This section is from the "Health and Survival in the 21st Century" book, by Ross Horne.
In criticising others one must always put oneself in their position and remember: "There but for the grace of God go I." And so in defense of doctors with all their ignorance of the "outside world", this chapter concludes with an explanation by Dr G. T. Wrench of England contained in the introduction to his book The Wheel of Health: The Sources of Long Life and Health Among the Hunza published in 1938:
It should be clearly understood that a doctor is one so saturated with people's illnesses and ailments that, if thoughtful, he is almost forced to look upon life as something heavily burdened by these defects.
I shall myself carry with me the profound impression of the first months I spent in the hospital wards and out-patient departments many years ago. I had come from the vigorous and exuberant life of an English public school, where everything that really absorbed one's boyish interests was based on a glowing vitality and responsive health. After the penance of school hours there was plenty of time to let the muscles go--games, sports, ragging, bathing, or running and walking over untilled fields. All these things were in sunlight and wind or the raw cold, which made the blood snap round its course.
Something of this life accompanies the early years of the medical student, but there is always about one the lure of the hospital work to draw one to its consuming interests. One is caught in the meshes of the problems of disease, from which one will not be able to free the mind for the rest of one's life. For impressions of youth are those that remain. They color all one's thoughts and experience, they largely select that thought and experience. And the impression of the quantity of diseases and the suffering due to them is a tremendous one. I used sometimes to walk about London with my eyes down and with the question "Why?" upon my lips until I saw pictures of the many maleficent objects of pathology upon the pavements, so vivid was the impression which the microscope and the post-mortem room made upon me.
The effect was not one of depression; that is not the effect upon healthy youth. It was one which stimulated one like a stouter opponent than oneself at boxing. Here was truly a prodigious opponent, the problem of disease, why man is so affected.
After debating the question--Why disease? Why not health?--again and again with my fellow students, I slowly, before I qualified, came to a further question--Why was it that as students we were always presented with sick or convalescent people for our teaching and never with the ultrahealthy? Why were we only taught disease? Why was it presumed that we knew all about health in its fullness? The teaching was wholly one-sided. Moreover, the basis of our teaching upon disease was pathology, namely, the appearance of that which is dead from disease.
We started from our knowledge of the dead, from which we interpreted the manifestations, slight or severe, of threatened death, which is disease. Through these various manifestations, which fattened our text-books, we approached health. By the time, however, we reached real health, like that of the keen times of public school, the studies were dropped. Their human representatives, the patients, were now well, and neither we nor our educators were any longer concerned with them. We made no studies of the healthy--only the sick.
Disease was the reason for our specialized existences. There was also a great abundance of it. Between its abundance and its need to ourselves its inevitability was taken for granted. Gradually, however, a question forced itself upon me more and more insistently. Had not some of this 'inevitability' attached to disease come about by our profession only viewing disease from within? What would happen if we reversed the process and started by learning all we could about the healthiest people and animals whom we could discover? This question pursued me with considerable constancy, but unfortunately I was not provided with that will which is a part of which I reverence so much--the genius of discovery. Those who possess it grip an idea and never let it go. They are as passionate for it to get on in the world as the mother is for her offspring; daring, as even weak animals do, to challenge hopeless odds on its behalf. After achieving a small local repute in research, all I did was to apply for scholarships, and in my applications I placed a subject of my own choice, to study the health of the healthiest people I could discover.
I did not, of course, succeed. My proposal was probably looked upon as ridiculous. To research in health was a complete reversal of the accustomed outlook, which was confined by the nature of the profession to different aspects of disease. For to the profession disease is the base and substance of its structure and health just the top of the pyramid, where it itself comes to an end. To propose reversing this was like asking one to stand on one's head to get the right point of view.
At any rate my applications came to nothing, though I was offered work upon the accepted lines. In this I had not the necessary faith, so I gave up research and went into practice. I remained interested in very healthy people and read what I could about them, but the work imposed by the war and by practice in the following years withheld me from anything more than an academic interest in the old question--Health; why not?
It was not until two years ago, when I had more leisure, that a vivid sentence in the writings of Sir Robert McCarrison thawed my frozen hope. The sentence was: 'These people are unsurpassed by any Indian race in perfection of physique; they are long lived, vigorous in youth and age, capable of great endurance and enjoy a remarkable freedom from disease in general.' Further study of his writings was very encouraging. Here was a research worker who researched in health and healthy people; in fact he presented to himself health as a problem, and produced answers to it, in some such words as the following: 'Here is a people of unsurpassed health and physique, and here are researches into the reasons thereof.'
In this way it will be seen we come as researchers straight to health without intervention, and to health in the full dictionary sense of the word of wholeness, namely, sound physique of every organ of the body without exceptions and freedom from disease. This is the knowledge which we all want to know. We want to know what is full health, whether the tremendous part illness and ailments play in modern civilized countries is really necessary and, if not, upon what primarily does health depend. We can ourselves attain to health--or at least with our modern skill in investigation we should be able to do so--if this full health exists in any part of our Empire today. We shall at least learn more about how to be healthy ourselves and how to bring healthy children into the world by studying successful human examples than we can by any other way.
By studying the wings of birds in flight we have made our machines carry us through the air. By studying one of the healthiest peoples of the world we might so improve our methods of health as to become a really healthy people ourselves. A research in health is really promising. Well, here is one. Let us see if the promise is fulfilled."
Having presented Dr Wrench's point of view, it should be noted that this chapter, which so severely criticizes the modern practice of medicine, is composed entirely from the observations and opinions of doctors and scientists. It concludes the same way, with the statements of four of the most distinguished physicians of the 20th Century.