Who do You Listen To?
I’ve been thinking a lot about listening this week, and how it impacts our health. It started with a particularly difficult couple of days with my students who were not listening. When asked why they would not listen to someone, I was a little surprised by their answers, as they really had little or no desire to listen to anyone but their peers or their entertainment idols. Then on the other hand I had a homestay student who adamantly believed that, “If it is written in a textbook it must be true,” and what made me laugh in incredulity was that even if you showed him two texts that disagreed he believed they both must be correct! How he managed those mental gymnastics I don’t know, but the cognitive dissonance was too much for me. It made me think about the bigger questions of, “Who should we listen to, and when, and why should we listen.” Jeff took up the theme in his message this week and talked about why we should listen to God.(sermon) Obviously, God tells us to listen to Him, because He loves us and has our best interests at heart and perhaps more importantly, He has the knowledge and experience to know what works! Therefore, His word should always be the first thing we listen to, and He provides a basic knowledge of many fundamental health principles if we are willing to listen.
When it comes to health advice from health practitioners, medical doctors, pharmacists, medical scientists, this big question of, “Who to listen to?” looms large! There are so many voices trying to “inform” us and so many contradictory positions presented about any one topic that sometimes I feel like I want to just throw up my hands in exasperation and forget the whole business of trying to sort truth from error. So I’ve done a little thinking about how to evaluate the people I am listening to, and will share some of my conclusions with you.
One of the gifts that God promises us is the gift of discernment; to me this means an understanding of people’s motives. So before I accept anyone’s advice I want to know why they are offering it, and what they are hoping to gain. God’s motives are clear in his offer of wisdom; he gives us knowledge for our wellbeing because we are his children and he cares for us – no strings attached. But that is not the way it is with people. For some, financial rewards are tied into their advice, and they want you to buy some product or service. This may not be a bad thing in itself but as consumers of health services we need to be aware. I appreciate those health professionals who give me all the possibilites with their associated costs and then give me the freedom to decide what will work for me in terms of time and resources.
Some healthcare providers are motivated by prestige and pride. They expect patients to listen to them because of who they are, because from their point of view and as a result of their schooling or years of experience they are sure that they know what is best. When I was a teen I dealt with just such a doctor who wouldn’t really listen to me, had no respect for me, or my self-knowledge, and offered a diagnosis and a pharmaceutical solution before he’d spent ten minutes with me. I was offended, and rightly so, as it turned out I did eventually find the better solution that was vastly superior to the doctor’s and without any side-effects.
I had a similar situation with one of my sons who was later diagnosed as having chronic fatigue (he has since recovered). Within a few minutes of talking to my son, taking his blood-pressure and doing a reflex test, the pediatrician had, in his superior wisdom, decided that my son was depressed and that a course of anti-depressants would be the solution. My son and I were amazed and angered at the man’s presumptuous diagnosis and recommendations. On the other hand I have also worked with doctors who know the limits to their knowledge and are comfortable and even encouraging when it comes to considering alternative approaches. These are the professionals who are realistic about the scope of their understanding and can appreciate that others may have knowledge of which they are not yet aware.
The other hallmark of the health professionals who are really worth listening to is that they really listen to the patient. I have had some very positive advice from naturopaths, physiotherapists, chiropractors, gynecologists, and medical practitioners who were most helpful because they listened and really took the time to get all the facts and look at things from a holistic perspective. I have also had other doctors who though they had very little knowledge about the problem, because they had no time or patience to listen, have jumped in with ill-advised or off-base solutions.
The classic case of this was when my Mom had been in the hospital a few months after having broken her neck. She was respirator dependent and found eating difficult due to a tube that assisted her breathing. She was losing weight and the nutritionist was concerned. I had insisted that they not feed her that gross, sugar-laden goop-in-a-can that they served as “meal replacements” and after jumping many hoops Dad and I were providing nourishing smoothies full of good fresh ingredients that she was able to swallow and enjoy.
This however, was not sufficient for the “nutrition” expert, though it was a reasonable caloric and protein intake for someone who was bed bound, as I pointed out to this woman. She then proceeded to tell me if we could just get a pound of butter “down her” that would be a good solution to the weight loss problem as she saw it! I was incredulous, but she was adamant and cut off the conversation at that point. I got the distinct feeling that she was not used to dealing with a knowledgeable “layman” who was questioning her medical advice. So when I consider who I am going to listen to, a chief pre-requisite is that the person is knowledgeable but also has the humility to listen and consider other options.
As you know from previous blogs, I believe God has given me the responsibility to care for the wellbeing of myself and my family. I cannot hand that job over to any health professional, no matter how many letters after their name. But I cannot go about this task blindly. I need a multitude of counsel and I need to know what my counselors are able to do and what they are not qualified to do. I need to listen to those who have experience and expertise relating to my areas of concern. Sometimes this is a difficult search. But it is no use getting advice from someone who is not up-to-date on the medical knowledge available, or who has biases against methods other than those they are personally aware of, or have used in the past.
This situation arose recently, and I am still trying to find some help in regards to multiple-chemical sensitivities. This is a new area of study that very few doctors are knowledgeable about and I have drawn a blank so far in getting any answers from the medical profession other than knowing what won’t work for me (though sometimes that is helpful too!) But my naturopath has helped me keep going with advice about diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes that help me avoid the toxic stuff and give me some help to keep the lung inflammation to a minimum. I listen to him because he looks at the “whole person” and sees new problems in light of the whole picture. He tells me, “Why” things happen and how the body works, and his explanations seem logical and fit into my years of experience and personal study relating to health. He has also been willing to work with my desire to not use supplements that contain unclean foods and has found alternatives for me. He works from the premise that God made the body to repair itself and we just need to provide the building materials for repair. I see this as a useful analogy and I appreciate his insights and his eager willingness to read more and learn more. As always, the proof is in the pudding, and his advice has been helpful in taking the edge off of the fibromyalgia I cope with and now the chemical sensitivity. Following his advice has paid off and I can see positive results. So I listen to him.
So who should you listen to? Listen to God first! Read His instruction book on health and do what He says. He can heal miraculously and instantaneously, if that is the need and according to His plan. But sometimes He has a learning task for us first, so ask God for discernment and that He would guide your steps to the people who can teach you and help you do what is best to overcome your health problems. Don’t be shy to ask about their qualifications. What are their areas of expertise, and what is their level of experience? Are they up-to-date on the most current understandings? Consider their tone and demeanour and stay away from those who think too highly of themselves…those who would “play God” with your wellbeing.
I have had many teachers along my road to well-being but the most helpful have had a great respect for the Creator and how He made this marvelous self-sustaining, self-repairing creation, the human body. They have had the patience to listen and the wisdom to get all the facts before trying to offer any diagnosis or solutions. They have viewed me as a whole person, taking into consideration my past, my environment, my emotions – everything that affects my present well-being. I was not just a case number, or “interesting illness.” I have become friends with some and have felt respected by all those empathetic health professionals who were willing to take on the role of teaching me how to better care for myself.
Choose carefully, when it comes to the question of, “Who do I listen to?” It will pay off.
Disclaimer: The entire contents of this health blog are based upon the opinions of Rebecca Stewart, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author, who retains copyright. The information on this blog is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Rebecca Stewart. She encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional..