The Power of Doubt

Veronica Vega


HAVANA TIMES — I’ve been witness to a doctor’s disabling prognosis on more than one occasion, which destroys in one phrase the concept of “tomorrow”. However, the worst thing is the sick person’s faith, which accepts this as something inevitable.

I was also raised within this tradition where the doctor is a holy figure, however, my instincts have slowly led me to trust in my direct experiences in life and in my own will more, rather than trusting the conclusions doctors make by observing how a disease acts out, classifying it and its behavior.

I am aware that Western medicine has saved millions of lives and that technological advances have facilitated the medical diagnosis and treatment of countless diseases. I know that once traumatic exams can now be replaced with X rays, ultrasound scans, MRIs or CAT scans, etc.

And I greatly value the goodwill of doctors who give their all, especially in our country, where they have a lot of administrative pressure on them, a lack of resources, too many patients and low salaries.

However, ever since I first began to ask myself existential questions, I wondered how somebody foreign to my body could know more about this body than myself. It seemed logical to me that what worked on some people wouldn’t exactly work on me and that every body is a world in itself.

My first contact with what has been named (not without circumspection) “alternative medicine”, has confirmed my belief that there are different ways to recover your health, methods which are dismissed out of ignorance, prejudice and a strong media bias which interests that monopolize this market are responsible for creating. Medical sciences which have been passed down the generations, which live on in the calmness of small villages, have had their successes muted by the pharmaceutical industry in full swing.

Out of all those that I know about, Ayurveda is the one that has made the strongest impression on me. Already a very progressive practice in the time of Buddha, it brings together over 5000 years of wisdom and is today, one of the officially recognized medical practices in India and has also won great international acclaim for its ability to treat humans not only in the physical sense, but in all aspects of organic well-being.

There’s a documentary that I’d like to recommend, “Ayurveda, the art of living”. It gives examples of how we can treat terminal illnesses which have been diagnosed by traditional medicine. There’s the testimony of a patient who’d been diagnosed with stomach cancer and they couldn’t remove the tumor or treat it successfully with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. He went to a Ayurveda doctor, who assured him he could heal him. He applied certain medicines, including magnetic therapy and “drinkable gold dust” (aurum potabile) in order to strengthen the body’s natural defences. Six months later, the patient did another scan and there was no longer any trace of cancer within his body. That was 14 years ago.

Another patient, a child, was diagnosed at the hospital as having Fanconi Anemia and doctors there told his parents that the only cure would be a bone marrow transplant. Desperate, they went to a rural doctor whose patients used to wait in long lines to be seen. This doctor recommended they give their son a simple bark that should be given to him with milk, three times a day.  Within a month, his white blood cell count had improved; he began to eat and play and was already back at school.

Coexistencia. Ilustración: Yasser Castellanos
Coexistencia. Ilustración: Yasser Castellanos

A Western young man who had studied Ayurveda medicine tells us how in his experience, the root cause of many of the illnesses that cause us pain and continue to get worse are related with excess: obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol which produce heart disease, arthritis… and not only because of what we eat, but because of our external stimuli, feelings and sensations. This young man emphasized how an undeniable fact in medicine is constantly being undervalued: that our physical health is connected to our mental health, something which academic medicine took half a century to accept with neurosurgery.

Some Ayurveda practitioners suffer because of the problems that deforestation today imply, and with them the loss of trees which are a priceless source of medicine. Others also keep precious stones for their healing properties: gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds… gemstones from which they could comfortably live off of their profits for the rest of their lives.

Being born again

I heard about Ayurveda medicine about 20 years ago, but I only began to look into it seriously about a year ago because of a personal problem. Last summer, I suffered a crisis which doctors, without even giving me an X ray, diagnosed me with cervical spondylosis (a degenerative disease of the cervical spine). According to my doctor, I wouldn’t be able to bend down, pick up anything from the floor or sweep under the bed without experiencing vertigo, losing my balance or even falling.

During my second episode, I desperately asked another doctor if there was a cure, he conclusively said: “Be born again.”

But with the stubbornness of the goat of my birth sign (I’m a Capricorn) pulling me on, I thought that that couldn’t be the end, just like that, with a single blow. A neurosurgeon did some X rays which didn’t show anything. An orthopedic specialist assured me that the cervical spine “doesn’t cause dizziness” and she recommended that I go and see a ear, nose and throat specialist at a clinic. As this process was going to be too long, I decided to keep on looking into what I could do myself. I gradually discovered that my bothersome symptoms began with nasal blockage, a lack of air and fatigue. In fact, the only thing that helped me feel better in my last two episodes was when they gave me oxygen.

In an Ayurveda leaflet I found a remedy for asthma which I immediately began to practice. My vertigo disappeared and I realized that my dizzy spells also disappeared when I emptied the phlegm from my paranasal sinuses. What came next was the sensation of not having enough air which is symptom of asthma, although we know that this is due to an excess of retained air in the body. I began to practice some breathing exercises, as well as other physical exercises. I proved that I could return back to my normal life, follow my dreams for the future without converting myself into a handicapped person, depending on others, growing bitter because of my own impotence.

Today, I can’t help but think about my mother who also received a prognosis like my own, without any previous tests, and who was also asthmatic. In fact, the cause of her death was respiratory arrest. In order to treat her dizziness, she started taking Gravinol and the drowsiness it caused her, depressed her greatly. She lost her confidence in being able to go out alone and she withdrew into the walls of her home, insecurity and frustration.

When I see people of many different ages wearing neck supports and talking about lifelong disability, I ask myself what exams were administered in order to support the diagnosis they were given.

I ask myself how a doctor can cut the patient’s interest in living a healthy life, and how Western medicine has become so unquestionable with its tendency to deem people terminally ill.

Why do so many doctors choose to be unconscious of just how much weight their words carry? I don’t call this being objective but rather being irresponsible. The consequences of depression can be much more lethal than any disease.

The first premise of Ayurveda medicine is to get to know how your body works and the origin of your illnesses. The objective is self-diagnosis and remaining healthy even in your old age.

In countries where you have to pay for healthcare, I can understand why they’ve created this dependency on doctors, hospitals and pharmacies. However, in Cuba, where these services are free and now when they’re even warning us at hospitals that: “Medical attention is free, but it costs the State”, why hasn’t the government facilitated training courses in this science which doesn’t need a lot of resources and even proposes to develop patients’ own consciousness with regard to real autonomy?

I ask myself why Ayurveda hasn’t been incorporated into our health system since the ‘90s when Hatha Yoga and Acupuncture were depenalized. It’s no secret that with all of our scientific materialism, more than one doctor, in the face of an incurable disease has suggested to a family member that they go and look for a cure in Santeria, because traditional medicine can’t do anything.

Amidst distress, intolerance is broken. And it’s a lot better that options supported by a milenary tradition of wisdom and practices exist.

I know that a lot of prejudice still exists even among the well-intentioned, that a lot of people will reject the principles of a science that has nothing to do with what our culture focuses on; it doesn’t matter if these principles can be backed up by quantic physics.

However, I still believe that our education shouldn’t encourage the unconsciousness of being foreign to our own homes (our bodies), as we are the only ones who have to carry it, with its benefits and its demise.

And I’d like to counteract the apathy at our polyclinics and hospitals that provoke long waiting lists, the accumulation and interaction of uncertainty, pain and despair, with posters which urge to fight with all of our might for life and to not give up in the face of a lifetime disability sentence.