How To Be A Patient

By: Thomas Cowan, M.D.

This may seem like a self-serving title for a doctor but the art of be- ng a patient is an aspect of medi­cine that needs some definite attention. I came to think about this subject about seven years ago via an experience that served as a real revelation for me. Let me describe. I was living in England for one year with my family. My son was in his first year of kindergarten in the Wal­dorf School in Forest Row. His teacher was a man we called Christo. Christo really liked my son even though my son was always a bit reluctant to go to school and probably was a bit reserved while he was there. I had a number of very posi­tive discussions and encounters with Christo and so I felt good about my son being in his class.

One day, about three months into the year, I brought my son to school and he refused to stay. He cried and cried and I was getting panicked. Finally Christo came over and very warmly said, "Son, what's wrong?" My son cried out "I want to go home!" Christo thought a moment, then said "Well, why don't we all walk to your house." My son's face lit up. "Wow, you're all coming to my house." "Yes," he replied, "and I'm calling your mother right now." That morning the whole class walked through the woods to our house, played games and had a snack in the our yard and my son never has had trouble going to school again (well, he doesn't really like school now, but that's different).

Later that week I asked Christo how he had come to this since it was highly unusual and he had said he had never done it before. He added, "I knew you really trusted me to do the right thing, so I just felt your trust, stayed in the mo­ment, and, flash, it came to me."

This story is a goldmine of informa­tion and describes perfectly the condi­tions necessary for healing. First there was rapport between the patient (in this case my son and me) and the healer (Christo). Then there was trust and full disclosure (my son was hurting, and I didn't know what to do). Then there was a moment of intuition; then full resolu­tion of the difficulty. When this happens between doctor and patient true magic occurs but, alas, it is rare. Let's examine the components of this experience.

Rapport/Trust: This practically goes without saying—you must feel some con­nection with your doctor which hopefully will lead you, the patient, to trust his or her judgment and decisions. Here we walk a delicate line—too little trust ef­fectively cuts off inspiration and intuition from "higher sources"—because it sets up conflict between doctor and patient and really blocks many healing possibili­ties. The doctor also feels this and will often (subconsciously) suggest a therapy to earn the patient's trust rather than to heal. However, too much trust can be­come blind faith which can even lead the patient to be manipulated. It's a fine line but when found is a magical place.

The next step in the process is one of the most important and one that is so frustrating for me—that is the area of a patient describing his/her situation—the area I referred to as full disclosure. As a doctor, I like it (that's an understate­ment!) when a patient comes to me and describes very clearly and precisely (not succinctly) his or her full situation. For example, "Dr. Cowan, I am here today because I have a funny feeling in my heart area. When I exert myself or even once when I sneezed my heart felt like it skipped a beat or started racing. When this happens I may feel dizzy, etc. etc." Then I can ask specific questions about other aspects of heart function, other types of symptoms, associations, causes, diet, exercise, emotions or whatever. In other words, the patient gives me a full reporting of his or her experience. That's what I want - the full description of the experience on all levels. Contrast this with this sample and, unfortunately, all ­too-frequent encounter: I say, "Hello, what can I do for you today?" The pa­tient replies, "Dr. Cowan, I have a yeast problem. Do you have any medicine that will help this?" I may ask, "Can you de­scribe your symptoms (or experiences) that lead you to think you have a yeast problem?" The patient replies, wary and frustrated, "Don't you know about yeast problems? I have all the usual symptoms and its been going on for years and I need help, etc." For me it feels like I am being pushed into giving a treatment for yeast and not for a human being asking for help sitting in front of me. As a result the next stage, that of intuition, that moment of magic, has a hard time peeking through.

The reason is that doing the work of being a patient is a similar process as that of meditation; that is, if, as a patient, you can truly and accurately come to know your experiences on multiple levels—physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.—then clearly describe them—you have essen­tially performed a meditation. You have objectified your experience, looked at it, brought it up into the thinking realm and then offered it up so it can be guided or even healed. If that can come with a feel­ing of trust and rapport and then a will­ingness to make changes in your habits (e.g. food, exercise, inner work, etc.) of­ten a magical result will occur.

How different this is than coming with an air of suspicion, saying a diag­nosis (I have yeast, cancer, heart disease, whatever), relating initially nothing of your experience of life and then asking for a treatment.

My experience says that in fact these patients initially always reject my advice because they think I am wrong or what I said or suggested didn't make sense. Un­fortunately, this model is the usual sce­nario in conventional medicine today—patient says they have a disease ("I have prostate cancer"), doctor then removes the prostate—no magic, no healing, no intu­ition, nobody grows.

I will conclude by saying that twelve years of practicing medicine has taught me that I alone (or anthroposophical medi­cine) have no cures for any disease. But what I hope I have is heartfelt, helpful advice and suggestions to give to those who wish to join me on the path toward magic and healing.

Dr. Cowan is a physician who specializes in natural medicine and its application. He is widely recognized and respected for his success in treating cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, hypertension, women's health and children's diseases such as ear infections and allergies. He is on call 24 hours. every day at the Noone Falls Health Care Center in New Hampshire.