DID you know that 80 per cent of the elderly are using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)?
When I read that recently I started to realise that I might be missing out on something.
As a scientist I live my nice, safe life perched in the upper branches of the Orthodox medicine tree of knowledge.
It’s a young tree, solid, healthy and an extremely comfortable place to sit in for a cancer patient like myself.
All that nice evidence, all those white coats, all that research and plenty of journals to read, the Hippocratic Oath and with a wide range of health care practitioners working as a team, it’s my kind of tree.
So I decided to leave my tree and to head off to explore CAM and was delighted with what I found.
I climbed down my tree and there in front of me were two roads. The one to the left had a sign that said, ‘Drug-free zone — cancer patients welcome’.
To the right was a sign that said ‘Warning: Cancer patients enter at own risk’.
I decided I better check out the road on the left first, after all I could hear singing and laughing, and the aromas wafting my way were wonderful.
The path was well maintained and wide and I found myself starting to walk in time with the music that filled the air.
As I turned the corner I was amazed to find the most wonderful tree I have ever seen.
Looking up I could see that it was full of colour with crystals, magnets, dream catchers and wind chimes.
Another sign was at the base of the tree ‘Cures nothing — but helps you get that last 10 per cent’.
There was another sign ‘Safe, low cost and chemical free’. That sounded good, but what could they mean and why was this tree so full of happy people?
‘In for a penny, in for a pound’ I thought to myself — I’m going up the tree to see what is happening.
So I climbed up the branches to see what it was all about.
There were groups of people learning new hobbies. There were people praying and people partying. There were people getting massages and some were meditating and doing t’ai chi.
There were exercise classes and music lessons. There was woodworking and quilting. There were people singing, cooking and learning computers.
I started to feel really good. I started to feel happier. I couldn’t help myself.
‘Get in touch with your spirituality,’ the people kept saying.
‘How do I do that?’ I asked.
‘You are a unique individual so that is for you to find out,’ came the reply.
With these thoughts in mind, I climbed down the tree and back up the road. There were people pruning the trees and pulling the weeds and enjoying it.
That didn’t look too much fun to me but they looked really happy.
With great reluctance I walked away and I started to feel sad that I was leaving but there was more to discover and I soon found myself back at the fork in the road.
The warning sign was still there. What could that mean, I thought? There was only one way to find out, so down the second road I went.
The first thing I noticed was that the path was lined with herbs I have never seen before.
The signs said ‘Folk medicine available’, ‘Get your traditional/indigenous healing here’, ‘Naturopaths welcome’, ‘Chinese medicine our speciality’ and ‘Anecdotal statement for all our products available’.
As I neared the tree there were stalls selling vitamins, supplements and hundreds of bottles of pills and remedies.
Under the tree was a sign ‘These products have worked for thousands of years — isn’t that proof enough?’
The tree was not a solid tree like mine; it had ancient gnarled multiple trunks and spindly branches.
I could see the gaunt expressionless faces of cancer patients as they move across the tree desperately trying to find the promise of a miracle cure. The tree was full of drugs and pills and unproven claims.
It was an unhappy tree of people who had either turned their back on science or perhaps science could do no more for them.
A sign had fallen on the ground and as I wiped the dirt off it I could see the writing ‘Take a leap of faith and join us’.
I could feel my heart sink so I quickly returned to the fork in the road to think about what I had seen.
There was my ‘orthodox’ tree, which has helped me to regain 90 per cent of my health. There was the ‘spiritual’ tree that claimed it could help me go the rest of the distance and there was the ‘leap of faith’ tree offering to take the holistic approach and control of my health and give me drugs to do the same.
Once again, I could hear the music and laughter in the distance and I started to smile.
Now I understand CAM — pick the drug-free tree that claims only to lift your spirits and you will get that extra health or you can choose the other unproven drug-taking alternative, but do so at your own risk.
I know where I’m going.
Loretta Marron has a Bachelor of Science in physics and is a parishioner at St Peter’s, Caboolture in Queensland.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
The Catholic Leader acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of this country and especially acknowledge the traditional owners on whose lands we live and work throughout the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.