Here’s a good general rule for the rest of your life: all things considered, you’re better off avoiding hospitals and instead, every year or so, checking yourself into a resort/health spa for a few days.
Personally, I don’t care much for hospitals. Whenever one of my patients ends up in one (fortunately a rare event) I secretly wonder if I’ve failed him or her professionally. Was there something I missed that could have prevented hospitalization?
It’s true that a lot of state-of-the-art advances in medical science lurk behind the bombastic architectural pretensions known as “major medical centers.” But there’s also a lot of well organized, insanely overpriced over-doctoring. This results in over-diagnosis, over-testing, and over-prescribing of pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures. It also produces a smorgasbord of hospital-acquired infections, drug reactions, iatrogenic illnesses (those inadvertently caused by a physician or by procedures used to diagnose or treat you), and sheer physical and emotional exhaustion of patients.
Most people leave hospitals grateful to get out alive. For many of us, our initial hospital stay includes a moment when we shed for the first time our personal myth of immortality. As we’re wheelchaired through the long corridors to our waiting transportation home, the sentence that invariably crosses our minds is “I could have died in there.”
Before opening WholeHealth Chicago, I spent many (many!) years making daily hospital rounds. Today I rarely enter a hospital—mainly I’m a visitor. Like many office-based doctors, I prefer using hospitalists, a new medical specialty of physicians who have no practice of their own, but supervise the hospital stays for patients of non-hospital physicians like myself.
It was during those hospital-filled years of my callow youth that I realized many illnesses I was treating could have been prevented by simple lifestyle changes. And thus were planted the first seeds of WholeHealth Chicago.
Since today I average just two or three hospitalizations a year (see? I do really try to keep people away from hospitals), hospitalists don’t make much money from WholeHealth Chicago. Our most recent hospitalization was for a woman who suffered all sorts of post-operative complications, including kidney failure, from what probably was an unnecessary bit of orthopedic surgery.
See why I’m skittish about hospitals? But health spas are another matter altogether…
Since we first opened WholeHealth Chicago, we’ve consistently sent far more patients to health spas around the country than to hospitals. I learned early on that this is a very European thing to do, and that the health insurance of several European countries even includes spa coverage when recommended by a physician. Ours, sadly, does not.
With patients whose work and financial circumstances permit spa time I’ve often seen a single stay at a resort/health spa change their lives forever. This is not an exaggeration. Whether it’s a patient with an medical condition like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease or someone with a stress-based disorder such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, or irritable bowel syndrome, there seems to be one key “spa moment.” Dozens of patients have told me a variation of “I suddenly realized that good health was a real possibility. I was able to recapture what feeling truly great actually meant.”
You have to admit, a moment like that can be pretty empowering for someone who’s felt crummy for so long they can’t remember what feeling good was like.
But it’s really nothing mysterious.
That “spa moment” is your body giving you a preview of the possibilities.
Giving you the hint that if you escape a stressful environment, surround yourself with natural beauty, feed yourself healthful whole foods, exercise gently, treat yourself to massages, facials, hot baths, acupuncture, and energy healing, and have utterly no place to go except for a nice walk, you can indeed feel great without doctors or drugs.
After that first spa experience, many people make dramatic changes in their lives. They may leave a stressful job or relationship, make a career change, or even pick up and move. Many re-order their lives to accommodate the stress-relieving features of spa life. Daily eating habits almost always improve and, at least for a while, they’ll exercise regularly, meditate, attend yoga classes, and go for an occasional tune-up at a day spa. If they start to feel poorly again, most know exactly what to do to get their groove back.
Health-oriented destination spas are located everywhere in the world and have a vast array of pricing. The oldest in the Chicago area, Heartland Spa, has an excellent selection of spa activities, a very healthful detoxifying menu, and the advantage of allowing you to avoid the stress (and expense) of air travel. Just 90 miles south of Chicago in Gilman, IL, you can drive yourself, take Amtrak out of Union Station (they’ll pick you up on the spa end), or, if you live in the Chicago area, they may arrange for a complimentary limo to and from your home. Heartland is always running package specials, so click here for their website.
After you’ve sampled one spa, you can go to spafinder.com and find spa treatments in every price range. You might even make yourself a spa regular, detoxing each Spring instead of getting plastered in a Cancun disco every night and coming home with herpes.
David Edelberg, MD
PS: This postscript has nothing to do with spas. I was pleasantly surprised when the AMA Journal of Ethics asked me to write an article about what I felt were the moral failings of physicians in their attitude toward women with fibromyalgia. I was definitely surprised when they accepted it for publication, since alternative medicine is not exactly a favorite subject of the AMA. Generally, you need to be an AMA member to access articles (although I am not—maybe they didn’t check), but this article is available to the public. The theme of the issue is “Coping with Foreignness in Medicine.” Read the Introduction and then scroll down to the article, Fibromyalgia Confounds Allopathic Habits of Mind.