I hope you will bear with me in this post because it is not like any other I’ve written.
I’ve been reading a series of historical novels, The Poldark Series, by Winston Graham. They are set in Cornwall, England from 1783 to 1820. The main character is Ross Poldark, a British soldier from an ancient but not wealthy “landed gentry” family, just returning from America’s “Revolutionary War”.
Poldark’s service in the war began more as an adventure than a patriotic commitment and his life, upon return, yields historically correct insights to every aspect of life in that era —then and, in some mysterious way, now. Masterpiece Theatre on “Public Educational Television” has just aired amazing renditions of the first 2 of 11 ‘nearly impossible to put down’ books. That’s a bold statement for someone who reads hardly any fiction.
Why would I mention my reading in this blog? The subject of health either directly or indirectly pervades every page and I’ve been fascinated with the accurately disclosed details of the “practice of medicine” at that time in history as well as public attitudes toward it and toward “doctors”. Braided into the exceptional writing is an ongoing comparison of two “medical practitioners” with glimpses into contrasting (indeed conflicting) approaches–approaches still reflected in todays practice of medicine.
One of the doctors is glibly barbaric with detachedly “bleeding patients” the main approach as he “treats” those of “higher station” only.
He treats each case pretty much the same way regardless of circumstances. The other doctor is a younger well trained but more sensitive man who treats the many destitute mostly mining families and a few discerning upper class. He really focuses on individualizing his treatment.
Woven into the multiple story lines are vignettes of epidemics, scourges due to malnourishment, etc. Home care and what passes as “hospital care” are eye opening. For example, the “orthodox treatment” of an eye disease (possibly glaucoma) is this: “Tie a silk scarf around the “patient’s” neck as tightly as possible without asphyxiating them, then bleed them behind both ears.”
The younger doctor character, who does not condone “blood letting treatment”,
does a great deal of personal research with herbs etc. He actually tries to determine and deal with the cause of the disease and does some elementary work with epidemiology. He has the “novel idea” that the body is created to heal and that creative innate design should and can be worked with rather than around or against.
Of course the old “elite” doctor calls the younger one “a quack upstart” being quite territorial. He is quite brash and threatened when the younger’s patients seem to do better than his. Folks begin to notice that trend.
What’s really interesting is the younger doctor’s recognition of the role played by nutrition, hygiene, and even mental/emotional stresses in disease. There are specific references to specific diseases.
This story line is not major in the novels but it is subtly woven through as an integral part of the era portrayed in time, setting, and pathos. Health is an unavoidable topic in life then as now. Has there ever been a time in history that health was an avoidable “story line”?
Hardly, I think as, even in Biblical times, it is more than a side track. In Exodus, God tells the Israelites being freed that “He is their health.” and we see He kept His Word. Jesus’s ministry was deeply and broadly rooted in healing of both body and soul and that reality should be more than a hint to us of how disease always has one foot in each. Of course, recently, this link was irrefutably proven by the brilliant research of Dr. Candace Pert even though “medical science” still resists applying the findings.
Winston Graham’s exquisitely crafted Poldark novels are set about 1800 years after Christ’s ministry. And they are set about 200 years after scientist philosopher Rene DesCartes , who was in trouble with “the church” sought papal permission to dissect cadavers. DesCartes made a deal with the Pope giving “science” jurisdiction over the body and “religion” dominion over the soul. We are, in these novels, privy to a ground level look at the misery wrought from forgetting the Biblical truth and doggedly holding to the humanly contrived religious/political “fact”. Practicing medicine is still influenced by this unfortunate dividing up of our personal human geography.
In 2016, we see the same conflicts as in Poldark’s “era”. The well-established highly profitable traditional sick care viewpoint versus the more holistic and individualized but less profitable health care perspective. In one, food is pronounced inert and not to be taken seriously. Orthdox “cures” , largely, must be man-made materials (and profitable). Generally, as with the elder doctor in Graham’s novels, treatments are ‘one size fits all and often performed regardless of actual effectiveness or “unseemly additional effects”. Any alternative to these procedures is scoffed at by the established medical industry as “heretical quackery”—particularly if individualized nutrition, lifestyle, and emotional/mental (soul) healing aspects are considered. Patent profits are impossible on fresh food of course.
Certainly “modern medicine” has brought mankind phenomenal trauma care and emergency care. This is the area in which the practice of medicine shines forth. I’ve certainly been blessed by the advances in this area of medicine. It is the “management of health” I wonder about. Certainly there are doctors who practice such care with as much art as science–and there are others so susceptible to the “pharma push” that they let the art slip away and the prescribed routine always rule. In surgery, I believe that artistic skill still eclipses science in overriding importance. I’ve benefitted from that truth.
As I “see” the characters on Graham’s pages struggle to live in a beautiful but unrelenting seacoast section of England, they laugh, cry, dance, slog through the mud, deal with taxation and feudal but familiar politics, give birth, bury children, love, hate, give, take, win and lose. The descriptions are vivid and the relationships empathetically disclosed. Two questions pervade all. Who is trustworthy? and Who is courageous?
These are overwhelming questions in every “moment” of these novels, as I see it. And do they not remain “the” questions we focus on whether regarding our health, politics, business, or any other facet of life? They are to me and I’m eternally grateful to have ONE I know I can trust—Creator of my body, my soul, the food I need, the water I need, the air I breath, and the absolutely essential love that is the stick that stirs all that matters. He’s always been the ONLY trustworthy . . . and accessible ONE and healing is His passion. We saw that when He took on human flesh to do for us what we could never do for ourselves . . . . and He changed all prospects. He’s the reason we can be courageous and sure as we contend for our health.
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