BY DR KHOR SWEE KHENG
The trouble with us these days is that when we're faced with some real or imagined suffering, we reach for the bottle of pills.
Our current approach to healthcare is to firstly attach a disproportional significance to our often trivial complaints. Then we refuse to tolerate even the slightest discomfort. Finally, we demonstrate an unhealthy willingness to take a pill for anything and everything, in the name of immediate relief.
We may have evolved as a species, but we have definitely changed from a society that understands and accepts hardship, to one that doesn't and can't.
It was a nasty world as recently as 50 years ago, when you could expect to suffer death or disability from a whole host of ailments, even one as simple as an allergy. Doctors battled real killers like smallpox and polio, and performed heroic surgery in the battlefield.
They discoverd penicillin, insulin, and vaccines. They developed treatments, surgeries, and intensive care for life-threatening diseases like asthma and cancer. Advances in epidemiology and public health improved sanitation, vector control, and workplace safety. These achievements preserved human dignity in the face of terrible suffering.
I want it, and I want it now
As a result of that dramatic improvement in modern medicine, societal attitudes to healthcare changed irrevocably. Having conquered death, we were now afraid of hardship. But truly, do we know what hardship really is? We imagine our own ills as the end of the world, refuse to use common sense/our own body/Father Time as a cure, and demand instant relief - we have become hypochondriacs with a sense of urgency.
These days, we insist on being called healthcare customers or clients. We don't like the idea of being a Patient, because we've become Impatient.
Doctor shopping abounds, with demands for the strongest painkillers (regardless of side effects or a logical step-up approach) or antibiotics (regardless of antibiotic resistance, and even for viral, not bacterial infection), and the latest blood test or MRI.
Petty complaints are now the cornerstones of our selfish existence - like constipation from a poor diet, or cough from too many cigarettes. We want to get "better" without an effort, and we want to get "better" right now!
How did this happen? Firstly, the focus on the preservation of life transformed into a focus on the quality of life. More importantly, there began to be a demand for Botox for wrinkles, Viagra for ED, Prozac for depression - science motivated by a client-consumer, and not necessarily a patient.
Once wars stopped and living standards improved, we stopped fretting about death and started luxuriously fulfilling our needs of food, shelter, clothing and safety. Then we began to worry about our "health". It's a relative thing - those days it was asbestos from a mine, and now it's repetitive stress injury. That we do not seem to advance along Maslow's hierarchy, is because self-actualisation means having a perfect nose?