To get the answer, skip to the penultimate paragraph. The rest is preamble.
Patronising and paternalistic doctors; bossy, unsympathetic nurses; hours spent in dingy waiting rooms. That’s what I remember most about my experiences of the British National Health Service when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Which might explain why, by the late 1970s when I was active in various socialist/feminist drinking circles in London, I had developed a deep antipathy towards the medical establishment. What I discovered, in those circles of journalists, social workers, teachers who were my fellow middle-class humanities graduates, was that my experiences of the NHS were not atypical. It seemed as if almost everybody I talked to felt the same.
We were the post-war baby boom generation, who couldn’t begin to imagine what life been had like before our publicly-funded health service made health care provided by qualified medical practitioners available to all, regardless of their ability to pay. Health insurance was something people in less advanced countries like the USA did (and still do). We didn’t need it. There was no question in our minds that the NHS, funded by the taxpayer — whether we counted amongst them or not — was our right, was everybody’s right. I still believe this. The only question was whether the service it provided was good enough and most of us were sure about the answer. It wasn’t.
Some of us were ripe for the alternative therapies revival that would let us cock a snook at all the conservatism and pomposity of traditional medicine. ‘Alternative Medicine’ sounded exciting and rebellious, like Alternative Comedy. We would learn from the ‘ancient wisdom’ of our ancestors and use remedies that were ‘natural’. We would learn to heal ourselves.
I’ve no idea how much money I wasted over the next couple of years, nor what a silly little twit I must have looked, sitting at my desk sucking on a ginseng root and drinking some odious tea brewed from raspberry leaves in an effort to keep my ‘wellness’ at optimum level. I was a relative latecomer to homeopathy because the ‘treating like with like’ stuff had always sounded like crap, even to me – and I didn’t even know then about the dilutions and succussion, which surely make homeopathy one of the nuttiest therapies out there.
But I was suffering from two chronic conditions: insomnia and the tendency for even the smallest accidental knock on my arm or leg to come up as a huge ugly bruise. So out of desperation, I bought homeopathic remedies off the shelves of Britain’s biggest chemist. They were coffea pills for the insomnia and Nelson’s Arnica cream for the bruises. Did they work? Of course not. I didn’t really believe they would, so they didn’t. If I’d believed in their power, maybe they would have worked, at least for the insomnia. I don’t know.
After abandoning homeopathy, I tried a few more experiments. One was with the Bach Flower remedy, after someone whose judgment I respected at the time swore on the life of her children that it worked brilliantly for keeping one calm on nerve-wracking occasions. I tried it and it didn’t. Luckily, her children survived, so far as I know. I also tried valerian root for insomnia. I could have danced all night.
My point here is that I have tried ‘alternative medicines’. I have tried herbal, homeopathic and various other ‘remedies’. I therefore do not need to be told to try them. I don’t claim to be an expert but I do speak as a former user. As the supporters of this nonsense are fond of citing anecdotal evidence in its favour (because that’s the only evidence they have) I expect them to give my own anecdotal evidence against it due respect.
My other point is to try to explore a bit about why so many people – even we privileged Brits with our NHS – turn to alternative therapies in the first place. More of that in my next post.