A few simple guidelines may help:
(i) Faith: Choose the system in which you naturally have faith and to which your body most responds or is accustomed to from childhood. There is no point adopting a method simply because it is fashionable or is being well advertised and marketed. Such propaganda might help initially by creating a powerful collective atmosphere that is full of anticipatory suggestions and hope. But these things usually do not last long (though they may appear long compared to the average human lifespan). Systems, such as Ayurveda, Homoeopathy, Allopathy, Mind-Body medicine are more steady and established. Some others (such as Reiki and Accupressure have just been born or reborn and not yet developed in experience and expertise. The results therefore are also not likely to be steady and the patient must know that he is willingly submitting himself to an experimental method. Many Allopathic drugs and procedures themselves move in and out of fashion.
Here, there is also a case for indigenous methods. Systems of healing that originate in a certain geographical region, and even perhaps the culinary practices, work more efficiently with the local people. It is as if Nature has evolved it in this way. This collective wisdom has its own logic and merits. It has served for a long time and people have invested faith in it. It is a tragic irony that modern medicine has gone around with an almost evangelical fervor to establish itself as the primary (read: only) true medical system and thereby destroyed and uprooted the indigenous methods and given instead an expensive and uncertain faith in the name of scientific dogma. Yet the irony of it all is that now it is well established that any medicine, modern or ancient, works through at least two mechanisms, one of which is faith. The contribution of this faith factor is not just some minor or incidental thing. The placebo effect is strong enough to register itself as a formidable force, requiring strict models of testing a drug! Who knows one day we may discover that not only drugs but even surgical procedures, like injectables, may well be helping largely due to the faith factor!
(ii) Time and Patience: Most illnesses (nearly 90%) are self-healing by nature and the system of therapy used really does not matter. Among these are the most common fevers, sore throat, diarrheas, etc. Still others can be corrected by lifestyle adjustments, such as diabetes. Out of the other 10%, about 8-9 out of 10 again, are largely contained rather than cured. Thus for example one does not speak of cure of hypertension but only its control. It is only the 1% where the choice of system makes a sizeable difference. Most healing is at its foundation self-healing or natural healing. Of course the dynamics of illnesses have changed over the last few decades. On the one hand we have strong remedies that provide quick relief thus tempting the patient to take them, even if it means losing his natural health and making his body increasingly dependent upon drugs. On the other hand, there is this frightening list of diseases increasing every year with a host of supposed complications expected if left untreated. The result has been a loss of natural faith in our own healing processes.
(iii) Simple Solutions: As a safe rule, if an illness has not taken deep root in the body (that is to say, there is no distinct organ pathology of an anatomical nature) and is neither acute nor too distressing, then it is best to try out simple alternative methods along with some lifestyle changes and general positive measures, such as a greater balance of work and rest, healthy diet, etc. This trial should be done only if one can place one’s trust fully in the recovery and not with a constant lingering doubt. One method
needs to be abandoned in favour of another only if one has persisted for a reasonable length of time (say 6 months on an average) for chronic problems. The decision to change should not be arbitrary and fanciful, jumping from one doctor to another or one system to another. It should be a well-informed decision made with awareness and in consultation with the physician. Doctor-shopping is never a good practice. Faith in the physician is an integral part of therapeutics. To change system, method or physician often confuses the body which takes time to adapt. That is why it is good to have one nodal physician to whom one can refer for advice and who can, if need be, refer your case further. The concept of a family physician is fast returning now, though in a new way more suited to the times. The other advantage of a family physician is that he knows the unique constitution, the specific allergies and responsiveness to certain therapies etc. His role in the social rehabilitation of a patient with chronic debilitating illness is of course well known and crucial.
(iv) Common Sense and Attitude: If the illness has the nature of an emergency and is accompanied by anatomical changes in an organ, as for instance in a cardiac emergency or a stroke, then it is best to consult an Allopath who is trained and expert at primarily dealing with diseases that have infiltrated deep into the physical body. Again, if there is no help possible in Allopathy (an intractable malignancy for instance) then it is better to try out a gentler palliative in the alternative systems rather than undergo violent life-prolonging procedures or use strong remedies as palliatives. Indeed it is sometimes better to accept the inevitable gracefully and with a calm heart and luminous trust that whatever happens will be for the ultimate good. This natural trust in destiny should not be confused with a resigned fatalism of the hopeless and the helpless. Rather it is a trust that implies faith in Something or Someone that far exceeds our limited human understanding and its capacities, a Wisdom, if we like, that knows its goal and its steps, however strange or capricious they may seem to our limited and short-sighted vision. It is known that having such a trust is itself therapeutic and facilitates the healing process. And if one has to leave the body, then this state of trust creates the best possible condition for the release. Either way it is the best possible attitude to take, rather than pump tons of chemicals into the system which may sometimes well be like flogging a tired horse. In fact, most sensible physicians do not like to interfere too much, chemically or surgically, with a patient who is past his nineties. Of course age may not be the only criterion; more important is the vitality and general state of health. Intervention through strong remedies when a patient has lived a full life is usually done because the patient is insistent and somehow believes that he can be cured. The truth of the matter is that the human body is unable to handle the increasing load of chemicals into its system and one way or the other begins to break down – either due to the disease or the drug! Sometimes, of course, certain simple measures and remedies are continued in old age to prevent or avoid possible complications, such as bed-sores that make the quality of remaining life hard to bear and again justifiably so. In any case, the safe rule of geriatric practice (medicine for the elderly) is to use few and gentle medicines and in lower dosages as the propensity to side-effects is rather high.