I am in a bit of a crisis right now concerning alternative medicine. Until recently we were deeply convinced that we do not want to treat J.’s eczema with cortisone. And we believed (and I still want to believe) that there exists a treatment somewhere that will help us in the fight against J.’s eczema. We tried many approaches and saw many natural medicine practitioners. The last doctor we saw was a nice woman who holds a medical degree from Worcester, MA, and then did some additional education on natural medicine. She tried to convince us to use bio-resonance (I don’t want to go into details here, but as I understood, it is basically that the patient has to hold two electrodes with his hands and the electrodes are connected to a “bad” substance. Then just by holding the electrodes, the “resonance” of the substance will synchronize with the patient’s body and that is where healing takes place.). And that was the moment where I lost faith.
Although I am scientifically trained, I am willing to acknowledge that there are things we cannot explain (yet), and so far I really wanted to believe in alternative approaches. But so far, I have been very disappointed with everything we tried. My main two issues with alternative medicine are:
- I do accept that there are very good doctors (and human beings) that are able to help people in an unconventional way. Maybe even in a way that cannot be explained. But I do not accept to package all those approaches into pseudo-scientific explanations. Bits and pieces of medical or scientific knowledge are being put together into a seemingly plausible explanation, or, even worse, are used to justify the use of (at least to me) very obscure machines. I honestly prefer the argument of intuition and common sense over pseudo-scientific explanations.
- My second issue is the claim of reliability. As much as I am looking for any kind of study, I cannot find any indication that the alternative methods work. There are no statistics about the successful treatment of patients. I only hear about single examples where “it worked”. And doctors tell us “it works”, but how do they know without any statistics? The studies that do exists usually show the same success as placebo.
I believe that a good doctor or natural medicine practitioner can make very good suggestions based on experience and intuition. And I believe that certain treatments (like massage, acupuncture, etc) can be very helpful. But I am not willing to accept that I need to pay (a considerable amount) of money for some pseudo-scientific diagnostic measures and treatments. And it makes me angry to think that a large fraction of the market of alternative medicine exploits the desperation and hope of sick people. Yes, some people find help, with a probability close to placebo.
On the other hand, our western school medicine treats eczema exclusively with cortisone. Is this the answer? Certainly not. Here happens exactly the opposite of what we see in alternative medicine: nothing, which is not clearly proven, is acceptable as treatment. But in a disease as diverse and individual as allergies and eczema, is this the right approach? What might work for one might not work for someone else and how can you, based on this diversity, do a fair comparison?
Ironically, the one treatment we were fighting to avoid for so long, the cortisone containing cream, has been a blessing to us in recent weeks (although, I can’t say anything about the longer term consequences yet. We are just starting to taper off the cortisone). I have never seen J. so happy and energetic. He does not take off his clothes and scratches himself until he bleeds at least twice a day. Instead he uses this energy to jump around and being a lovely little confrontational toddler. I can leave him playing by himself without having to check on him every few minutes because he might scratch. I can’t stop caressing his smooth and soft skin. However, I know that we pay a very high price for all that.
I dream, that we will find a doctor who is willing to guide us through this jungle of possible treatments. Who knows the limits and advantages of both, school medicine and alternative medicine. Who understands critical arguments. Who with his experience can advise us what might or might not help, even if there is no proof for anything. I simply don’t want to accept that cortisone is our only hope, but I am also sick of all that swindle.