A Reiki master once told me I have a special gift. She gave me, a premed volunteer phlebotomist, a short treatment while we waited for the next blood draw at the HIV clinic.
Do you feel that warmth in your hands?, she asked me. That’s the universal energy, your qi.
I could fully access my special gift for a $1000 additional personal course.
I never took her course, but I do still think about the slippery appeal of ‘natural’ cures. It would be comforting to think of illness as the result of a broken natural law, an aberration within the natural, healthy state of the world. It would also be comforting to think that there is a supernatural all-encompassing solution to these transgressions within each of us.
This idea gives me compassion for the antivaxxers and skeptics. If you want to cultivate empathy for those who oppose science, consider viewing the recent documentary 'The Bleeding Edge', or the docudrama 'Dark Waters'. The modern medical industrial complex is aligned with big business and profits more than it is actual people and patients.
I think we in medicine should consider that more than one thing can be true at the same time. No, Bill Gates is not planning to put chips in people. But, at the same time, why is a computer scientist and billionaire so intimately involved with our public health decisions? No, pediatricians are not paid for vaccine use (the truest public health campaign). But, at the same time, why do we tolerate rank corrupt practices like that in oncology?
I wish we could join forces in the interest of the powerless and sick and direct our ire at actual powerful forces. Imagine if these same antivax people were armed with the scientific method? We might really be able to reform our society.
As a pathologist I do actually now know about the body’s energy - cellular energy and the changes of cancer.
It's late and cold in the lab right off the OR, where I’ve waited to collect your breast from the nurse. It’s so late that it's just me and the surgical team in your OR, glowing down the hallway from me. I hold your still-warm breast, slicing through in clean strokes. I'm like a butcher but I don't wipe my hands on my plastic apron.
We usually chase tumors you can’t see with the naked eye, radiographic and microscopic ghosts. Your tumor is hard and large, the exact size of the pink rubber ball I had as a child. It’s definitive. I feel the human warmth still in your fat, in the soft overcoat of your skin now stained with blood, the firm intrusion of this ball.
I’m not in the frozen section lab to heal you. Maybe there is some energy force that will heal you, along with the surgeon and oncologist. I don’t know about Reiki but I know about your cells now burning through their remaining ATP stores on the cutting board in front of me, dying without the oxygen in your blood supply.
Your surgeon is waiting to hear from me that indeed she removed all of your tumor. I take my warm hands and summon to any gods I can pretend to believe in - gods of gravity and acceleration, bouncing that pink ball right back into my non-athletic hands. Gods of entropy and mitochondria, light and glucose. Without the power to heal, all I can do to help you is to bring my attention to your disease. I examine your breast, noticing it’s location, documenting the margins. What each of us can do in medicine is not as dramatic as healing you with powerful hands. But our human capabilities can together make a difference.
It's out, I can tell the surgeon. It’s all out.
Pictured: a lumpectomy (not the mastectomy referred to).