The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Friday, January 28, 2011

MODERN MEDICINE: Miracle or Curse

Modern medicine is advancing at an astonishing rate. We can do today, what was once just the whim and fancy of science fiction. We have come up with treatments for the "human condition", pushing us one step closer to immortality. Well, if we are going to have healthy bodies, we sure as heck better have healthy minds to go with them. The panel members of the DSM-V are working hard to assure this base is covered.  How do they decide what should stay, what should go and what new maladies should be added? There is absolutely no question that updating this important reference book is a daunting task. I have read countless articles concerning their proposals and found myself deeply perplexed and wondering - "What in God's name are they thinking? 

Particularly disturbing is the latest proposal to reclassify grief experienced upon the death of a loved one to Major Depressive Disorder, "just in case" a particular individual should malinger and end up committing suicide. Indeed this is a possibility, rare, but still a possible scenario. But is this really necessary label this response as a mental illness or is it just another case of "Doctor - CYA (cover your ass).  

Even more alarming are the number of new disorders and conditions attributed to adolescents, children and infants. Add this to Adult and Geriatric Psychology and we've got the entire lifespan of man covered. With teenage angst, temper tantrums, PMS, menopause, manoapause, grief, general misconduct and every other emotion or behavior that used to be considered "natural" being given a diagnostic code, the question becomes - what isn't a disease these days?  You can be sure they have ample statistitcians and actuaries on the team coming up with every remote outcome of every possible experience to guide them. Why is this? Actually it's quite simple. Consider these factors for example:

1. The pharmaceutical companies, driven by Wall Street, are constantly looking for new diseases to create drugs for in order to refill their pipeline so they don't end up in a holding pattern, simply making slightly different versions of drugs already on the market.  Is it all that surprising that they are a major contributor to the AMA, the APA and health policy makers and that those on committees to change policy are usually deeply invested into Big Pharma? Like they say - "One hand washes the other".

2. In an never ending battle with money seeking plaintiffs and personal injury lawyers, doctors must be sure that nothing slips by them and all their I's are dotted and T's are crossed. The American public in particular is growing ever so more demanding and intolerant of error. Malpractice suits have become a favorite of those hoping to "Get Rich Quick."

3. People in general have become wusses. They don't want to be responsible for themselves; failing to heed common sense precautions when it comes to good health; constantly looking for the easy way out of any annoyance or worry, no matter how minute. Long gone are the days of "pulling one's self up by the bootstraps", "toughing it out" and "keeping a stiff upper lip". Today it's - "a pill for every ill." Blame it on genetics, chemicals, other people but NEVER on personal responsibility and self-control.

4. The quest to become immortal is our biggest obsession, in spite of the fact that it is also what is slowly but surely driving mankind to extinction. The pursuit for higher technology, the desire to become lord and master over nature, scientists and doctors anxious to say the words: "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. 'You' will be that man. Better than before. Better...stronger...faster."  And BETTER than PERFECTLY HEALTHY and NORMAL"

Of course, this makes the insurance industry antsy. If we emphasize preventative measures, early detection and genetic markers, fewer young people (otherwise known as cash cows) will be seeking high end medical coverage. That is with the exception for accidents which will always hold their place firmly - out of man's control. On the other hand, it would mean fewer claims to pay for major illness and treatments. Aha! Just tighten up the restrictions, cover less, fight to get back the pre-existing conditions exclusions and fewer people will have access to medicine which means - God this IS confusing! Yet another diagnosis for the DSM-V - stress and anxiety brought about by trying to deal with the insurance industry.

Politically, this presents a conundrum of sorts. People want quick fixes, more pills and treatments, safe and reliable cures but they don't want government control, which needless to say is a conflict in interests. If we do not regulate it, test it and set standards we end up with ineffective and potentially lethal medical care. Sure the cost is kept down, but you end up playing a game of Russian Roulette instead. Again the DSM should step in - Cognitive Dissonance of the electorate runs rampant.

Expanding the term mental illness (and physical illness) to encompass all we experience from birth - no, actually make that conception, opens up the flood gates creating more jobs for those pursuing medical careers. It also opens up waiting room doors to more hypochondriacs - also a mental illness.

Let's face it, we come into this world screaming and crying. This is a sure sign to those on the DSM-V committee that we have already suffered from trauma, adjustment disorder, that we are showing early signs of attachment issues, temper dysregulation and Major Depression. Heaven knows what else they will find if they begin doing genetic studies on fetuses.  What they don't understand is  - sure the kid is crying! He or she knows that they've only been in this world for moments and people are already slapping labels on them; labels that they will either have to deal with or fight against the rest of their living days. 

Whatever moment you assign the beginning of life to - it is the moment when it all goes to hell. Your mere existence means you are suffering from "LIFE" -  an endless condition (cured only by death) for which everyone and their brother will be trying to treat you for. Forget that old notion that every baby is born "perfect". Hell, just look at their parents, their grandparents, their environment or origin of birth - there are plenty of people who already taking wages on how screwed up they are going to turn out, and coming up with new diagnostic codes to explain it.

"A child is a curly, dimpled lunatic." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is nothing new. We've been marching to this band from the days before early man, around the time we stopped eating our young. From the time we discovered fire and invented the wheel, man has been desperately trying to change the world and woman has been trying to change him. The following chart should indicate how far we have come.

Population is growing even faster than an exponential rate. With the lifespan getting longer and longer, this does not paint a pretty picture for the survival of mankind. Mother Earth will do just fine and through nature, lick her wounds and heal once we've exterminated ourselves. I don't mean to come off like a doomsayer, but like the mighty roach that manages to survive most everything and multiplies in droves, we are trying to follow his example. We're doing a pretty good job according to this chart. However, just as we step in and call Pest Control, Mother Earth will do the same to us.

Of course, this isn't the way the story has to end, after all, we can change our attitudes and make a difference if we so choose. The only problem is we are always waiting for the next guy to make the first move as we continue to play chicken with our future. We figure that mass starvation, depletion of the world's fresh water supply and other natural resources, rampant pollution from overcrowding will not affect us. That's for future generations to worry about. For the ignorant and short sited, the battle cry is "party on". But if man gets his wish - he may live long enough to see it through the miracle of modern medicine.