Doctor A: Good afternoon Mr A. Your blood pressure has been persistently elevated. You have an average of 180/120 mmHg. In addition to lifestyle adjustment, it is essential you start taking blood pressure (BP) lowering medications.
Mr A: God forbid. At my young age? I cannot begin to use BP medications now. I learnt that once you start it you cannot stop.
Doctor A: The medications will do you more good than harm. Hypertension is quite common. Many people use the medications also and have been fine.
Mr A: Let me go and think about it….
18 months later, Mr A was brought to the hospital by his colleagues at work. He had developed slurred speech and fell down during his routine work. He could not move his right arm and leg. Blood pressure on arrival at the hospital was 220/140 mmHg. He had suffered a stroke.
Doctor B: Good morning Mr B. Your blood pressure has been rising despite your lifestyle adjustment. You have an average of 168/114 mmHg from three readings. It is obvious that the lifestyle adjustment is not enough to control your blood pressure. It is necessary you also begin to use blood pressure (BP) lowering medications.
Mr B: My God! It’s alright.
Doctor B: A combination of medications would be beneficial. Kindly come again next week to discuss if you have any of the side effects of the medications I have explained to you. Your blood pressure would also be checked.
Mr B: Okay, thank you.
Over a six week period, Mr B’s blood pressure gradually reduced. He feels healthier and motivated to continue his medications alongside lifestyle modifications.
In some communities and among some individuals, the use of orthodox medicine has several mythical interpretations like, ‘lack of faith’, ‘acceptance of negative diagnoses’, ‘imminent death’, et cetera. Individuals with these beliefs would seek ‘spiritual’ or non-orthodox options for every illness no matter how minor. This begs the question, ‘is orthodox medicine in conflict with spirituality?’
The belief system of an individual is positively or negatively affected by the geographical location of birth, family beliefs, peers, other agents of change (religious bodies, schools, work place), among others. Anyone with a belief system, whether good or bad, is one out of millions who share same opinions. These opinions affect health in ways beyond imagination. How do you explain a situation where a woman refuses to have caesarean section done on her after having a difficult attempt at vaginal delivery? How do you convince an individual who refuses to use medications for chronic diseases when no alternative has been found to work better?
Anecdotal evidence has proved that of the various instruments of socialization, spirituality plays an important role in decision making, especially as it relates to health. Many persons have misunderstood the authority God gave man in decision making. They would rather bias their decisions with what others think. The book of Ezekiel 47: 12 says, ‘…. and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.’ This verse clearly states that God had made provisions of the resources health personnel use in treatment of diseases. It is important to mention that the ‘leaf’ provided by God has been researched to extract its active ingredients to make tablets, syrups, and injections used for the care of sick persons.
In conclusion, in the practice of medicine, biopsychosocial approach is used. This combines the understanding of the biology of diseases and medications that treat them; positive psychological effect of spiritual beliefs, and social support of family and community as a whole. Therefore, orthodox medicine and spirituality work together to achieve a healthier individual.
Dr Ademola Orolu is a Consultant Family Physician. He holds the Fellowship of The West African College of Physicians. He is also an Associate Fellow of The National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria. He is in active clinical practice. He is a writer, a patient advocate, and has a passion for health education. He is the chief editor of The Family Doctors. He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org