By Dr. Rick Morris
Karen, a 65 year-old athletic woman, came into my office with great difficulty walking. She had to push herself up stairs by using her hands as levers. As a doctor for many sports teams, it’s not unusual to see athletes with this severity of knee pain. Still, something about this case gave me pause.
Her problems started about 15 or 20 years ago when her doctor prescribed Mevacor to control her cholesterol. Her joints began to swell, so her doctor stopped the medication. About a year and a half ago, her doctor prescribed Tricor for the same purpose. This time her right knee swelled; but even when she stopped the pills, the pain persisted. In fact, walking became so difficult that she fell and broke her pelvis in several places. Although her pelvis improved, her knee got worse. A rheumatologist took fluid out of her knee and diagnosed arthritis. He felt that a shot of cortisone would take care of it; instead, her knee became even more disabled.
Years earlier, she had experienced liver problems. This had come on the heels of a complicated foot infection requiring multiple antibiotics. Monitoring this condition lead her doctors to discover her liver enzymes were dangerously elevated. They pronounced a diagnosis of hepatitis, which her doctors told her was “auto-immune” and “life threatening”. She was told they were “sorry she was too old for a liver transplant.” Hoping to lower her liver enzyme levels, her doctors prescribed Prednisone and Azathropine. She became so weak that she went to live with her children, required the use of a wheelchair, and shook so badly that she had trouble even getting a cup to her lips.
Desperate to change this course of increasing weakness and disability, Karen started cutting out the medications. As she did, she saw her health, energy, and her life given back to her. Later, she researched the antibiotics originally prescribed for her foot infection, and found that one side effect was elevated liver enzymes….the very thing that had prompted the diagnosis of hepatitis and the ensuing spiral of debilitating medications.
In my office, it was easy to see that the “arthritis” was not the primary reason she couldn’t walk; it was the shortening that developed in her thigh muscles. With just a few treatments of massage, stretching and physical therapy—her knees started working again and she was able to get around like she used to. Hers is a success story: she dodged disability and possibly even death.
What went wrong?
Why in the presence of so many experts are many of us taking more medications, having more surgeries and still getting sicker? A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association compared life expectancies amongst the industrialized countries and found that the United States was near the bottom (although we spent far more than all of the other countries).
An interesting observation in the report found that the life expectancy went down as the percentage of medical specialists went up. The journal did not attempt to explain this seemingly paradoxical finding, but being in practice for over 25 years, I have formed an opinion — IN OUR COUNTRY NO ONE DOCTOR TAKES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR HEALTH. WE HAVE THE GREATEST ARMY BUT, BUT NO GENERALS!
The cardiologist gives medication to lower your cholesterol. The orthopedist adds some Vioxx to treat the pains from the first drug. The gastroenterologist prescribes something else to ease the stomach distress caused by the Vioxx. No one has taken the necessary time to understand your overall health. They’re just chasing symptoms.
Does this sound extreme? Well maybe not. The use of prescribed medications from your doctor is now the third or fourth leading cause of death in this country. It kills more than diabetes, AIDS, car accidents and every other disease except heart disease and cancer. We are a country that is thoroughly over medicated.
Why Is This Happening?
The insurance companies have drastically cut doctor’s fees. Since your physician’s expenses didn’t go down as well, they’re forced to squeeze in more treatments cutting visits down to just a few minutes. Physicians must anxiously listen and direct you to a key word or test so they can make a diagnosis, write a prescription and move on to the next patient. As a patient you know how that feels. You’re rushed, unheard, and often don’t believe that the doctor fully even understands your situation.
Doctors hate this predicament as well. They don’t feel like they’re practicing good medicine. Some even leave the field all together. Another reason for our failing health care is that medical education is not geared towards prevention or alternative treatments. In fact, they are taught that they are “bogus,” unscientific and should be dismissed without inquiry.
The third strike is that your doctor is not paid to review all your medical records. How willing would you be to work a couple of hours a day for free after your normal eight or nine? So the endocrinologist doesn’t know what the cardiologist did and the orthopedic surgeon doesn’t have a clue what the chiropractor’s even talking about. This disorganization leads to incorrect diagnoses, redundant and improper testing and just BAD TREATMENT.
I’ve Got An Answer
Find an internist or family practitioner that is thorough and utilizes natural remedies whenever possible. As it requires more time to get to the root of a problem than just chasing the symptoms with pills, expect to pay more for the visit.
Their exam needs to be thorough and comprehensive when the condition is serious or complex. They need to take the time that is necessary to thoroughly review your records and tests. You should both leave understanding where you are today and where you’re going. If another type of practitioner is better suited for your condition, you should be referred while the doctor personally communicates with the other doctors involved. Isn’t that a new idea? This is the only way I know to minimize the excessive and misuse of medications and the illness and death they cause.
The doctor must have a healthy skepticism without a preconceived dismissal of approaches that are new and that he/she may not be thoroughly versed in.
Please let us know if you need the name of a good physician. We have doctors we use ourselves and recommend to others.