Lessons from alternative medicine
How should we respond to the popularity of complementary therapies?
When I was a student I was very interested in alternative medicine. Hospital could be a bleak and frightening place. Drugs had side effects, sometimes even fatal ones. The urgency and drama of wards often left little time to talk and get to know patients. I started to understand that the practitioners of alternative medicine, with their long appointments to talk to patients, had “medications”—vitamins, flower remedies, food supplements, homeopathy—that offered gentle, comforting, harmless treatment that patients liked. Medicine was hard, time-pressed work, with the capacity to make mistakes that could cause harm and injury. In hospital, despite the efforts of committed doctors and nurses, people sometimes died. In alternative medicine, that didn’t happen—at least, not visibly. There was time, space, and a benign sensation of doing what the patient wanted. It seemed like a much more pleasant place to be.
No wonder alternative medicine is so popular. On p