Doctor’s Office as Confessional. When There’s “Nothing They Can Do”

Many times in my journey to heal myself from the ravages of Crohn’s disease I have felt like giving up.  Although I have gotten profound pain relief and some real healing benefits from my handcrafted cannabis treatment protocol for Crohn’s, even on my best days I am still significantly ill; sometimes I begin to panic knowing how close I am to being homeless and I become absolutely desperate for help.  Several times I have laid in bed and considered going to the hospital and more than once I have made doctors’ appointments thinking that I had finally come to the end of my abilities to heal myself and that therefore, I needed to reach out for help.  But what’s the point of that when, as a chronically ill person with an incurable and indeed untreatable disease I already know there is nothing they can do?

Western medicine has absolutely nothing to offer me except the conventional Western treatments for Crohn’s that were not helping me before and were even making me worse.  And now that I live alone out of state with no friends or family members nearby, I wouldn’t be able to comply even if I wanted to if the doctors wanted to perform additional invasive diagnostic tests or procedures requiring me being “put under” because I don’t have anyone to drive me home.  Reputable diagnostic centers won’t even do the test unless you have a caregiver in the waiting area with you who has signed in and agreed to get you home safely once you are discharged.  This is a legal liability for them and if they are smart they will protect themselves from blame if they release a tipsy patient who then drives themselves home unsafely, if they are raped in the cab ride home, or any of a parade of horribles that can easily happen to an incapacitated sick (and especially female) patient after they are released from care (and before and even during for that matter but let’s forget about that).

In my case, clearly there is no medical point to reestablishing Western medical care for an incurable untreatable condition but of course they would happily see me — and pocket my money — if I decided I wanted to and many chronically ill people do continue this way for years, decades or forever.  But why?  Besides making money for the capitalistic patriarchal medical machine, and as a condition to collecting disability benefits, what purpose does the doctor’s office serve under these conditions and why do I still feel drawn there in my darkest hours when I know they can’t help?

Like most Western people and especially Western women, I have been to doctors’ offices probably hundreds of times in my life so I know how this will play out and I have imagined this many times since I have abandoned Western medicine for cannabis treatment.  I will go in, fill out the paperwork, possibly speak with an intake nurse and then speak with a doctor for however long they deem to spend with me, usually no more than 5 minutes but new intakes can be extensive and I have had some that lasted over an hour.  During this time you are expected to disregard your own privacy completely and divulge absolutely everything that’s been going on for you, not just “where it hurts” but also in the case of chronic and debilitating illness what your so-called limitations are, what you would like to be able to do but can’t, what you used to be able to but can’t do anymore, how all of this makes you feel and so on.  If there is a cure or effective treatment for your disease this consultation could be in line with finding real healing, but when there’s nothing they can do for you — and with Crohn’s and many diseases there isn’t — I have come to believe that this process is a capitalistic patriarchal ritual in which the patient confesses their sins to an authority figure not for medical healing but for the sake of making the confession itself.

Here, in the privacy of the Western doctor’s examination room we are expected to confess our sins and under capitalism and patriarchy being a sick woman is absolutely a sin.  We are supposed to tell the doctor our deepest most shameful secrets — what we aren’t able to do anymore, any deviant thoughts we’ve been having, how our lives are falling apart.  We can get second, third and fourth opinions where we repeat the experience and the confession many times, but what we will never get is any healing or relief from our suffering.  We will still be limited in what we can do, we will still have things we want to do and can’t, things we used to do but haven’t been able to do for a long time, we will still have deviant thoughts about it, and our lives will continue to fall apart.  If you are the sort of woman for whom the act of confessing itself brings you some relief that’s the only way you are going to get any.  Perhaps your confessing your sins of being a chronically ill woman under capitalism and patriarchy will comfort your friends and family and they will get some relief and might even leave you alone for awhile if you concede to confess in this way.  But your diagnosis and prognosis remain exactly the same.

When I have laid in bed at night and thought about going to the hospital it is because I am desperate for relief not only from my condition but also my station — I am on the razor’s edge of throwing my hands up in defeat and admitting that I have failed in my quest to heal myself, that I have hit “rock bottom” and that my life has fallen completely apart and it has!  All of that is absolutely happening to me.  But thinking rationally I know that there is nothing they can do about it, any of it, and I end up deciding that the mere act of confessing — despite the bizarre draw to confess which I can only conclude is the result of social and cultural programming — will offer me no relief at all.

That is what has kept me out of the hospital these 3 years of treating myself, along with the ability to medicate my most terrifying pain and symptoms with medical cannabis.  Western medicine can’t even offer me pain relief beyond recommending Tylenol where the pain is severe and their strongest pain relievers — opiates and opioids — cause GI symptoms and are contraindicated for Crohn’s sufferers who already suffer from the worst of that and more.  I may as well confess to an actual priest in an actual church for all the good confessing to a medical doctor would do.  They literally, literally have nothing to offer me except the peace of a confession which for me would be no peace at all.  So far, understanding all of this has been good enough for my rational mind and I have been able to soothe myself and go to sleep telling myself there’s nothing they can do.  There’s nothing they can do.  No matter what happens and how this turns out, there’s absolutely nothing Western medicine can do.  Except, of course, to make things worse.

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