I am a homoeopath and I am also a parent. I was driving my children back from the swimming pool recently when my son suddenly complained of an excruciating headache, cried with pain and vomited. He also said he felt worse for looking at the sunlight. I didn't hesitate to take him straight to casualty at the nearby St Thomas' Hospital.
If I'd had my remedy case with me, I would have probably treated these meningitis-like symptoms with highpotency doses of belladonna and/or aconite, but I would also have sought emergency medical help. When something likes this happens, you throw everything you've got at it.
A herbalist once told me that in acute cases the conventional medics have got it all - but in chronic cases, they've got nothing. That's a sweeping statement, but it's not far from my clinical experience. The majority of my patients come to homoeopathy because of chronic conditions that conventional medicine has done little but palliate or suppress.
Homoeopathy does not offer miracle cures, but I have seen many patients make remarkable improvements and recoveries, often where other approaches have failed. A recent example is a young woman who complained of severe headaches every day for the past two years. After less than a week on a homoeopathic remedy, the headaches stopped. When she stopped the remedy the headaches returned. After another period on the remedy, they went away for good.
I know that homoeopathy works, not because of the trials that orthodox medicine thinks we should be conducting, but because of what I see in clinics every week.
But any sensible practitioner has to be open-minded and that means embracing conventional medicine when appropriate. A notable aspect of this tragic case is the commendable behaviour of the homeopath involved. She is reported as begging the child's parents to consult a doctor.
Like all professional therapists, we are trained to recognise our own limitations - to acknowledge when another type of therapy might be more appropriate, whether that be orthodox medicine, osteopathy, Chinese herbs, acupuncture or something else.
Homoeopathy has been around in its present form for more than 200 years. While conventional medicine has chopped and changed, homoeopathy has stuck to its principle of using microscopic doses of natural substances to stimulate the body's own healing powers. In this country, it now stands on the brink of state registration and is preparing to accept the mantle of respectability already given to osteopaths and chiropractors. The medicine of the future, one hopes, will include homoeopathy alongside conventional medicine and any other therapy that shows it can make sick people better.
Mistakes will always be made. A woman told me last week how she went to casualty at a Bristol hospital complaining of agonising abdominal pains. She was told it was constipation. It turned out that she had a huge tumour of the colon. It is no wonder that the NHS has to budget huge amounts to cover the cost of litigation over errors.
Parents too can make mistakes. But many feel justifiably suspicious of conventional medicine, with its steroid creams, pressures to vaccinate and reluctance to supply information and apologies.
We all make mistakes - homoeopaths, GPs, consultants, parents. The parents in this case made a terrible mistake, but what they need now is not censure but compassion.
My son, by the way, made a dramatic recovery before we even got into casualty. His "meningitis" seemed to be just a bad reaction to swimming pool water. But when children's lives are at stake, none of us can take chances.
Nigel Summerley is a fully trained homoeopath working in London and Bristol
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