Magic has a place in medicine

Some ailments can’t be treated by technological medicine

Download this column for your publication or website. Price starts at $10
Terms and Conditions of use

Contact John

VANCOUVER, BC Jun 22, 2015/ Troy Media/ – One of the vague complaints I dread in my practice is, “My eyes are tired.” Eyes? Tired? Eyes don’t get tired. Sore, dry, runny, blurred, sure. But nowhere in medical school or in any ophthalmology book have I run into real causes of tired eyes.

People with tired eyes always seemed to have other kinds of trouble. Not enough money, lonely, can’t lose weight, taken advantage of at work.

When a patient complains of tired eyes, I examine the eyes and do a general physical going-over with blood tests. But the results show nothing. Healthy as a horse. Eye specialists must have felt tired themselves facing my tired-eyes referrals.

Technological medicine doesn’t have an answer to everything

The specialist’s report always confirmed a normal eye examination including 20:20 vision; blinking at me between the lines was the message, “Where’s your common sense Sloan? There’s no such thing as tired eyes.” I might have been a bit patronizing with my patient in the summing-up appointment.

Well, for over a year now I have had tired eyes.

After 20 or 30 minutes, no matter how interesting the book, the print on the page starts to blur and I end up struggling just to see the lines of print. I’ve got to tell you my eyesight is near-perfect. My e-readers have been recently updated. I don’t see double. I don’t have early Lou Gehrig’s disease or multiple sclerosis (I’ve been to a neurologist). And I’m not falling asleep when this happens, I’m wide awake. My eyes just get tired.

Even though I can see the situation from the health-professional point of view, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to me whether my problem is the subject of a textbook chapter, or is obviously “psychosocial”. I don’t care whether some professional knows instinctively that it doesn’t exist. Doesn’t matter. My tired eyes are real, even if they’re a product of my perverse imagination.

So how do I fix them? I think I need something magical. I believe in magic but not in the abracadabra kind. Changing the physical world by waving a magic wand would make an enormous difference in many ways, but because medicine’s understanding is the best materialist version we have of the part of the physical world our bodies occupy and my complaint isn’t in the textbook, I’m not expecting a fairy godmother to fix my tired eyes. But how about the magic most simply referred to as belief? “Placebo effect” if you like. I don’t care that medical students in a hospital hallway titter among themselves over a patient’s miraculous response to a sugar pill. The patient really got better.

I don’t care that courage in tribal warfare following eating the heart of a lion is superstitious silliness, the battle was still won. And it doesn’t bother me a bit that for such magic to fix my tired eyes the complaint would have to be “psychological” to some extent. I’m “psychological” to some extent.

Technological medicine has its own case of tired eyes

Whatever the effect of belief-magic may be, I see more and more human troubles to which my increasingly technocratic profession is blind. Or maybe our eyes are just tired. I see those troubles best when they belong to me or people close to me, when I’m potentially on the receiving end of professional help. Our brushing people’s real concerns aside makes me want to take medicine by the lapels of its white coat and tell it as clearly as I can that refusing to address weird individual problems creatively is hurting our effectiveness.

Technological medicine has its own case of tired eyes, which maybe ought to be evidence enough that such things exist and that they need a different kind of cure.

John Sloan is a family physician whose practice is confined to home care of frail elderly people, and avoiding institutional care of these patients. He has published numerous articles and several books on healthcare. His most recent ebook is Forbidden Food: How Science Says you can Eat what you Like and Like what you Eat.

Read John Sloan

// <A HREF=””> Widgets</A><span id=”mce_marker” data-mce-type=”bookmark”>​</span>

Troy Media Marketplace © 2015 – All Rights Reserved
Trusted editorial content provider to media outlets across Canada
Terms and Conditions of use Get Help FAQ

Submit a Letter to the Editor

[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]

You must be logged in to post a comment Login