Notes from an emergency room doctor: My friend,
Patsy, says she has lots of energy lately, ever
since she started getting special treatments.
"I get a massage where they use some kind
of magnet to balance my magnetic field. And a
machine that looks like a blow dryer cleans out
my lymph system."
"Morning after a treatment," she says,
"I'm bounding out of bed."
Over the years, Patsy's tried several unconventional
therapies. She tried rolfing, deep tissue massage,
for a back injury; psychic cures, the laying on
of hands to shoot healing energy into you, for
a knee injury; and a colon cleaner, an enema made
of sea algae, to treat sluggishness.
Patsy's not alone in seeking out alternatives
to conventional medicine. More Americans use "alternative"
healers than use physicians. In 1990, Americans
made 388 million visits to primary care physicians
but 425 million trips to alternative medicine
providers. They spent $12.8 billion out-of-pocket
for hospitalization but $13.7 billion for alternative
therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and
more bizarre treatments such as reflexology and
Many alternative therapies have a long history
of patient satisfaction. Acupuncture has been
a traditional therapy in China for 2000 years.
It uses needles to stimulate spots on precisely
mapped areas of the body that supposedly have
neural connections to specific organs. Thousands
of U.S. physicians now use acupuncture to treat
addictions, pain, nausea, and even depression.
Chiropractic believes that diseases are caused
by misalignments in the spine. When used in the
treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, particularly
low back pain, chiropractic provides effective
relief for many patients.
Homeopathy believes that diseases can be fought
by giving diluted, microdoses of particular substances
to progressively energize the immune system. A
homeopath might treat a sore throat with microdoses
of crushed bee, mercury, or even snake venom.
Several other alternative therapies, such as
hypnosis, biofeedback, and meditation, work by
altering a patient's mental state.
Many of these alternatives to conventional medicine
may indeed be effective. But they suffer one great
failure. Few have an abundance of well-controlled,
scientific trials to back up their claims.
As for the more bizarre therapies that my friend
Patsy so ardently advocates, I'm a skeptic. My
friend would be first in line to buy the bottled
cure for "all that what ails ya" from
the snake oil salesman standing in the back of
a Conestoga. And she'd probably be very satisfied.
Many unconventional remedies work because a positive
mental outlook is indisputably essential to wellness.
And if it's one thing my friend has after she
gets massaged and lavaged, it's a positive outlook.
What I need is a gimmick. If I'm ever to be
rich and Riviera bound, I need to conjure up a
convincing therapeutic cure for something that
someone like my friend Patsy will buy. How about
this idea? "DR. POLLACK'S GARLIC LOTION!
It'll cure you and you can also use it on linguini."
I can see the bucks rolling in now.