A Paradigm Shift in Health and Healing

by Don Ingwerson

In the latest vlog from The Mother Church, Eric Bashor asks whether integrative medicine is ready for “prime time” and shares information about integrative medicine written by Dr. Andrew Weil and published on CNN. Dr. Weil quotes extensively from the healthcare documentary, Escape Fire, in his article.

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Health Goals: Developing an Awareness of Alternatives

Health Goals: Developing an Awareness of Alternatives

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by Don Ingwerson

While establishing goals for the 2013 year, an article by Deepak Chopra titled, “The big idea(s) for 2013: A Critical Mass of Consciousness” caught my attention. As I read further, I realized that a goal has a better chance of being successful if it is in concert with the efforts of others. Chopra successfully makes this point when he states, “Our world right now is in a state of worrisome turbulence and chaos. If we are to achieve any measure of success in creating a more peaceful, just, sustainable, and healthy planet, it will require more than the participation of governments and businesses. We’ll need a critical mass of consciousness on the part of the people.”

Let’s look at one aspect of this larger goal: a healthy planet.

The goal of helping create a critical mass of consciousness (awareness) about health and the importance of this goal to each individual is very timely when considering how health care options are determined. Timely, because by January 2014 almost every individual in the United States will be mandated to buy health insurance or pay a fine.

This collective health awareness will need a critical mass of people who have found alternative and traditional therapies that work for them, and regulators who make them accessible under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). If the new health care law is confined to traditional western medical practices, and modeled after existing delivery systems, Dr. Andrew Weil’s comment in the documentary Escape Fire, “We don’t have a health care system, we have a disease care system,” may describe our future.

Another issue is how patients will be treated, both mentally and physically. Do they need to take more responsibility for their health instead of routinely turning to the medical community to manage their lives through drugs? How do we achieve a critical mass of consciousness in this area?

Dr. Lissa Rankin urges, “The solution is not more tests, more drugs, or more procedures. The solution requires physicians to spend more time with patients engaging in the art of healing and educating patients not just about diet, exercise, getting enough sleep, and taking vitamins, but also the other factors. To be wholly healthy, you need to do more than care for your physical body. It’s also essential to be healthy in your relationships, your work life, your creative life, your spiritual life, your financial life, your environment, and your mental health.”

As regulators tackle the task of identifying therapies that should be available to the public under the ACA, there needs to be the recognition that the whole person – physical and spiritual aspects – must be addressed. Many studies show that health care must address the spiritual needs of the individual as well as the physical.

So my goal this year is to start with big intentions and resolutions. I know from past experiences that it may be easy to become discouraged and shift to smaller and personal goals, but I’m going to work to stick to the big issue, because an awareness (consciousness) on the part of the public is developing about the importance of a different type of health care – one that includes the use of alternative medicines (especially prayer and meditation) and for the accountability of the individual.

My health care goal is not separate from the critical mass of awareness on the part of all, and yet I must stand alone in my belief as to what manifests healthy situations for me. I recall a time that I engaged in setting a big goal by relying on prayer to meet my spiritual and physical needs. I was in the military service at the time and I was assigned full time to prayerfully help army recruits with their physical and spiritual needs. I saw how important bible-based study and prayer were for a healthy and stable emotional lifestyle on the part of inductees. It continues to be my goal for 2013 to promote an awareness (consciousness) that encourages the effective use of prayer and meditation as alternative medicines in resolving health issues. As the concept of health care broadens to address the needs of a population, a critical mass of awareness will result.

Article first published in Blogcritics.

The Root of the Health Care Problem

The Root of the Health Care Problem

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Models used for illustrative purposes

A guest post written by Rich Evans, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Arizona

Evans’ article was originally posted in the Arizona Capitol Times

Where are we on health care? We have made a political debate out of health care, which exceeds any federal or state government’s capacity to solve. Whatever evolution the remedies take, statutory and regulatory thrusts and parries will be insufficient. Yet, wisdom in the deliberation and passage of such efforts will be required.

Partisan banter must give way to real help. This year, especially, as the state Legislature and regulatory bodies cope with readying Arizona for the continuing implementation of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act, there is no time for posturing or mere personal self- interest. Too much is at stake. Here’s why.

For perspective, “Escape Fire,” the sparsely released film (soon, more fully so and available now online) shown at the Sundance Film Festival, scopes the magnitude of the health care problem in the United States and promises to set forth some possible solutions. The tenor can be gleaned from the trailer and much information can be gathered from its website www.escapefiremovie.com.

A couple of salient and jarring points the film makes: First, American health care costs could be $4.2 trillion annually in six to 10 years, equaling 20 percent of GDP. Second, Americans spend $300 billion a year on pharmaceutical drugs, nearly equal to the expenditure in the entire rest of the world.

One of the players in the film makes a sanguine comment that if she could shape the future of health care, there would be more emphasis on the “care” part. Another player in the film, our own Dr. Andrew Weil, head of the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine (CIM), asserts that “the root of the problem” is that “we have a disease-care system, not a health care system.”

The title of the film, “Escape Fire,” gives us a clue as to the ingenuity that will be required to extricate America from its self- created, monopolistic dependency on the current system. In brief, the title refers to smoke jumpers in a forest fire who were left with no escape until one member of the team started a fire in the remaining timber around them, subsequently burning his way out to a ridge. He survived. The others felt the risk was too high and didn’t follow.

They perished.

Addressing health care will require less familiar, broader solutions than what the majority has done for past decades. It will take courage to forfeit the popular, yet limiting, assumptions about our sources of health. We need to change habits of thought that tend to lead unwittingly to the same solutions that have led to the problem.

Fortunately, there are more means of health and care than we find in the mainstream.

Weil’s CIM teaches existing physicians about finding health care solutions through a focus on caring for the person as a whole, rather than just focusing on the malady. Solutions are not limited to surgery and chemistry, but found through the fuller spectrum of health sources, including natural and spiritual methods.

For me, spiritual means have been my main source of health. The primary benefit is that it requires that I take direct responsibility for my health and that I progress in my understanding of how I, and mankind, relate to the divine. It is a view of life — not a pill — that has provided prevention and cure. It is a sense of being loved and cared for as a matter of principle, consistently and completely.

This approach has met my needs, not only with respect to disease but, also, with respect to work, relationships and life direction. It settles fear. There is little or no cost. It is my own escape fire.

I trust that whatever efforts come forth from the Legislature and the agencies will not limit, but rather open up the possibilities for health and care. I trust that these efforts will not confine us to the old, worn, expensive paths to health. Such expansiveness would exemplify care for citizens and prompt creative, more effective solutions.

Link to Rich Evans blog

Patients Making Medical Decisions

Patients Making Medical Decisions

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by Don Ingwerson

An English chap by the name of Tony Lobl recently wrote an article published in the Huffington Post UK on a topic I’ve been excitedly exploring for years: patient-led care. The most intriguing aspect of his article was when Lobl described a future health care system as being patient centered. Instead of the medical/drug industry deciding what a patient needs, the patient of the future would be an active participant – being the final decision maker in what he or she needs. This seems like a natural outcome of much research I’ve been reading about. Here are a few trends from that research:

Patients have access to a health team – physicians, chaplains, and patients all working together, but the patient is the decision maker. (Templeton-funded GWish Project)

Conventional medicine has been and continues to be too expensive and less effective overall. (Escape Fire)

Alternative therapy (CAM) has been the choice by many, with 40% of Americans spending $34 billion per year. (NIH)

At 49 percent, prayer is found to be the most used of the 10 alternative medicines. (NIH)

Conventional medical adherents’ longstanding objection to “unscientific validation of alternative medicine” is being challenged – and the scientific community is now realizing that it needs to find ways to measure alternative medicine’s effectiveness. (Rand corporation report – alternative therapies)

This concept is further explored in an article in Allnurses.com:

“During the last century, as the science and technology of medicine advanced exponentially, spirituality became less and less a consideration for nursing and medical practitioners working with ill patients. In fact, addressing spiritual issues has even been looked upon as inappropriate in some medical settings.

“But there is now substantial scientific evidence supporting the important role of spirituality in health and illness and suggesting that medical providers might be causing harm to their patients by overlooking these factors.”

Studies of health care strongly indicate that there are many in the medical profession as well as members of the public who desire changes in the concept of health care and how it’s delivered. UCLA is involved in a project studying how physicians, chaplains, and patients can help facilitate these changes for faster and better healing.

When I discussed the progress of this project with the director, she indicated that not only the functions (past practices) were of concern but also attitudes (who’s in charge). If patients are decision makers, then information sharing, choices, and alternatives become major issues. The GWish project has developed guidelines for what physicians and health care workers should ask the patient in order to obtain appropriate information about faith and spirituality. However, they are just beginning to share this information with others and determine applicability.

Author Karen Wyatt lists in this same article five spiritual concepts western medicine must embrace. Number one on the list is prayer (an alternative medicine) followed by unconditional love, forgiveness, meaning, and spiritual practice.

I have had many opportunities to experience the healing resource that resides within each of us. But my first eye-opening experience, which changed the course of my life, occurred when I was in college.

I was part of a fraternity house pledge sneak and found myself running through a dark field. Unfortunately, I tripped over some tangled wire and hit the ground with the full weight of my body on my hand, which really mashed my fingers and hand. The hand and arm swelled up and it was not a pretty sight.

My frat brothers insisted that I go to the local hospital emergency room. The doctor on duty felt it was best not to perform any surgery on the hand until the swelling went down. So a cast was placed on the arm from the shoulder to the hand and I was released for the time being.

One of the college students I had met earlier on a blind date suggested that I might like to pray about the injury. She said prayer had helped her many times.

Although this hadn’t crossed my mind, I was struck by the sincerity of her statement, so I decided to give prayer a try. The idea that I prayed with was from the first chapter of Genesis, “God made man in his image and likeness.”

As I prayed about the hand, almost immediately I felt the bones, cuts, and bruises begin to heal and knit together – so much so that within a few days I had cut the cast off and was going about my regular duties at the frat house. To this day, I can’t tell you which hand was involved. There has never been any problem with my hand despite the doctor’s concern that the injury would require surgery.

Today, that use of prayer would probably be classified as alternative medicine. Because I am very interested in our ability to heal, I have been excited to see the dramatic strides the medical community has been making in the field of holistic medicine.

As my colleague in England observed, “When we stop seeing ourselves primarily as machines in need of fixing, a more holistic approach is emerging – one that celebrates a patient’s often overlooked understanding of their own needs and the best way to meet them.”

Article first published in Blogcritics

Will Escape Fire Help Change Health Care?

Will Escape Fire Help Change Health Care?

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by Don Ingwerson

A lot people have been discussing the documentary film Escape Fire, and it might seem that everything’s already been said. But I can’t put the story out of my mind.

I keep thinking about what I would have done if I were one of those fire fighters. What if I had been one of those smoke jumpers who parachuted into that raging forest fire in Helena National Forest August 5, 1949, and found myself being overrun by changing fire conditions? With that terrifying inferno coming up behind him, smoke jumper foreman Wag Dodge took a counterintuitive approach. He stopped running, lit a match, and burned the brush around him, hypothesizing that the fire would jump over his area. He called on his crew to join him, but they didn’t. Dodge guessed correctly about his escape fire and survived; Thirteen members of his crew did not.

Dr. Donald Berwick, former head of Medicare and Medicaid, relates this anecdote, and ties it to the film’s point that we are embedded in the health care status quo, prisoners of old habits, and that unless we can change how we think about and deal with this situation, we are doomed to fiscal catastrophe.

So, can we think differently about health care – just as Wag Dodge did about the fire – at this very important time in our nation’s history?

Two individuals suggest good reasons why we must. Dr. Andrew Weil attests that our present health care system is not a health care system, but is instead a disease management system. And medical journalist Shannon Brownlee states, “We’re in the grip of a very big industry and it doesn’t want to stop making money.”

In many ways, changing the health care system seems impossible. Yet in Escape Fire, we follow an individual who could be like many of us. U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Yates sustained injuries in Afghanistan that left him a wreck, barely able to walk, and overwhelmingly dependent on medication. Yet, he found relief through a non-traditional alternative medicine – meditation.

Maybe this is the way that the present broken health care system will be fixed – by finding what works for each of us. Even though the film made a radical point about the urgent need to change the present health care system, its ultimate purpose is to energize the nation to address and implement a national health care system that is based upon the public’s needs, and not the entrenched or vested interests of the health care industry.

What should we be doing? Steve Burd, President and Chief Executive of grocery giant Safeway, gave his workers financial incentives to make healthy choices, and as a result Safeway’s health care costs remained stable while the national average skyrocketed. Other suggestions include a more patient-centered system, patient accountability, information in a form that is available and more helpful, and a wider use of alternative therapies (which include prayer and meditation).

Prayer is an alternative that has been effective for me over many years.

One time, I was healed of throbbing headaches resulting from the pressures of a neighborhood gang who shot out my office and car windows while I was in the process of closing an unneeded neighborhood school. Upon studying the scripture passage, “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward” (Isaiah 58:8), along with other Bible verses, the headaches of several weeks ended abruptly. The idea that there was a divine presence, which “had my back” so to speak, dissolved the fear and the pain subsided.

Whether it’s financial incentives at work or alternative therapies like meditation and prayer, people are finding ways to meet their health needs in a creative way, no longer feeling trapped by conventional options. Just like Wag Dodge did in 1949.

Article first published in Blogcritics

Is it Possible to Manage Pain Beyond a Quick Fix?

Is it Possible to Manage Pain Beyond a Quick Fix?

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models are used for illustrative purposes

A guest post written by Ingrid Peschke, Committee on Publication for Massachusetts

An estimated 86 million Americans struggle with chronic pain. The treatment options are many, ranging from commonly prescribed medications and steroid injections to physical therapy, massage and meditation.

Recently the media has been all over the New-England manufactured contaminated steroid drug that has sickened nearly 200 people nationwide and left 15 fatalities in its wake.

The Boston Globe reported that many patients eligible for injections to deal with pain have declined treatment based on these findings. The article featured Dr. Carol Hartigan, a physiatrist at the spine center at New England Baptist, who said “Clinicians and patients can really exaggerate the response out of hope. We want the quick fix sometimes” (Contaminated Drug Draws Attention to Steroid Injection Procedure).

It seems our healthcare system has programmed people to look for quick fixes in dealing with pain, rather than question the procedures and prescriptions they are given. The new documentary film “Escape Fire” brings out some startling points about our healthcare system:

  • The US spends $300 billion a year on pharmaceutical drugs
  • The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world who can advertise prescription drugs to the public
  • A doctor: “When medicine became a business, we lost our moral compass.”
  • More soldiers died last year from non-combat injuries than during war
  • An Afghan war survivor and sergeant: “I’d rather be shot again than go through the withdrawal symptoms of coming off all of the pain medications I was given.”

One way doctors at Walter Reed Hospital are now working to help soldiers with PTSD and pain is through alternative approaches such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture (Read: Healing Soldiers Through Meditation). The fact is, there’s no “miracle drug.” Just take a look at placebo research and you might inch your way towards this conclusion.

For some historical context, the placebo effect was born on a beach in southern Italy during World War II. While US troops suffered heavy German bombardment, doctors and nurses tended to the soldiers’ casualties. One nurse, while assisting an anesthetist named Henry Beecher, couldn’t bring herself to tell a wounded soldier that their morphine supply was dangerously low. Instead, she filled her syringe with a saline solution and told the soldier he was receiving a powerful pain killer. His pain was relieved and the sham injection prevented the onset of shock.

After the war, Beecher didn’t ignore this “test case.” He went on to make significant reforms in the field of drug testing, suggesting the use of placebos to see whether the drugs were in fact effective.

According to Wired, “After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom” (Placebos are getting more effective. Drugmakers are desperate to know why). And when it comes to pain, the findings all point to how a person’s mental state contributes to outcomes.

Pain can’t be measured. It’s different for each individual. So isn’t it logical to look at the role of a person’s thought, rather than their body, to eradicate pain?

Here’s an example of how a doctor glimpsed that the pain his patient was experiencing was in fact mental, not physical:

“A woman suffering from debilitating pain was referred to him from the local ER. When she arrived at his office, she was barely able to make it onto the exam table . . . she began describing her pain. However, he had a sense that whatever injury she was suffering from was not physical. It was then that she told him about an affair her husband was having and how this reminded her of an earlier experience when she was brutally attacked by two men” ( The Future of Health: Tech-Based or Thought-Based?).

In my spiritual practice, I’ve seen how managing my thoughts through prayer and the knowledge that God’s power is infinitely greater than anything else brings about changes in all areas of life, including physical pain.

This statement made by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, has informed people around the globe to deny pain power: “Banish the belief that you can possibly entertain a single intruding pain which cannot be ruled out by the might of Mind, and in this way you can prevent the development of pain in the body.”

You can test that statement, too. Just try it.