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“Listen to what your body is telling you.”

It was good advice coming from D., a friend and a colleague. Your body knows best, he often would tell me, whenever I would air my health-related worries.

If you feel you want something sweet like a piece of cake or a cup of ice cream, it means your blood is low on sugar. If you suddenly crave for salty snacks, it means you’re low on sodium and potassium. You suddenly feel queasy and nauseous? That’s just your body telling you to move your bowels, so you better go to the nearest comfort room now. Just give it what it needs at the moment and the discomfort or pain will go away.

I believed him because even if we were practically of the same age, D. never had the need for maintenance medicines. As far as I knew, he never had a major ailment. He loved food but he ate in moderation and I never saw him touch liquor.

But one day, he felt pain in his breast but he vehemently did not want to be brought to the hospital, more worried about the production job he had to finish. Well he died of cardiac arrest. He was only 61 years old. I then realized that while he often talked about the importance of listening to one’s body, he never did anything about it at the moment when his body was telling him to get help.

His advice came to my mind recently, because my wife has been subjected to a battery of costly diagnostic tests for the past two weeks.

It started with an ultra sound scan, which showed a big nodule in her kidney. And because her cardiologist couldn’t say exactly what it was, she asked my wife to go to a kidney specialist who in turn asked my wife to undergo a CT scan of her kidney.

And all this time, I was telling my wife, there’s nothing wrong with your kidneys. You are able to urinate without problem. You don’t have a fever. There’s no blood in your urine. Your blood pressure is ok. Your creatine is normal. If something is really wrong, your body would tell you. Won’t you listen to your body?

Deaf to it all, she preferred to listen to her doctors. As I expected, the CT scan showed there’s nothing malignant about her kidney nodule.

Then back to her cardiologist who was bothered by her persistent cough. So she asked my wife to get an x-ray of her lungs.

The result shows a dark spot in her lower left lung. The x-ray reader suspects pneumonia. Her cardiologist isn’t too sure because she doesn’t have fever or has no trouble breathing.

So she tells my wife to see a lung specialist, pulmonologist. The lung doctor thinks it’s pneumonia but also suspects tuberculosis. So he sends her off to get another CT scan of her lungs, at the same time instructs her to undergo a series of sputum tests designed for spotting TB bacteria.

Again all this time, my wife has no fever and no trouble breathing. Just that pesky cough from time to time. The results on her sputum tests showed negative for TB as I predicted.

Why can’t today’s doctors make decisive diagnosis on anything without having to send patients to spend on individual tests, which in my wife’s case seem to be unnecessary?

Whatever happened to the intuitive doctor of old? Where is the doctor who still has the talent to envision the whole picture. Many ailments are inter-related and if only the doctor would intently listen to his patient’s body, his intuition and his medical knowledge can easily lead him to an accurate diagnosis, without the battery of tests.

I have always thought that every medical professional, be it a physician, a nurse, or therapist must be good at the art of listening and envisioning. After all, healing is not just science but also involves the synchrony of many arts.

I read somewhere that many problems in Philippine health care actually stem from the fact that the health care system is doctor-centric, specialist-driven and hospital based.

This is why everyone of us must also commit to be well informed. Why not devote a little time to surf medical information or check out some of the more authoritative or credible streaming channels that dispense good and helpful health information?

You are your own best health advocate. Keep pushing for accountability and answers. Keep pushing if your body is telling you that something isn’t right. Demand better diagnosis. Demand the right tests.

Have you heard of Narrative Medicine as a medical approach? It utilizes patients’ narratives in clinical practice, research, and education as a way to promote healing. In narrative medicine, the doctor strives to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences and emotions likely to have influenced his patient’s health. By listening to the patient, he is able to create a more complete picture of his illness and its impact on his life. The question is would our doctors take time to listen to patients’ stories?

One of my favorite writers is a former research pathologist, physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, and educator named Dr. Lewis Thomas.

To him, medicine is “a hybrid of science and art.” He also saw aging as a collection of separate ailments that thrive on a more vulnerable body that is naturally wearing out.

This is what I think is the problem with my wife’s coterie of individual specialists. They’re so focused on individual body parts that they fail to see the bigger story, the story of human aging.

Remember the famous quotation of Alexander Pope that states that “the proper study of mankind is man?” If this is so, then the key to proper healing of the body is the human patient himself. A doctor must learn to listen to his patients’ stories more before writing anything on his prescription pad. Sometimes a little compassionate counseling and coaching can do more than just pills and capsules.

Mine may be an unpopular opinion but medical practice can be enhanced by the art of storytelling and an empathetic understanding of human nature.