Thursday, January 26, 2012

Friends of Science in Medicine know best? Alternative therapies under fire

I appear to be uncharacteristically on my soap box about public issues this week. Forgive me. And bear with me. Please also remember this is a post written from my perspective and experience - I don't intentionally mean to denounce anyone else's experience.

There is no denying that western medicine and science is crucial. I won't even begin to count the ways. In saying that, for treatment of minor (and medium, bordering on serious) conditions, I try to avoid it as much as possible.

So today, when I read this article that is reporting an apparent global uprising of doctors and scientists to prevent universities and health funds from recognising alternative medicine, I felt a sense of dread. The article states:

Almost one in three Australian universities now offer courses in some form of alternative therapy or complementary medicine, including traditional Chinese herbal medicine, chiropractics, homeopathy, naturopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy.
But the new group, Friends of Science in Medicine, wrote to vice-chancellors this week, warning that by giving "undeserved credibility to what in many cases would be better described as quackery" and by "failing to champion evidence-based science and medicine", the universities are trashing their reputation as bastions of scientific rigour.  

Okay. Now, I am all for everyone finding their own method of wellbeing. I also realise there are "quacks" out there - but you can find those sitting in GP's offices in proper, accredited clinics anywhere in the country just as easily as the oft-joked-about "slapping fish", "hocus-pocus" (etc. etc. etc.) alternative practitioner. Obviously, any healthcare provider needs to be good at what they do. I just take deep offense at my choices being limited by this ruling. What about all the families out there who rely on these sorts of treatments for their children? How will they afford it if they whip out the health cover rug from under them? They want to take away my right to choose - I mean, sure, the treatments will still be around, but I won't be able to receive a rebate because of my choice and what works for me and my family. And damnit, they're going to win, aren't they?

My experience with doctors has pretty much been along these lines:

Scenario 1 (which actually happened)--
"How can I help you today?"
"My daughter is pulling at her ears and crying. She's too young to tell me what's wrong, but I'm sure there's something happening with her ears."
"Any other symptoms?"
"No, none apart from the crying and irritability... oh wait, sometimes she pulls at her cheeks lately."
"Well... I've checked her ears and they're clear." *shrug* "My best guess is that she had a cold or something like that and her ears were blocked for a while."
I left the office with no treatment or solution being prescribed or suggested.

After several days pass, I take her to my Homoeopath, desperate for some relief for her and sure something is happening but she just can't tell me. My Homoeopath takes one look at my ruddy-faced grizzly baby and says "She's getting more teeth! It can affect the ears..." and goes on to describe the mechanics of the sinus region and why this would be impacted by Lolly's teeth coming through. He prescribes a remedy, I diligently give it to her every four hours. The change is remarkable within the first day. I am relieved, she is relieved.

Scenario 2 (which actually happened) --
"How can I help you today?"
"My child is very sick but I don't know what it can be. She has some spots but they're fairly insignificant at this stage and only around her nappy area. She won't eat or drink and keeps crying and thrashing about." (Of course the crying and thrashing stop when we're in the office...... don't they always?)
"Well... I've checked her over, she has no temperature and looks fine. Keep an eye on those spots and watch for any new symptoms. If anything changes or if you feel she is getting worse, bring her straight back."
"Ummm.... o...kay? I guess?"

Dumbfounded, I head to my Homoeopath for help again. This time, I think my child is far too unwell to be helped by the "quackery" (as so belligerently described in this article today) of something so, frankly, mysterious as homoeopathy. I've heard the opinion that the pillules they give out are no more than placebo tablets. I also know that, either way, I don't care if they are if they relieve me - but I'm not so certain I want to risk testing the theory with my child on something that appears to be quite serious this time. More over, I don't want to risk looking to others like I am doing nothing for her but giving her sugar-placebo tablets!
But with little else to do, I turn again to my trusty Homoeopath.
This time, the result convinces me without doubt that I would turn to him before a GP any day of the week for almost anything except broken bones!

As it turned out, Lolly had hand, foot and mouth disease. She passed it on to both Steve and me. I didn't shake the horrible disease for five months (largely because I was stupid and was so concerned about getting her back to health that I ignored the pain and literally swallowed it down every day without focusing on my own wellbeing and getting myself treated... in hindsight, that was the end of my phase of subconsciously inflicting pain on myself). It was a horrendous time. But we got through it with little more than a bit of Pain Stop and the homoeopathics to treat the symptoms. I did take her back to the doctor to discuss it and was there for little more than five minutes, being shown the door and told that it couldn't be treated by them. What the....?

I could go on and on, listing examples of more minor ailments I or Lolly have had over the past six years. I now naturally call on my Homoeopath for things that I am initially sure cannot possibly be treated or eased but will contact him "just in case" they can. One memorable time, I just happened to mention a grotesque little-fingernail-sized cauliflower wart (oh, yes... ewww) that had grown on the side of my chin while I was pregnant. The thing was there to stay. It grew so large that Steve started asking it how the heck that thing grew on the side of its face ("that thing" being, my head... oh he is soooooo funny, no? sigh).

With barely more than a week's worth of aggressive treatment with the correctly prescribed homoeopathic remedy, the bloody thing fell off! And just two months ago, Lolly and I worked together with our Homoeopath to get rid of a painful papilloma (one of those warts that grow inwards in a conical shape usually on the underside of the heel). They're yuck and in my teenage years, I had one removed with quite a bit of discomfort, local anaesthetic, freezing it out and bandaging. I thought I'd try to avoid that for her and see if we couldn't give homoeopathics a go. She was over the moon when it shrivelled up and died and painlessly fell off in her sock one day, about a month after we started treating it with a 3-times daily remedy. I was pleased she was able to see how the treatment had worked for her, as it had been troubling her and making walking uncomfortable - I offered her the choice and explained what the doctor would do. The word "needle" (even though I reassured her it would only sting for a moment) was enough to make her try the (in my opinion, better) alternative.

Placebo? Quackery?  I don't believe either of those ill-advised descriptions for ONE second.

And finally, I just want to say: please note that my Homoeopath was not the one who didn't do anything for you... if you have been given poor or ineffective treatment by one - as with doctors, there are good ones and crap ones. I have the great fortune of having found a damn fine Homoeopath, whom we actually call "Dr K" because he's just as good, if not better, than any I've seen in my entire life and certainly treats me and my family more effectively and more often.

What have been your experiences with doctors, alternative therapists, or otherwise?

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