Blessed by Illness?

The kids are sick again. This time a fairly normal cold seemed to be turning into pneumonia for Napoleona. Fever, lethargy, no appetite, coughing, and breathing fast. Turns out, she has an ear infection and could be on the road to pneumonia. Though we normally avoid them, she’s beginning a round of antibiotics. And of course, if there’s a cold to be had, SillyBilly will get it and start having asthma on top of it.

Which brings me to resurrect this old post out of my drafts folder, where it’s been lingering for many months. I thought I would write a little bit about anthroposophy again…I am Anthromama, after all.

(N.B.: I am not a doctor, anthroposophical or otherwise. I don’t even play one on TV. I do try to read up on these things and grok them somewhat. Here I’ll be referencing in particular Blessed by Illness by L.F.C. Mees, MD.)

Modern medicine promotes the idea that illness “should not be.” Symptomatic treatment reigns: If you are wheezing, take a bronchodilator. If your cholesterol is high, take a pill that reduces it. At the root of this is a deep commitment to materialism, and a disassociation from anything on the soul or spiritual level.

Anthroposophical medicine, on the contrary, looks at illness in an entirely different light. Let’s look for example at a disease that modern medicine has determined is “caused” by viruses: influenza. Over 50% of the victims of the 1918 flu pandemic were between 20-40 years old, generally a young and healthy age range. Influenza is normally a problem for the very old or very young — so what could be the explanation for the variance here?

Mees gives a wonderful picture of illness, based on the concept of predisposition. He starts by giving one definition of health: the soul and spirit are in harmony with the physical body, engendering a feeling of “transparency.” When we are in good health, we are in some sense unaware of our physical body, because it is totally available to us and does not need to enter directly into our consciousness as it does when we are in pain or are ill.

Then Mees uses a metaphor for predisposition and illness, which I will paraphrase:

Imagine a day of warm and sunny weather. Then imagine that a cloud appears “out of the blue.” Two things could happen to the cloud: it could disappear again, dissolved by the warmth of the sun, or it could grow larger and darker, eventually causing rain and giving up its existence. The first possibility could be called a spontaneous healing. The rain could be considered an image of an illness that also appears “out of the blue.”

What causes some people to “catch” an illness like influenza, while others are spared? Predisposition, which Mees defines as “an irregular, unfavorable attachment between soul and life-body,” with life-body being the formative forces that enliven physical matter. And therefore illness is “the annihilation of the predisposition.”

So, while we could say that smoking is clearly a cause of lung cancer, only those with a predisposition for lung cancer will have it. Or my children: they both have a cold, but only SillyBilly gets asthma on top of it.

The next aspect I’d like to consider is when we treat illness with conventional, allopathic medicine. If we are treating the symptoms, are we really treating the illness itself? With SillyBilly, we give him albuterol, which essentially forces his airways to relax, and sometimes prednisone, a steroid that suppresses the immune response that creates inflammation in his lungs.

Notice the word choices: “forces” and “suppresses.” So, these symptomatic treatments are not really treating the root cause of the asthma. It’s kind of like if you had a plant with yellowing leaves, and you took your brush and painted the leaves green. They’d be green, but the plant would still be sick.

Now here’s the part where, if you didn’t already with all this talk of soul and spirit and incarnation, you’d really think I was an herb-eating, hippie parenting weirdo:

Anthroposophical homeopathic remedies attempt to assist the physical body, life body, and soul forces back into harmony. We give SillyBilly ferrum sidereum/plumbum (meteoric iron and lead) to help his spirit incarnate more fully and smoothly into his physical body. We give him quercus (oak) in the morning and veronica (speedwell flower) in the evening to help his inner rhythms (such as those manifested in breathing) come into balance.

None of these things will help him when he has an asthma attack (though we also give him lobelia [Indian tobacco] compound then). These are what are known as constitutional remedies. He’s been taking them more or less daily for months now. Some people take these kinds of remedies for years…but not like someone taking thyroid supplements or high blood pressure medication. These remedies are not treating his symptoms, or even his illness per se. They are treating how he is developing as a person–how his spirit, soul, and body are interacting.

If these remedies assist him as they are meant to (and he may need different ones at a future step on his developmental path), then not only will his asthma be resolved–or, I should say, his predisposition for asthma will be annihilated–as well as any other manifestations of the same inner struggle, like his overly dry skin. His soul and spirit will be in harmony with his physical body.

Now, given all of this, why are we giving antibiotics to Napoleona?

Well. It is possible to treat pneumonia without antibiotics. We are giving her some homeopathic remedies, including Chestal cough syrup and eucalyptus/plantago chest rub that will gently help her. And I could be giving her warm, moist chest compresses several times a day. I did treat her earache the other night with a cotton ball dabbed with freshly cut onion juice in her outer ear–sounds crazy, but it does relieve the pain.

But this time, it felt like her illness was getting worse, not better. And in that case, it’s okay to use more conventional means. Just like we give SillyBilly the conventional (and quite powerful) medications when he’s having an asthma attack. Sometimes the body needs more direct help to overcome something temporarily.

For SillyBilly, that means that we have no expectations of the conventional medicines other than immediate, short-term symptom relief. For Napoleona, we expect that the antibiotics will prevent the nasties in her lungs from growing out of control, and outside the spectrum of what I’m comfortable treating with home remedies.

I love that I can help my children with gentle remedies and home nursing care. I like using foods and herbs to help them feel better. I think it empowers us all–me, in that I can have the confidence to calmly observe their symptoms and decide what path to take, and them, in that they can heal themselves. It’s really a blessing, to be able to work out these things ourselves, sometimes with a little help, sometimes with a lot.

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Photos by naturalhistoryman.

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I forgot to mention my favorite resource for anthroposophical home health care: the LILIPOH special issue, A Holistic Wellness Guide. This little magazine has been a godsend for helping my kids with their various illnesses, because it is oriented specifically toward parents. Along with Guide to Child Health, the Wellness Guide is what I always reach for when the kids get sick.



Filed under Anthroposophy, Health, Parenting

6 responses to “Blessed by Illness?

  1. Thanks for pointing toward this book. The closest Anthroposophical doctor is 2 hours away, but the work he has done with our older daughter has been worth it. I wish I had been attuned to Anthroposophical medicine when my younger daughter was critically ill. I hope everyone gets well in your house soon. Walking pneumonia has been making its rounds in Vermont among adults and children.

  2. And what, might I ask, do you have against “herb-eating, hippie parenting weirdoes”? 😉

    Do you have an Anthroposophical doctor who prescribed all these things for your kids, or did you figure it out yourself? Surely not. We have an Anthroposophical pediatrician, and I have to say I feel more confident in his medical care than I have felt in any physician since I left my asian-trained (kanpo medicine) herbalist/accupuncturist behind in California sixteen years ago. I think a good practitioner of far-east asian (read: Chinese) medicine is worth his/her weight in gold, but they’re not all up to the same standards.

    For a while we took the kids to a homeopath, but she seemed to be too locked into the homeopathic paradigm to see beyond it. I didn’t always have confidence she was on top of the situation. What I like about our Anthroposophical doctor is that he has more arrows in his quiver. If homeopathy is called for, he uses it. If herbs are more what’s needed, he uses that. And if he sees the need for some of the more benign forms of “conventional” medicine (he is an MD, after all), then he whips that out (never antibiotics, though, or at least not yet in our case).

    For myself, I tend to see illness and health in terms of energy flow. Illness is caused by a blockage or an overabundance of some energy or other. I can heal myself (and sometimes my wife and children) with visualizations of energy, and sometimes through channelling energy with physical contact (using Rosicrucian methods). I rarely get sick because I do daily yoga and meditation, and the energy flows pretty well. If I get sick, I usually know why (overindulgence in the wrong foods, lack of sleep, letting some situation stress me out) and I can adjust and bounce back.

    But keeping the kids healthy is another matter. You can’t tell kids to do a certain exercise (physical or mental) regularly for several days. When things get extreme, I’m happy we have a good physician. (And I’m REALLY happy my company health insurance covers most of it!)

  3. Sarah: we all seem to be more or less on the mend, though now my son is on antibiotics too, after having a fever for three days and a worsening dry cough.

    Scribbler: The lobelia, Chestal, and onion juice remedies were of my own doing, but the others were prescribed our local anthroposophical doctor (and really, he prescribed the lobelia, but we had some already). I think energy flow could be another way to describe the anthroposophical view of the relation of the four bodies, or is similar in some respects. As for insurance, I am always extremely grateful for that!

  4. You do seem to be being hammered by those pesky flu viruses (as do we). My personal jury is still out on homeopathy (though it’s also very much out on the way conventional medicine is constructed in discursive terms). Nastiest flu and cold related moment this Christmas was when we took dudelet to the doctors to be informed that he appeared to have had an ear infection but that it was now on the mend. And we’d never even noticed! Oh the guilt. He was prescribed antibiotics which he refused to the point of fighting off the efforts of two of us to give them him (we could only bear to try that once) and whatever-it-was went away of its own accord. Maybe he knows stuff we don’t…

  5. URD: Oh no! Well, perhaps he wasn’t in too much pain, and perhaps it manifested in some behaviors you had ascribed to stress over dudelette’s arrival. Don’t feel too guilty.

    Homeopathy is, at least, gentle. I’m still not entirely convinced either, but I’ve never seen a professional homeopath.

    I love a commenter who can include the word discursive here. You wouldn’t be writing any papers lately, would you? : )

  6. This is very up-to-date info. I think I’ll share it on Digg.

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