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Friday, November 25, 2016

"Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age" (Bob Cutillo, MD)

TITLE: Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age (Gospel Coalition (Faith and Work))
AUTHOR: Bob Cutillo, MD
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (208 pages)

What is health for? With more advanced medical technology and world-class healthcare, should we not be happier people? Not really. In fact, there are some disturbing trends that are happening in our era. There are many top quality tests but there is a lack of accuracy in diagnosis. There are many different branches of healthcare but they are more fragmented than ever. There are also that disturbing lopsided orientation toward cure rather than care. With the experience of hindsight and the genuine concern for holistic healthcare, author Bob Cutillo summarizes his concerns and gives insights on what good healthcare looks like as follows:
  • It must be scientifically competent and comes with well-informed choices
  • It needs a measurable and efficient system
  • It must include genuine care
  • There are lots of areas that health insurance often leaves out, which means we need to taper our expectations accordingly.
  • Politics play a big part in healthcare policies
  • Healthcare must involve not only the curative but also the preventative aspect
  • Healthcare also requires vulnerability and trust; and acceptance.

Written in four parts, author Bob Cutillo explores the problem, the person, and the promise. In the first part, "The Hope for Health," he questions the innate desire of people to want to feel invulnerable. We desire control and when that is not fulfilled, we can become anxious to an unhealthy degree. He notes that the more we know, the less we are able to cope with the unknown. Put it another way, modern advances carry with it a hidden fragile expectations. What if we do not know enough? What if we fail to see a blind spot? What if we become so caught up with our own abilities that we find it hard to trust? Like Humpty Dumpty that had a great fall, some of us will collapse when we couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Cutillo identifies a paradox of problem and solution. Even if one solves the physical ailment does not mean we can adequately address the emotional traumas. Not only that, he goes all the way back to origins, to seek out why we tend to want autonomy and control. He traces the research work of Erik Erikson's stages of growth of a person to demonstrate our dependency on something concrete and secure. Eventually, he arrives at the biblical narrative of the creation of human beings, where the Fall all began at the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve deliberately chose to seek control by eating from the knowledge of good and evil.

The second part of the book looks at the subjective lens of the person. Due to specialization, modern medical practice have unwittingly dissected the person into many parts to be tested by different machines and diagnosed by multiple persons. As a result, it has desensitized us progressively about the whole person. Cutillo laments the professional distancing being done in many healthcare professions. He traces it back to the dualistic philosophy popular in the first two centuries called "Gnosticism." This heresy teaches the distinction between body and soul, dividing the world into evil and good in simplistic terms. Such disembodiment happens as people become statistics, our health become relative to a normal curve, and risks become scientifically calculated. Sadly, medical professionals often see patients as a number or some disembodied being needing a prescription or medication. There is a substantial amount of authorial skepticism in the way modern healthcare have been practiced. The purpose is not to push out modern medicine per se but to put back the need for holistic care and genuine appreciation for the person beyond scientific terms. For instance, gazing and caring for the person or patient in front of us is a lot more human compared with staring at remote monitors and impersonal flip-charts.

Third, we arrive at the stage in which even the best medical practitioner or human sciences cannot prevent: Death. What is good health? Can we live forever? What is the price for extended life? Modern medicine can delay but can never eradicate death. Where is the wisdom on when to invest more or when to pull back from throwing good money after hopeless cases? We still struggle against immortality and our fear of death often pushes us to splurge on expensive medication and dangerous procedures. The desire to hang on to dear life can sometimes turn irrational and reduce ourselves into fighting zombies. We are mortal beings. It is the fear of death that tries to run away from this reality. The way to remove the sting of fear from the certainty of death is not to flee but to fight with the power of faith and the wisdom of God. We begin to live not as dying people but as people who a fresh breath of hope. This is what Part Four is about as we learn to see from the eyes of a redeemed person. Going through illnesses is more bearable when we have the support of a loving community. We learn to see life more holistically when both medicine and faith can be taken together as a healthy package. Cutillo gives a few very precious insights with regard to how we live life and view death. In medicine, we need to recognize the limits. At the same time, the Church need to be more proactive with regard to medical ethics and to participate actively in holistic care. Modern healthcare need the Church to be a part of the healing and caring process. Recognizing the flaws of modern medical care alone is not enough. We need to work constructively to fill in the gaps. Just because healthcare is secular does not mean the Church has no role to play. The moment the Church performs a radical separation from medicine and secular healthcare is also the moment when the Church becomes irrelevant to society.

The title of this book is an attractive one. It is a concise statement of how our medical systems have become. Our fanatical pursuit for a cure at all costs not only drains our public and private resources, it sucks out the essence of meaningful living. Such scenarios are played out everyday in many different contexts. For the cancer-stricken patient who had to go through expensive and exhausting chemotherapy; the sick child having to endure multiple tests of his chronic illness; the constant hunt for a cure in an incurable condition; and the rising costs of healthcare that are bankrupting families and wreaking havoc on the quality of life.

He knows full well that medicine alone, for all its advances and capabilities can only do so much. Most people place too much faith in this and unwittingly elevated it into a god in itself. Even Christians can place blind faith in what doctors and medicine can do. The best medical practitioners can only do so much. We need to see healthcare holistically; to search not only for the best cures but also to give the best care. Writing from a biblical perspective, Cutillo is able to see the field of healthcare from the point of faith. From his medical training, he sees it from the point of science. From his interactions with the marginalized community, he sees it from the point of affordability and empathy. Put together the knowledge of science, the wisdom of faith, and the heart of compassion, we have a book that gives us a holistic picture of health, medicine, and good faith. In our increasingly secular society, we should not be afraid to be present as ambassadors for Christ in all places, including the medical environment. There is a time for people to get their medical care. There is also a time for them to receive compassionate care and humane treatment. Others may treat patients like objects and test specimens. Christians can rise above all that to treat people the way Jesus would. Thanks to Cutillo's book, we are given an additional push toward that goal.

Bob Cutillo is a physician for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in Denver, Colorado. He is also an assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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