A little self-familiarity will go a long way.
We all know that what we experience is colored by the norms and conventions of our peers and the society we’re immersed in. We see the world filtered through the lens of our personality and accumulated experiences, which include a mishmash of everything we’ve heard, read or seen. In other words, our mind takes some shortcuts to make sense of the world, and for the most part, it happens automatically.
This includes our relationship to our body, to western medicine, and to alternative and complementary approaches our health. Some things are “weird”. Some things are sacrosanct. Many of our habits and beliefs just accumulated without consideration of available evidence, or subjecting them to our own verification through exploration. Rather than advocating for one perspective or another, I suggest you consider this “pre-existing condition” of your belief system, and approach the topic of your body’s health with an open and curious posture.
What are your beliefs about Western or Complementary medicine?
- Do you have a generalized distrust of western medicine? Was there some particular experience in your history that crystallized that for you?
- Do you have a fervent confidence in some flavors of alternative or complementary medicine? Is that based on experience, or because it aligns with some other aspect of your worldview?
- Do you have a dismissiveness or immovable skepticism about anything that seems ‘weird’?
Do you have a belief that “that doesn’t work on me”?
I'll confess: Before my own surgery, I'd long been prejudiced against western medicine, paying obsessive attention to its shortcomings and excesses, its checkered history (remember Ignaz Semmelveis, who in 1846 was practically chased out of town for suggesting doctors needed to wash their hands when moving between morgue and operating theater?). So it took me longer than necessary to consult a physician about my own pains and get the X-ray that revealed osteoarthritis of the hips.
Know your biases and filters so you can identify and work with resistance to trying approaches outside your comfort zone. That might be a resistance to surgery and anesthesia, or it might be a skepticism about (for example) homeopathy or acupuncture.
In a perfect world, every modality would have peer-reviewed, double-blind studies validating it. As it happens, there is research to back up all of the components of the Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster program.
But if there is modest cost, no known harm and some evidence of efficacy, we might also subject some other approaches to our own exploration, with a posture of openness and curiosity.
What are some tendencies of yours will likely show up in your process?
- Do you catastrophize?
- Or do you minimize problems and hope they’ll work themselves out?
- What habits of mind are you bringing to this?
Do you limit yourself to what is empirically validated and written up in the New England Journal of Medicine?
- Well, keep in mind that it took 7,000 studies before the surgeon general was willing to say that smoking was bad for us. Don’t wait. Experiment and start to trust your own experience.
Care for a bit of magical thinking?
- I actually recommend you entertain a certain amount of magical thinking, when the empirical science is lacking and there is no harm in the approach.
- What I mean is that whatever you do, whether it’s taking homeopathic arnica before and after surgery or doing a breathing exercise, do it with full commitment and the intention to benefit by it. That way, you’ll marshal your own body’s prodigious capacity for self-healing (sometimes disparaged as the placebo effect). Later, look back and evaluate for yourself whether you’re getting benefit.
- Magical thinking has to be balanced with rational thought and medical advice. Allow for both of these, despite their apparent contradiction, to coexist in your open and curious mindset.