Fanaticism and Ignorance in Medicine

In an earlier post called My View On Medicine, it was brought to my attention in the comments section by duckandgather, that I was promoting a middle road type of thinking in my approach to medicine. That's only correct if I define that middle road to be very, very wide, at which point it would cease being a middle road, but just a wide road that contains room for all possibilities:   the choice for conventional medicine only, the choice for alternative medicine only, the choice for a combination of the two, or the choice for no medicine at all.  I promote all of these choices, provided that they are based on wisdom.  However, my worldview of medicine has little room for the willful ignorance and blatant fanaticism that comes from a tiny handful of healthcare practitioners;  some of whom are licensed professionals, and some, unlicensed healthcare providers.

I will call these practitioners Fringe Fanatics (FF).  FFs can be found both in CAM (complementary alternative medicine) and in SBM (science based medicine).

I'll begin with the SBM FFs.

For me, there is a big difference between extremists and fanatics.  Extremists push the boundaries of the norm and intensify their focus in pursuit of the good for all people.  Fanatics use irrational zeal, not for the good of all, but to further their own particular agendas.

When anti-CAM MDs say that there are not enough double-blinded RCT studies done in complementary medicine to show efficacy, I'd agree with them.  In this way, these MDs are helpful extremists and motivate those practitioners of CAM into further research for the good of all people.

These same MDs cry quackery for therapies that are now becoming part of mainstream medicine, like acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, detoxification therapies, therapeutic touch, etc.  Via thorough case reporting, alternative therapies have shown good clinical efficacy in healing, and I can only come up with 2 reasons why anti-CAM MDs fail to address all of those people to whom conventional medicine has not been helpful for, and instead, have been helped by alternatives.  Fanaticism and ignorance.

If I were to guesstimate, I'd say that 50% of my practice consists of patients who repeatedly sought out conventional medical help for their problems, tried numerous pharmaceutical drugs with no improvement, then in exasperation came to my office.  I would also guess that 40% of my practice consists of people who want a combination of the best that both types of medicines can offer;  both conventional medicine and alternative medicine.  About 9.9% consists of people who have no health complaints and are basically interested in preventive health.  And only 0.1% want natural treatments to the exclusion of all else.

For 50% of patients that I myself, personally see, conventional medicine had offered them little help.  I saw a 36 year old woman who was previously vibrant and active with no health issues.  She developed severe musculoskeletal and abdominal pain, where intercourse was impossible due to excruciating pain.  All of her numerous blood tests, all of her radiological reports, and all of her specialist examinations revealed that "nothing was wrong" with this woman.  An assortment of pharmaceuticals were prescribe to her by her family physician with no relief in her pain.  After assessing her needs, I prescribed a detoxification program as well as nutrient therapy for her. This woman no longer has pain and now enjoys her life again.

This is not an unusual anecdote for those who are unable to find answers in conventional medical wisdom.  This type of anecdote is actually quite common place in the practices of naturopathic physicians.

What is unusual, are the FFs who chalk up every positive clinical case report to placebo or to spontaneous recovery.  I have no doubt that data on case report statistics regarding healing with CAM, would counter this opinion.  But really, I don't care.  Placebo or not.  Spontaneous healing or not.  I do care that people find the best quality of life that they can experience, which includes longevity and no harm, regardless the type of therapy or medicine they use.  That's my bottom line.  It's simply amazing how many hundreds of thousands of dramatic, long-term, positive health recoveries from a myriad of illnesses are seen in the offices of naturopathic physicians and alternative practicing medical doctors because of CAM therapies.  I guess there's a whole hell of a lot of placebo and spontaneous recoveries going 'round.  Please pass the Kool-aid. :)

FFs also exist in the world of alternative and complementary medicine.

Whenever I hear of a case where a person has opted to have only natural medicine treatments, and there is excellent data regarding their prognosis if they chose conventional medicine, I cringe.  Natural cancer treatments are a hotbed for this type of situation.  I cringe when I hear of an alternative practitioner (usually unlicensed), saying to a patient who has refused proven conventional therapy and embarked on only alternative medicine:  "The lumps are getting bigger and the pus is coming out of the cancer because you're getting rid of toxins.  That's a good sign".

Sheesh.  Sure it is.  It's a good sign that death is just around the next corner.

For aggressive cancers that have metastasized, almost impossible to treat, and lack scientific data for effective treatment -  it's a crap shoot.  That territory is unchartered, and the patient's intuition in that situation is almighty.

When it is the patient who displays fanaticism and ignorance toward a particular type of medicine be it conventional or alternative, I have compassion for their plight, even though I may strongly disagree with his or her choices.  However, I have little compassion for health practitioners who dole out doses of fanaticism and ignorance to those they purport to care about.

One size does not fit all when it comes to medicine.  Some sizes may fit many people and not others.  Special sizes may fit those who do not fit into the standard sizes.  Some people are still waiting for any size that will fit them.  For the fanatics and the ignoramuses, they didn't even know we were trying on sizes.