“Doctors have almost unhinged us. Sometimes I think that quacks are better than highly qualified doctors. Let us consider : the business of a doctor is to take care of the body, or, properly speaking, not even that. Their business is really to rid the body of diseases that may afflict it. How do these diseases arise? Surely by our negligence or indulgence. I overeat, I have indigestion, I go to a doctor, he gives me medicine, I am cured. I overeat again, I take his pills again. Had I not taken the pills in the first instance, I would have suffered the punishment deserved by me and I would not have overeaten again. The doctor intervened and helped me to indulge myself. My body thereby certainly felt more at ease; but my mind became weakened. A continuance of a course of medicine must, therefore, result in loss of control over the mind.
I have indulged in vice, I contract a disease, a doctor cures me, the odds are that I shall repeat the vice. Had the doctor not intervened, nature would have done its work, and I would have acquired mastery over myself, would have been freed from vice and would have become happy.”
– Mahatma Gandhi, Hind Swaraj
Gandhi’s criticism of Western medicine here is scathing – something he’d learn to moderate through the course of his life. However, he does makes a compelling point here, specifically from the point of view of the pain we endure.
Pain is consequence we are programmed to avoid. It burns deep into our unconscious selves. When an athlete injures herself with a wrong landing, she is likely to never land that way again. When a restaurant’s food upsets our stomach, we are likely to never go there again. As a kid, if I played a computer game when I stayed home sick, chances are that I would avoid playing it after I recovered.
This is because periods of pain and sickness have a purpose. The feeling of discomfort they induce goes deeper than what we feel on the surface. However, for pain to have this effect of being a preventive, it needs to be experienced and endured. If we eat something that disagrees with our digestive system, every minute of the few hours of agony we experience, burns in this truth. Western medicine administers medication that takes this pain away, with over-the-counter medication. Doing so is akin to giving a house a fresh coat of paint on the outside, when it is being eaten out by termites on the inside.
Prevention is better than cure. And with some medication, the cure actively fights against prevention.
PS: What I have said above applies more to acute rather than chronic conditions.