Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Somatization Some of THIS

I found this New York Times article deeply offensive. Here's the lede:

People with a long history of medically unexplained symptoms — aches, pains, fatigue, dizziness and other complaints for which doctors can find no physical cause — might finally find relief.

Literal meaning: Hey, all you who people who modern medicine can't help, we might be able to help you.

Sounds pretty promising, right? Unfortunately the next paragraph blows that out of the water:

Two new studies by researchers who specialize in the baffling condition called somatization syndrome, estimated to affect up to 3 percent of adults, suggest that the quest for a physical explanation may take on a destructive life of its own. Instead, those with the syndrome should focus on practical strategies to regain normal function and relieve symptoms, the researchers say.

Wow. That is poorly written. Let's dissect that nonsense. First, they make up a name, somatization syndrome, as a catch-all for everything that doctor's can't seem to diagnose. That's unhelpful.

Then the article obliquely says that nothing is wrong with these people; it's all in their head. Well, golly-gee, if doctor's can't figure out what's wrong with you what does that leave? Nothing. You must be fine; you're just crazy. It can't possibly be the doctor or modern medicine that's at fault. No sir-ee, if doctor's can't diagnose it that means it doesn't exist.

Of course, they can't be honest and just tell you that they think you're crazy right to your face. That wouldn't be very effective. So instead, later in the article, they introduce "cognitive behavioral therapy" to, as the second paragraph says, "focus on practical strategies to regain normal function and relieve symptoms". RIIIIIIIIIGHT. They couldn't send people to psychologists because that would imply they were crazy, so let's make up a pseudoscientific therapy to go along with our pseudoscientific syndrome. Yeah, that's the ticket.

I'm sure that there are some subset of people with unexplained symptoms that are mildly hypochondriatic, but piling everyone with vague symptoms but no diagnosis in the same category is absolutely ridiculous. The arrogance is astonishing. To think that EVERYONE that doctor's can't diagnose is a whack-job is breathtakingly vile and condescending.

I've been looking for the following headline: "God Dead: Doctors/Lawyers Take Over", but I have to say I haven't seen it quite yet. Why don't they just admit that doctors are people too, and maybe, just maybe, they don't know everything.

Full disclosure: I have twice had many months-long illnesses that doctors could not diagnose. Both times I had to self-diagnose and treat. I now have a healthy skepticism about modern medicines' ability to do anything beyond antibiotics and trauma.