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Fake cures, false hopes

By Brad Wallace
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 5, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Brad Wallace

I'll begin by admitting that I'm biased on this week's topic. When I was 17, I candystriped at an emergency room, and one night a thin, trembling woman presented herself to us. It was at her husband's insistence - she hated doctors, and "western medicine."

To make a long story short, she was eventually diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, which had metastasized (spread) to several other places. Although I never saw her again, I could tell from the grim faces of the attending physicians that her chances of a good outcome were slim.

I imagine that her husband, and her children, are without a mother today.

This tragedy was completely preventable. As a candystriper, my duties included mopping up puke, making beds and talking to families while they leafed through year-old Newsweeks in the lobby. Her husband explained that she'd been feeling pretty bad for a couple years, and had been taking herbal "cures" and seeing various "alternative" physicians who assured her that it was nothing more serious than a bladder infection.

The fact that she avoided Western, or conventional therapy is somewhat understandable - some doctors are cold and impersonal, some drugs have terrible side effects, and despite all of the best efforts of the people involved, sometimes it can't help. However, most of the time it does.

This week's Newsweek had a special supplement on women's health, and included two pages advocating aromatherapy, herbal supplements, magnetic therapy and other non-mainstream therapies. To say the least, I was shocked and appalled. Not that I oppose alternative therapies - recent studies have shown that acupuncture, for example, is effective in relieving some pain. I oppose the use of untested, unregulated and potentially dangerous medicines just because they are "natural" or "different."

There is nothing less natural about taking aspirin or eating the bark of a certain willow tree. The chemical is the same, the results are the same. This knowledge is the result of a century of scientific progress, and has led to synthetic products such as Ibuprofen which has fewer side-effects than the willow bark, and taste a whole lot better.

I have no doubt that some folk remedies work, and I can personally testify to the efficacy of some herbal products. However, they should be viewed as supplements to traditional care, not a replacement. If any of you are ever sick, I hope that you'll head to a doctor first, and then to the aromatherapist. The aromatherapist will definitely smell better, but the doctor just might save your life.