Friday, April 24, 2009


Witnessing wilful self-destruction is never easy. Watching someone plumb the depths of alcoholism, or push the oxygen supply aside to light up with hands made uncontrollably trembly by the drugs needed to keep breathing because of the damage that same act has inflicted down decades is a living hell for those charged with care of loved ones so afflicted, and a kick in the teeth to those that try to treat them.

It’s often hard to take a step back and reserve judgement. But we are not them, we’ve not seen what they’ve seen, or done what they’ve done. We all have our vices, (Hob Nobs might spring to mind perchance) and we all sometimes take a road we know we ought not, just "to see what it’s like". Fortunately for many of us, we get turned around before a wrong turn gets us hopelessly lost, and that can give us some empathy for those less fortunate.

The thing I’m finding more difficult right now is finding that same empathy for those that opt to take a wrong turn on purpose. This winter Blighty has seen a Mumps outbreak. Most of the victims are young adults who were born a year or two too early to be caught in the initial MMR campaign of the late 80s. Some have been children held back from immunization because of a false fear placed in their parents minds by a tub thumping campaign based on widely discredited science about a supposed danger form the combined MMR vaccine.

The fall out from this was hopelessly bungled by the same politicians that told us BSE could never affect humans and by a scientific and medical establishment that failed to articulate clearly enough the counter argument. In the first flush of controversy it is easy to understand why some parents opted to hold back, but we are still finding MMR uptake rates lower than they need to be after all this time, and whilst I’m usually the first to champion the rights of the individual, I’m a little less keen on the right of the individual to remain wilfully and dangerously uninformed. Especially when it is not they, but their children who will bear the brunt of their decision.

In my time in Ambridge I’ve also witnessed patients cut off from family and community for an act so seemingly trivial as accepting a life saving blood transfusion, on the grounds of religious dogma, and others choosing to die, or being condemned by relatives to, for want of the same. I’ve also witnessed patients with curable, or at least remittable malignancies place their faith in crystals and carrot juice rather than hospitals and medicine, and have to endure unnecessary agonies and speedier exits as a result, all through some blinkered perspective that classed all allopathic medicine as bad because they had a bad experience once with Dr X or Hospital Y.

Mankind truly is everywhere born free, but some make pretty odd choices for their chains, and their blinkers.


Swiss Missus said...

I'm lucky; I've consulted a homoeopath who was an advocate of mainstream/orthodox medicine and a doctor of medicine who was an advocate of TCM/acupuncture.

I had a friend who believed crystals would cure his chronic condition. They didn't. We eventually fell out (but not over the crystals).

Switzerland has an abysmal MMR rate; it currently stands at 87 percent I believe, and there have been news articles that claim this means we are 'exporting' the illness to neighbouring countries that have a higher immunisation rate than ours (how this works exactly I do not know.)

I recall the polemics surrounding MMR; they gave me pause for thought when my son was born; he'd been critically ill during the first few days of his life, was consequently more 'delicate' than my daughter and I was reluctant to subject him to an inoculation that might potentially prove harmful.

Long story short: my oldest friend, a nurse in the NHS, told me to have him immunised. I did. :)

Doctor Jest said...

Swiss Mrs-- Homeopathy stacks up pretty close to voodoo to us allopathic thypes (tho' I gather the physicists might be developing a theory of molecular memory that might lend it some credence). TCM I worry about-- squicky bits of endangered animals to cure your love life just sounds wrong, and a lot of the local TCM skin treatments are just commercial brands of steroid ceam with a few twigs bunged in for visual effect.

Accupuncture tho' is another matter entirely. All my really hard to crack hypertensives and pain patients get a personal reccomendation to see an old pal of mine who departed anaesthetics years ago to pursue life as a full time accupuncturist, and in my book he's little short of a miracle worker.

I certainly don't blame you or any parent for having pause for thought given the hype when the MMR story broke, but you took advice from a source you trusted, and came to the right decision.

As for the whole "exporting" disease argument, sadly bugs don't read maps, and all our borders nowadays are so porous it's actually very easy to do. It's also a good lever for TPTB to pull if they want another argument-- patriotism, last refuge of the scoundrel and all that jazz.

Swiss Missus said...

I was rather surprised the homoeopathy worked; I didn't expect it to, but Mountain Man has consulted the homoeopath for years for his back (he had spondylolisis(?) and needed two vertebrae fusing together 15 years ago) and the pain from intermittently occurring 'blockages' and inflammation (which he will also battle with good old-fashioned Ponstan if need be).

I've never had TCM (ugh!) or acupuncture, but some swear by it.

Ultimately I don't think it matters which approach you use, as long as it works. Conventional medicine wins hands down in my book, especially in the treatment of trauma and acute conditions, but alternative medicine seems to have its followers and its uses. Incidentally, we are voting in two weeks on a proposal to include alternative medicine in a list of services paid for by basic health insurance.

Doctor Jest said...

Swiss Mrs-- the "evidence based medicine" camp hate anecdotal accounts of alternative therapies being effective. Me, I'm more than happy, so long as the therapies remain ethical and the remedies ethically sourced, especially so if they have managed to find help with a problem I've not been able to help with.

It's the flat rejection of my art that wounds me, on those rare occasions I encounter it. It also leaves me pondering just why those particular patients have chosen to attend in the first place.

And I love the idea that you as a nation have some direct say in the style of health care you are provided with. Far better than here, where in opposition the politicians offer us all the moon on a silver platter and then, in power, tell us why we're lucky to get a speck of dust on a tin tray

Nutty said...

The doctor that is kind enough to care when a person has hit the self-destruct button is the one that can do the most good.

Swiss Missus said...

It's an interesting example of the way Swiss democracy works: alternative therapies were included in basic state cover around five years ago; the government decided their efficacy wasn't scientifically proven (which of course it isn't) and they was too expensive, and removed them. Someone was riled by this, collected enough signatures to force a referendum and here we are, voting on whether to have them reinstated.

Whether we can afford it is another matter...

Doctor Jest said...

Nutty-- you're absolutely right of course, but my problem, and I have to accept it is my own problem, is in dealing with those thankfully few patients who turn their back on my service altogether.

Swiss Mrs-- so either your taxes go up, or you have to afford a little less of something else if you vote them back in? If so, do you also get to choose what to spend less on?