By Dr. Mercola
Dr. Andrew Saul has over 35 years of experience in natural health education, and holds a number of certificates for teaching clinical nutrition.
He's a recipient of the Citizens for Health Outstanding Health Freedom Activist Award, and was named as one of the seven natural health pioneers by Psychology Today.
Dr. Saul is currently editor-in-chief of The Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, and has authored over 100 publications and seven books, including Hospitals and Health: Your Orthomolecular Guide to a Shorter Hospital Stayi, which is the topic of this interview.
He is perhaps most prominently known for his appearance in the film Food Matters.
Hospitals and Health
Dr. Saul co-authored Hospitals and Health with Dr. Steve Hickey, and Dr. Abram Hoffer, the famous Canadian psychiatrist who, in 1953, demonstrated that high doses of niacin could cure schizophrenia and other similar mental disorders.
"Dr. Hoffer, in his study of biochemistry... noted that over the years there had been attempts to treat psychiatric illnesses by communities that didn't have hospitals. One was the Quaker community. And the Quakers, Dr. Hoffer said, found that if they took the mentally ill; put them in a nice house, gave them good food, and gave them compassionate care, they had a 50 percent cure rate," Dr. Saul says.
"Dr. Hoffer commented that drugs have about 10 percent cure rate. He was thinking that drugs might actually be going in the wrong direction, and hospitals give a lot of drugs... When people go into the hospital, they're going to have problems... Statistically, there are so many errors in hospitals that the average works out to one error per patient per day at the minimum. If you're in a hospital for four days, you can expect four medical errors in that time."
According to the 2011 Health Grades Hospital Quality in America noticed doctors or hospitalStudyii, the incidence rate of medical harm occurring in the United States is estimated to be over 40,000 harmful and/or lethal errors each and EVERY day.
Hospitals have become particularly notorious for spreading lethal infections. In the United States, more than 2 million people are affected by hospital-acquired infections each year, and a whopping 100,000 people die as a result. According to the Health Grades report, analysis of approximately 40 million Medicare patients' records from 2007 through 2009 showed that 1 in 9 patients developed such hospital-acquired infections! The saddest part is, most of these cases could likely have been easily prevented with better infection control in hospitals—simple things such as doctors and nurses washing their hands between each patient, for example.
Hospitals, home and nursing home care account for over one-third of the $2.6 trillion the United States spends for health care.iii This is TRIPLE what we surrender to drug companies. It wouldn't be so bad if we actually received major benefits for this investment, but, as Dr. Saul's book reveals, this oftentimes is not the case...
Hospital Nutrition and Supplements
However, there are solutions; it is possible to make hospitals better, and the book addresses this in depth. Nutrition is a key element. As Dr. Saul points out, hospital food is almost universally associated with bad food. Most of it is highly processed, but you can sometimes get better fare simply by asking for a vegetarian meal. He also explains why it can be helpful to get a simple note from your primary care physician if you take vitamins and want to continue taking them while in the hospital. And, your rights, should the staff insist you can't take them while staying there.
"If you want to take vitamins in the hospital, go ahead and do it," Dr. Saul says. "On the other hand, if the hospital, your physician, or surgeon, can explain to you why, for a particular procedure or a particular medication, you cannot take the vitamin, then you can accommodate that request if they are highly specific. Usually what happens is they'll say,
"You can't take any vitamins." But that's just not true. Everyone should take vitamin C before they go to the hospital. They should take vitamin C before they go to the dentist for less infection, less pain, quicker healing time, and less bleeding. The same is true with surgery. People who take high doses of vitamin C are much less likely to have blood clotting in healing, inflammation, and other complications that, unfortunately, are fairly familiar among surgical staff.
If someone says, "You can't take vitamin E because we're going to give you Warfarin (Coumadin)," that's a reasonable point. But then... there is evidence that if you take the vitamin E, you don't need Warfarin.
I had a client once who had this exact dilemma. He had thrombophlebitis, and he was on Warfarin. He wanted to take vitamin E instead... He said, "Well, what should I do?" I said, "The best thing to do is to gradually decrease the drug with your doctor's cooperation while increasing the vitamin – again, with your doctor's cooperation. Talk to your doctor. The doctor that put you on the drugs should be the one that you'll talk to about the drugs."... He said, "I don't want to talk to the doctor about this." He actually was afraid to talk to his doctor. He did not want the confrontation. What he did instead was he just started taking the vitamin E. Eventually, his clotting time was extended to the point where the doctor said,
"What's going on?"
... Too much Warfarin causes extended bleeding. Too much vitamin E can also cause slightly extended bleeding, but not out of the normal range. I said to him... "You got to talk to your doctor. If your doctor's asking what's going on, [then] tell him. He'll take you off the Coumadin." The fellow talked to the doctor, and the doctor took him off the vitamin E..."
Unfortunately, that's a typical example of "standard care." Dr. Saul, on the other hand, believes one of the first things doctors need to do is to make sure each patient has a multivitamin with each meal. The same goes for inmates in prisons, and senior citizens in nursing homes.
"Diets in institutions are terrible," Dr. Saul says. "We can change that right away. People have to refuse the crap that they put on the plate and demand fresh, whole, unprocessed food. If enough people do that, the hospitals will do it. This is something that we can do. Vitamins, multivitamin supplements we can do...
The next thing that you can do is demand to be addressed by your title. Do not let them call you by your first name. You are a Mr., Ms., Mrs., or a Dr. This is a small point seemingly, but it can actually change your care.
Another thing that people need to do when they go into the hospital, and I got this from a nurse herself, she said, "Bring a guard.
I would never let a family member go into the hospital alone. Make absolutely sure that a friend or family member is with them 24 hours a day." What does this do? It makes sure that mistakes aren't made, or if mistakes are made, you've got a witness. At the very least, the person is going to have some company. That's something we can do. Not everybody has an advocate. Not everybody has family members available, but this is still a doable situation. What else can we do about hospitals? We can avoid them..."
Knowing How to Play "the Hospital Game" Can Help Keep You Alive
One of the reasons I am so passionate about sharing the information on this site about healthy eating, exercise, and stress management with you is because it can help keep you OUT of the hospital. But if you do have to go there, you need to know how to play the game.
"Dr. Steve Hickey is an authority on game theory, cybernetics, and all kinds of mathematical stuff..." Dr. Saul says. "Dr. Hickey wrote a chapter in Hospitals and Health specifically on the "hospital game" and how to play it. He... demonstrates that the outcome depends on you... If you just go in... [they] take you to bed and you keep quiet, you're what Dr. Hoffer calls a "pious patient."
Pious patients tend to get killed.
... The lowest estimate makes hospitals one of the top 10 causes of deaths in the United States... The highest estimate makes hospital and drugs the number one cause of death in the United States...
We can fix this problem. We can make a change. But the only way it's going to happen is if you know how to play the game. That's why Hospitals and Health – I think – will really come in handy. Abraham Hoffer practiced for 55 years. He ran hospitals. He had so much experience, and what does it still boil down to? Common sense – good food, good care, as few drugs as possible, and taking charge of your own health."
Why Avoiding Elective Procedures During July May Be a Lifesaving Choice
What's my personal recommendation when it comes to hospital stays? Naturally, my number one suggestion is to avoid hospitals unless it's an absolute emergency and you need life-saving medical attention. In such cases, it's worth taking Dr. Saul's recommendation to bring a personal advocate; a relative or friend who can speak up for you and ensure you're given proper care if you can't do so yourself.
If you're having an elective medical procedure done, remember that this gives you greater leeway and personal choice—use it!
Many believe training hospitals will provide them with the latest and greatest care, but they can actually be more dangerous. As a general rule, avoid elective surgeries and procedures during the month of July because this is when brand new residents begin their training. According to a 2010 report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, lethal medication errors consistently spike by about 10 percent each July, particularly in teaching hospitals, due to the inexperience of new residents.iv Also be cautious of weekends.
"Sometimes, your best bet for a hospital is a relatively small local one," Dr. Saul advises.
Who has the MOST Power During Your Hospital Stay?
"The most important thing to remember is this: the hospital power structure," Dr. Saul says. "No matter what hospital you go in… Maybe you've got to be in a teaching hospital. Maybe you don't have a lot of choices. Maybe you are there because of financial issues. Maybe it's because of geographical issues. Maybe it's because it was an emergency, and you woke up in the hospital. Maybe you have to be there on a weekend...
The question is, "Are you going to walk out the front door, or be wheeled out the back?"
Now, here's what people need to do. They need to understand that when they are faced with hospitalization, the most powerful person in the most entire hospital system is the patient.
The system works on the assumption that the patient will not claim that power... You might have set that up with a document. If you have a power of attorney, a living will, or other types of paperwork or someone is responsible, then we know who's responsible. But let's say that it's just an ordinary situation—the patient has the most power.
A patient can say, "No. Do not touch me." And they can't. If they do, it's assault, and you can call the police. Now, they might say, "Well, on your way in, you signed this form."
You can unsign it. You can revoke your permission. Just because somebody has permission to do one thing, it doesn't mean that they have the permission to do everything. There's no such thing as a situation that you cannot reverse. If you can make amendments to the U.S. Constitution, you can change your mind about your own personal healthcare. It concerns your very life. You don't want to cry wolf for no reason, but the patient has the potential to put a stop to anything; absolutely anything.
If the patient doesn't know that, if they're not conscious, or if they just don't have the moxie to do it, the next most powerful person is the spouse. The spouse has enormous influence and can do almost as much as the patient. If the patient is incapacitated, the spouse can probably do much more than the patient.
If there is no spouse present, the next most powerful people in the system are the children of the patient... You'll notice that I haven't mentioned doctors or hospital administrators once. That's because they don't have the power. They really don't. They just want you to think that you do. It is an illusion that they run the place. The answer is – you do. They're offering you products and services, and they're trying to get you to accept them without question.
... [W]hen you go to the hospital, bring along a black Sharpie pen, and cross out anything that you don't like in the contract. Put big giant X's through entire clauses and pages, and do not sign it. And when they say, "We're not going to admit you," you say, "Please put it in writing that you refuse to admit me." What do you think your lawyers are going to do with that? They have to [admit you]. They absolutely have to...
It's a game, and you can win it. But you can't win it if you don't know the rules. And basically, they don't tell you the rules. In Hospitals and Health, we do."
The book, Hospitals and Health is available through any online bookseller, including Amazon, or you can order an autographed copy at www.DoctorYourself.com. Knowing how to prevent disease so you can avoid hospitals in the first place is clearly your best bet. But knowing what to do to make your hospital stay as safe and healing as possible is equally important. For the inside scoop, I highly recommend reading the book.
- i Hospitals and Health: Your Orthomolecular Guide to a Shorter, Safer Hospital Stay
- ii HealthGrades 2011 Healthcare Consumerism and Hospital Quality in America Report
- iii US Health care costs, KaiserEdu.org
- iv "A July Effect in Fatal Medication Errors: A Possible Effect of New Medical Residents," Journal of General Internal Medicine, August 2010: 25(8); 774-779