What Do We Know?

“Humans are addicted to the hope for a final reckoning, but intellectual humility requires that we resist the temptation to assume that tools of the kind we now have are in principle sufficient to understand the universe as a whole.” ― Thomas Nagel, in “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Alomost Certainly False

Recently I went to a talk about Alzheimer’s Disease, given by an MD who was imploring the older people in the audience to sign up for a research study- apparently dementia researchers are finding out that by the time dementia is diagnosed, significant, irreversible, brain damage has already happened. Healthy subjects are needed now to find out what happens at the subclinical level.

What struck me the most about the talk, however, wasn’t the facts and figures that he spouted off, or the very interesting knowledge that he has as an MD. It was one sentence he said- I’ll paraphrase here, “ People assume medical science has more knowledge than it actually does.”

We all need to remember this the next time we go to our doctor.

In this information age, the person with the loudest voice often wins out, but that often is not the voice of reason, or of truth. The truth is that, like it or not, medicine is still in kindergarten when it comes to knowing what it needs to about the human body in health and disease, especially chronic disease.

Some of the medications used to treat my disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, influence chemicals and cells that we didn’t even know existed when I was diagnosed with JRA 46 years ago. Now we know about them, but we are still shooting in the dark when we change the way they behave hoping to decrease symptoms. And all of the medicines I’ve had to take also come with unwanted side effects, many of which my doctors have little idea what to do with.

I’m not complaining in any way, I am extremely grateful to have choices I didn’t used to have, and also very mindful of the fact that medicine has kept me alive and more functional for a very long time. However, I am someone who always wants to know all the information at hand so I can make good decisions, and the facts tell me that for my disease, and many others, medicine is limited in what it can do to help.

So, what do I do with this hard truth? I figure out how best to help myself, and help my health care providers do the very best job they can on my behalf given the tools they do have. I understand that pain and disease will be a part of my life for the rest of my life, and because I’m the one who lives in my body, I will always be the person with the greatest motivation to help me. So with each decision I move forward and better learn how to listen to my body, and how to meet it’s needs. In the end, there is nothing but good that can come from that!

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