by Anne Malatt, Ophthalmologist, Australia
What is the difference between care and cure?
Both words originally came from the same word – isn’t that curious?
The Latin noun ‘cura’, meaning ‘care’, became the verb ‘curare’, meaning ‘take care of’ and then the Old French ‘curer’, meaning ‘cure’.
The original sense of the word was ‘care, concern, responsibility’, particularly in a spiritual sense, but in late Middle English the meanings ‘medical care’ and ‘successful medical treatment’ arose, and hence ‘remedy’.
Interestingly, curare is also a type of poison, as are many medical treatments, when not used according to directions (and sometimes even when they are!).
Modern medicines are powerful, and sometimes a helpful treatment can become a harmful poison, especially if the dose is too high. Paracetamol is a great painkiller, but it can also kill liver cells, if taken in excess. Chemotherapy drugs are designed to kill cancer cells, but they can kill healthy cells as well, hence their side effects.
So how has the meaning of the words ‘care’ and ‘cure’ changed, and why?
In ancient times, medicine offered true care. We knew that connection with people mattered, that what we ate affected us, and that there was a true and simple way to live. Illness and disease were seen as a reflection of the way we were living, and an opportunity to make true change.
As we became more scientific, and developed herbs, pills and potions, and skills and techniques – like anaesthetics and surgery – we became taken with the idea that we could fix ailments, cut lumps out, have power over life and death, and generally play God. With this seems to have come the notion that we could fix illness and disease, and then go back to the same way of living that made us ill in the first place.
And herein lies the irresponsibility.
Now, we see illness and disease as a nuisance, an inconvenience, to be fixed, gotten rid of, cured, so we can get back to doing what we were doing before. And more and more we have come to place the responsibility for this onto our doctors and healers, and less and less onto ourselves and our way of life.
Our physicians have also become more irresponsible, choosing to focus on the cure, the quick fix, rather than taking care of the way they live, and then reflecting that living way to us, inspiring us to learn to live it to.
So, what do we mean when we say we care?
And what happens to us when we try to care?
Most of us say that we care about our friends, family, jobs, cars, possessions, and ourselves. But we have come to associate ‘care’ with trying, being careful, being cautious even. This is not true care. We ‘care’ too much to hurt people’s feelings, to be honest with them, to tell them the truth. And we ‘care’ about ourselves too much to say it as it is, to deal with people’s reactions, to not be liked, to get it ‘wrong’, to say and do what is needed, rather than what people want to hear.
What happens to our bodies when we are ‘careful’ in a way that is not true? We tend to tense up, contract, and hold our muscles hard. We tend to go into our heads, worrying about what we should do, what we should say, how we should be. And while we are busy in our heads, we are not at ease in our bodies.
What happens when we are not at ease? Our muscles are tense, our movements are not fluid and flowing, our minds are elsewhere, and in this state, accidents, incidents and injuries are more likely to happen.
So is it possible that true care is not what we think it is?
Could true care be developing a relationship with our bodies?
Could true care be as simple as feeling yourself in your body – from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and the ends of your toes, and being aware of your whole body as you move, in everything that you do?
Could true care be a willingness to feel what is there to be felt, and to honour our feelings, to be aware of what is truly going on within and around us?
Could true care be a commitment to making our every move – our every thought, word and action – loving and caring, for ourselves and for others?
And what do we mean by ‘cure’?
The word ‘cure’ has come to mean:
- To relieve of the symptoms of a disease or condition
- To eliminate a disease or condition with medical treatment
- To solve a problem
But ‘cure’ can also apply to meat and skins, whereby we render them ‘fixed’ in such a way that we preserve them, so they do not rot, and can be used for longer. They may last longer, but this process takes the life out of them. We can apply this to the trajectory of our lives.
We live life in cycles. These can be short and sweet (or not) or long but drawn out and flat, or long and round, rich and full, depending on the quality we bring to them, the quality of our living way.
Looking to fix and cure may prolong our lives, but it does not necessarily enhance the quality of them. But bringing that quality brings a depth and richness to life, no matter how long and short it is, and even if we are confronted with illness and disease.
Do we want a life of richness, of quality, irrespective of the length of it, or do we want to prolong life at all costs?
That is the dilemma we are faced with in modern medicine today – we have the ability to ‘cure’ all sorts of ills, but with what quality are people living, and what is the level of care with which we are delivering these services?
To care or to cure – can we reunite the two and deliver true health care once again?