Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The danger of quacks

  A major argument that supporters of alternative medicine use is that it causes no harm, so they might as well try it. Of course, that's pure crap. Alternative treatments cause harm in numerous ways: Untested drugs and techniques have side effects and interactions, they're a huge waste of money, and, most importantly, they keep patients from receiving actual treatment that works.
  Case in point is a former patient that I recently ran into in the emergency department. Nine months ago, she was a perfectly healthy mother of two that was successful in her career. One of the sweetest patients I've had all year. At that time, she was admitted for new muscle pains. We ran many tests, figured out it was an autoimmune condition, gave her steroids and connected her with a rheumatologist to make the final diagnosis and for long-term management. She improved a little and went home with a plan in hand.
  Nine months later, I find her disheveled in the emergency room's psychiatric evaluation room (where you can't hurt yourself) screaming at no one in particular. It turns out that she was eventually found to have polymyositis, an autoimmune condition that affects the muscles and can be hard to treat. She had improved with steroids when I saw her 9 months ago, but a few months afterwards had another flare and went to a holistic "doctor" instead. The quack told her that she has "chronic Lyme disease" and that the her rheumatologist was wrong. He then tricked her into trying various herbs, potions, "magnetized water treatments" and none of it worked (somehow, antibiotics never came to his mind). She went had her primary care physician test her for Lyme disease and it kept on coming back negative. But, she insisted that she had Lyme disease. She became obsessed with having Lyme disease and spent more and more money on hyperbaric oxygen chambers, toxin removers, colon cleansing, etc. She lost tens of thousands of dollars and kept on getting fleeced by the holistic "doctor". Her relationship with her family became strained and she eventually attempted to commit suicide. Hence, her arrival to the emergency room.
  I won't blame the quack for causing her to become psychotically obsessed with her medical condition. Despite having no previous psychiatric illnesses, she must have had some underlying condition. What I do blame him for is playing on these beliefs to make money off of her. I blame him for convincing her that her doctors are wrong, that the tests were wrong and that they are trying to keep the truth of his fake medicine from her. Not all quacks are out to fleece people (some of them actually believe what they're selling), but all of them, whether intentionally or not, keep people from getting the treatments that they need. Luckily, she survived her suicide attempt, but this quack nearly had blood on his hands.

St. Jacobs Oil or Prednisone? (image from here)

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