In 2009, I decided to dedicate some time volunteering on a project using homeopathy. I had done some work as a volunteer before, and really enjoyed the experience. I also knew that private homeopathy is beyond the reach of many communities in the UK, and I finally felt this could teach me a lot by meeting another type of patient.
I originally thought that providing free time and support to a charity would be easy, but to my surprise, and in spite of good references, no one returned my calls or emails. When I pushed a bit harder, I was told that any project would require work on their side, and they were short of resources.
However, a month later, fate gave me a helping hand, when I was contacted by WinterComfort. They had heard of my interest, and were happy to talk. WinterComfort is a Cambridge-based charity providing support for the homeless and rough sleepers (a person living on the streets). They also act as a focal point for various services, such as reselling the Timeout, a monthly magazine sold by the homeless. Some public health services, such as medical support or drug rehabilitation, also have a presence there on a monthly basis.
On my first meeting, some on the staff remembered homeopathy being provided publicly to the homeless 6-8 years ago, with good success. So, they were happy to give it a try. However, many clients coming to Wintercomfort do not stay in Cambridge for a sustained period of time, and this means that regular follow-ups would be hard to set up. The charity was also worried that I might lose my motivation, if I suffered any abuse.
After meeting the staff, and finding them very enthusiastic, I committed myself for one morning every month, for a year. The best time would be after breakfast, when the clients usually stay a bit longer. I was of course happy not to be paid, but it was decided that the clients would be charged £1 for treatment or would have to provide a service to the community (such as cleaning up dishes), so that they would see value in the service.
I still remember my first session and how overwhelming it was. It was a day when the centre was full, and 3 or 4 of the clients were quite aggressive, including a young person complaining of severe toothache that no pain-killer managed to touch. When I suggested, I could help, I got a barrage of abuse. Trying to get in touch with other clients did not prove easy either, as my considerable French accent started to be the butt of many jokes.
However, I managed to help a few people and after about an hour, the tooth sufferer came back to me. After pointing to the actual tooth, and a quick check on my Murphy repertory, she was given Fluoric Acidum 200CH. I was pleased when she reported relief instantly, and she became my biggest supporter of the morning. I later learned that she was on Prozac, an antidepressant of the SSRI class, made of Fluoxetine, a derivative of fluoric acid, showing possibly a link here. This first session turned out to be colourful but also quite busy, with 7 cases, 4 of them with a full case history.
I was disappointed when none of these cases were present on my second clinic day. That day turned out to be very quiet, as not many clients turned up at WinterComfort.
At the end of the year, I had a few very quiet mornings, a few very busy ones and two regular and very committed patients. The majority of consultations focused on acute physical ailments, with muscular tension, cuts and skin infections as the top complaints. The other prescribing focus was on detoxifying the body and supporting the weakened organs. Most clients were recreational drug-users, and on multiple allopathic medications. Detox therapeutics and the prescription of lower potencies on a daily basis were then provided.. Besides homeopathy, a strong emphasis on hygiene and hydration proved very helpful. By ensuring that people were increasing their intake of water for example, most clients were better able to eliminate toxins. Only about 20% of the consultations were chiefly about mental and emotional issues, with insomnia and depression as the main complaints.
Follow-ups were a rarity, but most clients who did follow up reported a clear and positive impact from being offered a thorough consultation. They felt they had a better understanding of how they could implement small simple changes in their lifestyle. Wintercomfort was also pleased that I was putting a strong focus on lifestyle advice and hygiene. For example, we decided to deliver a 50-cl bottle of water with each prescription. It was also important to keep the prescription simple, with no more than one or two pills a day, or when needed.
The main lesson on my side was that, in such an environment, a practitioner requires a flexible and open approach. I learned not to focus too much on the outcome of the chronic support, and to provide the needed acute support.
This experience also tested some of my limits. I met people who had lost everything, family, belongings, and sometimes hope in life. This was most severe with ex-army personnel who had returned from Iraq or Afghanistan and turned to alcohol and drugs, losing their job and family alolng the way.
Finally, WinterComfort was extremely open, and many of the medical staff realized how effective homeopathic therapy could be. As homeopathy is under constant media attack in the UK, I felt that my volunteer work helped raise the profile of our therapy. It also enabled me to meet people I would not see through private practice.
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