Sunday, July 26, 2009

Irritable bowel? Don't you mean irritated?

A friend was telling me she went to the doctor the other day, and was told she has 'irritable bowel syndrome'.
I said, 'Don't you mean irritated bowel syndrome?'
'No,' she said, looking alarmed, 'he said irritable.'
'So it's not that something's irritating your bowel, it's that your bowel is just irritable? A cranky bowel? One of those never-satisfied-always-scowling bowels that just won't have a good time?'
'Something like that,' she said, cringing.
'So,' I said, 'did the doctor look into whether something might be causing the irritation? Like, some kind of environmental toxin, maybe? You know you've always worried about that treated pine pool surround.'
'No.' She looked scandalised, like I'd suggested tailgating the doctor home and scrawling messages on his letterbox. 'He said it's a mystery complaint, but fairly common. He seemed to know what he was talking about.'
Well, didn't he! Give it a label — even better, give it a label that blames the carrier — and it becomes a simple syndrome, even if the doctors can admit they don't know the cause. They're always happy to add, 'There are genetic tendencies.' In other words they know what it is, and they know naturopathic medicine can't help, and they know it's got something to do with your bad genes (and their good ones keeping them safe from it, presumably), but that's all they know. They know just enough to rule out anybody else trying to find out.
Sound familiar? It does to me. Autism is a mystery complaint, but they're happy to look at a child for no more than five minutes (the rest of the time they're trying to type their observations) and give a complete diagnosis. And once the diagnosis is there, your fate is sealed. You get early intervention and a mumbled suggestion to alter the child's diet if you want to.
Doctors aren't bad people. They do a good job at averaging. But it's time we stopped expecting them to research. They're just too busy getting through the day's influx of flu phobics and hamstrung footballers to think critically.
Something causes irritable bowels, and something causes autism, and if you didn't use your own brain, you'd probably blame yourself for all of it.

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