What is Medicine?

What is Medicine?

Unfortunately, it seems that a great many of us may have an inaccurate, or at the very least, an incomplete view of the true nature and purpose of medicine. This is a common diagnosis. Don’t feel bad. Ours is a confusing and complicated subject fraught with all sorts of moral, philosophical, financial, and physical implications. It’s just one of those things; we tend not to think about it until it’s too late, until a cherished life hangs in the balance. Then there is too much to think about, when a life is suddenly and precariously propped up by the skills of a trained professional, (if one is available), the latest techniques of modern medicine, (if they can be afforded), and a profit-based system that would put itself nearly out of business if it cured every ill. Terrifying!
For a larger and perhaps more accurate view of what the dictionary defines as the diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury, let’s quickly jump back to the beginning.

It’s not difficult to imagine what life must have been like for our earliest ancestors. With only a small effort, we can picture an ancient time in our species history when invention was driven by survival rather than industry, when language and skills were naive and rudimentary, when safety and sustenance where deadly hard to come by, and humans were on the predation menu.

Obviously, this frightening and dirty period of human history would have been a bad time for a war wound or hunting mishap. Hell, it would have been a bad time to catch a cold or get a sliver, and forget about the odds of surviving anything truly potentially fatal like a poisonous snake bite, animal attack, or aggressive cancer.

Medicine was primitive in those days. There were no emergency rooms, 24-hour pharmacies, or 911 operators. There was no med-school, midnight-nurse hotline, or complicated computerized diagnostic equipment. Instead, there was probably plenty of fear, confusion, and of course, a whole lot of clumsy treatments that likely did just as much harm as good. But during this time, the ground work for modern medicine was being laid through generations of trial and error, countless informal on-the-spot field experiments, and the occasional happy accidental break-through. Centuries of hard earned knowledge and wisdom handed down by word of mouth from father to son, mother to daughter.

Fast-forward a few thousand years to the modern day, to the time of unbelievably priced educations, outrageously priced hospital services, over-priced physicians, inequality of care, and of course, a veritable army of rich trickster insurance companies with a long history and reputation for burning the disenfranchised, refusing the desperate, and ripping-off the weak.

After ages of not knowing how to treat the simplest ailments, after dark ages of unusual remedies such as leaches and bloodletting, and after countless battles between new creative ideas and the old conservative ways, the medical community has seen its fair share of victories, defeats, transitions, and even complete re-inventions. And it seems that we still haven’t got it right.

Hippocrates said, “Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.” That was over two thousand years ago, and still today it pretty much sums up the best of what medicine is all about. Sadly, though, this slogan is often overlooked during the day to day interactions of patients, caregivers, administrators, and insurers.
We can easily forgive the patient and his or her loved ones for preferring a motto of, “cure always, treat always, comfort always”. In a frightened and emotional state, it’s easy to forget that care has limits; that doctors, hospitals, treatments, and even technology has its limits. When peering into that great communal unknown, or faced with the proposition of unbelievable loss, it’s easy to forget how necessary death is, and just how crowded, desperate, and competitive this world would be if nobody ever died. We will all find ourselves in a similar situation eventually, so we can cut these sufferers some slack.

It is more difficult however, to forgive many of the medical professionals and insurers who seem to prefer the motto, “profit always, profit always, profit always”. In modern times, it seems that medicine, in the broader sense of the term, has been hijacked by the sticky fingers of greed. Today, medicine is a bastardized version of what it could be. Today, medicine is money. Cold, calculating, and cut-throat business has infiltrated the medical community, and as long as there remains a single entity or organization with a financial stake in disease and illness, I’m afraid that expensive ongoing treatments will always trump a cure, and the best care will go only to those who can afford it. And there is no comfort in that.

By: Robert Paul Manolis