Joining my father in a South Wales valley practice more than 40 years ago was not something that student and hospital years had prepared me for. Open surgeries, twice daily, Monday to Saturday, with waves of suffering folk who had clearly not read the same text books, nor attended the same lectures that I had. They were not well – some were very unwell – and many did not match the neat labels and treatment options that I had been taught to expect.
Fifty years earlier, my grandfather had dispensed, from wonderfully coloured bottles, a less than wonderful bromide mixture for survivors of the First World War and those stricken with Spanish flu. Then my father’s generation of GPs was persuaded that, if doctor or patient felt at a loss, barbiturates were a safer and more effective approach. I arrived as the baton of Big Pharma profits was being passed to Valium and Librium. These really were “effective, safe and non-addictive” we were assured. Time would reveal a different story.
In an effort to cope, I went on courses. Hypnosis first – and I taught many patients self-hypnosis; then on to orthopedic medicine, learning to wiggle spines. Interesting though these therapies were, did the ocean of suffering humanity lapping at the surgery door recede? It did not. So what next to explore?
Thirty or more years ago I went to an introductory day on homeopathy in Bristol. I drove home respectful of the lecturers’ integrity and warmth, but convinced that they must all have been mad.
Still, anything was worth a try, and my patients, who were familiar with “herbs” but not the longer “H” word, were prepared for anything.
I learnt from Dr Jeremy Swayne that Lachesis, Natrum mur or Sepia would help a high proportion of women with PMT. I seem to remember that many of his English patients improved on Natrum mur. My Welsh ladies did better on Sepia and still do – a reflection on the Welsh persona, perhaps? For Sepia patients are often better for music and dancing. When a young woman who had had awful PMT reappeared after six months and announced that she had been told by her husband to “get up that doctor’s and get some more of them happy pills“, I congratulated myself on becoming what Hahnemann had dismissed long ago as a half-homeopath (a conventionally trained doctor who also practices homeopathy).
Patients started to remark that I was “good with herbs”, a confusion that defied my attempts at explanation, but it mattered not. Many got better and no one had side-effects. Subsequent decades in general practice were made more interesting by having homeopathy in the little tool box we doctors carry in our heads; a continuing source of baffled pleasure for me and satisfaction for patients.
Retirement ten years ago meant freedom to work in homeopathic and conventional roles in many developing countries. But even in Wales my homeopath wife, Alina, and I see patients who are bereft of effective healthcare and just as desperate for help as those we see in Africa and South
America. Traumatised asylum seekers and children with behaviour disorders are not always good advertisements for the benefits of conventional medicines. But they may respond remarkably to homeopathy.
It is strange how half-forgotten lessons resurface at unlikely times. A teenager had unprovoked outbursts of anger and violence such that her family sometimes called the police. There are many remedies for anger and violence, but not many for sudden outbursts without any warning or provocation. A snake remedy, we thought. But none seemed to fit. Then Alina remembered that African friends had often warned us of the Puff adder’s tendency to strike without warning at any passer-by.
We investigated further and discovered a few published reports that Bietis arietans (from Puff adder venom) had been proved as a remedy in India. It seemed to match our young patient’s presentation, and it worked well. A 10M tablet taken once every four to six weeks has made for a normal teenager and a happy family.
Medical homeopaths regularly see remarkable responses, testing the inevitable scepticism that is born out of our scientific background. We wait for someone else to provide the scientific rationale for the recoveries we are privileged to observe. In the meantime, we continue to practise homeopathy for the benefit of our patients.
Dr Noel Thomas MA MBChB DCH DObstRCOG DTM&HMFHom