An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Cliché though it is, and frazzled with repetition, no important truth has been more succinctly stated, or been more effective in saving multiplied millions of lives, as accomplished by the sanitation, immunization, and other preventive measures launched by every civilized government on earth.
But there is one area where the application of this important principle has gone awry. Its ineffectiveness here is due to the replacement of the old-fashioned virtues of self-control and self-discipline with the seemingly more attractive traits of self-indulgence and self-expression. This replacement has bred the philosophy that the right to live includes the right to indulge appetite and other physical desires without restraint, and that the health of mankind is largely the responsibility of the doctor. And since it is the doctor's task, what is more necessary to his success than a drug for every symptom?
Warning Against Overuse of Drugs
Even good things may be overdone, and many voices and pens in the medical profession are issuing warnings against the abuse or overuse of drugs.
Dr. Allen C. Barnes, chief gynecologist and obstetrician at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, in a discussion of the prevention of congenital anomalies, as reported in Medical News "expressed hope that childhood training of the public and medical school training of the physician would ultimately produce 'an abstemious attitude toward drug consumption.' With sober facetiousness he adds, "Since the United States is firmly committed at the moment to the proposition that life is a reasonably serious illness through which the patient comes only with the aid of innumerable drugs, this attitude is unlikely to be very widely accepted."
Cluff, et al., in reporting Studies on the Epidemiology of Adverse Drug Reactions, tells the profession, "Over 13,000 drugs are listed in the Physician's Desk Reference. . . . No drug is completely harmless, even when used correctly, and all may produce adverse reactions . . . : drugs do occasionally produce severe illness and death. Most often the adverse drug reactions are not severe, but the predictability of seriousness usually is not possible, and when reactions occur they are unexpected."2
Discussions of placebo therapy, which I understand to be drugs or procedures used for their psychological effect only, are frequently seen in the medical literature. In one such article Dr. Arthur Shapiro of Montefiore Hospital in New York is quoted, "History of medical treatment can be characterized as the history of the placebo effect." a
Since the placebo effect is actually nothing more or less than the faith that the patient fastens upon the doctor and the drug or other method of treatment which he administers, is not the education of that faith an important part of the privilege of being a doctor? In no other area of living is the blending of faith and works more important than in the maintenance or recovery of health. The doctor whose patients are instructed in how to properly care for their bodies has a more satisfying experience than does the one who uses drugs indiscriminately.
The medical literature is replete with counsel on this subject. Dr. 0. C. Hansen-Pruss, professor of medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, in writing on the role of the physician confronted with a hopeless situation, makes the pointed statement, "If too many different drugs are used for the treatment of a disease, all or most of these drugs are insignificant. Over-treatment may make the patient most uncomfortable and hasten his demise." 4 He quotes a former teacher, " The treatment of the patient is the most important element in the treatment of the disease: the patient, not the disease, is the real entity.' "
The present high cost of medical care is a problem that plagues both doctors and patients. Patient education is one way in which this problem may at least be partially met. The patient may be taught that he is the most important member of the medical team. He may learn that cooperation with his doctor is more than taking his pills on time, or holding still for a hypodermic or intravenous injection. A significant part of this instruction may be given by nurses and paramedical workers in cooperation with the doctor.
Here is where the Christian doctor has something special to offer his patients. An understanding of temperance as it is taught in the Scriptures (the nonuse of all that is harmful and the judicious use of all that is good) enables the doctor and his helpers as well as the chaplain, to inspire in the patient a willingness which may grow to actual desire, to live a life of self-control. May not doctors join with the gospel ministry in teaching the people that their bodies are God's temple, they are not their own, that defiling their bodies with unclean, impure, or health-destroying habits is sin, which must be confessed and forsaken as they become reconciled to God?
Control of the Will Necessary
Too many children are allowed to grow up without learning that the brain, the intellect, is intended by a wise and loving Creator to be the "control tower" of the body. The appetite or other carnal desires are a poor substitute for the will controlled by reason, as man's governing power. Yet how many are helpless slaves to such impulses. To help to activate a dormant will and bring it under the control of the Holy Spirit, is indeed an accomplishment that far outweighs the curing of physical illness. In fact, the spiritual triumph may well produce a salubrious effect upon the patient's physical condition.
There are some facts of life that are often overlooked, perhaps because of their very simplicity, facts that have a direct bearing upon the patient's progress toward recovery. Let me illustrate. One morning during my work as a nurse, I answered the call light of a patient who was in the hospital for cardiac failure. She reported that for some days past she had been having a bad spell with her heart after breakfast, and asked if she should omit her breakfast.
A few questions revealed that her breakfasts had consisted of a wide variety and rather large quantity of food, which she felt quite safe in eating. After all, it was served from the hospital kitchen. It was suggested that she choose only a few of the most nutritious articles on the menu, eat enough to barely satisfy hunger, but not enough to make her feel full. This simple measure solved her problem. The strain upon her digestive organs, which in turn had created a strain upon her heart, was reduced by the lighter meal, and the knowledge gained was a protection against future illness.
"The increase of cardiac deaths that has accompanied post-war prosperity in West Germany has prompted the establishment of 'reconditioning centers' with the purpose of preventing cardiovascular disease." So reads a report in Medical News,' which describes the places where people may go and learn to guard their health with careful living. The report continues, "Smoking is forbidden on the precincts. Dietary fat is moderately restricted. Particular efforts are made to indoctrinate the trainees regarding the necessity of lifelong continued home exercising, walking, hiking, avoidance of elevators wherever possible, dietary and other health rules. . . . German health authorities blame the increase in heart disease on heavy eating, sedentary living, automation, and emotional pressures." Cold baths are successfully used in some of the centers.
Must the benefits of such a program be reserved for Germans only?
A patient who was immobilized felt very uncomfortable after her noon meal each day. It was found that by spacing her meals so that she had a half hour longer between breakfast and her noon meal all the discomfort was avoided. It seemed that the shorter time did not quite permit the stomach to complete its work and be ready for another meal. Lack of exercise slows digestion, but many people do not know this unless someone tells them.
A patient complained of an annoying cough. It was suggested that she turn off the overhead fan. She did not need to take any more cough syrup after that simple measure.
Extreme nervousness may sometimes be relieved by a short brisk rub to the extremities of the patient. This has the stimulating effect of exercise.
A patient complains that she does not tolerate night air, and finds that if she covers her arms to keep them from chilling, no ill effects are felt.
Another states that a certain article of food is indigestible to him but learns that it may be eaten with comfort if he uses it in a menu with less variety, and chews his food thoroughly.
We might continue at length listing simple common-sense measures that relieve or better yet, prevent the discomforts of illness. Their very simplicity teaches the patient important causeand-effect principles.
A few rules for treating the stomach kindly are important in the formation of good health habits:
- Meals at regular intervals allowing the stomach a rest period between.
- Water drunk freely between meals. Best avoid extremely cold water.
- Eat only enough to satisfy hunger. Eat slowly and masticate thoroughly.
- Avoid rich, greasy, highly spiced, or excessively sweet articles of food.
Digestants and laxatives and many headache tablets are completely unnecessary to a healthy way of life if food is selected, cooked, served, and eaten with regard to health instead of perverted appetite.
Those in training for sporting events are careful to follow rules of health. Why should the enjoyment of abundantly good health be relegated to the field of sports? Why not all enjoy it?
In no area of living are the words of the apostle Paul more applicable than in the maintenance of health. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:7-9). What shall we reap? Good health, longer life, peace of mind, and by God's grace, eternal life.
And what of the harvest for those who give free rein to appetite and other physical desires? We have just noted that "he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption," disease, death, spiritual declension.
Gluttony and drunkenness were punished with severity in the days of ancient Israel. As we note the prevalence of cardiovascular disease today, is the punishment any less severe than in those days? Some may say, "What I eat or drink is my own business." Perhaps it is, but it often becomes the unpleasant business of others to look after the wreckage of the life that is sacrificed for the indulgence of appetite. What a terrible waste of human potential results from this one cause alone, yet the following lines express the attitude of many:
I'll eat as I please. I'll drink as I please. I'll live it up today: when tomorrow comes a miracle drug will take the results away.
How privileged the doctor who values the present and eternal life of his patients as he accepts the challenge of the attitude just described, and attempts to guide them into a more successful and satisfying way of life.
The apostle James describes how self-indulgence may prevent the answer to prayers for healing (James 4:3). Who better than the doctor and his staff can teach the patient that the prayer of faith implies cooperation with God? As that lesson is considered by doctor and patient together they will learn that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).
Proper care of the body is the economical and pleasant way to good health, and a great aid in achieving spiritual maturity.
1 J.A.M.A., Aug. 3, 1963. Ibid., June 15, 1964.
3 Ibid., July 20, 1963.
4 Journal Student A.M.A., April, 1955, p. 44.
5 J.A.M.A., Aug. 10, 1963.