Dr. Feelgood

In praise of recreational medicine

| March/April 1998

I'm really sick of the cliché, propounded by both the natural-healing and the medical professions, that we should listen to our bodies. I propose a more reciprocal relationship: Our bodies should also listen to us.

I'm not proposing to fight fate with wishful thinking. What I really want is for the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry, the healing 'profession,' and the developers of medical technology to move toward a more collaborative--as opposed to authoritative--relationship with the 'patient.'

In the 1950s, in the field of psychotherapy, Timothy Leary proposed a change in the doctor-patient relationship that has largely been adopted. The therapist would no longer be the one to define optimal psychological health, make a judgment about the patient's state, and offer proscriptive and prescriptive regimens for improvement. Rather, patients would be presented with a chart defining current behaviors and attitudes, then define their goals according to a realistic assessment of their potential. The therapist would be a 'coach,' helping patients get to where they wanted to go.

The medical profession needs to make the same transition. Right now, I have an ulcer and asthma. These conditions obstruct the life I want and need. The social lubrication of going out for drinks, for instance, is seriously impeded. I can no longer use stimulants.

Leaving pleasure (a perfectly valid need) aside, these denials have their own consequences. Mixing it up in an alcohol-loosened environment leads to new relationships, connections, opportunities, projects. Occasional stimulants increase my productivity and provide a clarity that results in life-changing decisions.

Recently, I visited several doctors to discuss combating my lifestyle restrictions with stronger medicines. Three different doctors told me that, yes, it would be possible to prescribe stronger medications that might allow me to live more the way I choose without increased suffering. But they wouldn't do it. They were adamant that I follow the proscriptions for the pathology; the prescriptions should be secondary. This attitude needs to change.

In my dream life, we get together with our doctors and tell them what we'd like, without guilt or taboo. 'I'd like to be able to drink one or two glasses of beer with dinner every evening, doc. I'd like to be able to get an erection five times a day. I'd like to be able to use a little pick-me-up a couple of times a week. And party like a complete maniac on Saturday night.' The doctor and I put our heads together. My dream doctors are so well informed that they know of a new brain drug that releases increased vasopressin without any side effects. Another drug, combined with a specific food, counteracts the acidic effects of alcohol. And so on. Together, we chart a more satisfactory regime.

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