I recently lost my dearly beloved brother-in law because in the end there was more faith in the efficacy of western medicine even when it had really nothing to offer. While an initial surgery certainly helped to slow the growth of cholangiocarcinoma with admirable support from ayurvedic and Tibetan medicine, a follow-up surgery five years later did not prove to be useful. Making choices becomes difficult when faced with incurable illnesses.
Questions are always posed to alternative medical practitioners that are almost never asked of western medical practitioners. Can you guarantee a cure? Will you take responsibility for the consequences? I did not find any such questions being asked of our western medicine-practising surgeons and physicians. In fact, there was a certain reluctance to pose difficult questions and also there was this willingness to believe that all would turn out right even when the evidence was to the contrary.
What I found amazing was the arrogance of allopaths who believed that if they did not have a solution, no other system could possibly have a solution. How did we get to the stage where we are so willing to go with western medicine and all its drawbacks and not even explore other alternatives? Is it because of a well-orchestrated media campaign by western pharma to belittle other medical systems so that they don’t lose out? Or is it that we are still slaves to the white man and his philosophy? Or is it that we as a community of believers in ayurveda have not sufficiently educated the opinion makers?
It grieves me that I am often unable to overcome deeply held beliefs in western medicine and people die because they are unwilling to look at alternatives. It constantly surprises me that people cannot look at logical arguments and believe that a disease trajectory is not dependent on one’s lifestyle or dietary patterns.
When you are recovering from a major surgery, where there have been complications, does it make sense to undertake long plane journeys to another continent? Western trained doctors do not have any notion of the pathya or apathya concept which is so important in ayurveda. In ayurveda, each disease is studied according to its nidana, samprapti, sampraptighataka, bheda, chikitsa and pathya/apathya regimens.
Basically the cause of the disease is studied in detail. Rarely do the texts say it is idiopathic. Detailed explanation regarding the nidana and hetu—that are the causes—are spelt out. The patho-physiology of the disease is dealt with in amazing detail considering that many of these texts were written 2,000 years ago. After a detailed discussion of the disease pathway and the way the digestive fire has been affected, details regarding treatment are given. The options are plenty. Many combinations of herbs, minerals and metals are spelt out so that different options are available for people of different prakriti.
The section on pathya/apathya spells out in great detail the diet choices the patient should make: what can he eat and what he should avoid. In similar fashion, the classics spell out the activities he can undertake. Can the patient travel riding a camel? Can he travel on a bumpy road? Can he walk around in the sun exposing himself to the hot rays and sweating profusely? Can he sleep during the day? The patient has to conduct himself in a manner that does not aggravate the disease and helps in his convalescence and recovery.
This section is so important that in a discussion of the treatment of a disease, if the ayurvedic student fails to write about the pathya and apathya to be followed, he will be penalised quite substantially. Some of these general principles of medicine, which are quite logical but somehow seem alien to our countrymen, need to be retaught. It is time we introduced some basic concepts of ayurveda, siddha and unani in our school curriculum so that we become a healthier nation.
The writer is retired Additional Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu. She can be reached at sheelarani.