Before the end of my first meeting with Dr. Michaels,* my doctor of integrative medicine, she wrote a prescription for me to take a number of blood tests at the hospital. Because I was 53 years old at the time, one of the tests was to see if I was menopausal, but the rest were fairly standard--as I remember.
Personally, I thought it was a great idea. Because of the cost of my psychiatric bills in the preceding decade, I had stopped going to my general practitioner because we could no longer afford it. While this isn't something I would recommend, we had taken a huge financial hit because of my inability to work, most of the psychiatric costs weren't covered, and so the only other doctors I saw with regularity were my gynecologist and dentist. In fact, I had always been a very healthy person--aside from my depressions--and there was no reason to suspect otherwise.
Still, over the preceding ten-year-period I had taken 25 psychiatric medications, all of which were terribly risky in my estimation and many of which could cause long-term damage. One only has to read the information on them in The Pill Book, which had become my bedside bible of sorts.
And I'm still sure the medication wreaked havoc with my brain because it took four years (during which I took Adderrall and Ativan when I needed them, but nothing else) to regain normalcy. (Right now I'm off all medication although I wouldn't hesitate to use either again if I truly needed it.)
Anyway, my point is that I think annual doctor's examinations are critical, particularly if you remain on toxic medication. And I was relieved that Dr. Michaels thought to have my blood tested. As I remember, she was also checking my thyroid because an any irregularity in that area could have caused some of my symptoms. I have no idea what the rest of the tests proved, although she explained the results at the time. When the results came back, it wasn't surprising that I tested "normal" for everything.
Finally, as I was ready to leave, she said, "Can I hug you?" I'm big on hugging so I said yes. Since none of my psychiatrists has ever touched me at all unless I reached out my hand to shake theirs, I was really pleased.
Lest you think this is some kind of California touchy-feely thing, the fact is that "touching" has true medicinal value. In The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine, Nobel prize winner Dr. Bernard Lown writes, "Lewis Thomas, in The Youngest Science, comments wisely that touching is the oldest and most effective tool in doctoring. This statement rings true for me. I am persuaded that touching a patient provides advantages to the internist, as compared to the psychiatrist who sits removed and merely listens.
"Touching is a way of gaining significant insights. Frequently the conversation at first is impersonal. The relationship with the patient often alters dramatically after the physical examination. The remoteness dissipates, supplanted by comfortable easy-going conversation. Material that was neither divulged nor suspected emerges without much probing. Questioning is no longer resented. A stranger a few minutes earlier opens up with intimacies usually earned only through long and trusting friendships."
Has your psychiatrist ever hugged you? Would you like him/her to or not? Do you believe that touching promotes healing?
*This is a pseudonym.