Health: The alternative is compromise

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Continued from last week...

Mr Bourner has active tuberculosis. Dr Thornton wants him to take a shedload of powerful antibiotics for six months. Mr Bourner wants to heal himself with the help of Mrs Linton and her paraphysical healing energy

Now read on...

"And how was Mrs Linton today?"

"Very helpful, doctor."

"I'm sorry I said spiritual healing was rubbish."

"And so you should be. She's a very gifted lady. Knows tons about TB too."

"Such as?"

"Well, you told me it was a purely physical thing. The bacteria are very hard for the body's immune system to digest and you need to take these poisonous drugs..."

"Powerful drugs...

"Whatever. You need to swallow all these chemicals to get better."

"That's true enough."

"But it isn't, is it? You're completely overlooking the important part the mind can play in manipulating the body's immune response."

"What rubbish has she been feeding you now?"

"It's not rubbish. It's psychoneuroimmunology."

"Oh really?"

"Yes. And there's a mountain of evidence that once you get tuberculosis, whether it spreads or whether your body holds it in check depends a lot on your mental state. If you're stressed and depressed like I was, holed up in that disgusting NHS hospital, the TB gets the upper hand. But now I'm out and happy and surrounded by positive healing energy, I'm getting better without the help of drugs."

"I've never heard such rubbish."

"You should read The Sickening Mind by Paul Martin. Pub. Flamingo. ISBN 0-00-655022-3."

"There's obviously nothing wrong with your memory."

"Sir Peter Medawar, the Nobel Prize winning immunologist, said TB is 'an affliction in which a psychosomatic element is admitted even by those who contemptuously dismiss it in the context of any other ailment'. In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when physicians actually took time to observe their patients meticulously, a cause of TB was said to be 'a long and grievous passion of the mind'. Then there was spes phthisica."

"You what?"

"The concept of the tuberculosis-prone personality. The artistic temperament. Why do you think all those nineteenth-century luvvies gave into consumption if it wasn't for an excess of aesthetic emotion?"

"Because they all cram- med into the same garret and coughed all over each other."

"So you don't believe your mind has any effect at all on your body?"

"Of course it has some effect. People often die from cancer or heart disease when they lose a loved one or retire. I'm just saying, remember 1882"

"Why?"

"Robert Koch discovered the real cause of TB. Mycobacterium tuberculosis."

"Yes. And all you scientists suddenly forget about the importance of emotional factors in illness and became obsessed with bacteria in your indecent haste to discover antibiotics and earn billions for the evil pharmaceutical giants."

"I think you're being a little unfair. The drugs industry has been responsible for some great advances."

"Well, you would say that, wouldn't you? You're all in their pocket."

"Look, I'm not interested in your slander. I just want you to get better."

"What would you have done in the days before drugs?"

"Packed you away to get lots of fresh air and sunshine."

"And did anyone get better?"

"Yes. But lots died. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, TB was one of the biggest killers of all. It's still one of the major causes of death in Third World countries and disturbing pockets are appearing in the UK amongst the homeless and those who are HIV positive."

"Yeah, but I've got a home, I'm HIV negative, I eat well and I'm seeing a healer. So I could survive without drugs."

"True. But you could infect more vulnerable people on the way."

"I'll just try not to cough on anyone."

"What if we celebrate a fantastic union of conventional and complementary? You take the drugs to kill the bugs and use Mrs Linton and her healing energy to protect you from side-effects."

"Will it work?"

"I don't see why not - if healing's as powerful as you say."

"What a splendid idea. I'll start immediately."

"Praise the Lord."

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