My Life as a Homoeopathy Patient

Alternative medicines, voodoo, mumbo jumbo, they all have a lot in common -- most of it doesn't work. It took me a lifetime to discover this...
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Alternative medicines, voodoo, mumbo jumbo, they all have a lot in common -- most of it doesn't work. It took me a lifetime to discover this...

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I should probably begin by making it clear that I am a rational person. I have never believed in the healing power of crystal skulls, I have never attended a séance and anyone who tries to engage me in a conversation about horoscopes will receive fairly short shrift. I did once visit a psychic, upon whose suggestion I bought a Christmas present for a dead relative, but that’s another story. Apart from that, my life has been guided by logic and sense, however I have spent a large part of my formative years practicing (although not entirely willingly) one of the most illogical medical practices of our time: homeopathy.

For the uninitiated, homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine which treats ailments using remedies – a diluted dose of a substance – chosen specifically to treat your exact symptoms. The theory goes that homeopaths don’t treat the illness, they treat the person with that illness, and they go about doing so by divining precisely what is wrong with you by asking questions covering the specifics of your illness (Do you have nose pain with your headache? Are you finding you’re sensitive to light?), as well as things that seem less relevant or just plain weird (Does your ear hurt more if you’re standing or sitting down? Are you anxious with your earache? Does being in the open air relieve your ear ache?). Homeopathic remedies come as tinctures, creams or pills, which are normally made from an inert substance, like sugar, with a drop of homeopathic preparation added to the surface.

Homeopathy was always ‘around’ when I was a child; strange pots of exotically named tablets filled our medicine cabinet. When I fell over, I promptly took an Arnica tablet (to stop the imminent bruising). If I felt sick, I would ask for a Nux Vomica (helps with stomach aches, cramping and sickness). I thought this was completely normal; in the same way that I accepted other fallacies like a rabbit hiding chocolate eggs in my garden, my child’s mind didn’t question the validity of homeopathic medicine. I only realised that it was odd when I was about 16, which was when my Grandmother (from whom the exotically named tablets had hailed) ‘qualified’ as a registered homeopath.

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I say ‘qualified’, because to this day no proof that homeopathy is anything more than a placebo has ever surfaced, yet my Grandma had spent years studying the practice of homeopathy and subsequently earned a degree which qualified her to prescribe homeopathic remedies to those who sought them. When I told my friends that my Grandma was a homeopath, I was quickly brought up to speed on the fact that homeopathy was viewed by most of the world as the preserve of hippies and Earth Mothers, rather than people like me who eat dairy and meat, happily shop at big supermarkets rather than small shops that smell like mushroom and aniseed, and actively reject any form of rainbow knitwear.

Of course, there are other things about homeopathy that should probably have tipped me off to this. For example, the fact that you are not supposed to touch your homeopathic tablets, because –apparently – your evil human skin will somehow disrupt the delicate balance of the tablet, rendering it useless. You’re also not supposed to use conventional toothpaste if you’re taking homeopathy; something to do with the overpowering mint interfering with the effectiveness of the treatment. Which gets you thinking doesn’t it; if something can’t fight a bit of Aquafresh, how much hope does it have of fighting off illness?

The first time I remember this being put to the test was a year or two later, when aged about 18 a severe allergy to nickel resulted in a necklace I insisted on wearing giving me a rather nasty rash on my neck. When Grandma-Homeopath saw this, she quickly prescribed me some Hypercal tincture, to soothe my irritated skin. After a few days, my skin seemed to be getting worse, but I was told that this was to be expected (something to do with my body expelling toxins, she said). I wish that I had pictures to illustrate this, but perhaps it’s best that I don’t. By the time I eventually decided to go against my Grandma’s advice and seek help from an actual doctor, half of my neck and shoulder area was covered in a revolting, weeping, yellow crust. I was 18, I was at college. People stared – someone even asked one of my friends if I had skin cancer. The doctor told me that my skin was infected; I was prescribed a course of antibiotics, some strong steroid cream, and a week quarantined in my house where further infection could be avoided. My skin healed, I returned to college; modern medicine had triumphed where homeopathy had failed.

That’s another thing about a lot of homeopathy users; in the same way that your average GP is pretty sceptical about the healing powers of strangely diluted remedies, those who practice homeopathy are often disapproving of traditional medicine. Reliable staples like antibiotics are frowned upon, and asking for a Nurofen to cure a headache rather than a Belladonna is viewed as tantamount to shooting heroin into your eye. I have had Christmases ruined because relatives have tried to cure my hangovers with myriad tablets and drops when all I really needed was a bottle of Lucozade, two ibuprofen and a power nap.

Modern versus magic was a debate that surfaced again when I went travelling around Central America with my good friend, Ben, in my early 20s. While I had compiled my own traditional medical kit, containing painkillers, antiseptic and Dioralyte, I was also armed with a homeopathy kit consisting of around 20 remedies and a booklet which explained what symptoms each could treat. A few weeks into the trip, when we were staying in a small, remote village in Guatemala, Ben and I both became ill. Ben had one of the worst throat infections I’ve ever seen - it was clearly very painful, and Ben’s uvula (the dangly bit at the back of your throat) was very red and so swollen that it was actually sitting on his tongue. Needless to say, I was worried and, desperate to try anything to help, I consulted my remedy book, found something that seemed to fit, and presented it to Ben as a potential cure in the absence of any other option.

Whether it would have gone away of its own accord, or whether homeopathy saved the day, neither of us can say; all we know is that a day or so later, Ben’s throat was completely cured and we were both relieved and amazed. I said that we were both ill; I was experiencing a slightly more familiar travelling aliment in a more southern area of my body and, while homeopathy will apparently nail a horrible throat infection, it ain’t got nothing on amoebic dysentery. I had to wait until we returned to civilisation and take a double course of Metronidazol as directed by a family friend who is a doctor. So we can add ‘parasites’ to toothpaste, human skin and rashes on the list of things homeopathy can’t beat.

As an independent, free thinking adult, I don’t practice homeopathy. Ironically, my Dad (son of the homeopath) works in the pharmaceutical industry, and when it comes to health I will always look to science for a cure. Although remember I mentioned a nickel allergy? I don’t have that any more, after receiving a bizarre series of ‘Allergy Elimination’ treatments but again, that’s another story.