I was a reluctant convert to homeopathy. Like many homeopathy patients, I came to homeopathy as a practitioner only in desperation, after having tried "everything else." After graduating from residency, I felt very well prepared to practice, having done 3 years of residency training proper and 2 years of fellowship. My training had been exemplary, and I had worked hard. I couldn't have been less prepared however, for how unprepared I felt as I began my practice. Whereas my mentors seemed to be sagacious if not omniscient in their guidance, the uncomfortable truth that slapped me in the face every day I came to the office was that my patients weren't getting much better. Sure, some improved, but so many did not. I went back into supervision, which I now had to pay for, and then sought additional training for 3 years at the local psychoanalytic institute (Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute). 6 years after graduating from residency, I felt oh so much smarter and more skillful, but the uncomfortable truth of treatment non-response continued to smack me in the face. All of my years of training had made me a much better physician and psychiatrist, but patients didn't seem to care. There continued to be far too many cases where improvement seemed so tenuous, so evanescent, so intangible that I could hardly congratulate myself on my good work. It was my own failure to acheive what I thought my medical training should enable me to achieve that sent me, as an act of desperation, for something "other."
It was only a few years after this, after much exploration, both inward and outward, that I found myself dispensing my first homeopathic remedies. To say that I lacked confidence in my first sallies forth into this realm could not be more of an understatement. I found myself looking at what I was doing and praying that it wasn't some incredible bone-headed act of folly that at some future date would represent to me, in utmost mortification, the most colossal failure of judgment in my entire life history. Even to this day, I sometimes reflect upon what I do, and how I describe myself and my work to my patients, and wonder briefly whether I am sure about what I am doing.
What has sustained my commitment throughout has been a combination of things: inspiring mentors, the wisdom of Hahnemann himself, the success stories I read about in journals and books, or hear about from colleagues, my own personal successes, and above all, the inspiration (in a negative sense) of allopathic medicine. Regarding the latter, although allopathic medicine continues to be a significant part of my daily practice, it is there more out of reluctant necessity than desire. Although a lack of success (as I defined it) drove me to expand my boundaries outside the realm of conventional medicine, my grudge with allopathic medicine has metamorphosized into a different creature altogether nowadays.
What irks me most about modern medicine is a congeries of quarrels of more momentous importance than mere lack of efficacy. I list them here in no particular order:
- Modern medicine all too often (most of the time, to be sure) offers only palliation when a cure for the problem is possible. We have become so used to expecting that relief from symptoms and acceptance of the chronicity and inevitable slow progression of illness is the most we can expect from our medical care. How tragic it is that the majority of people could experience true improvements in their health, and expunge all or part of their illness, but choose not to do so out of ignorance. It is unconscionable to me, as a homeopath, not to offer to people the possibility of getting better when I know that it exists. If I fail to acheive a cure, palliation then seems more acceptable as a second choice.
- Modern medicine refutes the possibility of cure largely out of ignorance and a mind-boggling lack of curiosity about the untapped potentials of approaches to healing that fall outside the tight box of orthodoxy. While healthy skepticism always deserves applause, the attitude of modern medicine smacks too much of elitism for my tastes. Elitism repels me, and pushes me towards those with more broadminded ways of thinking. Conversely, I might add that elitism sometimes exists amongst homeopaths and other schools of thought, medical or otherwise and is something that sours me, whenever it is apparant, and in whoever.
- Modern medicine is so technologic that it seems to lose its connection with the human. The wish to make medicine more scientific is admirable, but what we see in modern medicine is a gradual erosion of humanism. There are spokespersons for humanism within the conventional medical world, to be sure, but they often appear to be the voices of reactionaries speaking out against the massive and more prevalent inertia of the techno-medical world.
- There has been a disturbing lack of honesty amongst the dual forces of the pharmaceutical industry and modern medicine. The mercenary activities of physicians in the service of the pharmaceutical industry has demonstrated that physicians are just as corruptible as anyone, and just as willing to lie or distort about their corrupt activities as anyone as well. The suppression of research, the fudging of data, the massaging of statistics, and the failure of the medical industry, including the FDA, to ensure safety of the medical devices and pharmaceuticals that are permitted on the market has perhaps more than anything else, turned me away from these industries and what they represent. Thich Nhat Han, in one of his books, encouraged the idea that when you eat, you not only consume the food itself, but the energy that went into producing it. When this is the energy of humans trying to bring to other humans something of use to them, to help them become healthier, then we consume a healthful product. But when we consume something that is manufactured in a spirit of dishonesty, with undue emphasis on profit and personal gain, and with a negligent attitude towards those who purchase that product, we absorb into ourselves this dishonesty, this greed, and this insensitiveness. It becomes a part of us. This may not be provable, but it makes a certain kind of sense to me. I do not feel I am offering something that is truly an agent of health and positive change when I offer products that are made in this spirit. So, helpful as these products are in one sense, they violate my moral aesthetic, so that even if their effects are measurably beneficial, the symbolic noxiousness of them still repels me.
- While the moral repugnance of dishonesty, greed, and, irresponsibility are in themselves certainly enough to make me want to run in the opposite direction, the actual harm that is done because of these factors and because of the medicines themselves is also a powerful deterrent to using conventional medical treatments. Statistics (for what they are worth) have repeatedly shown that iatrogenic illness, whether in the form of nosocomial infections or iatrogenic harms (through exposing people to radiation, drugs, or other risky procedures, including surgery) is consistently one of the top causes of death and disability in our country. I find it hard to recommend wholeheartedly treatments that have even a small risk of harm, when that harm may be irreversible, fatal, and possibly avoidable. It is small consolation knowing that other physicians have no compunctions about making the recommendations that I eschew. I know they have a different perspective, and it is one that does not make sense to me.
So, while many of the healing practices that comprise alternative medicine sometimes lack the rigorousness of much of modern medicine, which at least espouses to be science-based, if not to go to the even higher ideal - being representative of the truth about health and healing, they also lack many of the dangers and moral flaws of modern medicine. I do attempt to see the virtues of both sides, because they both do have virtues, but regrettably, the transgressions of the conventional medical system have morally tainted them in my mind. Homeopathy inspires me, interests me, and convinces me, but I continue to come to it not just because of these feelings, but also from a very different set of feelings that allopathic medicine awaken in me.