MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

I came across an interesting case report recently published in an Austrian magazine. Here is my translation for non-German speakers:

A 42-year-old woman from Vienna has suffered from endometriosis since the age of 13. But it was only 8 years later that she found out what made the first two days of her menstruation so unbearable. She was not allowed to take painkillers to help herself during all that time. Her parents listened to medical “gurus” who distrusted conventional medicine.

“I grew up in a household where almost all illnesses were treated with homeopathy,” she wrote on Twitter. That’s exactly what became the IT expert’s undoing. In a recent interview, she looked back bitterly: “All infections and illnesses were treated with Bach flower remedies or homeopathics. Only in case of accidents or broken bones did my parents drive me to the hospital.” Her father suffered from an auto-immune disease. Because conventional medicine could not help him, he tried alternative approaches. “My parents slowly drifted more and more into this scene. At some point, they stopped listening to ‘normal’ doctors. It went downhill from there.”

As a girl, the Viennese had little chance of standing up to her parents’ “whisperers,” as she calls their esoteric advice. “When I got my period, I was in the worst pain. I fainted every month, even falling off my chair when I did it, once even at school. I vomited until I was so exhausted that I fell asleep.”

She begged her family to finally be allowed to consult a gynecologist. But he didn’t take the teenager seriously at the time and simply wanted to prescribe her the pill without a thorough examination. “I then went to my parents’ homeopathic ‘pill pusher’, who gave me homeopathics against my complaints. I wasn’t allowed to take painkillers because they ‘damage the liver’.” The guru persuaded the young woman that her health problems were her fault. “He said I just didn’t accept myself as a woman and that’s why I was in pain. I thought for a long time that I was just not strong and good enough.”

It wasn’t until she was already in her early 20s that her then-boyfriend took her to a gynecologist who finally took her condition seriously. “The ultrasound showed that I had quite a few cysts in my abdomen.” The diagnosis was also finally certain: she was now officially suffering from endometriosis. She was given the right medicine, and most of the endometriotic growths regressed. But a cyst had wrapped itself tightly around her right ovary, damaging it irrevocably over the years. It had died. “Homeopathy cost me my ovary,” the Viennese woman laments.

The fact that she nevertheless was able to become the mother of two children is thanks to her other ovary, which fortunately remained intact. But the feeling of having been treated wrongly, or not treated at all, for such a long time makes her angry. “I don’t blame my parents today. They have apologized and found their own way out of the gurus’ world of thought and out of the scene,” she emphasizes. “But I blame the people who pretend to be able to cure the majority of all diseases with homeopathy. Yet most of the time they can’t even find the right diagnosis and just give patients some stuff that has no side effects.” She now calls for an end to homeopathy.

_________________________

How many times have I said it?

His remedy might be risk-free, but the homeopath certainly isn’t!

 

4 Responses to Suffering long and severely at the hands of a homeopath: “I blame the people who pretend to be able to cure the majority of all diseases with homeopathy”

  • The guru persuaded the young woman that her health problems were her fault. “He said I just didn’t accept myself as a woman and that’s why I was in pain. I thought for a long time that I was just not strong and good enough.”

    This is alas a recurring theme in the Alternative Universe: if alternative treatments don’t work, the patient is at fault, not the treatment. This mindset is also insidiously instilled in believers by popular quack mantras such as “taking control of you own health” and “empowering you to make your own health choices”, suggesting that consulting a quack not only confers hugely beneficial insights into your own health, but also provides magical powers enabling you to heal yourself and stay healthy by means of some sort of mental power.

    All this is of course nonsense. Our body has evolved to do its own healing, and our mind has very little influence on this process. If anything, it is primarily our body dictating what happens and how we feel when we fall ill, not our mind. If these self-healing faculties don’t work, then one should consult a real doctor – and not one that blames the condition on the patient.

    However, that first gynaecologist also deserves his fair share of criticism, as he could (and in my opinion should) have done more for the girl.

  • Sounds like her conventional docs were equally incompetent. All forms of medicine require competence! Blaming the victim is not limited to “alternative” medicine. That is what conventional docs turn to when they say a condition is psychosomatic.

    • You mean the gynaecologist who made the diagnosis, when she was finally allowed to see one? That level of incompetence from a “conventional” medic?

      Oh, psychosomatic doesn’t necessarily mean what you claim.

    • @stan

      Sounds like her conventional docs were equally incompetent.

      Only the first one – and even that doctor may simply not have had enough time to reach the correct diagnosis.
      Menstrual complaints are usually not the result of any serious condition, and the first thing most doctors try is what this doctor did: simply see if things improve when taking hormonal birth control. If that doesn’t really help, then some further examination is of course called for.
      Expecting/demanding that real doctors should come up with the perfect diagnosis right away is simply another example of the Nirvana fallacy. Practising medicine is very hard, and finding out what exactly is wrong with someone can be a lengthy process of trial-and-error. Then of course there is the efficiency aspect. When medical complaints are not alarming, the simplest thing to do is to assume the most common cause and treat that cause, especially when this treatment is both cheap and risk-free. When this does not have the desired effect, less common causes should be considered and examined. Healthcare would become become even more expensive when every complaint immediately results in referrals to all thinkable specialists.

      Admittedly, this is not perfect, and people with medical complaints would of course very much like their doctors to get it right in one go, but it is the best we have. Also, diagnostic capabilities have already improved dramatically in the past half-century, so medicine is an ongoing effort that slowly progresses over time.

      Then there is the wording ‘equally competent’ in your comment: this suggests that homeopaths are in any way medically competent. They are not. Anyone who believes that shaken water (read: magic) can cure medical conditions is by definition not medically competent. And homeopaths also tend to work by trial-and-error: if complaints do not resolve after prescribing one ‘remedy’, they simply say that they ‘probably did not get all the symptoms right’, after which another lengthy (read: expensive) consultation takes place, followed by a new ‘remedy’ – rinse and repeat ad infinitum, until the condition finally resolves, or until the customer gets fed up with paying through the nose for shaken water that by definition can’t cure anything.

      Blaming the victim is not limited to “alternative” medicine. That is what conventional docs turn to when they say a condition is psychosomatic.

      Interesting comment. When real doctors primarily look at physical causes of disease, they’re blamed for not being ‘holistic’ enough – but when they suspect that complaints may also have a mental component, they are ‘blaming the victim’.
      Please note that real doctors do not usually ‘blame the victim’ even in the case of mental problems. They know that many mental conditions are in fact diseases that can’t be blamed on the patient.

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