Section 7.4. The Body Politic


7.4. The Body Politic

Findability is at the center of a fundamental shift in the way we define authority, allocate trust, make decisions, and learn independently. There are some visible signs in the rise and fall of bloggers and journalists, search engines and portals, Wikipedia and Britannica, but most of the change comes slow and subtle like poetry, fine wine, and old age.

Consider in this vein, the cards I'm about to show about an episode of back pain I experienced not long ago. While working on this book, and managing a heavy consulting workload, my lower back began to hurt. A lot. I'd had a mild episode the previous year, precipitated by mowing the lawn, but this time it was back with a vengeance.

Since I was spending a lot of time at my desk writing, I first blamed poor posture, and hastily bought an ergonomic Herman Miller chair from OfficeDesigns.com. It's very nice. I'm sitting in it now. But it didn't help my back. After a few weeks of agony, I visited my doctor. I told her that stress could be a factor. She asked me to bend over, told me I have scoliosis, then prescribed physical therapy and three Advil, three times a day.

So now, I'm spending an hour a day on the floor doing the Cat and Camel.[*] I'm popping 63 pills a week. And my back pain is worse, not better. I've been doing some online research, but the authorities at nih.gov are in agreement with my doctor's course of treatment. So, in desperation, I go to Google. And I enter: "back pain" stress.

[*] See http://psychologytoday.webmd.com/content/tools/1/slide_basic_stretch.htmfor details.

I find an article that leads to a book by Dr. John Sarno called Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, which I instantly buy from Amazon.[] Now, Im not a touchy-feely kinda guy. I've never been to therapy. I'm not into meditation or yoga or crystals. In fact, I've never even had a massage. But I must confess, this book changed my life.

[] Dr. Sarno's message resonated profoundly with my experience and intuition. In short, he states that the majority of musculoskeletal pain disorders are rooted in repressed emotion. He explains that, in a bid to distract us from anxiety, our autonomic nervous system reduces blood circulation to specific muscles, tendons, or ligaments, thereby causing oxygen deprivation and severe chronic pain. For treatment, he recommends that patients acknowledge the psychosomatic basis and repudiate any structural diagnosis. This means no pills, no physical therapy, and resumption of all normal activity.

I was skeptical at first. Who is this guy? Why should I trust him? Maybe he's just out to sell books. But his evidence and his explanations eventually won me over, and his book mended my back. Dr. John Sarno is a heretic. His theory flies in the face of western medical orthodoxy. In fact, he blames doctors for perpetuating an epidemic of pain that costs our society over a hundred billion dollars a year. And you know what? I believe him. He healed my body. He changed my mind. And I found him on the Internet.

Believe it or not, this is the new face of healthcare. As access to medical information grows, it's increasingly in our best interests to find our own answers. Doctors have little time and a narrow focus. We must take responsibility for ourselves and our loved ones. This is the era of due diligence, informed consent, self-help, and the third opinion.

As we take responsibility for our own decisions, our relationship with authority changes. Doctors can still help us, but they are no longer in control. We are. This is exhilarating and scary. We begin to think differently about doctors and about ourselves. And this transformation extends beyond healthcare into every aspect of our lives, whether we're buying a car or a house or finding a job or a spouse. To not use the data and expert opinions and collective intelligence at our fingertips reeks of personal malpractice. Of course, access doesn't simply require us to make decisions in more areas of our lives. It also changes the game by inviting us to make informed decisions more often.

Let's say you're on vacation in Newport, Rhode Island, shown in Figure 7-2. You're enjoying a relaxing afternoon on the beach, but it's not perfect. It's a bit cloudy. Maybe you should do something else today and hit the beach tomorrow. You whip out your Treo, check the weather forecast, and start exploring things to do. You could tour one of the Newport mansions, or visit one of many museums, historical sites, or lighthouses. You could go shopping downtown or hike along the Cliff Walk. You could rent a bicycle or a motor scooter or a sea kayak. You come across an article about the Green Animals Topiary Garden. It sounds pretty cool. You check Google Maps for directions and distancea half hour drive. It's a tough decision. Is it worth the trip? Is this the absolute best option? Now your head hurts, but the real pain is in your palm. Maybe it's time for a swim.

Figure 7-2. Newport, Rhode Island