Alternative Medicine

Published on Sep 4th, 2012 by

Trigger warning: ableism, suicide

So here’s a story about alternative medicine. It’s not really about homeopathy specifically despite what I said on Twitter but who cares.

Quite a few years ago now, before I had my first instance of spinal reconstructive surgery, I’d been told the surgery wasn’t possible for me. For reasons this turned out to be not right, but at this point I was under the impression I was stuck with a spine that was getting worse, growing increasingly more painful etc. Fairly obviously, with spinal curvature, it also gave me tension headaches.

So I was in town with my mum, and there was this herbal medicine shop there (actually it’s still there now). They were offering free consultations and my mum wanted me to go in and just find out what they’d say, despite us both being very sceptical of it. But I’d been told there was nothing conventional medicine could do for me (and yet there was! Imagine that!) so naturally if you are in that stage of a medical condition, you really have nothing to lose. I won’t go into why that’s a dangerous position to be in and how alternative medicine relates to that, but it’s fairly well documented.

So I went in for the free consultation which somehow led to an acupuncture test (which, despite them claiming was part of the ‘free consultation’ they later decided was not part of the free consultation despite telling me it had to be done as part of the free consultation). I won’t lie, the acupuncture did actually have an effect, it made me feel a bit motion sick for 10-15 minutes afterwards. Good job guys!

So then I went back in for their ‘verdict’ which basically said, I was suffering from tense shoulders and they could definitely help and they could absolutely, definitely make a big difference and ease up all the tension. Just a reminder here, the tension was caused by a Grade A spinal curvature and damage to my lower vertebrae, a condition which I later had two major operations to fix  (16 hours in one go for the first op, 12 hours then 2 hours a week later for the second op a few years after) performed by one of the best spinal surgeons in the country. Even after the two ops, my back still causes me problems and I still get a bit of tension in it and I still get tension headaches and back pain from time to time, but it’s nowhere near as bad. The alternative medicine ‘doctors’ however, could definitely get rid of it with homeopathic solutions, a course of acupuncture, and tea. £3500 worth of tea. I sat there as they kept pulling more leaves and mushrooms out of a cupboard, toting up the price, then eventually said the course of treatment would be around £3500. I can’t remember the exact figure now but it was roughly that. Definitely over three grand.

“Uh, I don’t think I can pay that kind of money,” I said. “Let’s just leave it.”

“We really, really want to help you,” they said. “We can make a big difference to your life.”

“I’m not convinced,” I said, “and besides, I genuinely do not have that amount of money to pay for dried mushroom tea.”

“But it’s really important that you do,” they said. “We just want to help.”

“No, I’m afraid not,” I said. “It’s not feasible at all.”

“Can’t you take out a loan?” they said. Then gestured to my mum. “Or borrow the money from your parents? It’s your health we’re talking about.”

I laughed, shook my head, we left.

But here’s the thing. I can totally, utterly understand how people go for it. Eventually my back got so bad, and I was in so much pain, having to take very strong painkillers every day, suffering from extreme depression. I hated myself, hated how I felt, hated how I looked, I hurt myself over it, a lot. When I went out, people would yell abuse at me for having a physical deformity. I felt like utterly worthless, disgusting shit. I wanted to die and I planned to end my own life, I planned it out properly, because I had no future. I couldn’t live like that any more. There was no point. I didn’t have the luxury of walking down the street, free of pain, free of jeers of abuse, of people calling me horrific things just because I had a very visible spinal curvature. It was only through a last-ditch attempt to save msyelf,  a series of very lucky events and very good people that eventually it was discovered something could be done about it, and I began the process of moving on. I’m not sure I ever have in certain ways, I struggle to look at pictures of myself, I’m terrified of people seeing something ‘wrong’ with me physically, but that’s still not something I’m comfortable talking about in detail yet. I have no idea if I’ll ever move past that.

But the point is, back in that alternative medicine place, what if my condition hadn’t been something that very obviously required medical reconstruction? If there hadn’t been that part of my condition that kept me thinking ‘this is bullshit’, what then? Handing over £3500 for some mushroom tea or bottles of diluted crap doesn’t seem so preposterous when you have given up hope and someone is convincing you it can help change your life. Look around the web and you’ll find plenty of stories of people who did hand over that money. Maybe I’m reading the wrong ones, but none of the ones I’ve read have happy endings. Funny that.

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