documentary, and despite the fact that I had intimate knowledge of the shenanigans that were going on with the project, he insisted that the government intervention was a good thing and would be good for all Brooklynites. He had no idea of what was going on but continued to disregard the information that I had gathered that pointed to outright corruption. The doctor treated me with no respect whatsoever.

Needless to say, I didn’t get any better from the physical therapy and I never went to see that guy again. I ended up stuck on the floor in unbelievable pain and finally went to see Dr. Sarno for myself. I slowly began to heal and I started a documentary about Dr. Sarno. A couple years later when I got MRSA I almost died (again in this case I believe that it came on for emotionally related reasons).  At first, I thought it was a brown recluse bite because my intern had one (turns out she probably had MRSA). So when it go so bad I couldn’t stand it I went to the emrgency room at 2am. Though there were no other patients in the waiting room,  it took a doctor 2 and a half hours to see me. When he did – he said- yeah you have an infection (no mention of MRSA) gave me an antibiotic (cephelaxin – which I later found was not really good for MRSA) and sent me on my way without explaining that it might be contagious. That spot opened up and leaked fluid out for days. As you might imagine I got 10 more of them, and one of those is the one that got so bad I almost died.  I figured out it was MRSA when I saw a story on the news about how it was rampant in NY hospitals. It turns out the doctor who saw me in the ER was the head of emergency services, and clearly should have known better.  I ended up in the hospital on an IV drip for 7 days. Later I realized that the MRSA infection had happened two weeks after an extremely disappointing miscarriage that we had at 3 months. I believe that I didn’t process my emotions and this stress likely contributed to the severity of the illness. Needless to say my experience and relationship with the medical world is not so hot. My default is to distrust doctors and it seems like I’m not alone in that feeling.

There is no doubt that science is an essential part of our society. However it is clearly not perfect especially when it comes to medicine. The biomedical model devalues the importance of belief and the impact of our emotions on our health. We do not exist in a vacuum, but instead in a complex web of relationships. Respect keeps those relationships intact. Until the medical world begins to see patients as complex beings rather than customers, consumers, statistics, or idiots, it’s going to see the level of trust continue to fall.

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