A physician encountered traditional healers while volunteering several years in a medical group serving African villages. Resentment and anger generated strong resistance to an American doctor who arrogantly assumed their position of trust and respect. He wisely enlisted traditional healers and medicine men/women in joint practice. For patients who came with a sore, the traditional healer applied an herbal paste on sores on arms and chanted some words in their own language. Patients were amused when the physician also stuck a needle in their rear ends and promised healing benefits.
Joint practice became a win-win strategy for all involved. He learned from the medicine man/woman about healing properties of locally available plants, knowledge he shared with researchers back home. The local healer also knew his neighbors and their lives intimately and could treat the whole person and community, thereby creating trust. The physician instructed the traditional healer on some scientific health and sanitation practices to implement in the village. He also recommended that the medicine man avoid some herbs and practices that were harmful or ineffective. The midwife in each village learned some modern methods for care of mothers and babies. They stayed to serve after he left. The real winner was a healthier villager.
The basic wisdom supporting joint practice and good public health encouraged every positive effort and wisdom of an entire village. Acrimonious division and conflict within a community endanger everyone’s health. We are learning that illness affects the entire person, including the mind, spirit and soul, not just a physical body. Moreover, bad social, mental, spiritual, and psychological conditions cause real psychosomatic illness. Care givers and families experience trauma along with their loved ones. Inconsiderate or evil actions of one individual affect the health and wellbeing of others in the community. Fortunately, many of our Montgomery County neighbors are wise and cooperate in joint practices.
Good physicians take time to know their patients and social circumstances that affect physical health. That requires empathy and more of a physician’s time than insurance plans and medical corporations sometimes schedule.
Hospitals and clinics welcome clergy and employ clergy to assist patients and their families with spiritual and psychological wellbeing.
Especially during the pandemic, mental health counselors serve individuals and groups in schools and communities because this virus is attacking more than individual physical bodies. Fatigue, despair and hopelessness attack mind, body and community.
Secular therapies gain acceptance and popularity, even in public schools, including mindfulness stemming from Buddhist practices and yoga originating from Hindu practices. Religious groups recommend prayer as a familiar more effective resource.
Health as an important public issue is becoming abundantly clear. If one person ignores safety precautions as a free individual or decides not to be vaccinated, then family, friends and community are at risk.
We in Montgomery County are fortunate as we face many medical challenges in new ways. Most of our neighbors are careful to use all available wisdom and resources to keep themselves and their neighbors healthy. That is the true joint practice that keeps our village safe. Several years ago, Bill Placher recommended, “If you say you love the whole world, you best love some particular part of it with great intensity.” Now more than ever, if you say you love America and wish it well, stay well and take care of (love) your neighbors as yourself!
Raymond Brady Williams, Crawfordsville, contributed this guest column.