What hope is on the horizon if superbugs win?

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Routine operations taken for granted for decades could end up killing us.

This stark scenario is not the stuff of a science fiction bestseller but a grim warning from some of the country’s top doctors.

Writing in the latest issue of The Lancet, they predict the reversal of the past century’s medical gains by a new breed of ‘superbugs’.

The report by the Chief Medical Officer and other senior advisers states: ‘Rarely has modern medicine faced such a grave threat. Without antibiotics, treatments from minor surgery to major transplants could become impossible, and health-care costs are likely to spiral as we resort to newer, more expensive antibiotics and sustain longer hospital admissions. Infection-related mortality rates in developed countries might return to those of the early 20th century.’

Such sobering stories of bacteria evolving to resist the drugs designed to combat them have been circulating for some time now, but the sense of urgency is increasing, suggesting a very uncertain future indeed.

Is it possible that such a gathering storm cloud might hold any kind of a silver lining?

Perhaps, if it leads to the exploration of fresh approaches to health. As the so-called ‘miracle medicine’ of antibiotics apparently nears its use-by date, a number of thinkers are coincidentally calling for a radical rethink of health care. The ever-intriguing and often inspiring TED talks, for instance, have put on record a number of possibilities from a futuristic technology-based personal health movement that could keep ‘50 percent of care out of institutions, clinics, hospitals and nursing homes’ to a return to ‘the old-fashioned physical exam, the bedside chat, the power of informed observation’.

Among a number of innovative thinkers stressing the need for medicine to evolve is Larry Dossey, a practicing internist whose medical research has led him to become an internationally renowned advocate of ‘the role of the mind in health and the role of spirituality in healthcare’.

In Reinventing Medicine Dr. Dossey alludes to three ‘eras’ of medical care.

The first, he says, is the familiar approach of ‘mechanical, material, or physical medicine’, that is treating the body as a machine that needs fixing.

The second has been the era of ‘mind-body medicine’ in which a growing number of physicians and patients have recognised how our thought plays a significant role in establishing and restoring our health. This has been widely explored and documented by researchers, most notably through studies into the placebo effect – the effective use of dummy treatments with no inherent chemical value.

‘Era III medicine’, though, offers a new glimmer of sunlight on the horizon – one that promises to reveal a more expansive potential in us all. It is time, says Dossey, to see that ‘mind is a factor in healing both within and between persons’. In other words, ‘your mind can affect my body, and my mind can affect your body’.

However, it needn’t take a medical meltdown to prompt us to look beyond the limits of the familiar paradigm and acquaint ourselves with the intriguing possibilities of this and other aspects of a more spiritual approach to therapeutics. Or, rather, to re-acquaint ourselves with them.

‘The power of love to change bodies is legendary, built into folklore, common sense, and everyday experience. Love moves the flesh, it pushes matter around…. Throughout history, tender loving care has uniformly been recognized as a valuable element in healing,’ Dr Dossey wrote.

The potential of a ‘tender loving care’ to ‘[push] matter around’ came to my rescue after years of struggling with a recurring sinus infection unresolved by the antibiotics prescribed. I was introduced to a spiritual approach to healing that slowly but surely brought me a clearer awareness of the divine presence. At a time of acute suffering from the sinusitis I distinctly felt that presence as pure, spiritual love – encircling not only me but everyone else, too. The pain quickly disappeared and has not returned in over 25 years since.

Such healing is based on the idea that ‘health is not a condition of matter, but of Mind’ – as Christian thinker Mary Baker Eddy articulated it (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures).

While this might not be everyone’s first choice for the medicine of the future, there is a pressing need for something to change. At a gathering of infectious disease experts in Copenhagen, Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the UN’s World Health Organisation, summed up the stark scenario the world is facing: ‘A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it.’

As well-meaning warnings increasingly ring in our ears, modern medicine’s gloomy self-prognosis isn’t the whole of the story. There remains the possibility of looking beyond the current borders of our familiar, matter-based model of health care to explore the potential of more spiritual avenues.

In doing so, we shouldn’t be surprised if both doctors and patients find themselves entering a new period of empowerment and possibilities.

This was first posted as a blog on BuzzFeed called ‘Seeing New Possibilities Beyond The ‘Superbug’ Scare’.

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