I could have been happy pursuing what Maslow describes in his hierarchy of needs, as self actualization, had it not been for homeopathy. My journey of personal growth and fulfillment was plodding along until I stumbled across an article written by a Florida pharmacist detailing his positive results utilizing homeopathic remedies. (Homeopathy prefers the term remedies rather than drugs). Until that moment, I had never seriously considered homeopathy to be a viable medical alternative to traditional allopathic medicine. Besides, the risk to my emotional and economic investment was too great. I was half-way through my now 30 yr. career in retail pharmacy, and I was certain that allopathic treatment was superior to any other therapy on the planet. However, for some unknown reason, call it epiphany or celestial wireless intervention, my consciousness was penetrated by what I had read regarding this Florida pharmacist’s experiences. I struggled to suppress what I had read, not daring to explore the possibility of an alternative therapeutic modality. When questioned, allopathic practitioners usually referred to homeopathy as fairy dust or quackery.
Perhaps, when we read something is as important as what we read. Being empowered by the white coat uniform (and license) of our profession, I had dutifully dispensed drugs to many patients with uneven and often unrewarding results. Some patients received drugs that palliated their symptoms and allowed them to function. Obviously, refills were often required. Others improved with minimal intervention and some never regained good health. When considering any important decision it’s prudent to consider the benefit-risk outcomes. If the critics were right, and homeopathy was not a legitimate scientific discipline, then I could continue on my quest for self-actualization as a traditional allopathic pharmacist. However, if the critics were wrong, I would lose an opportunity to improve the health and welfare of both my patients and myself. The greater risk, I felt, would be in never knowing what was lost. What I didn’t realize was that my self-actualization journey was going to endure a very long and often intellectually disturbing holding pattern.
About 15 years into what would be a 32 year pharmacy career, I realized I misinterpreted the goal. I was skeptical but curious. At my moment of crisis, a divorce, I knew that drug therapy was not very useful for emotional trauma. I had dispensed too many prescriptions to those unfortunate patients, who became trapped in a circumstance that seemed endless, and that required frequent pharmacy visits for refills. By this time I had already attended my first National Center of Homeopathy summer school session. Upon returning home from that experience, I immediately sought out my local homeopath who guided me through my recovery. If there was an “Aha” moment it came three days after taking my remedy. Prior to treatment, my jogging capacity had diminished significantly, allowing me about half of what I considered to be a normal workout. (2 miles rather than 4 miles). I can still recall that third day. My legs no longer felt stiff, my gait relaxed easily, and my strides landed gently rather than plodding. I now had a philosophical underpinning to accompany documented treatments of medical therapy, and where the word “cure” is not shunned.
Homeopathy is a medical system designed to stimulate the body’s own defenses to restore its natural balance. Consider the words “homeo”, meaning similar, and “pathy”, meaning disease. Homeopathic remedies are chosen on their similarity to a particular illness. Patients experiencing itchy eyes with a runny nose that burns their upper lip might be given a remedy that produces similar symptoms, like a remedy made from onions. But, if the patient had a bland, painless nasal discharge she might receive a different remedy. This approach is representative of the homeopathic “law of similars”, and is a requirement for successful diagnosis and treatment. In the research and development of homeopathic remedies, various natural products, including many of plant and animal origin, are administered to healthy volunteers in order to examine and catalog their effects. When a diseased patient experiences many of these same symptoms, then there is a great likelihood that a cure is possible. This leads to the next requirement which is individualization of therapy.
Today, modern medicine always mentions the goal to individualize treatment, so it is ironic that homeopathy has been practiced that way for over 200 years, as first delineated by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. Homeopathy allows us to treat our patients as we would like to be treated. Our American culture breeds individualization except when it relates to our health. How often have patients visited your pharmacy requesting a drug that a neighbor or friend recommended because it happened to have helped that person? We each experience disease in our own unique way. Patty, a 24 year old migraine sufferer, recently visited our pharmacy to purchase her meds. I inquired about her history and learned that she has been suffering migraines on a daily basis, from the moment she wakes up until the time she goes to bed, for 10 years! I suggested she might want to consider alternative treatment after suffering so many years without relief. Individualization requires learning about your patient in great detail, particularly regarding chronic disease. Modalities, those experiences that improve or worsen our condition, are homeopathically important because they address our uniqueness. Questions regarding a patient’s sensitivity to heat, light, and certain foods are just a few of the clues needed to individualize therapy and prescribe the correct remedy for that patient. In my brief conversation with Patty, I had a fairly good idea of a remedy which I felt might help her migraines. Commonly skeptical of any alternative approach, my customer Patty left, not knowing what she had lost; the opportunity to regain her health. Simultaneously, my happiness and quest for self-actualization were also detoured. Perhaps my white coat didn’t sufficiently empower me enough to influence Patty, or maybe the fast-food-like environment in which we practice is not appropriate for meaningful conversation. Who, then, might seek out and accept homeopathic therapy?
When nothing else works. Patients who have exhausted all traditional therapeutics without success are often seeking alternative care. For some, it mirrors both their their quest for a healthy life-style and the desire to avoid unwanted drug side effects. Consider tracking the number of patients who visit your pharmacy to fill a prescription for an undiagnosed problem, or a chronic condition like sinusitis, having taken several rounds of antibiotics to no avail. Homeopathy helps stimulate the body’s defenses to reduce the predisposition for recurrent infections for those patients. Homeopathy embraces a holistic approach to treatment that considers the physical, mental and emotional states that we both experience as patients and observe as practitioners. Homeopathy’s holistic approach allows a more complete patient profile and sheds the mechanistic view of the human body as a mere collection of disparate parts.
Of course, there is a risk to accepting homeopathy as a viable health care alternative. It’s not a reversible process. My happiness and self-actualization have been compromised, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!