Home The Keys to Transitioning Healthcare: Empowerment, Education, & Prevention

The Keys to Transitioning Healthcare: Empowerment, Education, & Prevention

user profile picture suziegruber Dec 01, 2010
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A few months ago, I developed red spots on my face and neck that were kind of itchy.  After another day or so, the spots had progressed down my torso and onto my thighs, so I decided to go to a doctor.  Although I have health insurance, at the time I did not have a primary care physician, so seeing a doctor quickly proved to be difficult.  Most everyone I called told me to go the emergency room, a ridiculously expensive suggestion, given that my situation was certainly not a life-threatening emergency.  I finally got an appointment with a nurse practitioner at a local clinic.  She hurriedly looked at the red spots, pronounced that I had hives, and immediately decided to give me a steroid injection and to prescribe a week-long dose of Prednisone.  There was no discussion of reasoning for her prescription, likely symptom progression, or treatment options.

I know that steroids significantly impact my body through increased anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and suppressed immune response, and I was about to leave on a month long trip, so I really didn’t want any of these side effects.  I slowed her down long enough to get her to tell me what I could expect if I didn’t take the shot or the Prednisone.  She told me the hives would likely progress through the rest of my body, enter my lungs and then cause difficulty breathing, and that I definitely needed both the injection and the Prednisone.  By this point, I internally questioned her judgment due to her extreme prognosis and lack of willingness to engage with me, so I accepted the shot and decided to mull over whether or not to fill the Prednisone prescription.  That afternoon I spoke with a friend of mine who is an MD (I should have called him first), and he said that I likely would not need the Prednisone and that I should see how it goes for a couple of days.  I did not need the Prednisone and the hives disappeared in a week or so.

So why am I sharing this story? In my opinion, health care remains one of the thorniest problems that we face, because even with relatively abundant cheap oil, our current system serves us poorly.  My experience illustrates several shortcomings of our current system:

  • Those without health insurance are severely limited in their ability to receive prompt, quality care when they need it.  They often wait until they have a life threatening emergency to seek care, because only then will medical professionals see them without first considering their ability to pay. This pattern disempowers the client to address early stage health issues and puts a tremendous financial strain on the system through avoidable emergency room visits.
  • Many people with health insurance have limited flexibility in health care choices due to the system’s constraints.  They can only see certain doctors, and they can experience significant delays if they need to see a specialist.
  • Primary health care providers working within the system can spend only a short time with their clients, limiting their ability to take holistic data about the client (diet, lifestyle, etc), explain diagnoses, and offer options. My MD friend told me that on average a client talks for about 29 seconds before the doctor interrupts. How could the practitioner possibly know enough after 29 seconds to make a good decision?!
  • The system focuses providers towards offering pharmaceutical solutions to health challenges.  Many pharmaceuticals have significant unwanted effects.  I know if I had taken the Prednisone, I would have needed to rebuild my digestive and immune systems afterwards.  Doctors often do not tell clients about such side effects and do not suggest how to restore systemic health after taking a strong drug.  Pharmaceuticals are often synthetic substances that our body must digest and eliminate by way of the kidneys and/or the liver, straining these organ systems.  Additionally, because of their strength, they often impact more than just the intended target.  When we take an antibiotic, for example, the antibiotic kills beneficial bacteria in our gut, creating unwanted gastrointestinal problems.
  • Health care providers often over-prescribe pharmaceuticals because they feel they must address the worst-case scenario.  If my nurse practitioner had time to follow up with me built into her clinic’s practice, she might not have prescribed the Prednisone.  However, she at no time suggested any other option other than her initial one.

I bet my story resonates with many CM readers.  In my opinion, great medical professionals are hamstrung from offering quality care due to time constraints and lack of “billable” options.  This reality will worsen as budget cuts drain funds from government-sponsored healthcare plans.

Underlying all of this, of course, is cost.  Due to Obama’s proposed health care reform bill my insurance may become unaffordable for me.  I may resort to paying the new fine ($750/year) for not carrying health insurance.   In my opinion this fine amounts to another tax, since I suspect very few people will be able to purchase health insurance under the new plan, doing absolutely nothing to increase health care access in this country.  Unless we work for the government or a large corporation, we are unlikely to have health insurance. 

Given that it costs about $1 billion to develop a drug and only 2 of 10 marketed drugs ever return sales revenues that exceed their initial R&D costs, those costs have to be recovered somehow.  I believe it is quite unlikely that this instrumentation and these pharmaceuticals, which all require quite energy-intensive resources and manufacturing processes, will actually still be available as energy resources decline. 

As I said in the beginning, I believe transitioning healthcare remains one of the most difficult challenges we face as things unravel.  The complexity of our current healthcare delivery model and our personal disempowerment and significant reliance on outside experts and pharmaceuticals creates quite a tangle, with difficulty finding a good thread to pull. 

Given the world’s current economic situation, I believe we must begin our healthcare transition by recognizing that our current system is not financially sustainable and that therefore entitlement programs, like state-sponsored healthcare, will eventually disappear as our debt laden governments collapse under their own weight.  We are not entitled to government healthcare any more than we are entitled to cheap oil.  We have lived in an era of remarkable energy abundance, and that era is now ending. 

How can we respond individually?  I believe we can empower ourselves by taking the following steps:

  • Conduct a healthcare assessment for you and your family members.  Make a list of each medical, dental, mental, and/or vision condition present and what medicines and medical devices you and your family rely on, including over-the-counter medications.  Include your vision needs.
  • Educate yourself thoroughly about any chronic conditions you or your family members have and any pharmaceuticals you depend on.  Understand any side effects and drug interactions that may be present.  Create a family library of information in printed form that you can use as a reference.  If you have trouble understanding any of the information you collect, find a healthcare professional willing to help you.
  • Assess and educate yourself about alternatives to the pharmaceuticals that you use regularly and for any ongoing medical care.  Herbal medicine is the oldest form of medicine and was widely used in the United States until technology began to dominate the pharmaceutical industry in the nineteenth century.  Until then, every family knew how to treat basic illnesses with herbs.  Just like growing some of our own food, I believe we will have to be responsible for our basic medical care.  We must reclaim this knowledge.
  • When possible, work with practitioners who take the time to develop a relationship with you and listen to your concerns.  They exist even within the mainstream structure.  I had a wonderful primary care physician who somehow remembered all of the details of my life even though I only saw her once or twice a year.
  • Undergo any recommended medical, vision, or dental procedures now that you may have been putting off.  Costs are quite likely to rise and availability may become an issue.
  • Stock up on any items that you can reasonably store.  Pharmaceuticals have limited shelf life before efficacy declines.  Be wary of low-cost pharmaceuticals from unknown sources.  They can be counterfeit.
  • Take a CPR/first aid course, and then buy a well-stocked first aid kit for your home and your car. 
  • Connect with the healthcare professionals in your extended family, and if possible, enlist them in this process.  The more, the merrier.

I believe prevention will become even more important as access to health care deteriorates.  As an herbalist, I recommend the following: 

  • Improve your diet.  Food is the fuel we burn.  If we eat food of little nutritional value, our bodies will eventually break down, leading to chronic illnesses that decrease quality of life and will become more difficult to address as resources disappear.  Reduce the amount of processed foods you eat by learning to cook with basic ingredients.  Eat more meals at home where you can choose your ingredients.  More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates said:  “Our food should be our medicine.  Our medicine should be our food.”  This still applies.
  • Reduce your toxicity intake.  Moderate your cigarette, drug, and alcohol consumption.  Incorporate organic food to the extent you can afford to.  I prefer the taste of organic fruits and vegetables, and they are healthier for the environment.  Assess the cleanliness of the cosmetics that you use and switch to cleaner products.  Stop drinking water from plastic water bottles.  Replace your TeflonTM cookware.  Use glass dishes in the microwave instead of plastic, and better yet, stop using the microwave altogether.  Filter your tap water unless you know exactly where it comes from.
  • Assess the cleanliness of your home environment.  We all bear a certain toxicity burden due to the environment we live in.  While some exposures are out of our control, we can control our immediate environment.  Keep your home environment clean to reduce exposure to molds and dust.  Unlike products made from natural materials, many new plastic products emit odors that are from volatile organic materials.  Choose a cloth tablecloth over a plastic one, for example.  Reduce exposure to secondhand smoke by negotiating with the smoker in your household to smoke outside.
  • Research your family’s medical history to understand if you and your family members have a genetic predisposition to certain medical conditions.  Learn what can prevent and exacerbate those conditions, and make the appropriate adjustments in lifestyle.
  • Take good care of your teeth.  No one likes dental procedures, anyway.
  • Incorporate more physical activity into your life.  Notice I did not say exercise.  For some people, exercise works.  They love it.  I find moving for the sake of moving to be utter drudgery, so I try to find ways to incorporate activity into my life like walking or biking instead of jumping in the car.  Frequent gardening gets my body moving, creates food security, and results in healthy, yummy food. Take the stairs instead of the elevator when you are in a multi-story building.  Carry your groceries instead of using a cart.  If you use a cart, take it all the way back to the store rather than leaving it near your car.  The little changes add up.

I recognize that many of my suggestions represent significant lifestyle changes.  I also recognize that some of my suggestions involve incurring costs that you may not otherwise have incurred right now.  Very few of us have the means to prepare for collapse as thoroughly as we would like.  Consider these suggestions a smorgasbord.  Take what you like and leave the rest behind.  Set goals and prioritize them, then do what you can in baby steps.  Or start with the suggestion you are most drawn to, and once you are done with it, look at the list again and see what calls you next.  I have found that, especially with dietary changes, making small incremental changes increases the likelihood that the changes become part of a new lifestyle rather than a burden.  I have included a resource list at the end of this article to get you started on your journey. 

Since I believe that we have to significantly localize our healthcare system, I also offer some suggestions for what we can do in community:

  • Create a directory of local health care providers, both allopathic and alternative, for acute and chronic care across all demographics.  Does your community have stable emergency room services?  Do you have elder care offerings?  Creating this directory will help your community assess its current health care resources and identify missing pieces.
  • Create networking opportunities for diverse providers and educate them about what is coming.  This can be tricky, of course, and you may be surprised by who wakes up right away and who in your community already knows what we are facing.  Talk about how you might offer services in new ways as the old structures disintegrate.
  • Investigate integrative health care offerings in your area.
  • Find healthcare professionals in your area who have worked in third world countries.  Interview them to learn about offering health care with limited resources.  This information may provide clues about how to create resilience in your community health care system.

Although these suggestions are meaningful, they do not begin to fully address the healthcare challenges we are facing.  Together with a couple of colleagues, I have struggled locally for a year trying to decide where to begin as we launch our Transition Healthcare group.  I now believe that the destination is far less important than actually beginning the journey somewhere, and I trust that additional options and wisdom will unfold along the way. 

I really want to hear your experiences with preparing to meet your healthcare needs in the face of the crash.  Let’s have a dialogue about it.

  • Beers, M. H., “The Merck Manual of Medical Information,”  Also in print.  This great resource describes medical conditions in language most people can understand.
  • Chevalier, A., (1996), “The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants,” Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd.  This book, full of color photos of the plants, provides an excellent resource for those new to herbalism.
  • Doyle, G.S., (2010), “Where There Is No Doctor: Preventive and Emergency Healthcare in Uncertain Times,” Process Publishers.
  • Free or Low Cost Clinic Finder –
  • Hoffmann, D., (2003), “Holistic Herbal,” Thorsons. This book discusses in detail each body system and associated medical conditions and also offers a traditional herbal describing usages of many herbs as well as medicine making instructions.
  • The Mayo Clinic – – online information about medical conditions, tests & procedures, and drugs
  • Medline Plus, – online information about medical conditions and drugs.
  • Pitchford, P., (2003), “Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions & Modern Nutrition,” North Atlantic Books.
  • Spratto, G., (2009), “The Nurses Drug Handbook,” Delmar Cengage Learning – somewhat technical but quite useful book listing each drug, its indications and contraindications, possible side effects, and drug interactions.
  • Partnership for Prescription Assistance, A resource to help qualifying patients get free or low cost prescription medicines.
  • Post Peak Medicine, – A website that describes potential responses to peak oil by medical specialty.
  • “Rx List: the Internet Drug Index”, – online information about pharmaceuticals.
  • Skin Deep: Cosmetics Safety Database, This website assesses cosmetic products for ingredient safety.

All information and materials presented here is for informational and educational purposes only. Please consult a qualified healthcare professional before undertaking or changing any treatment. 


This What Should I Do? blog series is intended to surface knowledge and perspective useful to preparing for a future defined by Peak Oil.  The content is written by readers and is based in their own experiences in putting into practice many of the ideas exchanged on this site.  If there are topics you’d like to see featured here, or if you have interest in contributing a post in a relevant area of your expertise, please indicate so in our What Should I Do? series feedback forum.

If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series, you can find them here: