Rant: Alternative Medicines

This Slate article sums up what has always been my feeling about various pills, potions and procedures that clearly have nothing to do with anything, but can work for you if you only believe, because the placebo effect cannot be discounted.

But here’s the thing: I don’t believe. And one of the (many, many, many) obnoxious things about running in artistic circles is that all winter long, every time you sniffle, you are forced to be polite about a billion recommendations of pills, powders, needles in the back, elaborate hand gestures, and licking of stickers that will, the person swears to High Holy Alterna-Deity, immediately cure you of all pain, whether physical, emotional or existential. 

First of all, the human body is not all that difficult to understand (at least on an introductory level). Neither are germs, the immune system, or for that matter, calorie intake and its relationship to weight gain. Yet for some reason, so many people view these very simple concepts as more elusive than quantum mechanics. ‘Surely,’ their reasoning goes, ‘it’s just as likely that some elaborate rhythm of hand-clapping will eradicate my cold, yes? I mean, it’s all magic anyway, right?’

No! No, illness is neither magic, nor particularly mystifying! And beyond just that, there is not an immediate and simple solution to every possible problem. Sometimes when you, for example, have a cold – you just have a damn cold! And you have to have the cold until it’s over with. And you can’t just snort some snake vomit, or drink your own urine, or pray to Damballah, and be immediately cured. Sometimes things are both unpleasant and unavoidable. Deal with it.

And while I’m spazzing about this, if you actually think that Eastern (or more specifically, Chinese) hope-based medicine has it all up on evil, chemical-properties-based Western medicine, I think you are totally insane. I have been to China. Those who rely on a wink and a prayer do so because they have no other option. Not because their non-medications are more poetical, and come in attractive red-and-gold tins with dragons on.

And along the same lines, here’s a statement I simply do not on any level comprehend: ‘Surely a kindergarten teacher knows more about curing illness than everyone who’s gone to medical school, right?’ What? What goes on in people’s minds? I swear, I’m next expecting someone to say, ‘You know, we all just assume that shooting yourself in the face is detrimental to your health, but maybe it actually cures cancer. I don’t just swallow accepted knowledge!’

UPDATE: Oh, snap! If anyone was offended by my cavalier dismissal of all holistic remedies above, prep yourself for some well-deserved schadenfreude. Not one hour after blithely publishing the above, I was stricken with the most hideous and inexplicable illness I’ve had in years.

I had gone into Manhattan to put in some hours at a theatre where I volunteer, and long about 4:30, a slight throat irritation metastasized into a full-blown raging fever. I had not put in any time at this theatre in weeks, however, and felt I couldn’t leave so soon after arriving, so I continued to work away (no doubt infecting everyone around me), and around 6ish, thought I could help matters by consuming a huge vat of Thai dumpling soup.

Not long after that mistake, a great need for a bathroom came over me – a much more private bathroom than the communal, centrally-located one-seater in the theatre – and I realized I would simply have to go home, as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this being Saturday, the L-train had gone to its usual weekend heart-of-darkness schedule (because surely no one wants to leave Brooklyn on the weekends, right?), and was shuttling one train every 16 minutes from Union Square to Bedford, causing such a massive pile-up on the platforms as to make the tunnels nearly impassible. There was nothing for it but to grit my teeth and push on through. It was a very, very long journey home. There were many drunken throngs of early St. Patrick’s Day revelers. The crowds, finding no easy space to store their elbows, attempted to shove them repeatedly into my kidneys. In addition, I suppose a raging fever makes a pale woman more attractive – my flushed, sweating face acted as fly-paper to a ridiculous number of reeling, slurring fellows, who, I can only hope received for their trouble (in addition to a whoof of serious Thai-dumpling-garlic-breath) a hearty dose of flu germs.

At long last, I reached my apartment, where, true to my philosophies, I reached for neither green tea nor junebug snot, but rather took a Vicodin, certain that, if it didn’t cure what ailed me, it would at least knock me unconscious for a good twelve hours. However, whether because the drug was expired, or the horrid, mystery fever was too strong for it, it did nothing at all, and I was wracked by fever until sometime between 3 and 10 the following morning.

I feel fine now, though, and this ordeal did not change any of my opinions as to the inefficacy of various alternative medicines (though it did shake my belief in the cure-all properties of powerful painkillers). At the risk of being slapped down again, I will boldly declare that I recant nothing. NOTHING!!!


  1. Quiconque says:

    Shoot, even real medicine does nothing now that they took all the effective ingredients out (thanks, meth heads). I cannot be expected to talk to a pharmacist or have my driver’s license scanned to get my over the counter cold remedies.

    Whatever you got, it made its way to the Bronx and I brought it to Philly. Spread the love.


  2. Duncan says:

    Wait a minute! a 16 minute wait for the train? That’s the CTA on a good day!

    This was just what I needed, tonight! Thank you, E!


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