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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM): Yes or No?


 

I smile thinking of myself 15ish years ago. There I was, a young doctor, a believer in science, confident in my skills, and eager to start practicing medicine. After all, why would I lack confidence? I was one of the top students in class, my test scores were in the 99th percentile...  I felt ready to go out there and start saving lives. And I did... Oh boy, what a rough awakening! Little did I know that in the math of life, as opposed to books, 2 + 2 is sometimes 5 and sometimes 3, and that the art of medicine is as important as the science of medicine.

 

As you can imagine, I was humbled in no time. Some of my patients were so severely ill that I was concerned they might not survive, then in front of my eyes, they fully recovered. On the other hand, there were cases of, say, a minor injury or a cut that at the time looked like an easy fix, and against all the odds, it would get infected. The next thing you know, the patient is septic, and I am fighting for their life. Wow! What a steep learning curve!

 

Worst of all, I had to face the reality that despite all the advances of modern medicine, there is just so much we do not know! Treatment options for many debilitating conditions remain limited, their outcomes uncertain, prognosis "guarded". We still call many conditions "idiopathic". Idiopathic means nothing else but the fact that we still simply do not know what is causing it or why it happens.

 

When mainstream medicine does not work, what else are we to do but look for answers elsewhere and turn to a variety of complementary and alternative medical treatments? From someone who would dismiss them all with a smirk, I became someone who is open-minded and willing to listen and learn. I welcomed these types of conversation, and I would frequently hear about the anecdotal cases of treatment response, even recovery, in people who were previously not helped with everything modern mainstream medicine is able to offer.

 

We must be open-minded! After all, every scientific innovation that might be a mainstream treatment now was once upon a time something new, alternative, and in one way or another experimental. But I cannot emphasize more, please be careful, be careful, and BE CAREFUL!

 

Some of the treatments out there are straight up harmful and dangerous.

Some others are harmless but (at least at this point in time) without scientifically proven benefits.


So if it does not harm and it could maybe help, why don’t we just do it?

I would agree with this statement for interventions that are widely available and easily affordable. BUT given the uncertainty, one must weigh the potential benefits and risks, including competition with validated treatment for time, effort, and financial resources. Simply said, rather than ordering that $999.99 tea from the hidden mountains of some exotic country that might help your loved one, maybe you would be better off hiring a cleaning service or affording some days off so you two spend some quality time together.

 

At the end of this text, I am to acknowledge that I do not know it all and that all the science and modern medicine of today does not know it all. Let’s just talk about it without any fear and judgment. At the end of the day, the decision is always yours, and I am more than happy to hear you out, share my experience, my advice, and recommendation. If you choose to use any of the complementary and alternative therapies, I do want you to know that I will inform myself about the CAM treatment you are using, and I will continue to work in your best interest by monitoring for any side effects or interactions with your prescribed and recommended mainstream medical care. After many years of experience, now more than ever, I am open to learning something new and completely comfortable with saying “I do not know”.

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