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Homeopathy Papers

Polypharmacy and Alternation

Dr. White, a former critic turned homeopath, responds to a doctor’s article that had recommended alternating remedies. Using anecdotes and cases, he argues for Hahnemann’s dictum of the single remedy.

I was much interested in reading the article “Homeopathic Therapeutics ” by Dr. Sarada Prasad Roy, in your journal issue of September, 1900, which the author says is the “outcome of long experience and lifelong study.” This article contains so much to commend it, that one hesitates to take the part of a critic. It is so much easier to tear down than to build. In order to build wisely we must know our art and material well—must have the cumulative knowledge of centuries. On the Alternation of Medicines, the doctor says:

“Opinions differ and there are some of our colleagues who adopt this mode of treatment, while there are others who are quite disgusted by the suggestion of such a mode of therapeutics. They are of the opinion that every case of illness (simple or grave) should be treated with the single remedy which can cover all the symptoms of the said case”.

The doctor further states ….”But if we look on the practical side we see that we have to alternate in many cases, because there may be many cases in which the different organs are affected, or even if the single organ is affected, it is affected in a different way. As, for example: A man got gonorrhea two or three days ago, and he is treated with an indicated remedy of that disease; in this state of things he got a new disease, bronchitis, in addition to the former. You cannot say that the bronchitis is the result of the gonorrhea; necessarily, you shall have to prescribe a second medicine to cope with the bronchitis.”

“Another example may be cited: A man who has been suffering from dysentery applies to you for relief, and you prescribe for him; by this time he has ophthalmia. In this case also you cannot say that the ophthalmia is the consequence of dysentery. Therefore, you must have something to do for ophthalmia—you must prescribe a second medicine or leave it to nature”.

The doctor’s third and last illustration was this:

“Suppose a man had an attack of pneumonia in the right lung and it had attained its third stage and he is treated accordingly. In the meantime his left lung is affected with pneumonia, with its premonitory symptoms. Afterwards the first stage of the disease fully developed within a short time; what is to be done in this case? Will you content yourself with continuing the treatment which was going on for the right lung, without doing anything for the left, until it attains the third stage, or prescribe a second medicine for the left lung?”

The first part of the doctor’s article is so practically homeopathic that it seemed impossible that the same pen could have written the above assertions. He says, ” opinions differ as to the alternation of medicines.” Thank God they do differ from him! Hahnemann differs from him, and so do all who endeavor to follow carefully in his footsteps. He says, “If we look on the practical side we see that we have to alternate  because the organ or organs are affected in different ways.”

Did it ever occur to the doctor, in reading the pathogenesis of drugs, that each and every drug affects an “organ or organs in a different way”; that one medicine may both produce and cure discharges from the urethra, and bronchitis at the same time? We note in this first example that the patient was taking “an indicated remedy.” Suppose we substitute the indicated remedy in accord with the added symptom bronchitis. This is what we would expect of a student of Hahnemann.

His second example is: A case of dysentery develops ophthalmia. “He must take a second medicine for the latter, while continuing an indicated remedy for dysentery”! Did it ever occur to the doctor that Belladonna cures both dysentery and ophthalmia? I have cured dysentery with belladonna promptly several times without the aid of other medicines, and have also used it to advantage in the first stage of gonorrhea.

His third example amounts to the same as the above. The man has pneumonia in the right lung, it attains to the third stage, and is treated accordingly (with an indicated remedy, I suppose), and the left lung commences the same process. Had he received the indicated remedy the disease would not have attained the third stage in the right lung and the left would not have become affected, unless it was perchance a case of acute tuberculosis.

I notice that physicians who habitually alternate and practice polypharmacy expect a disease to pass through all its stages—just the same as the old-school physicians — and sometimes they may do so with the most careful prescriber, because of inability to get a thorough history and symptomatology. When otherwise, we expect resolution to commence then and there—with the administration of the indicated remedy- whether it be dysentery, pneumonia, diphtheria, or typhoid. Two or more remedies may be required to cure a given case, but never two at the same time or in frequent alternation.

If there is anything in the monumental work of Hahnemann more emphasized—made more emphatic—than another, it is the unity, the individuality of the remedy (not remedies), in accord with the totality of symptoms or individuality of the case.

By this individuality we mean the pathology (when possible), location, sensations, and the conditions of aggravation and of amelioration of symptoms. These are what we call the expressed language of disease or of perverted functions; distressed nature calling for the individual remedy, which has given like symptoms in its provings upon the healthy organism as a whole, as a unit. We cannot alternate or give compounds for diseased conditions until we have first proved the alternate and compound. Such prescribing is not homeopathic, according to the doctor’s theory. His patient having dysentery, and while taking “an indicated remedy,” developed ” ophthalmia requiring another remedy “; would require a third had a gumboil manifested itself, a fourth for an eruption, a fifth for homesickness, and so on. Is this looking upon the practical side? Nothing is practical which does not coincide with the law of nature. “Similia similibus curantur” is the law upon which we stand, and we know that it is true. The very simplicity of the law is a stumbling-block to those who prescribe for the disease, per se.

The doctor says his remarks are the result or outcome of long experience and lifelong study. He cannot know what his experience would have been had he practiced medicine according to the law, as the master did. Hahnemann’s success was phenomenal.

I have practiced medicine three-score and six years. The first eighteen years I was an active worker on the old-school methods; active in condemning homeopathy, in observing the most vulnerable points exposed by its representatives. According to my own observations and experience, polypharmacy is the greatest hindrance to the progress of homeopathy.

Time and space will not allow me to state my reasons or the particular influences which led to my conversion to homeopathy. I commenced the study without the help or advice of any homeopathic physician, and continued it for years without informing even my friends of my efforts in this way. One reason was, I was ashamed to do so after having condemned it so loudly; another reason was that the social tie of a physician to the fraternity is very strong, and one hesitates to lose its grip before he can feel that he is assured of success in a new departure. I occasionally gave or tried to give a homeopathic prescription, always disguising the taste or color with alcohol or with burnt sugar.

My first real and signal success was with a sick horse. A gentleman, whose sick mother I was attending, incidentally mentioned that one of his mares (one of a beautiful black pair) was sick; that she would urinate every five to ten minutes, urine bloody, straining and groaning so that he could hear her in the house; that she had been down all day, and he thought she would never get up again. I was then in a hurry, just going, but I called for a teacup half full of water, and a spoon. In looking in my case I found my cantharis bottle empty- it had contained a ten per cent, solution. However, it contained a little moisture, not enough to drop out. I added a teaspoonful of water, shook it up and poured it in the teacup, telling him to give a teaspoonful every ten minutes. The next day I inquired after this patient. He said he gave her one dose and she stopped groaning; gave the second dose, she got up and went to eating. Had been all right without more medicine!

Shortly after this I met a case which to me proved a medical education. While passing through a small neighboring village, three miles from home,  I was asked to stop and see a sick child, four years old. The child had scarlet fever. This was about noon. The child had already been visited that morning by three physicians, one old-school man and two alternating homeopaths. Each of the three had made the statement that the child was past cure, that it was not possible to save him. No effort was made, but some medicine left. The child was being held in his mother’s arms, throwing himself constantly from one arm of the mother to the other, cervical and parotid glands swollen so that the head was pushed back to the limit of extension. A sanious excoriating discharge from the nose; expressions of suffering with each motion; asking for water every two minutes, taking just enough to wet the mouth. Having a few years before worked through a very extensive and severe epidemic of scarlet fever, losing twenty-five percent of my cases (under old school treatment), I did not wonder that the three medical gentlemen gave an unfavorable prognosis.  I waited and watched the case about twenty minutes. My studies in Hughes “Pharmaco-Dynamics suggested Ars and Ars alone, if we considered the law. I made the mental resolution to try it, yet without hope of success. I made the further resolution that if the child recovered, I would ever after endeavor to the best of my ability, to give alone the indicated remedy. I gave ars alb Q c trituration. To make a long story short, the child in seven days was dressed, around the house and sitting at meat with the family. I dismissed the case then.

About four weeks from this time I was again called in while passing. I found the child much bloated in face and limbs. On the table were three glasses, each nearly filled with a colored liquid, from which the child was taking a teaspoonful every hour, alternating all from the same spoon. One of the alternating homeopaths had been attending the case for nearly a week; the mother said there had been no improvement. There was improvement shortly after from the indicated remedy and complete restoration to health. I had made the mistake of not looking after my patient longer and continuing the medicine at extended intervals after so severe a sickness. I do not believe that any homeopath, even an alternating one, would claim that two or more medicines given at the same time, or in alternation, would have cured this case. I am sure of it, because I never made a cure, in the homeopathic sense, with remedies in that way. My patients would get well, often going through the successive stages, with symptoms palliated, and I did not kill anyone. But no clean-cut homeopathic cure did I ever make while practicing polypharmacy and I treated many, some desperate and apparently hopeless ones with the one remedy—homeopathic.

Let us anticipate one of those alternating homeopaths prescribing for the case above mentioned. “Looking on the practical side,” he would hardly have noticed the unity of arsenic in the symptoms. To the true homeopath they are imperative—a loud call of distressed nature for the simillimum. The pathology of the case hardly enters into the prescription. Ars is the remedy whether the case be scarlet fever, typhoid, dysentery, or pneumonia, and will cure. The former takes the objective and subjective symptoms most prominent—prostration, heart failure. This looking on the “practical side,” calls for strichnine. This may not be sufficient, and he combines or alternates digitalis. This is not sufficient; whisky, milk punch, and brandy are supplemented. The glands of the throat are enormously swollen. This condition calls for application of iodine; also a spray of mer. bichl., or some other antiseptic astringent for the sanious excoriating nasal discharge. He takes the temperature every hour, keeps nurse and apothecary busy, and finally the undertaker. He has made a big effort, treated the patient in a practical way, but as far from the Hahnemannian way as is darkness from daylight. Can we wonder that homeopathy is not better emphasized to the public by such representations?

The late Dr. McDonald of New York gave me my first homeopathic prescription. It was soon after I commenced studying our materia medica. I had suffered from dyspepsia for years- every week suffered a severe bilious attack, unless averted with an antibilious cathartic. I told him that I had so many symptoms that nearly all the medicines I had been studying seemed indicated. He told me that he saw but two remedies in my case, viz., Bry and Nux vomica, advising me to take them alternately two hours apart. I found on taking the Bry that I felt better- a sense of relief—and after taking the Nux vomica, I felt worse again. I, of course, left the Nux and continued using Bryonia It cured me entirely of my dyspepsia, biliousness, and constipation. I have never taken physic since. Now, it is a part of the patient’s religion to “do just as the doctor says,” and not knowing the doctor’s fallibility, he would have failed to receive the results which I did.

A second case in point: a few years since, I was asked by a friend to take a case of pneumonia which was being treated by our “old school ” men, and which he had pronounced beyond hope of recovery. I found bronchial breathing throughout the right lung, a part of the left, and a rapidly invading inflammation; respiration sixty, temperature one hundred and four; severe pain, cough, and bloody expectoration. For the life of me I could not tell which was best indicated, Bry or Phos, and the opportunity in which to ascertain seemed very limited. I ordered inhalation of oxygen at definite periods, and gave Bry and Phos alternately. My patient “held his own” for forty-eight hours on this treatment, but I could see no improvement, and felt sure that he would die in thirty-six or forty-eight hours at most, unless I could find the one remedy. So in this case I resorted to old-school tactics, and gave tr. iod. xi., five drops every hour, to force absorption. The symptoms all improved, and I began to think in a week’s time that my patient was going to recover on this remedy alone, then the cough and hemorrhage returned, more severe than when I first saw him, but showed more prominently the features of Phos, which I gave in medium doses. My patient then fairly jumped to recovery, without any other medicine. I reason that, had I felt able to trust the Phos alone when I first saw the patient, he would have recoverd without the use of oxygen or of iodine. I have met so many cases illustrating clearly the superior efficacy of the one remedy, that it is difficult to select one to relate.

In my first years of homeopathic practice I felt obliged to alternate, if I prescribed at all. I do occasionally alternate now; but I then confess my ignorance of medicine, or else my inability to get the history and symptomology of my patient. The habit of alternating in every case, as many do, makes it impossible for them to individualize in any given case where it might be very easy for them to do so, but for this habit.

My experience with the single remedy has been such that I have been almost tempted to say that I don’t care how sick the patient is, if I can only see the remedy in his symptoms. Every homeopathic physician of some experience must at times be brought face to face with a difficult problem, with a case where he feels certain that there is nothing short of the simillimum or the indicated remedy that can keep his patient from passing the “border”. This he cannot often ascertain from a careless consideration of the case, or even a most careful one, if he has but a superficial knowledge of medicine. He knows, or ought to know, from experience, that the “whip” in the form of strong and stimulating medicines, gives but a spur to the already jaded and exhausted life force; that the reaction, in consequence of their use, brings them still lower. Shall we then, in face of this experience, follow traditional medicine, and give hypodermics of strychnine, morphine, atropia, whisky and ammonia? Is this looking on the practical side, ordering the practical thing? Or shall we search carefully for the corresponding remedy, that material spirit which permeates the minutest tissues of the whole organism, releasing the vital forces which are bound in the fetters of disease, giving a new lease of life to a being created in God’s image, by the simple application of nature’s own law. This may and does often seem difficult to do. A legal man can give weeks and months to the consideration of measures to save the life of a common criminal; can we not give a few hours, or even days, to the consideration of means to preserve a life worth saving? In the dawning light of the twentieth century we can clear away the deleterious environments of the case, turn on the electric light of our science, and even the x-rays, if need be; search as for hidden treasures, in this rich mine of truth, our materia medica; delve among gems until we find the jewel that reflects the symptoms of our patient, and—victory!

Well, suppose we fail. There are others who fail, fail always in such cases. We have done our duty, followed the law in all of the light shining upon this generation. In the effort we have learned much of our materica medica, and feel better able to grapple with the next case. A failure, properly studied, is the greatest guarantee of future success.

One and perhaps another will say that this class of work is not for him, but for the geniuses of the profession—for a Hahnemann, a Boeninghausen, a Lilienthal, or a Mills. If it is in line to inquire how they became geniuses, the answer is evident that it was certainly not by alternating; but by studying diligently the comparative individuality of each medicine. They studied medicine day after day, year after year; studied medicine until the brain was tired, until the heart ached, and then went to bed and dreamed about medicine. This is the kind of labor that gives birth to genius.

From: The  American Homeopathist  VOLUME XXVII, January, 1901

About the author

J.C. White

J.C. White, M.D.

1 Comment

  • The article is an expression of the heart of a homeopath and not simply of the brain. Yes! single remedy at a time is the rule and that works too. I am reminded of a case of pneumonia in March 2007.I and my wife went to England in the last week of February. The weather was inclement and my wife caught cold. My cousin there gave some antihistamines,but she felt no better.After a couple of days we had to come back to Canada.Here in Canada also it was snowing.By the time we reached home she started complaining of pain in the chest and difficulty in breathing. It was night ,I gave her Antim tart. Next day three doses of the same were given.No tangible relief. At night at about 2 a.m. she said she was feeling as if water was running in her chest. I gave her Veratrum vir.6. She slept until 7.30 in the morning and when she got up she was breathing well.No further medicine was given and she was alright. A single dose turned the case.

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