On Learning to Heal: or, What Medicine Doesn’t Know (Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography)

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On Learning to Heal by Ed Cohen was a very interesting and thought-provoking read. Cohen writes of his personal lifelong battle with Crohn’s disease to show how medicine does not always hold the black-and-white answers to our health. Receiving his initial diagnosis at the age of thirteen, the entirety of Cohen’s childhood was unfortunately riddled with the discomfort and pains of this illness.

My heart really went out to Cohen when I read about the horrors of his high-school experiences. Finally leaving the hospital after having undergone hundreds of tests and procedures, I was rooting for Cohen to have some kind of normality in his life with new medicines and doctors. Sadly, these medicines had horrific side effects his doctors neglected to inform him of, including excessive weight gain, aggression, anxiety, irritability, mental depression, and nervousness. Not to mention, Cohen still struggled immensely with nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, and abrasions. All in all, Cohen got little to no alleviation from his illness and was tormented by his peers for his obvious toilet issues, queerness, acne, mood swings, and weight.

Leaving high school, Cohen did better socially, but physically, he, unfortunately, got worse throughout college and graduate school. After receiving therapy, Cohen begins to realize that much of his pain is from prednisone withdrawals (a very popular medicine used for Crohn’s at this time period). Receiving this diagnosis was life-changing, as he began to see mental-health therapists and coaches who would begin to help rectify all that has happened to him.

From this period of the book on, Cohen divulges into the history of modern medicine and how true healing differs from medicinal pills. I was impressed with the very thorough and expansive research Cohen has on this. He eliminates jargon so that readers are able to understand but still comes off as an expert on the topic. I would say the main driving point of his research reinforces that body and mind are connected. Our capacity to physically truly heal, not just mask pain, depends on our mind’s willingness and openness to do so. Cohen also recounts his own many therapeutic experiences and encounters to drive this message. Between meditation, psychosynthesis, tai chi, ATM, and Continuum, it’s safe to say he has tried his fair share of eccentric remedies. Although I have to say I did lose him a little when he started discussing these experiences, as he admits himself sound “Californian, or perhaps even worse, New Age,” I still was able to take away the overarching theme of the connectedness of the mind and body.

As a whole, I enjoyed this book, and I think all readers interested in medicine, healing, and the history of medicine would enjoy On Learning to Heal .

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Star Count 3.5/5
Format Trade
Page Count 240 pages
Publisher Duke University Press
Publish Date 03-Jan-2023
ISBN 9781478016670
Bookshop.org Buy this Book
Issue March 2023
Category Health, Fitness & Dieting